Alexander 23 is a multi-talented singer, songwriter and producer whose heartfelt soft-pop sound charms fans of indie, pop and alternative alike. Not only has he toured with incredible artists such as Alec Benjamin, Chelsea Cutler, Omar Apollo and more, but he has recently found himself going viral on TikTok with his track “IDK You Yet”, that is now certified as gold in the U.S.A..
We were lucky enough to chat to him via Zoom last week courtesy of Universal Music Group and °1824. In the lead up to the release of his sophomore EP ‘Oh No, Not Again!’, Alexander spoke to us about his journey as a musician, his creative process during lockdown, and his latest EP ‘Oh No, Not Again!’, which was released via Interscope Records.
How did you get your start making music? How did your family and upbringing in Chicago impact the development of your sound?
I started playing guitar when I was eight. I hated it, quit, then picked it up again a year later when I had a teacher who kind of got what I was trying to do. I was a bit lucky to realise early on that ‘I want to be really good at guitar and shred like Eddie Van Halen’, but what I really want is to write songs. So once I realised that, it was kind of like ‘game over’ and I started writing songs from twelve years old. I was just really lucky to have an amazing support network; my parents were super supportive of music. I would play three-hour bar gigs by myself when I was seventeen and they would have to accompany me to them because I wasn’t twenty-one yet. They were just so supportive and never made it feel like it was impossible. I guess I just hit the ‘parent lottery’ in a sense; but at the same time they never had to tell me to practise – I was just so obsessed with it that it was inevitable that it was going to take this shape and form in some way at some point.
Before you became a solo artist you were in a few bands. How did you transition from being in bands to being a solo artist?
When I dropped out of college I was playing in a band, and it kind of felt like ‘college for music’. I learnt a lot about the industry and what I wanted to sound like and be like. It was safe space for me to find myself and my own voice, both song-writing and production wise. I’d say the biggest difference is that when you’re a solo artist sometimes the highs are higher and the lows are lower. When you’re in a band it’s a little bit more comfortable because you have that kind of diffusion of responsibility. The accomplishment of doing something yourself is just so fulfilling for me. But similarly when things aren’t going so well, or I don’t achieve something that I was looking to achieve, there’s no one to blame; I know that it’s fully on me. It’s different; I don’t know if it’s better or worse. Also at the same time I’m really lucky to have an amazing label and management team so it doesn’t feel like I’m alone; it feels like I’m in a band but I just happen to sing the songs alone.
How has your journey been in discovering your musical style?
I think when I first started I was just so overwhelmingly excited by being able to produce, that I did some stuff that I’m proud of and I think is cool but I wouldn’t necessarily do now. I think you have to learn the rules to break the rules. Now I just feel more confident as a producer. Having said that I have definitely got super heavy into the lyrical and songwriting side of a final master record. I think just like anything, when you learn a new skill there’s a pendulum aspect to it where like you go all the way one way and then all the way the other way until you find where the lines are for you. I’m really happy I did as I feel super comfortable moving forward and I’m going to be able to blend those two worlds a little bit more and really find something special and unique. I definitely spend most time on lyrics in the creative process.
You wrote your last couple of singles ‘IDK You Yet’ and ‘Cry Over Boys’ during the pandemic whilst in quarantine. How did you find writing whilst being confined within your own home, and how did this creative process differ from your usual writing method from before the pandemic?
Amazing question. I’m mean to be totally honest with you it was really difficult to write; especially at the beginning for me. Which is kind of ironic, because usually I usually write by myself in my house, that’s how I’ve written most of my songs, but for some reason once that was the only way I could do it, it got immensely harder. Just losing the autonomy to do it a different way just made it a lot harder. I think honestly the biggest difference I noticed was not having tour to break up the amount of time that I was writing. At first when we couldn’t tour I was sad because I love playing shows, but the longer it went on, the more I realised that I really depend on touring to reset my perspective and get new experiences. Just having an open-ended amount of time to write, at least for me, can be kind of intimidating. I think I was spending too much time on things that didn’t matter and it was definitely tripping me up a bit. Having said that, I think that in the end I am grateful for it as it gave me the time and space to really experiment and find out that next wave of sound. Also I have songs about stuff that happened to me a few years ago, whereas I never would have written about that if I didn’t have to sit in the same place and confront things from years ago out of necessity.
What can you tell us about the process of putting the ‘Oh No, Not Again!’ EP together and crafting the release?
For me what was kind of exciting about this EP specifically was that it was almost like an accident. I didn’t set out to write an EP at the very beginning, and then it kind of became increasingly clear over the writing process over the last year since ‘IDK You Yet’ that these songs belong together in a way. Then it kind of became a fun challenge of ‘how do I really tie this all together?’ and really communicate the theme that I’m trying to communicate. It’s called ‘Oh No, Not Again!’, and for me it just kind of chronicles the life-span of a relationship from yearning for someone, to finding someone, to there being some turmoil, too maybe it not working out, to trying to recover, and then finally moving on. It’s a pattern that I’ve definitely seen in my own life; getting into a cycle of having that happen over and over again and making the same mistakes and not learning from it. ‘Oh No, Not Again!’ felt like a light-hearted way of saying ‘why the fuck am I like this?’.
If you could describe the ‘Oh No, Not Again!’ EP in three words, what would they be?
‘Sad but hopeful’.
What advice would you give to artists who are contemplating whether they should pursue their passion full-time?
I did have other interests that I really liked. I liked going to school and studying engineering and I think there’s another version of me that’s an engineer that’s living some resemblance of a happy life, but for me it just came down to ‘what’s going to give me the most fulfilment?’, ‘what’s going to make me the happiest?’, and that just became increasingly clear, that only music was only going to really satisfy that itch to be my own person and express myself how I want. So I would say, as Kacey Musgraves would, “follow your arrow”.
Go and stream the ‘Oh No, Not Again!‘ EP, and make sure to check out the new video for ‘Come Here and Leave Me Alone’, below: