Alex G: - It drives me crazy

Alex G forteller om turnélivet, musikken og tilværelsen som kult-ikon.

Alex G - eller (Sandy) Alex G, som han nå kaller seg - er i vinden for tiden. 24-åringen, som er blitt kalt internetts beste låtskriver av The Fader, har gitt ut sitt syvende album, Rocket, til stor kritikerbegeistring. Han har samarbeidet med Frank Ocean, og spilt på tvers av kloden. Ting går rette veien. Bare fire år etter at han startet å turnere har kult-ikonet rukket å pløye seg gjennom Europas scenelandskap for tredje gang.

Jeg møter Alex G på et av Rockefellers bakrom. Han virker litt utladet, og det er forståelig: Oslo utgjør den store finalen på en lang Europa-turné, og flyet tilbake til statene forlater rullebanen ved morgengy dagen derpå. Om litt skal han på scenen igjen, for siste gang på en stund.

How has this tour been? You’ve come to the end now?

- Yeah, this is out last show, and it’s been really fun - it’s been cool playing shows in Europe where people actually come out. We’ve done a few Europe tours where it doesn’t feel like people like it that much, or something, so it’s cool being here and feel successful or something, you know.

Any theory as to why that is? The music style?

- I think it just takes time for anything to catch on, you know; we toured in the states so many times that by now we feel confident that people will come out, but I think it’s just the first couple of times you go anywhere. I don’t know, yeah, I think that sums it up; I think it was just because it was our first few tours people just didn’t know who we were.

What’s touring now compared to earlier on? How has your touring experience changed?

- Um, it’s gotten more comfortable, definitely. In the US, when we tour, we can afford hotels, like usually; and also we play bigger venues now so a lot of times there’s a backstage with, you know, water and beer and snacks and stuff, and that’s great because you don’t have to buy as much food - and more people coming out, you know.

Med musikken i fokus

Artisten ‘Alex G’ ble på mange måter til på internett. Gjennom egenprodusert og selvpublisert musikk på Bandcamp mobiliserte han en etterhvert stor tilhengerskare. Han ble et slags kult-idol. Det var ikke teknikaliteter eller estetikk, men musikken, som stod i fokus. Slik er det fortsatt: Alex forteller at han fortsatt spiller inn musikken sin selv, med mye av det samme, enkle utstyret som tidligere. Det er fortsatt musikken som står i fokus, med andre ord.

Given that you’ve had such a devoted online following for a long time, how did you first get into writing and recording your own music? How old were you, and how did it happen?

- I guess it was when I was like 12 or 13; my family got a computer, and it was, you know, a big desktop Mac, and it had GarageBand on it - and I thought that programme was awesome. Like, I first would make songs by dragging the pre-made loops - you know how GarageBand has all those loops? - and so I’d just do that, and I’d chop them up and make different songs out of the same loops, and then I realised I could just record and do my own thing, you know. And then, when I was maybe 15 or 16, my aunt and uncle got me a present for Christmas: a Samson Q1U - it’s a microphone that looks like a regular dynamic mic, but it has a USB plug, so you can just plug it right into your computer. That’s what I’ve used for every album - including Rocket; the same mic.

Oh, really? Wow. When did you first realise that your stuff was catching on; that people were listening to your music on Bandcamp?

- Uhm, it was a really slow process - even long before Bandcamp I would make CDs that I’d give to my friends, and they would like it and be encouraging and stuff, so I’d make more to give to them, and they would give it to people; to their friends or whatever. So it was never - I didn’t put it on Bandcamp and be like ‘wow people are actually listening’, I sort of just put it there so I could send it more easily to people; it’d be easier for people to share it, I guess. I think the biggest, like, ‘jump’, was when Matt Cothran, who plays in the band Elvis Depressedly, found my music - when I was 18 or 19 - and posted on his band’s page, and they had a lot of followers.

One thing I thought was curious: one of your first singles on Bandcamp, which is called ‘Joy’, is ridiculously expensive - 123 dollars. Is there a specific reason for this, or did you just figure that some hardcore fan might buy it anyways?

- No-one’s bought it - or maybe someone bought it before it was 123 bucks, but… I just did that because I was hoping someone would buy it, haha.

I thought it was hilarious, I wasn’t sure if it was a form of a meta-critique-thing or just…?

- Oh no, I was just like one two three, like ‘maybe someone will buy it for 123 bucks’.

- I was an immature kid

Alex G og musikken hans blir diskutert flitting på diverse internettfora, som YouTube og Reddit. Han har en spesiell tilhengerskare som liker å tolke musikken hans og lete etter store sammenhenger - og med tekster som “Don’t make me hurt you / I’m watching you from here” (Salt, Beach Music) og “Feel like a million eyes on me / Feel like a cannon ball i see / A tree it loses all its leaves / And you are dead to me” (Boy, DSU) er det kanskje ikke så rart. Men Alex G er skeptisk: han liker ikke å utdype egne tekster.

You have a devoted following online, and they seem to read a lot into your music. I know you’re not that fond of explaining what your songs are about - is that because you lose some of the magic if you know what it’s about?

- Yeah - I think my aim is to make lyrics that you can make your own interepretations of. I’m not trying to make lyrics that are like ‘here is what it’s about’. Because to me it’s about something, but I definitely want it to be about the same thing to you that it is to me. So it’s cool that people read into it, I guess; that makes me feel like I’m doing something right.

Do you ever go on Reddit or Youtube and read what people write about your songs?

- Sometimes - when I realised that people were writing about it I did, but then so many times people read things in a way that I didn’t intend them to be read, and it just drives me crazy. Or people say rude things, or, you know, whatever; it’s just healthier not to look, because it would drive you crazy - it would drive me crazy, I’m too weak-minded.

People manage to find a lot of unreleased material that they put up online. How do you feel about that?

- I think it’s cool that people are that interested. The only thing I have against it is my fear that someone will look up ‘Alex G’ or something - someone who doesn’t know me - and find a really old recording, and think that that’s what I’m about now or something, you know. But it’s cool that people like it, and go deeper to find the old stuff - it’s just… I think the old stuff is kind of bad, because I know myself and who I was when I made, you know, and to me I was an immature… kid, you know, so it sounds silly. But I can understand why to someone else it doesn’t sound silly. And that’s all - I guess I just fear that people would listen to it and think that that’s me - what I represent now - because some of the things I say when I was younger I think are, like - I think it’s immature, some of the things I say.

I see, I’ve listened to some of it myself and I think it’s really good, but I understand where you’re coming from!

- Oh thanks - yeah, I don’t think it’s bad, it’s just knowing me, I think - yeah, you know, it’s like reading your diary from when you were a kid, if you ever kept a journal, or something.

- It just happens

Sjangermessig lar ikke Alex G seg gjerde inn. Musikken hans danser lekende lett, om noe ugrasiøst, mellom rock, folk, country, jazz, industriell rap og hardcore punk. Alex spiller musikk som han vil, og bryr seg lite om å definere den - noe han har demonstrert atter en gang på Rocket, hans nyeste plate, hvor det kreative rekkeviddet er ytterligere ekspandert.

What’s your creative process like? What goes through your head when writing songs? Do you have a set story, or character, in your head, or do you just hear words that fit with the music and go with that?

- Uh… Well, the writing process - I guess it starts with a guitar or a keyboard - I come up with a riff or something, that sounds good when I repeat it over and over - and then a melody usually comes at the same time; like I’ll be singing or humming something, and there’s words that either fit, or I know what amount of syllables I want each word of the melody to have - something like that - and then I sort of fit it all together. And as far as subject matter - um, it’s hard to say because it happens differently for every song: sometimes I’ll go into it thinking ‘I want a song that has this mood’ or sometimes I just start linking words together because they work rhythmically, and then that creates the mood, and so I’m like ‘OK I’ll write more words that match this mood’, that is sort of like a random selection of words, because of the way they sound - and that’s probably how I do it most of the time. So it’s a mix.

You have a lot of contrasting styles in your music, especially on your newest album, Rocket. As an album, was it well planned or did you do a lot of improvising and experimenting?

- It was both. I guess I knew I wanted it to be balanced; like I didn’t want it to be six country songs, one jazzy song, and two more country songs, you know. It was more like) ‘on this side I need a folky one, and on this side I need a jazzy one’. But like, I forget in what order I recorded the songs, but once I made about 5 or 6 songs, then the remaining 6 songs were kind of responses to those previous songs—just not in a really calculated way, but I knew I needed to make it fit; I needed that, but I also needed it to flow, if you know what I mean? Like, if the songs had to be different, every song had to be different.

Two songs that have been discussed a lot are Brick and Sportsstar. Both of them are a bit different from your previous style, but in very different ways. Brick has all this noise, and has been compared to Deathgrips. Sportsstar has all these effects, and has been compared to some of Frank Ocean’s stuff. Did you have any particular influences on those tracks?

- No - I noticed a lot of people compared Brick to Deathgrips, which is cool, but to be honest I don’t know any of Deathgrip’s music, really. Not that I have anything against them—they’re probably and awesome band - but I just don’t listen to a lot of music, I listen to one band at a time. I guess, maybe I was thinking of like hardcore bands that I was listening to growing up, and the fact that it was digital drums instead of regular drums was just because I wanted it to sound ‘harder’, or more industrial or something; I guess I was just thinking about going to shows where it’s a hardcore band and the guys are channing, you know, really rhythmically. And in terms of Sportsstar - I don’t really know why people compare it to Frank Ocean --

Yeah, it might just be the fact that you’ve collaborated with him?

- Yeah. Yeah, I don’t think it really sounds like him at all, but I get why people would say it because of the autotune; it makes it sound more ‘pop’, like mainstream, but that just kind of happened - the first thing that happened with that song was the piano - I mean, not to be boring, but - the choice to make it autotune was made later, and the choice to have the drums being kind of like salsa or whatever beat it was - I don’t know --

It just happends?

- Yeah, it just happens - yeah. I can’t remember.

- It was fun

I 2016 fikk Alex G en telefon fra Frank Ocean. Han ville samarbeide. Alex spilte gitar på noen av låtene på Endless og Blonde, noe som i ettertid har gitt ham mye oppmerksomhet. Men Alex har ikke blitt høy på pæra av den grunn; når jeg spør om hendelsen trekker han litt på skuldrene.

There’s been written a whole bunch about your collaboration with Frank Ocean. Do you have any other collaborations planned, or any dream collaboration you would want to do? Or is that not something you think about?

- I don’t think about it, but I’m open to it because it was fun doing that. Yeah, nothing planned for the future, but it’d be cool. I guess right now I’m just looking forward to getting home and working on something to come after Rocket because I haven’t really - it’s been like… the album came out in May, and now it’s November, and I don’t really have anything recorded or anything like that, so I’m eager to get working on something, you know.

What are your thoughts on gaining this fame; on having more people listening to you, and becoming a bigger name? How would you feel about playing on bigger arenas? Is that something you think about?

- I try not to think about it, because I don’t want to be dissapointed by anything. But I wouldn’t mind - I mean, as long as nothing gets in the way of my creative process; as long as I can still do whatever I want, doing arenas would be fine, because then I’d have more money to do whatever I want, haha. So that would be cool. But that’s my only qualm about any of that stuff; it would be fine as long as it doesn’t impede on whatever I want to make.

Hva nå?

Etter en lang turné virker det ikke som Alex vet helt hva som vil skje fremover. Lite er planlagt. Men én ting er sikkert: han er gira på å lage ny musikk.

So after today, what are your plans for the upcoming time?

- I think I’m gonna go to visit my girlfriend - that’s when I land - and then… I’ll probably stay there for a couple of days, and then go home and start recording. Just so I don’t feel useless.

So you don’t write much when you tour?

- Hardly anything. At all. Because it’s too… it’s pretty much brain-dead all the time. I don’t know, you just wake up early, get breakfast, get in the van - you just think about when you’re gonna eat next, and when you’re gonna play, and when you’re gonna eat again - and then sleep.

Your girlfriend played violin on some of the tracks on Rocket, right?

- Yeah, Molly. Molly Germer. She’s so good at the violin. She played on a bunch of songs on Rocket.

Do you have any typical pre-show rituals you have to go through?

- No, well, I usually drink a bit of whisky, and we all sing a song - like, an Eagles song, me and the rest of the band. Sam plays guitar, Tom plays drums, and John plays bass, and we’ll like sing a song or something, just to feel looser, or something; it breaks the ice before you go on stage.

You should record that sometime.

- Maybe, haha, I don’t know; we sound pretty bad, but… it’s more just for us than for anyone else… yeah.

Jeg takker for intervjuet, og vi beveger oss mot John Dee, hvor Alex G og bandet avslutter turnéen - og dét med et brak. Den rolige fyren jeg traff på bakrommet har samlet krefter til nok et energisk, dog low-key og improvisatorisk sceneshow. Konserten tar gradvis av: et av høydepunktene kommer da Alex snubler og velter keyboardet sitt under en av flere løse og ledige jam-sessions, til latter og plystring fra publikum.

Det er kontakten mellom Alex og publikum som gjør konserten spesiell: dette er et publikum som ikke er redd for å la seg rive med i musikken. Over to timer (og en hel rekke gjennomførte låt-requester fra publikum) senere er Europaturnéen over for denne gang.

"We need somewhere to crash until our plane leaves at seven", erklærer Alex til et iherdig publikum, mot slutten av settet. Ikke noe hotellrom booket, med andre ord - det ble nok en lang natt.

En radioversjon av dette intervjuet ble sendt på Bra Trommis 6.11.2017. Klikk her for å høre sendingen!

Toppfoto: (Sandy) Alex G live på John Dee 11.11.2017 (fotograf: Johannes Volden)
Øvrig foto: (Sandy) Alex G backstage 11.11.2017 (fotograf: Johannes Volden)