Allie Hanlon leads boldly, gently on a new album of addictive guitar pop

For the past five years, Allie Hanlon, the driving force behind Peach Kelli Pop, has worked with dogs. Specifically, she fosters pit bulls, and Hanlon has noticed the breed tends to put people on edge when she's walking around her Los Angeles neighborhood.

One pit bull in particular stands out. “I was fostering a dog through two surgeries for almost a year. He was a really big, chunky guy, and he was the most well-behaved dog I'd ever fostered. He was really polite and friendly,” Hanlon said recently by phone from the road. “But it made me sad because people were afraid of him. I'd go out with him and people would cross the street or leave the area, and he was being a perfect dog. He was quiet and still and calm and friendly to everyone. I felt bad for him.”

The dog inspired “King Size,” one of 10 tracks on Peach Kelli Pop's new album, Gentle Leader, which takes its title partly from a dog leash of the same name. “I know you're just a scared-y cat/And people think you're gonna attack … They got their eye on you/Better watch what you do/King size,” she sings over a bouncy beat that mirrors the dog's sunny disposition more than the onlookers' nervous glances.

Hanlon, too, has felt similarly pigeonholed in her role as frontwoman of Peach Kelli Pop, so on Gentle Leader she took a different approach. “I wanted to dissociate the way people perceived Peach Kelli Pop,” she said. “Sometimes I get frustrated about how we're written about and viewed by people. I think when you're a woman in music you're kind of viewed as a novelty, even by very well-intentioned people. It's hard for me, because I'm a feminine person, and I really can't change the way I've always been, and it shows in the music that I create. But I find it frustrating when that is the main thing that is focused on, even beyond the music itself. So I think the new album is still feminine in a lot of ways, because that's just how I am, but I wanted to do something different in an attempt to hopefully be viewed with more depth than we had been in the past.”

On previous fuzz-pop albums (Peach Kelli Pop I, II and III), Hanlon used a photo of herself on the album cover, but Gentle Leader features illustrated art. “In the past I felt comfortable putting my photo as the cover because, first of all, I didn't know what the consequences would be if you were like, ‘Here I am! I'm a girl on the front cover!'” she said. “I didn't think it was a big deal because it was me that wrote and recorded and produced all of those albums except the third one. I was kind of like, ‘Well, it's my art. I did it myself and I wrote the songs, so why is it weird to put myself on the cover?'”

Hanlon also brought in collaborators for Gentle Leader, partnering with engineer Roland Cosio to get a cleaner, well-produced sound, and instead of playing everything herself, she recruited sisters Sophie (guitar) and Gina Negrini (bass) and Mean Jeans' Andrew Bassett (drums) to accompany her in the studio, as well as on the band's current tour, which will make a stop at Ace of Cups on Sunday, June 17.

In making Peach Kelli Pop's best album yet, Hanlon managed to incorporate other musicians without compromising her vision for the band. And it's still very much her project. Before recording, Hanlon sent the various parts to her bandmates, who functioned more like session musicians in the studio.

“When you really care about your product, it's easy to become a control freak and do everything on your own. … I really enjoy having the power over my own destiny, I guess. If I succeed or fail it's my own fault,” she said. “I'm proud of myself for being able to take a position of leadership and take control of things and control my future, however, I do think it's good to be happy letting things fall into place.”

Striking that balance is a skill and an art Hanlon continues to work on — leading with both strength and gentleness.