Preparing For Take-Off: A Conversation With (Sandy) Alex G

Friday’s are good for a number of reasons, but this coming Friday is extra special as Philadelphian singer-songwriter (Sandy) Alex G will be releasing his eighth studio album ‘Rocket’. Alex Giannascoli has been dazzling the musical world with his colourful catalogue since 2010, roping in a diverse fan base on account of his unique approach to making music.

Currently touring the states, G graciously took the time to have a little chinwag with us last week ahead of his forthcoming album. In our brief chat, we chatted about how his short attention span has been a key tool in shaping his heterogeneous body of work,  what it’s like working with Frank Ocean, and the key lessons he will take from the process of making ‘Rocket’ into his future recordings.

Best Before: Alex! What’s up man? Thanks for being able to chat dude.

ALEX G: Yeah, no problem at all.

So Alex, you’ve developed quite a reputation as a stalwart supporter of the DIY scene. Having self-released multiple EPs and LPs, were you nervous after first signing with Domino? Also, seeing as it’s now been two years, what differences have you noticed now that you’re apart of the Domino family?

I wasn’t that nervous to be honest. I was just really excited to get paid. The difference is that, with Domino backing the record, there are a lot more guarantees and when we go on tour, there are lot more connections that they have, which is really useful. I guess I was nervous before signing because the label side of things was a whole new world to me that I had no prior experience with. The industry stuff is all still pretty new to me but I guess I was just looking forward to quitting my job.

“Working with Frank Ocean was cool because I got to see the way in which he really uses all of his resources. He’d be flying people in to lay down a couple of tracks and then maybe not even use the tracks that they put down.”

One thing I love about your music is your ability to seamlessly hop between genres. For example on ‘Rocket’, in songs like “Brick” we hear a heavy beat driven mash but on “Guilty” you unveil a jazzier side.

How important is it for you not to remain stagnant in your approach to making music? Is it a conscious decision you make to kind of keep it fresh or is it something that  just comes naturally to you?

I think it just comes naturally for me. From song to song it’s just something that happens because I have a short attention span and because I’m doing it myself, I can really pursue every little idea to its full extent. It is kind of hard to explain, but for example, if I have a little riff that sounds jazzy, I can then build on that thought by making the drums jazzy and making the bass jazzy. I think it’s just to keep my own attention pretty much. I don’t really go into an album knowing what each song will be, I’m just making the songs one by one and then at the end of the year, when I have like 15 songs or whatever, I’ll call it an album.   

Now I’m really sorry if this question is getting old for you, but what was it like working with Frank Ocean on ‘Blonde’ and ‘Endless,’ and is it kind of annoying now being one of the many artists that has worked with Frank and always getting asked about it haha?

Working with Frank Ocean was cool because I got to see the way in which he really uses all of his resources. He’d be flying people in to lay down a couple of tracks and then maybe not even use the tracks that they put down. He was just trying to make the best album he possibly could with everything at his disposal and I guess it’s also cool to see someone working their ass off.

It’s not really annoying always getting asked about it, but I get worried that people think that I had more to do with it than I actually did or something like that, you know what I mean? I don’t want people to get the impression that I was like co-writing songs or anything like that I was just there to do what they told me to do.

Now I know you don’t like explaining the meaning behind songs but I noticed in “Alina”, you mention all the days of the week in succession, what is the meaning behind that? … I’m kidding!

Haha! Man I thought I had to make up some bullshit there for a second.

Now, I do actually have a question about all the animals you mention though. You have two tracks named after animals, dog’s barking and a goat painted on the cover, which is sick by the way.

My sister painted that!

Oh cool! Well I was just wondering if the animals in any way tie into the whole theme of transitioning from youth to adulthood that can be heard on the album, or was that just coincidental?

I wish I had a really good answer for this but it’s just coincidental haha. I wish I had some like mastermind shit going on but it just kind of turned out that way I guess.

“I think that’s something I’m going to take away from this album. I’m just going to be slowing down a lot because, I don’t know, I guess I’m just starting to hate the sound of my own voice or something.”

So can you tell me little bit about the Philly music scene? Now I know you grew up there and it’s your hometown but a lot of artists, when they start making waves, will gravitate to bigger cities. What has kept you in Philly for so long and what makes it such a special place for music?

Part of the reason is that it’s cheap and because it’s not a really big place. Like maybe in a city like NY, your music could get lost easier because it’s such a big place and there are so many people making music. For example, if you’re in a band in Philly, you can go to shows and you have the chance to meet the right people who can get you to play a couple of house shows and eventually you’ll start playing bars and stuff like that. I think it’s also just like a smaller bracket, and because it’s a smaller bracket, it’s much more supportive.

I noticed that a few of your bandmates play on a few tracks on the album but in the past you’ve mostly been a solo affair, other than a few features from long time collaborators like Emily Yacina. What made you decide to enlist the help of your friends on ‘Rocket’?

I think that’s something that I can probably attribute to working with Frank. Seeing how he dealt with all the collaborators, he would have people come in and play, then he would pick and choose the good parts that he liked. There are songs on the album where I have my friend Sam play guitar or my brother play piano and I just let them do their thing and then I come in afterwards and chop up the pieces that I think are good and slot them in the right place.

I also think that hearing something I didn’t play myself makes it a little more engaging for me when it comes to the process of mixing. When I’m listening to something I didn’t play myself over and over again, there are still things I can get some gratification from due to the fact I didn’t play it.

Is there anything in particular you can think of that you learnt in the process of making ‘Rocket’, either about yourself or as an artist that you’ll take into future recordings?

Let me think about that for a second… I’ve been coming to this conclusion: I know this album took me an especially long time and the albums to come after this one are probably going to take even longer. As I’m growing, I’m getting way more critical of the stuff that I’m doing, so inevitably the album takes longer because I’m scratching whole ideas and starting over, but when I was younger I would come up with an idea and just go with it. Now I delete whole tracks before they even come to fruition because I feel like they’re just going nowhere.

So I think that’s something I’m going to take away from this album. I’m just going to be slowing down a lot because, I don’t know, I guess I’m just starting to hate the sound of my own voice or something.

When are you coming down to Aus, mate?

Man, I wish we did! If an opportunity presented itself then we would definitely do it but it is a little difficult at the moment. Even trying to make Europe work is a pain, plane tickets and all that shit are really tricky.

Yeah for sure. Lastly, what music have you been listening to recently? Is there anything from this year that you have been rinsing in the last few weeks?

Man I’m like the worst person to ask about music haha! There’s an album that didn’t come out this year that I’ve been listening to a fair bit recently; ‘Isn’t Anything’ by My Bloody Valentine, it came out before ‘Loveless’. I’ve got it in my car and it’s super good.    

Well thanks so much for your time Alex, we really appreciate the chat.

Yeah man, thank you.

Stream ‘Rocket’ below: