As Much Fun As Possible
Pop Songs, Escapism, and Picking Up Chicks with Alexander Howard
Words and Photo by Ken Grand-Pierre
Being the support act for an international pop star’s first ever New York show has to be a tough undertaking, but it was a task that local musician Alexander Howard was more then willing to take on at Bowery Ballroom a couple weeks ago. Playing in support of John Newman (Rudimental), Howard won the crowd over with his catchy hooks and joyful tracks that made everyone forget about the shitty weather outside. After his set I sat down with him to discuss how music became such a major factor of his life.
Q: So you debuted a new music video recently, what is the song for that video about?
Alexander Howard: It’s a fun record. I wrote it about missing someone, and usually when you write those records you can usually find yourself in a bit of a dark place and I wanted to go more into the positive things you miss about someone and make an upbeat song. It’s a lot of fun to play and the video came out today on Interview Magazine which is great.
Q: Would you usually say that you’re influenced by experiences when it comes to songwriting?
Alexander: Yeah, definitely. A lot of the time I’ll just be sitting down with a guitar or piano and letting it flow very first-person, kind of a confessional type of way. It’s a very singer/songwriter thing but something I love is when you sit down with a producer and they give you these beats to work with, it kind of gives the song a sonic landscape to take form in. Things like that can change the vibe and emotion of something and help it from being a completely lyrical based idea. It really depends on the record on how you go about writing. You can have an instrumental sound that you’ve been sitting on for years and then one day it’ll just fit with what you want to do.
Some of my favorite songs are the kind of songs that hit you later on while you’re growing, and I feel that with song writing I also enjoy that process, taking moments and building them up. I love writing fantastical songs about average scenarios and making them into something more.
Q: Can you think of a record or song or album that inspired you towards song writing?
Alexander: Wow, that’s a tough one. There are a lot of influences that have come into my life over the years. I write pop songs and love pop music, like buttoned up to a tee I’d say a song like ‘Teenage Dream’ written by Bonnie McKee and Katy Petty, it’s just so straight-forward and simple, just three chords and the truth. It’s such a simple song and I think when everybody heard that they knew it was a smash because it was perfect and airtight.
I think that’s also a thing with country songs. Even though I don’t write country songs I do admire them because I think with country everybody understands how every button is fastened upon and there’s no stones unturned in that genre. A vibe I really love is in ‘Locked Out of Heaven’ (Bruno Mars), especially with the way it almost sounds like a Policey swaggy vibe in the track. It’s hard to answer this because I’m trying to think about what I’ve been into lately.
Q: Well what was the last track you listened to on your iPod?
Alexander: Believe it or not I don’t have an iPod or music on my phone (laughs).
Alexander: Yeah it’s really weird. I listen to Pandora and Spotify from time to time but I don’t really have a playlist or soundtrack for my life, I like to keep that space clear you know? It helps me to stay organic with how I write.
Q: Oh so you mean that you’d be afraid of writing a song and having it be somewhat derivative of something that you listened to earlier?
Alexander: Yeah, I remember when I first heard that Lorde record actually. This was back in March and I was in San Francisco with some buddies of mine who were playing the record in one of their rooms. I can still remember just going ‘….oh…wow..what is this?’ and then after that I kept writing songs somewhat similarly to that.
Q: You know it’s funny you bring her up because her rise to where she is now kind of reminds me of Foster The People, if you remember them. They had that one song (the way Lorde has ‘Royals’) and it wasn’t an immediate hit but it just kept growing and growing and growing.
Alexander: Yeah! I remember that. I can’t wait to hear that second record, it’s nuts how that was three years ago.
Q: Yeah definitely. I remember reading an interview with them where they kept emphasizing how different they want the second record to sound.
Alexander: I wonder if they’ll go that route, hopefully not too much like MGMT where you end up wondering ‘…uh?….’ Like they did what they wanted to do at the end of the day (laughs). Mmhmm I wonder what my jam is at the moment, I’m still stuck on that thought. When it comes to me I’ll just shout it.
Q: Can you think of an experience that you had that you wouldn’t have had without music?
Alexander: Certainly playing a sold out Bowery Ballroom show wouldn’t have happened without music (laughs).
Q: Absolutely, and with being a local musician as well it’ll be really cool to go to shops and such and bump into people who were at the show.
Alexander: Yeah totally. I actually recognized some people that I’ve seen before in the crowd. Without music I wouldn’t have…a few days back I was trying to imagine life without music and just thinking about that made me feel empty, it made things feel so one- dimensional, you know? I don’t like being cliché and saying ‘music is the air I breathe’ because even though that’s inherent, music is also very much a form of escapism as well. It’s such a deep part of you that’s inside of you but can take you far away. I think that’s the deep power of music. I think without that form of understanding and that ability to escape within music my life would be much less then what it is today.
Q: When it comes to playing live do you feel there’s something important to get across while you’re on stage?
Alexander: I think for me the most important thing is to have as much fun as possible because that fun can translate into a good show. Especially when it comes to some of these rock shows, there’s people who take it so serious and they don’t allow for their exuberance to kick in. It’s important to take your music seriously but if you can’t get lost in the fun of it I see it as a missed opportunity.
Q: Yeah I totally get that, especially when you see a band on stage who’s trying hard to ‘be cool’ or something.
Alexander: Yeah I see that all the time as well. I pride myself in knowing that no matter what I can put on a fun show, to me that’s very important. As long as I feel I conveyed that my songs are tight, personal, and mean something to me then I feel as though I did what I needed to do. Putting out something that you created, especially on stage…it’s such a personal thing to do, it’s wild.
Q: Can you remember the moment when you decided music was what you wanted to do and did you have any hesitations towards making that leap?
Alexander: Yeah I definitely remember writing my first song actually. I was a freshman in college and I was writing the song in my head while I was in class. When I decided to be a musician is a weird question for me because it’s hard to pinpoint where/when the actual turning point was. I think it was after being handed a guitar in high school by one of my teachers and I learned all this Detroit post-rock type of stuff. I kind of took that and my piano-based background and tried to fuse them, I really wanted to take both of those mindsets and make them work. Pop kind of made sense to me the most because of that exuberance we mentioned before and the tightness of songs that pop tends to have.
It might’ve been when I was touring Japan in high school when I realized that I wanted to do it (being a musician). It was a while after getting the guitar and playing post-rock shows and while I was there I can just remember having this feeling of ‘oh…ok this is alright’ (laughs).
Q: Wow it definitely doesn’t get better then that.
Alexander: Yeah, totally. With music you do always have to do what you can do to get by but it’s something I wouldn’t trade for anything else.
Q: When it comes to songwriting has their ever been a moment where you wanted to write a song inspired by something you didn’t expect to be inspired by?
Alexander: Yeah all the time. I think there’s a lot of songs where the feel is very linear as to ‘this is what I’m feeling’ like things like ‘I miss you’ and stuff like that. Though there’s other times where that’s not the case. For example a song like ‘Goodbye Moon’ that I played earlier tonight literally happened while I was stumbling drunk from a bar one night. This happened actually not far from here at a bar at Elizabeth Street, really dodgy place. It was 11 o’clock and I had such a rough night and I just started forming the lyrics in my head with ‘Goodbye Moon’ being like a ‘goodbye’ to the scene, that bar scene. I think with me and relationships I’m more interested in that moment before things happen. Like when you’re at a bar and you’re trying to get a girl to go home with you, I love the five minutes where you just know that it’s happening, that subtle yet immediate realization. You’ll be standing there with a smile on your face going ‘oh…yeah!’- to me that moment is more satisfying then anything else and I really wanted to capture that excitement and rush. I feel that’s the part of relationships you don’t hear enough about. You always hear about…well…the ‘act’ of pursuing/obtaining someone but I really wanted to explore that small singular moment where you just know.
Q: It’s almost like when you get that text from a girl asking ‘do you want to come over?’
Alexander: YES! (snaps fingers) Exactly.
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