On Our Radar: Emerging Philly Musician Alex G.
It’s a very good time to be an Alex G. fan (or an Alex G.) right now. The Temple English major may be young, but he’s got a firm, if lofty, five-or-so year plan laid out ahead of him. His new release — his first with a real label — and his slew of upcoming shows (in and out of basements), are on the horizon. Alex G. the recording name of 21-year old Havertown native Alexander Gianascoli, has been serving up the emotionally rich, lyrically mature, and sonically lush since 2010. He’s got fans in high places (hear Coma Cinema’s Matt Cothran gush over the Philly singer-songwriter), and lots of them (it’s still a shock for him to hear concert-goers sing along). And while none of this is really an accident, it sure is an outlier. With almost no self-promotion — just the tin-can determinism of word-of-mouth — Alex G. has become the musician everyone loves to love.
Alex G.’s home base — his Bandcamp page — is filled with charming MS paint- or sister-designed album art, with titles like Winner and Joy. Everything here is deceptively simple, the juvenilia-sans-pretense lyrics and the one-word song titles. But it’s all carefully produced and artfully crafted. There’s not a throwaway among the 11 Bandcamp releases leading up to his quasi-watershed 2012 album, Trick. Eleven releases in four years isn’t bad for a kid and his laptop.
It’s striking just how much he does himself, even under the DIY label. Or more accurately, how good it sounds considering. This is truly bedroom pop, his bunk bed barely feet away from his makeshift studio.His recording set-up is essentially his desk and a dinky microphone hooked up to his MacBook . Much of his recording is a multi-“studio” affair, scrambling around the neighborhood to record each Garageband track. “I’ll record my guitar here, then go to my girlfriend’s house — they have a drum kit in the basement and a keyboard — and I’ll record some stuff there and finish up from [my house]. I just go to where the instruments are.”
For the first time, though, Alex G. is launching an album with some semblance of ceremony. “This time, it’s gonna be mastered,” he practically gushes, “previously, I’ve just recorded it all myself and get it out as soon as possible, because I’m just so excited. For the first time, I finished it and sent it to this label Orchid Tapes. It’s really just one guy, he produces the best shit, like Ricky Eat Acid. He’s gonna master it, which is new to me.” Usually, his albums go up on Bandcamp with barely an announcement, straight from his computer to the web. With his next album, things are changing. His newest release is coming out on Orchid Tapes (label-mates include R.L. Kelly, who recorded a split with Alex G., and Fog Lake) a Brooklyn-based label with meticulously mastered cassette and online releases. Alex G. is excited — “It’s gonna be top-notch. Hopefully.”
This upward trend is more widespread than just his recording process. Alex G. is moving from basement to ground floor, and not just metaphorically (that would be a pretty shitty metaphor). “I’m so used to playing basement shows my whole life, and it’s so slowly transitioning into shows where you actually have to buy tickets, I can’t even tell the difference. I just want to see how far I can make it. But it’s weird how subtle the transition is. I’m not even sure if it’s happening, maybe it’s just in m head. I was always pretty sure I’d always be playing parties.”
The transition he doubts is, in fact, happening. He’s playing bigger shows at bigger venues and garnering more attention. Alex G. won The Deli Magazine‘s 2014 reader’s poll for Best Artist of the Year. With all the attention he’s gained since Trick (seriously, listen to it now), expectations are slightly different for his new album. “I started the new album right after I put Trick out, so I didn’t feel any pressure, not knowing what a big deal Trick would be. I mean, I was just plodding along and then suddenly I started hearing people talking about Trick. So I guess it made me pay more attention to detail — all those parts on Trick where I fuck up, no one cared, but now I’m trying to perfect it. And I think I did. This is my best work so far”
That’s it. His motivator. He is incredibly attached to his music — it’s his passion, as he notes and then immediately takes back, saying that makes him sound “like a stoned idiot” (it doesn’t). He shows me a catalogue of unreleased tracks, all compressed files just waiting for release. And this is in addition to the 11 singles, EPs and albums he has online. That’s why this new record is such a change for him; it’s been on his mind for ages and nowhere near his Bancamp page. “It makes me so antsy; I just want it out. I’m like sitting on it and by the time it comes out, it’s a past mindset.”
But while the songs change, his goals remain. Alex G. really wants to make it. He wants to see how much progress he can make in the music game. He’s 21 and already an up-and-comer on the local music scen — and the growing post-local, internet-spawned one. He’s constantly inspired (“extreme circumstances” do it for him) and constantly writing, creating, recording new tracks. He jokingly says that his growing fame might land him a job waiting tables when he’s old, but the present story arc seems to speak otherwise. “I can’t imagine stopping music. I’ll probably do it the rest of my life. Probably live here the rest of my life [motions to his humble student apartment]. Just kidding, but I’ll still be in Philly.”