An Earbuddy Interview with Alex G

Alex G

If Alex Giannascoli had not forged a career playing music, he would have been a teacher. Rather, he thought that being a teacher was the best thing he could do to have a successful life after college. Like many young adults, he had no idea what to do with his life. “People who became teachers seemed to graduate and get a job relatively quickly,” Alex said. “It wasn’t like that was my passion or anything.” Giannascoli always had a secret hope that his music might eventually turn into a career, but it wasn’t something he would ever let himself count on. Releasing a quiet trickle of his music on Bandcamp through his high school and college years, it seems that the doubts about security in a music career can finally come to an end. As Alex is talking to me, he has just returned from a European tour, and he is about to embark on a tour of the US, all the while garnering critical acclaim and sold-out shows for his latest release, Beach Music. Just “hanging out” in his Fishtown, Philadelphia home, he spoke to Earbuddy about what the success has been like, and how people react to his music.

What kind of music have you been listening to lately?

I’ve only been listening to two artists, really. There’s one, who’s from Delco actually, where I’m from, and he makes music under the name Brandon Can’t Dance. I used to see him in high school all the time, and then he took a break for a little while, but now he’s doing it again so I’m psyched. I’ve also been listening to a lot of that new Grimes album, Art Angels; that’s really good.

Is Brandon Can’t Dance something that’s always in your regular rotation for music listening?

Yeah, he’s someone that I’ve always been a huge fan of. When I was in middle-school, he had this thing called Rasputin Secret Police, and I saw them play, and I was like “What the fuck?” they were just so good. It was the first time that I had seen a band that was really DIY, not playing some big venue. So I looked them up, and I saw that he had a solo project where he would record everything himself. I think that kind of inspired me to start doing everything myself. It had this kind of sloppiness to it, but it added to the songwriting.

So were you writing songs before you realized you could record yourself?

Yeah, I would write little things, and I always wanted to make stuff. I would be drawing, or writing down little lyrics and stuff like that. It was sort of perfect timing, because I got a Macintosh computer with Garageband on it, and then I discovered Brandon’s music, and it was like this perfect circumstance. I had the ability to record myself with this new computer, and I had this influence telling me it was okay to make this really weird sounding music.

Since you were discovered on Bandcamp, are there any artists that you like on Bandcamp that you’re trying to get the word out about?

There are artists that I’m trying to get the word out about, but not any that I’ve necessarily discovered on Bandcamp. Mostly local bands that I see and are just, you know, fucking awesome, so I’ve gotta tell people about them. I don’t really browse Bandcamp, or even music in general, to be honest. I just listen to things that people tell me about, and then I’ll figure out what I like from there. But I don’t really seek out new music, necessarily.

Do you have any songwriting idols that you try to shoot for when you write?

Yeah, like some of the bands that we just talked about. At one point I was trying to write songs like Brandon, at one point Elliott Smith, at one point Isaac Brock. But now I’m not really thinking about any one person, I try to just bring all my influences into the process. In my past, it was kind of a learning process. I would figure out certain recording tricks based on trying to emulate other artists.

Yeah, your vocal style is definitely reminiscent of Elliott Smith.

Yeah, I don’t think it necessarily stems from trying to sound like him, I think it kind of grew out of trying not to wake my parents or have my siblings hear me. But after I heard him, I was like, “Oh yeah, I’m definitely gonna embrace this.” It’s just such a self-conscious thing, especially when you’re singing with no instruments behind it. You sound like such a doof.

After you kind of blew up recently after signing to Domino, what has it been like having a publicist and doing press and all of that?

It’s been pretty fine. It hasn’t really caused me a lot of stress so far. I’ve been kind of reluctant to do a lot of the press stuff because I’m just not used to it, and some of it seems kind of corny to me. I think part of my job is just to suck it up and do it, so that it sells more records, but I’m still kind of a baby about it.

So your day to day life hasn’t really changed at all?

Yeah, the only difference has been that my job now is touring, so I don’t have to get up and go to work. I just sort of get up, record all day, and wait until we leave again.

How has it been going on international tours?

It’s been really cool. I’ve told other people this when they ask, that I don’t really think I’m like a worldly person or anything after that. We just wake up, get in the van, and drive to the show, play it, and then find a place to sleep every day, so I don’t experience much, except what I see out of the van window.

Since you record basically every instrument yourself on your albums, do you like working that way?

Yeah, I love it. I hate bossing people around, but I also have a really specific sound in my head. I love being able to do it myself and not have to give anyone a hard time about doing it the right way or something like that.

So is it sometimes hard to explain what you want it to sound like live?

Yeah, but the guys that I play with have known me for a long time, so I think they can understand where I’m coming from. They usually get it pretty fast, because the live set is so much different from the recording. There’s so much going on in the recording, that for the live show we just kind of interpret the songs and make them their own thing played live.

So do your friends and people you play with listen to your music or talk to you about it?

No, we don’t really talk about it that much, and I don’t think any of them listen to my music, except for practical reasons. I don’t really listen to any of my friend’s music either. I think that once you’re friends with someone, it changes something about the music. When I listen to music I tend to idolize or glamorize the person in my head, and if you’re friends with someone, you can’t build up this imaginary character of who they are. Unlike with a stranger, they can’t be whoever you want them to be.

Earbuddy would like to thank Alex G for taking the time to speak with us. For now, be sure to grab a copy of his album, Beach Music.