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Allegra Hernandez’s Gift Exchange is a rainbow wrapped gift to grunge rock fans in Iowa

Allegra Hernandez released their debut album Gift Exchange on Nov. 4.

Allegra Hernandez's new album Gift Exchange is a rainbow wrapped gift to grunge rock, welcoming with it a whole new theme to rock music in Iowa. Electric guitar washes over thoughtful lyricism about life, queerness and self-love on this 10-song LP.

In the first track, Hernandez sings: "Everyone around you, they just want to know the facts/Whether you are “this” or “that”/They don’t bother to interact/And if I told them I was neither they would probably get confused/They don’t bother to see the world through my eyes

When I go out in public/ I want to leave because everyone calls me “She”/ And that’s not me

And how many times does it take for you/To address me in the right way?/It’s just as important as my name."

It's a lyric from "Use My Fkn Pronouns," an important message right before holiday gatherings ensue around Iowa. It's also a full-bore experience into what Hernandez is bringing to their music. This song sets you up for an album with bold positioning, and you get really familiar, really fast with who Hernandez is and what they represent.

All songs were written, performed and produced by Hernandez and contain personal experiences focusing on identity, finding internal strength, evolution, loss, vulnerability and love. Deliberate choices in production extract out the necessary feelings to fully process the songs.

The vocals can be grungy and aggressive at times, but they embrace the inflection and flow to the needs of the songs. Hernandez has a great feel for intentional dynamics and powerful changes in their style. With an electric guitar as the sound’s foundation, the instruments are doing equal amounts of singing.

“While a lot of people may know me as a skilled technical guitar player, my first big dedication to music was actually creativity and songwriting," Hernandez says.

Beginning guitar at the age of 12, Hernandez wrote their first song at 14-years-old. It was called “Safety Haven.” This instrumental track used music as a shield to protect and empower. It was a song that solidified for Allegra “how much I love music, how music makes me feel safe,” they said.

In the years that followed Hernandez struggled with self-expression and questions about their own sexuality and gender. Music carried them through high school and college, attending McNally Smith School of Music and Berkley College of Music and graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Interdisciplinary Music Studies.

Since then, Hernandez has become a part of the bedrock of the Des Moines community as music director and instrument instructor at School of Rock West Des Moines. They also volunteer with Girls Rock! Des Moines as a band coach and instrument instructor.

Hernandez believes in making music available to everyone. On a mission to meet those needs of the voices unheard, underserved and misunderstood, they support queer, transgender and gender non-confirming youth and continue to act daily to be a positive role model in the world.

Producing the record

Pearl, Hernandez’s first EP, was released in March 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic.

Piecing together the production of their full length album was a process. Vimka Nochvay and Kevin Drew at Sonic Factory helped record music for the album. “It took longer then I thought, but I got it done,” they laughed.

“I’m so grateful for them [the band - Nochvay and Aaron Larimer] because there would be no way I would be able to play any of the sort of shows I’m playing without a band.”

Allegra Hernandez shreds at the Gift Exchange album release show.
Lucius Pham
Allegra Hernandez shreds at the Gift Exchange album release show.

Gift Exchange, as well as Hernandez’s work in the musical community, is creating space and representation. They are bravely blazing a trail with their creativity, making way for the next rainbow wave of musicians and creatives.

“Giving back in my community, I would hope people see this music as a gift but also as something I couldn’t have done without you,” Hernandez said.

Kat Darling is a storyteller, singer/songwriter and musician. She creates music in The High Crest, and is the owner of 5 of Hearts Productions with her husband, Aaron Short. Darling produces art and shares stories in hopes of inspiring others, and to contribute to the development of creative culture and community.