(Sandy) Alex G – aka Alex Giannascoli the 24-year-old artist formerly known simply as Alex G – has been churning out rough cut gems for around a decade now. Most of that material is unreleased but remains internet gold. The Philadelphia-based lo-fi genius is releasing Rocket, his eighth official full-length album, that’ll also be his second on Domino Recordings following 2015’s Beach Music.
The G man’s career has taken some perhaps unsurprising turns lately, with Frank Ocean even roping him in to contribute to his Blonde album. The story goes that Alex was on tour in London, when he got an email from Ocean’s manager, asking if he wanted to meet. He ended up recording with Ocean in London and Los Angeles winding up on the Blonde track ‘Self Control’.
But we’re not here to talk about Frank Ocean we’re here to talk about (Sandy) Alex G!
Rocket is mostly a soft cut country-tinged affair with an American folk streak running through it, like on standout track ‘Bobby’. That said, it also comes with some signature curve-balls like noisey hardcore headbanger ‘Brick’. We called Alex up for a chat about 🍕 and song writing.
Hiya Alex! The country rock vibe on your new album Rocket is really hitting the spot right now. Is that the kind of stuff you’ve been listening to lately?
I’ve been listening to a lot of pop or country stuff while we’re touring because it’s a consistent thing you can get on the radio across the country. So that’s probably how that seeped in there.
You’re a Lucinda Williams fan right?
What is it about Lucinda Williams’ music that you like?
Her music just sounds good ya know, but I guess I like the lyrics too. I like the read-between-the-lines thing of her lyrics. Car Wheels On A Gravel Road, that album, you can see this whole picture of her family or whoever she’s talking about even though she doesn’t explicitly say anything.
I really love the way she shines a light on the everyday, she makes the mundane poetic.
That’s true, She’s really good at that.
What else have you been hooked on?
There’s this guy called Daniel Wohl who has this album called Holographic, it’s just really cool instrumental stuff. Otherwise I just listen to the radio a lot. I used to like this band called True Widow and I still like ‘em I think I just listened to them too much.
How much of your new record is biographical personal experience stuff and how much of it is stories and characters?
It’s a combination of both. I’d like everything to come off as honest, so I got to draw from either personal experience or the experiences of people around me. I try to weave it together in a way that masks it. If I got to write something and I want to make it good, I got to be honest about it and to be honest about it I gotta draw from personal experience.
What are some of the themes and stories on the record or do you prefer to be ambiguous about that?
It’s probably better to leave it ambiguous just because it’d probably destroy the personal feelings the listener can get from it or whatever relatability it has would be kind of tarnished if I talk about where everything came from.
Have you written songs in the past about people you know and they’ve realised or found out?
It’s happened. People will ask and then I’ll just deny it until the end [laughs]. The people that realise it are the people who ask me about every song though, saying ‘that one’s about me’ and I’m always like ‘no’ and eventually they hit it and I’m like ‘oh shit’. There’s no one song about one person, it’s usually stitched together and little things.
What would you call this stage in the Alex G world, what phase are we in?
Probably level 4.
How many levels are there?
I don’t know!
When I was listening to Rocket I was thinking that most of the record is super sweet country rock but you throw in these almost deliberately destructive warped sound. Did you sit and think maybe this should just be a straight up record or what’s the reason for those sonic curve balls?
To balance it out. I’m not sitting there thinking this album has too many pretty songs I need to write a harsh song, I don’t think about it that hard. Once I start making a song I start thinking about what should go into it as I go along but once it started going into that harsher direction I figured it would be a good fit because the records so tilted in the one way with the sun drenched sounding country stuff. In my opinion it balances it out a little bit.
Do you think those harsher sounds also tread a fine line between humour and absurdity. Are you worried they come off as a joke?
Honestly, I do worry about it but then I try and catch myself because I don’t want to worry about it, it’s not important. If a person didn’t get the right impression from it, then that’s my fault for not making it clear enough, if i have to explain it then that seems like a mistake on my part.
Or they maybe don’t get your music and they should move on! What’s your writing process?
I usually just sit with a guitar or recently I’ve been using a keyboard more and I’ll just sort of mess with it ‘til I come up with a little thing I want to keep repeating, something that I like. It’ll usually be a hook and then I build on that and keep going until I have something then I just add all the other stuff, the stuff that’s on top, the little riffs. You know, the extra, I add that after I record the real base chord progression.
So it’s like putting toppings on a pizza basically. What’s your fave pizza topping?
Depends. Jalapeño and pineapple is really good.
Lots of people think it’s sick to put pineapple on pizza.
With jalapeño it’s pretty good because they’re really spicy and the pineapple’s really sweet, like a great compliment.
Are you a lover or a fighter?
[Laughs] What!? I’m a lover because I suck at fighting.
What’s the last book you read or what are you reading?
I got half way through Naked Lunch and stopped because it was too intense. I started this book called Faust it’s kind of a play, it’s pretty cool, it’s pretty old so it takes me a while. It’s pretty cool that it’s 300 years old or something and still rings pretty true.
Will people be saying that about your music in 300 years time?
[Laughing]. Everybody is probably still asking you about working with Frank Ocean. I felt like ‘Sportstar’ on your new album was kind of a nod back to working with Frank on Blonde, with the autotune type thing.
Probably subconsciously. I’m sure that was a big influence. When I’m making the stuff I’m not thinking too hard, I’m not being like ‘Oh I want this to sound like this guy’ or whatever. Honestly I think it came more from the radio, like the drum beats that are in most of the new Drake songs, I think that’s where I drew some influence.
If we came to Philly where would you take us on a date?
There’s a cool old pier in Philly that’s not used any more, people call it graffiti pier. That’s a good date spot if we get a six pack and you can sit next to the water.
Somebody asked me to ask you if you’ve seen the entire Matrix trilogy and what do you think of the end?
No I’ve only seen the first one, the original. That was cool.
The other two are a bit shit so don’t bother. Did you write and record most of Rocket at home?
Pretty much. I wrote it all at home and then I recorded it wherever the appropriate instrument was for the song. I have the guitars and keyboard at home so I did all that there, my friend Scotty has drums and Sam has drums so I’d just go there.
Is it important to you to retain the lo-fi bedroom sound at this point or it’s just a by product of how you work?
I think it’s coincidental. I’m happy with it. I’m down with whatever as long as I can be working on it and messing with it as long as I want. I’m reluctant to start recording in a studio to give up some of that control over the track.
Also once you’re in a studio time is money and all that.
Exactly because I sit with this stuff forever. If it’s in a studio it’ll probably make the music suck because I won’t be able to pick at it so long.
Or maybe you’d not overthink it and get it done quicker.
True and make the best record I ever made.
What’s for dinner?
Maybe a hot dog.