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With True Blue, Alexandria Berry explores grunge with a dreamy touch

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If Lydia Lunch was a little nicer and had a thing for the Cranberries, or the Mamas and the Papas busted up their melodies with some creative dissonance à la PJ Harvey, it might sound something like True Blue.

True Blue is the project of Detroit native Alexandria Berry. After picking up the guitar at age 15 and never looking back, she taught herself to play while listening to musicians like Liz Phair and Courtney Love. "Listening to the melodies [on Liz Phair's Whip-Smart] and hearing that guitar work, putting it all together in my brain, taught me how to start a song," Berry says. "Hole taught me how to finish."

Berry has been performing with other local musicians for the past few years, but it was in 2016 that she decided she wanted to focus on her own music. Thus came True Blue, with a name inspired as much by Berry's fondness for Madonna as it is for the feelings in her music: "A lot of my songs are emotional in a way, [where I am] trying to work out my heart [and] inner thoughts, trying to find peace," she says.

Shortly after she landed on the name, she learned that "true blue" has a specific meaning as a phrase, referring to loyalty and being dependable. The fact that the name she chose had an unintentional yet ideal additional meaning was itself very nearly a metaphor for Berry's own relationship with dreamlike states of mind, a topic that often turns up in her music.

Absorbing all of the aggression and nuance of her influences, Berry's songs expertly blend the stubborn edge of grunge with a delicate sensibility. Her first effort as True Blue is Solitary Queen, a four-song self-released cassette that came out last summer; she wrote and produced all the songs, sang, and played guitar and bass. Dina Bankole joined her on drums, and Fred Thomas recorded, mixed, and mastered the set.

The intimate, lo-fi atmosphere of Solitary Queen is buoyed by Berry's charismatic vocals and supremely catchy, vaguely kaleidoscopic guitar lines. Reoccurring themes include depression, insomnia, and betrayal or deception. Berry says she writes about those things because she is fascinated with the darker side of human nature, but she says she is not a lyricist at heart: The music is the main thing.

"I'm trying to make people feel, not think," she says. Still, while the words may not be the focus, they do help graft an opposing message to the otherwise upbeat surface of the songs, resulting in multilayered tunes with latent meanings.

Berry says she's fresh in the early stages of putting a new record together, which should materialize in the form of a 7-inch later this year.

"I've been writing songs for 10 years and realized last night that this is the first time I am completely starting from scratch, without a single melody in my head," she says — just the motivation to move forward.

"It can be frustrating, nervous, scary," she says. "But it's also really exciting." It's truly — no pun intended — liberating to create with no preconceived notions, a blank canvas in mind with a wide palette to express one's particular sonic worldview. We can't wait to see what takes shape.

From our 2019 Bands to Watch issue.