Alisa Amador isn’t gonna take it anymore.
If you take your cues from Hollywood, the Top 40, most TV shows, Instagram and Facebook, the message is clear: Being part of a couple is better than just being you.
“There’s something wrong here. Why is everybody thinking that their worth is based on whether or not they’re coupled? That their brilliance is based off their ‘desirability’?” Amador says of “Alone,” a powerful track from her new EP “Narratives” that arrives Friday. “I’m sick of this. I just want us to love ourselves and see ourselves as our number one companion.”
She describes “Narratives” as a “six-song survival kit.” With bandmates Jacob Thompson and Noah Harrington, the Cambridge-based singer-songwriter delivers powerful songs in English and Spanish.
Whether they’re folky or funky, songs like “Burnt and Broken” or “Nada Que Ver” are about “turning negative cultural narratives on their head and saying: What if we loved ourselves first? What if we created a world where rape culture and toxic masculinity didn’t exist?” says Amador, 25. “What if we envisioned a bilingual or multilingual life as a natural American story?”
Alisa and twin brother Zia were born in Boston to Rosi and Brian Amador, lead members of Sol y Canto. “My parents raised me and my brother speaking Spanish at home. My mom’s mom is Puerto Rican so we spent a lot of time in San Juan, and in New Mexico where my dad’s from,” she says.
Speaking from her Cambridge home ahead of shows at Passim Sept. 22 and 23, Amador cited two life-shaping experiences: majoring in gender studies at Bates College, and spending a semester abroad in Argentina, where her grandfather is from.
Q. You’re headlining Passim soon. You used to hang backstage as a little kid.
A. Almost all of my childhood memories are in green rooms. And I was always perplexed why they weren’t green [laughs]. I remember being in that green room at Passim and listening to my parents play. I got to hear incredible live music 100-plus nights a year. There’s just no way that can’t impact you.
I started playing classical nylon-string guitar at 10, wanting to look and play like my dad who was a classical guitarist — but I was playing Don McLean’s “American Pie” and “Monster Mash” [laughs]. Seems like a pretty apt portrait of me.
Q. You started writing songs in high school. What sparked that?
A. A friend got really sick with mental illness, due to their being closeted. It’s this helplessness feeling — like there’s nothing you can do to help them heal. Songwriting became the coping mechanism.
Something that changed me was a semester abroad to Argentina. In Buenos Aires, I played with a band for the first time. Before, I saw [my songs] as this private coping mechanism — I didn’t conceptualize that people would want to play with me. That changed my life.
[Also] I started writing in Spanish. Now when I sit down to write, it’s either English or Spanish and I don’t know until I start.
Q. Do you think in Spanish or English?
A. I never know. It switches.
Q. Do you find it easier to write in Spanish or English?
A. In English, I have a broader vocabulary. In Spanish, the lyrics are more poetic because I have fewer words to draw from — I’ve read fewer books, listened to fewer people talking, so I don’t draw from tropes or phrases. It’s coming straight from the heart. In “Nada Que Ver,” the chorus is: “I want it to be a drop of honey/ for it to last longer than a paper airplane.” And I never would’ve come up with those words in English.
Q. “Narratives” feels like a standing-up for yourself. It must be hard being a woman in the music business.
A. It’s so hard in so many ways that I’m still trying to understand. Before I [majored in gender studies], the behaviors I accepted are so different from the behaviors I accept now. When I come out of a conversation and say, “I don’t feel like I was respected” — now I have a vocabulary for it. I’m still learning how to listen to myself. I’m fighting. Sometimes I don’t feel strong; sometimes I just feel tired. But being able to share this music gives me so much hope.
Q. In what ways did you change?
A. Before I prioritized everyone else’s happiness and comfort over my own comfort. I would [sometimes] leave conversations and interactions saying, “Huh. I don’t feel great. And I’m not totally sure why.” Because I still saw experiencing that behavior as just part of the deal of being a woman. Like, that guy just told me if he were 20 years younger he’d want to go on a date with me. Or, that man just told me I have a good voice but I have to be careful, because I can turn a lot of people on with my voice. I’ve heard all sorts of things. I used to think that was part of being a woman and now I’m like: No. That is BS. That is part of a toxic culture.
Q. Was it cathartic to write?
A. It was so cathartic. I would describe what fueled “Burnt and Broken” as liquid rage in my veins. It was healing to write this song and share it. The two strongest themes in this record are anger and hope.
Q. Was there a specific incident that sparked that song?
A. Yeah, after another friend came to me with a story of sexual assault, where they were blaming themselves. I got home and wrote: “What a world we live in with its endless charms.” The older I get, the more ugly I’m seeing.
I know I can’t fix everything, but I do think about how a lifetime is a compilation of millions of moments that change you. And so I do feel that this work is worth doing.
Interview was edited and condensed.