Alex G is His Own Musician
Alex G is the definition of an Internet boy, which is definitely a real term and not something I just made up. In the early days of his musical career, Alex G – full name, Alex Giannascoli – would upload his blissfully lofi bedroom recordings to Bandcamp, letting them float around the depths of the Internet for kids with too much time on their hands to find. And find them the kids did. Without really trying, Alex G has seized the attention of a large, mostly millennial (as much as I hate that word) audience, desperate for the warmth and modesty of his nostalgic ‘90s sound. However, to compare his music to ‘90s alternative greats would be the worst sin. I should know because I attempted to do so myself, noting a striking resemblance to Galaxie 500, to which Alex replied that he had never even listened to the band. Sure, he grew up on Modest Mouse and the Velvet Underground, but Alex G’s music is his own, not to be held hostage by a discussion about influences.
In the years that Alex G has been making music, he has accumulated quite the discography, with about a dozen LPs, EPs and split 7”s to his name. His latest LP, Beach Music, was released on Domino Records just last fall, and in the months since, Alex and his band have been touring with label mates Porches and Your Friend. The following interview is the result of two separate conversations, one at SXSW during a stop on that lengthy tour, and one a couple weeks later via telephone. The result is a glimpse into Alex’s world, shaped by his prominence in Philadelphia’s rich music scene and driven by an uncompromising, self-informed approach to music.
MOLLY RAGAN: I want to start off by talking a little bit about your hometown, Philadelphia. You were a big part of the DIY music scene there. Were you involved in it before you started making music as Alex G?
ALEX G: When I was younger I had a band with some friends called the Skin Cells and we would play all the time. During that time I was making music on my own, and people knew it as “Alex G’s music” because that’s just what my nickname was. Then people started to ask me to play shows with that instead of the Skin Cells so I just formed this band and then that’s pretty much it.
Were there any bands coming up in Philly at the same time that helped you grow as a musician?
Yeah, there’s a band called Rasputin’s Secret Police. They were great; they were such a huge influence. They’ve stopped playing but that main guy from it still releases music under the name Brandon Can’t Dance. Their shit’s great. I listen to that all the time.
Do you think that whole Philly scene has informed your approach to music?
I mean it’s definitely made music really accessible because there’s so much DIY shit happening, like house shows. You don’t have to jump through any hoops to get on a show. You just have to know a friend who has a house.
Have you played any huge shows in Philly?
No. I mean, well, they’re huge for us. Like we played this place called the First Unitarian Church, which I would frequent a lot when I was younger. Lots of bands played at that venue, and then we played there and it was crazy. I’d just never expected to be playing there. And it’s not like a massive venue or anything; it’s just pretty big for us.
Now you’re playing your second SXSW with Domino Records. Does it feel any different working and touring with Domino instead of doing it all on your own?
No it doesn’t feel very different but we’ve definitely grown since we’ve signed with Domino. More people have come out to the shows.
Do you think about this new audience, all these new people who are going to be listening to your stuff and coming to your shows, while you’re engaged in the creative process?
No, I make an effort not to think about it really, and to just keep the same method that I’ve always used, which is making music that I’m interested in listening to. I’m always using myself as a compass and not thinking about the audience, really.
What method do you normally use?
Something will happen or I’ll see something or read something and I’ll just get a strong urge to make something of my own, and that’s pretty much it. Random stuff will make me feel the need to record, so then I’ll sit down and play the guitar or play the keyboard or just write, just be productive in some way and that usually morphs into a song. Like when it comes, you gotta jump on it, or it’ll go away and you won’t have the urge anymore. I make the mistake a lot of trying to save my inspiration for later and then it’s gone by the time I wanna record it.
Do you find that there are any situations where you get the most inspiration?
No, it’s all different stuff. A lot of times it’s just hearing other people’s stories, or my own stories, you know, or something will happen and I’ll think of it in the context of a piece of art or something. It’s just being able to present certain things that are affecting you in a productive way like that. That’s usually how it goes for me. You know, like it’ll be something that I’m thinking about and I can sort of, like, morph it into something useful.
Yeah, music is a really accessible way for people to feel what you’re feeling.
Yeah, exactly. It lets you say what you want to say. And a lot of times, it’s not even about a personal thing. It’s about wanting to make a statement that’s just for the sake of the statement. It’s not like I’m trying to reach any kind of catharsis for myself—half the time I feel like I just want to tell a certain story because it’ll be satisfying or something. Just because I think the story itself is worth it.
Tour is the physical embodiment of getting those stories out to people. Is that something you enjoy doing?
There are parts of touring that I like and parts that I don’t like. I guess the part I don’t like is that I can’t really sit down to record whenever I want. You can’t really be productive in that way when you’re on tour, so that’s annoying. But otherwise it’s fine, you know, it keeps you busy. I like being busy.
Would you prefer to be writing all the time?
Yeah, I mean, I think that the reason for all this is so I can have the opportunity to write whenever I want. It’s not like I write so I can go on tour. It’s the other way around. I go on tour so I can write. It’s like, I tour because it’s part of the career and I like being on tour, but my main focus and preference and passion is writing, not performing. I do enjoy performing, but some people write music with the performance in mind and that’s not me. I like to write a lot so I go on tour to support myself so I can keep writing.
Do you ever find that there are songs that don’t translate very well to the stage?
They all end up becoming their own thing in the performance. I don’t think any of the songs live express the same thing as the recorded one, at least in my opinion, because I’ve put a lot of thought into the specifics of the recording. I fine-tune it to make it sound exactly how I want, and then live, we morph it into this loud thing. The live shows are kind of collaborative between me and the band because we’re thinking about how to get all the essential pieces of the recording and translate it into the live show with just the four of us. So definitely none of it’s the same, but I think it all does its job. It’s just not the same expression.
Does that bother you at all, that those live songs aren’t the same as you’d originally intended?
No, I don’t think about it, really. I just think about it in terms of the means that we have. I think we do the best with what we have, so I’m happy about that. I think just because it’s different doesn’t mean it’s worse. It’s just different. I think it’s better, even, because the recordings are pretty important to me, and I like them to remain their own thing. I just like that they’re not touched, so I kind of like that the live show is different.
Interesting, because yeah, it seems like for a lot of bands, the writing, recording and then touring is all very fluid.
Yeah, I think my approach is different because I’m not writing with a live performance in mind, you know. Bands that write collaboratively and stuff are composing the show as they’re composing the music with each other. They’re thinking about playing, so their composition is exactly what they are going to do on stage.
You’re a very prolific dude. I’m curious, is there much that has stayed consistent throughout all of your recordings?
I mean, I recorded Beach Music the same way I record every other album and I think that’ll probably be the way it stays in the future. The consistency is that I just do it myself, on my own time, and I think that gives me a lot more freedom. Maybe that’ll change in the future and I’ll want to have access to more advanced recording techniques or something, but the only thing I’m interested in is the song itself. I like to do that on my own terms because I think it makes for a better product. I don’t have to deal with anybody; I can just deal with it myself. There’s no pressure, and whenever I get the chance, I work on stuff. It’s all I know how to do—it’s all I do. Writing is how I find my own identity, so I’ve just got to do it, otherwise I don’t know what I’d do.
You said you try to write whenever you have a chance. Have you found any chances to write on this tour?
On tour I don’t really write at all. I think of little subjects and lyrics and stuff, because there’s always stuff getting thrown at you, so my phone is filled with notes and shit, but there’s no time to sit and flesh out a song.
What does the future look like?
I’ve got a lot recorded—well, I’ve got about five or so songs. I don’t want to give details really, because I don’t know how my mind will change, but I have a lot of stuff I’m toying with. So I’m looking forward to getting home and continuing to work on it.
Alex G’s latest album, Beach Music, is out now on Domino Records.
***This piece was originally written for KAMP Student Radio at the University of Arizona***