Q&A: Alex G

The idiosyncratic, DIY singer-songwriter remains at peace in his own head

Photographer: Jeff Allen

Photographer: Jeff Allen

If there’s one thing to know about Alexander Giannascoli, it’s that he states things simply and sincerely. Since 2010, the Philadelphia artist made his name with a vast catalogue of self-releases on Bandcamp, fostering the kind of cult fans that seek out the most obscure songs from an artist’s beginnings. He reached wider audiences in 2014 with the critically successful “DSU,” and continues to rise with his recent Domino label debut, “Beach Music.” His latest creation is in line with his former albums; it is a strange yet compelling collection of warped, melodic short stories, bound by Giannascoli’s bedroom pop roots. Each character he plays with his pitch-shifted voice is like a branch of his own internal psyche, and once you think you’ve figured out the 22-year-old, you’re left guessing again. This much is clear: Alex G follows his instincts, and the results are entirely singular, and entirely his own.

The Wake: I noticed when I began looking you up that there are a lot of Alex G’s out there.

Alex G: Oh yeah!

The Wake: Have fans ever been confused by any of them?

Alex G: Only a few times has there been confusion, like people come into our shows to see the other Alex G, and they’re really upset when it’s just me. But I think it’s only happened twice. It’s really funny but I think we usually avoid confusion.

The Wake: I’ve been listening to as much of your discography as I could find in preparing for this, and you have a lot of work to your name, some that is hard to track down. Is “Beach Music” your seventh album?

Alex G: Something like that. I don’t really keep count, because there’s a lot of shit that I wouldn’t count that other people do count. [Laughs]. So I don’t know.

The Wake: What’s different about “Beach Music” compared to your previous work? What’s the same?

Photographer: Jeff Allen

Photographer: Jeff Allen

Alex G: There’s not much different. I made it the same way as I made the other ones. I guess the main difference is just where I was at when I recorded it, as far as my career and shit, and being on tour a lot around that time. I was recording in a lot shorter bursts, I didn’t really record every day. But I think that’s the only real difference.

The Wake: Is the recording process still mostly entirely you? Is the album mostly your vision?

Alex G: For the most part.

The Wake: You’ve been blowing up ever since “DSU” came out last year. What’s it been like being exposed to a wider audience?

Alex G: It’s nice being able to play shows, and then pay your bills with the money you get from those shows and shit. I mean, that’s the best part. [Laughs]. When a lot of people feel like they can relate to you or something, it makes you feel like you’re doing something right, I guess. That’s about it. I don’t really think of it.

The Wake: What’s your songwriting process like?

Alex G: Most of the time I start with a guitar part, and then record that, and keep adding onto that when I find a chord progression I’m happy with.

The Wake: What do you like to write about?

Alex G: I like to write about stuff that I think will make other people feel something, you know? That sounds like me, someone who is listening. That can come from my own life or experience. I just figure it out in the moment.

The Wake: A signature I’ve noticed throughout your songs is the pitch shifting of your vocals. Why do you use it, and what effect do you think it achieves for the listener?

Alex G: I like that it creates a new kind of character, like a new speaker in the song. There are some lyrics that I think would be better spoken by someone else. I use the pitch-shifter to make it like that, but still use my voice.

The Wake: What are you listening to right now? What artists do you find yourself being inspired by?

Alex G: I don’t listen to that much music, but there are some bands from Philly that I think are really good. There’s a band called Shelf Life, a guy from that band is actually on tour with us playing the drums. He makes music in a similar way, where he just does it all himself. There’s another band called True Widow that I think is really good, from Houston.

The Wake: With all these new technologies coming out, it feels like it’s so much easier for anyone to become an artist with complete, independent creative control. Have you noticed a similar trend in the DIY community?

Alex G: Yeah, I think the fact that this technology exists makes it inevitable that people who are interested in music will just get right to it instead of spending their time waiting to get studio time. Instead of that, they can just finish it all right away, and get good at recording themselves. Then you got two skills under your belt—one is producing and one is songwriting. [Laughs]. I think it’s just a better idea.

The Wake: How did you get started in making your own music?

Alex G: I got started when I was about 12 or 13. My parents got a Macintosh computer for our house, and that had GarageBand on it. I was always really interested in music, trying to write little things. When I saw that this was a really easy-to-use recording program, it was just a no-brainer that I got sucked into it, and couldn’t stop using it.

The Wake: You mentioned before the importance for artists to learn how to both produce and write songs. As a DIY artist, do you find that you have to take on a variety of different roles?

Alex G: At this point in my career there a lot of responsibilities that I didn’t have before I got signed to a label. Back in the day, when it was just me, and there was no label in mind or anything, the only responsibilities I took on were the ones I really enjoyed: making the music, which was something I couldn’t wait to do, and producing the stuff, which was part of creating it, and was really exciting. And that’s it. Once I was finished, I would just post them online so a lot of people could hear it, because I like the feedback.

The Wake: Do you find constructive criticism in uploading your material online?

Alex G: Personally, I don’t really like criticism I guess, as far as music is concerned. [Laughs]. In other aspects of my life, criticism is great and shit, but I think music is something I really… I don’t know. It’s something I hold very dearly. I don’t really like listening to someone tell me what to do.

The Wake: How have you come to create so many albums?

Alex G: I think because I record it at home it’s a really fast process. It’s not hard for me to believe because I know how much time I’m putting into it. It’s not like I lock myself away. I can lead a pretty normal life, and in my free time I just write songs and record them. It’s like a fun hobby, you know?

The Wake: It doesn’t feel like work.

Alex G: Right. It doesn’t feel like work at all. Instead of doing some other shit, I don’t know what people do—like play video games or something—I just make music.

The Wake: I also wanted to ask you about the album artwork for “Beach Music.” Where did it come from, and what does it mean?

Alex G: It came from my sister. I usually ask her to make the album art because she paints a lot, and we’re pretty close. I just gave her the album and said, “Hey, do you want to figure something out for this one?” And that was the image she sent over for the cover. That’s about as much thought as I put into it. I thought it was a great painting that Rachel made so I thought I’d use it. She’s a pretty spiritual person, so she probably invests a lot into that, into whatever religious symbolism or myth is associated with that image.

The Wake: Where does the title for “Beach Music” come from? It seems like it might be a little tongue-in-cheek.

Alex G: Yeah, a lot of people do think it’s tongue-in-cheek, and I understand why now. When I came up with it I didn’t think it was funny, I just thought it was a cool set of words. There wasn’t much to it other than I saw this cool book called “Beach Music” and thought it was a really title. I figured I’d call my album the same thing. [Laughs]. But that’s about as much thought as I put into that too! I just thought it sounded cool.

The Wake: When you’re making an album, are you trying to make a story that tells itself through each song, or is each song its own self-contained narrative?

Alex G: My sister said the different albums all work together because I record them all in the same chunk of my life. It all comes from the same place because I record it in such a small timespan. They are all united in that way. But as far as the narratives within each song, I think they stand alone.

The Wake: So what’s the common thread through “Beach Music”?

Alex G: I wasn’t really listening to any music in particular, so I think they all branched off kind of in an extreme way, from wherever they started. If one was slightly waltz-y, I just kept going in that direction rather than be grounded by some music I wanted it to sound like, because I didn’t have anything in mind.

The Wake: What’s next for Alex G? Will you still be pumping out albums in your free time?

Alex G: Hopefully, yeah! [Laughs]. A little less free time now, but we’ll see.