Interview: Alex G: “It’s not like I’m doing this super deep metaphor”

Alex G: “It’s not like I’m doing this super deep metaphor”

Philadelphia’s most prolific new voice reflects on what makes him tick, in conversation with Andrew Backhouse.

Perfection doesn’t happen overnight. It takes years of chiselling and cutting and polishing to create a three-minute pop song. Then, there’s the Bob Dylan-types. They roll out of bed, make breakfast, and write a new song a day.

If you fall into Column A, you will hate this man. “I’ll just get that urge to do it,” says Pennsylvania dream-pop merchant Alex Giannascoli aka Alex G. “The real writing process takes place in my bedroom, but if I’m around a guitar and I’m alone, I’ll write wherever I am.” At a few points in our chat, we wonder if he’s writing songs while talking to us, even accidently. Ask him how his day is and he’s effortlessly spinning yarns of lyrical poetry. Give this man a guitar, a bedroom and some WiFi - just think of the damage he could do.

As you’d expect, Alex G’s Bandcamp of bedroom ballads could burst its banks any second. Sure, he’d quickly shrug most of them off and say they don’t count. Think of Alex G as the annoying new kid at class that’s smarter than everybody – including the teacher. Art may be subjective, but the hard evidence comes in being signed to Lucky Number. “They were the first people who approached me and seemed to really, actually like the music, and weren’t just putting anything on.”

Alex G is prolific by any artist’s standards – never mind in the years of your life you’re expected to be fully occupied by kissing and drinking. According to said internet – which is always a reliable source – Alex tots up a total of ten releases. And all between the tender years of eighteen and twenty-one. “I always make the comparison to somebody who likes playing video games, or somebody who loves to draw. It was always what I did for fun. I never think of it as work, because it’s never been work for me.” And true to form, these are songs that could only ever be written in Alex’s teenage years. “Every song is really particular to what I was experiencing at the time. These songs couldn’t be written a couple of days after or a couple of days before.” 

With humble hopes for the days ahead, the story to tell is in rewinding even further. Now at this point, if Alex G is drinking, it’s probably fizzy pop. “Since I was a little kid, I was always writing stuff, just because that was what was fun for me. I would always sit at the piano. Then when I was around twelve or thirteen, my family got this Macintosh computer. I figured out how to work Garageband, and from this first day I got it I did it every day.”

Despite opting to write without collaborators, and in the privacy of the bedroom, songs like ‘Harvey’ and ‘Sarah’ are always about people. “I don’t know what else I would write about. What else would they have been written about? It’s not a super intentional thing, but I just try and express some really core, basic feelings - about whatever relationships - whatever people I’m dealing with. What else impacts your life enough to write about besides other people and the effect they have on you? You could write about physical objects, but I think that’s more of a job for visual artists rather than musical artists. There’s occasions where this one circumstance gives me enough material to write a whole song about it, but a lot of the time it’s just a collage of a lot of different experiences. It’s probably more subconscious than it seems. What’s that thing where a physiologist shows you a picture, and you shout a word without really thinking about it? Sometimes it’s really quick. It’s not like I’m doing this super deep metaphor. I reflect on different things and just let it come out.”

“Since I was a little kid, I was always writing stuff, just because that was what was fun for me.”

Alex G

As for musical heroes - forget your Bob Dylans or your Beatles. As inventive as his music is, when looking for inspiration, the young Alex G never had to go far from his bedroom. “My brother has perfect pitch, so he was an extremely talented musician. I was always in his footsteps. Because of him, there was always instruments in our house. My parents got him a keyboard, and he would pick op instruments all the time. And I was picking up the stuff he stopped messing around with. I saw him doing it, so that made me want to do it.”

As for borrowing influences from further afield, Alex G owes his musical education to his older sister. He probably owes her a few CDs too. “I would always steal CDs from her room,” he says, confessing to have pinched Moby, Modest Mouse and Elliot Smith. “She liked being my musical guardian,” he insists. “She could sculpt me into whatever she wanted me to be.”

Despite his sins, the music should ensure his redemption. The hushed vocals of ‘After Ur Gone’ and ‘Sarah’ could be inspired by Elliot Smith, but it was probably to avoid waking up the neighbours. “It’s probably influenced my singing style. I do a lot of quiet singing because I don’t want other people to hear me recording my vocals. I’m very self-conscious about it. I should get over that…”

Hopefully Alex G’s over the nerves now. This month saw Alex leave the bedroom behind for British shows in London and Manchester, and he doesn’t need to worry about the neighbours. “The UK crowds have been really great,” he enthuses. “We played some shows in Europe too before we got to the UK. Germany - it was kind of funny - people were standing still, and they’d have long pauses after a song was over. The UK felt a lot more familiar. People were just getting in to it how we’re used to when we play in the States.” 

The bedroom might be where he makes his music, but for Alex G, the magic is happening everywhere.

Alex G’s ‘DSU’, ‘Trick’ and ‘Change’ albums are all out now on Lucky Number.  

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