But one can't avoid being amazed when introduced to Alysson Light, the 15-year-old singer/songwriter and pianist whose self-penned "Liquid Eyes" reached number 18 on mp3.com's acoustic pop-rock chart as of Jan. 21.
Light said people are often stunned by the fact that she is only a sophomore at Chapel Hill High School. "I love surprising people like that," she said.
But, unlike commercial pop stars who can use their youth as a selling point, the anonymity of the Internet requires Light's music to stand on its own.
It does, according to mp3.com users -- "Liquid Eyes" has stayed in the top 50 downloads for two months. "('Liquid Eyes') is based on a girl I knew who had a very haunted kind of face," Light said. "She has something that could make her supernatural and more powerful, but also less human."
Light's "hit" song, and the additional eight songs on her second album, Water, were written in a week last August. Her father, a UNC professor of cell and molecular physiology, recorded the album at home. The songs on Water are stark and hypnotic, creating a hauntingly pretty sound that sets her apart stylistically as well as chronologically.
She also has been an anomaly on the North Carolina Singer-Songwriters Association "Mystery Tour," and not just because her parents drive her to shows on weekends. "I play piano, so I guess that makes me different," she said, though she plays guitar as well. "My grandmother was a piano teacher, and she always had me playing something." Light has been playing the piano since age 9.
While unique, Light's music is clearly and heavily influenced by North Carolina native Tori Amos, but even more so by Joni Mitchell, another one of her musical "goddesses."
"I listen to a lot of older rock music, especially very strong women in rock, like Joni Mitchell," she said, citing Sarah McLachlan, the Indigo Girls, Heather Nova and Ani DiFranco as some of her younger role models.
Tunes by Amos, McLachlan and Mitchell, as well as other musical heroines, are covered on Light's first album, Softly Fading into Silence.
She already has begun work on her next album, which will include more elements than the piano, vocals and touch of guitar on the previous two.
"It's more produced (than the last two albums), with a lot of Midi sounds," she said. "(The music) is sort of moving away from the bare acoustic, but it's not what I consider very drastic."
Beyond her next album, Light hopes to study at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and, eventually, support herself through music. "Berklee has a program that really fits my type of music," she explained. "There's not as much emphasis on classical music -- I don't want to get bogged down in classical stuff." But Light has a lot of time to make up her mind.
For tour dates and song downloads, see Light's homepage on mp3.com.
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