For 'Havana' & 'Youngblood' Co-Writer Ali Tamposi, A Career Surge After Sobriety

Ali Tamposi
Tucker Leary

Ali Tamposi

Songwriter Ali Tamposi knows a cut of hers is reaching a wide audience when she hears it while riding in an Uber. “That’s really the only time I listen to the radio,” the 28 year old explains. “Just so I can have that experience of being a fan of a record with no stress involved. I don’t even check the charts.” Fortunately, she’ll probably have to request multiple rides to hear the plethora of hit songs she’s applied her talents to lately. In the past year alone, the Florida native has been a force behind Camila Cabello’s Hot 100 No. 1 “Havana,” Selena Gomez and Marshmello’s howling Dance/Electronic No. 1 “Wolves,” as well as her latest riser, Five Seconds of Summer’s “Youngblood.” The pop-rock track peaked at No. 7 on the Hot 100, making it the highest charting Hot 100 single of the Australian group’s career. Throw in other recent smashes for the aforementioned Gomez (“It Ain’t Me”) and Justin Bieber (“Let Me Love You”), and it’s apparent that Tamposi is enjoying an impressive hot streak. “There’s nothing more exhilarating than watching a song become a hit.”

“I used to believe/ We were burnin' on the edge of somethin' beautiful”

Today, Tamposi is up at 7am. It’s a natural wake-up time she can’t shake and can be “a big problem if I’m in the studio until 3am the night before.” While Tamposi is coy about what she’s working on these days, by now one can gather recent sessions probably have included her closest collaborator, the artist/songwriter Andrew Watt. It was after meeting Watt that Tamposi embarked on what would become the second, and ultimately most fruitful, chapter of her life. “I was completely different version of myself when I met him,” she explains. “I just randomly threw a party at the Chateau Marmont, which is so hard to believe because I’ve been sober for three and a half years.” Back then, Tamposi was struggling with both alcohol and a career that had hit a wall. “I invited him to come to this party and drunkenly committed myself to a session the following day, which I assumed I could get myself out of. It turns out he had left his guitar in my hotel room.” Hungover, Tamposi walked into a session with Watt, as well as Brian Lee and Louis Bell. “Andrew started playing this Beatles-ish ‘Blackbird’ guitar riff.” From there, the group wound up penning what would become the Bieber/DJ Snake smash “Let Me Love You,” laying the foundation for their later reputations as reliable pop hitmakers.

“It was honestly just a good accident,” Tamposi explains of the track which became an inescapable radio jam in the fall of 2016, peaking at No. 4 on the Hot 100. “Before that, I was going through a tough time; falling out of love with music and wasn’t completely sure of my identity or place I held in the industry. When I started working with Brian, Andrew and Lou, it was like nothing I was used to. It was magical, creative, and there wasn’t any pressure. All of us had a lot to prove, so we were working really hard and sharing all of our stories. We’d put all of our pain into this bucket and it became this beautiful, wild ride. We’ve stuck together ever since.”

The career resurgence Tamposi experienced after the success of “Let Me Love You” and frequent collaborations with Watt, Lee and Bell successfully lifted Tamposi from a tricky situation that manifested itself after she moved to Los Angeles from her home state of Florida. It was back in the Sunshine State where Tamposi first developed an interest in the music industry, albeit one as an artist. “I was attending the School of Audio Engineering in Miami at a time when the music industry was really booming there,” she explains. “I happened to meet Jim Jonsin, who is an extremely talented producer. He had just done Lil Wayne’s ‘Lollipop’ among many others.” Tamposi first auditioned for Jonsin as a singer-songwriter. “I sang and played the piano and he signed me to a production deal. I wasn’t fully aware there was even a career for (just) songwriters at the time.” When crafting what would have been her debut album, a 19-year-old Tamposi concocted a track called “Save the Hero” alongside Jonsin and the producer Rico Love. “Everyone was excited about the song, and I remember Jim asking me if I’d be open to pitching it to other artists. I naively said only if it was for Beyonce, Mariah Carey or Rihanna. I was shooting in the dark.” As fate would have it, around this time Love began working with Beyonce. “Shortly after, I heard she wanted to cut it.”

“What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger/ Stand a little taller”

With a superstar placement under her belt (“Save Your Hero” found itself on Knowles’ 2008 album I Am... Sasha Fierce) coupled with an awareness that the Miami music scene was beginning to wind down, Tamposi packed up to try her luck in Los Angeles. “When I moved, I had my heart set on being an artist. I’m so glad that path didn’t take shape because I had no idea who I was.” Compounding her frustration was the discovery that the Beyonce cut, while a major coup, didn’t give her the leverage she was hoping for. “That first year in L.A. was so tough. People just weren’t willing to meet me. ‘Save Your Hero’ eventually became a bonus track, so no one really cared. It was different beast out here. I came from feeling on top of the world in Miami and then hitting the ground fast. I don’t think I understood the politics of the industry at that point.”

After Tamposi and Jonsin parted ways, her career aspirations shifted. “I quickly learned there were more opportunities for a new songwriter than a new artist. I just wanted to work and how many jabs can your ego take? I was living with my phone in my lap, desperate for anyone to call me.” After another glimmer of success upon penning the 2011 Kelly Clarkson Hot 100-topper, “Stronger (What Doesn’t Kill You),” Tamposi’s stress to craft a sustainable career morphed into a dependence on what she refers to as liquid courage. “Alcoholism is an overthinker’s disease. For me, the quickest way to silence the noise, or to feel confident, was to drink. Going into new sessions with new people was challenging for me. I felt I could free my inhibitions the second I had a drink. That’s what became addicted to. The expectations were too high.”

“I’ve been running through the jungle/ I’ve been running with the wolves to get to you.”

The lyrics to the chorus of the Selena Gomez/Marshmello track “Wolves,” which Tamposi penned with Watt, Bell and Lee, have special significance. “We all put our personal stories in every single one of our songs and we all relate to them through our own experiences,” she explains. “For ‘Wolves,’ I was recently sober and began a new relationship with someone. “Those words: ‘I’ve been down the darkest alleys on the dark side of the moon to get to you.’ It’s about getting to my sobriety and this new person; a partner I was desperate for.” The success of the song, another facet of a new creative dawn after achieving sobriety, crystallized something in Tamposi. “In the few interviews I’ve done, I’m starting to realize how much of my career and my life is about my sobriety. It’s played as really important role. There was nothing more challenging than making that decision, but the things I have today, I realized I never would have had them if it weren’t for this change.”

That isn’t to say Tamposi has become complacent. “To this day if there's a month where I feel like not a lot is going on, I get anxiety. I’ve also realized... God, I am super dependent on my collaborators.” It was with her core group that Tamposi crafted both “Havana” and “Youngblood,” the former of which began with an instrumental track from the producer Frank Dukes. “He played us that piano loop and the hook came out like it had been written before. We were singing it in the studio thinking, this was too easy. Camila had wanted to write a song about Havana, and East Atlanta just rhymed which sparked the idea of getting (Atlanta native) Young Thug on there.”

The track “Youngblood" came about in a similarly breezy fashion. “The lyrics and chorus just kind of came out. In the studio, me and Andrew would always say, ‘Simmah down Youngblood.’ It worked perfectly with the melody and just fit,” says Tamposi of her and her collaborator’s latest hit, co-written with the 5 Seconds of Summer boys. It’s also the song she’s currently most likely to hear in an Uber on her way to a session with her core crew, all of whom have a hunger to keep their hit-making streak alive.

“I don’t want to work with anyone else,” she says. “It’s scary, but it’s the drive that I need. I constantly need my fire to die out to get reignited.”


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