Alex G | Singer & Songwriter
If Alex G and I were best friends, this is what we would do: After I rummaged through her closet and borrowed her favorite maroon leather jacket and heeled suede brown boots, we would get cupcakes and gossip about Taylor Swift’s current flings. After consuming vast amounts of sugar, I imagine we would bounce around the city and celebrate the fact that she is almost 21 years old, has a growing partnership with Big Frame and just got back from her European tour with Tyler Ward.
An artist with over 269,000 YouTube subscribers, Alex started making music videos after winning a contest with the Tyler Ward Crew. As fate would have it, Tyler turned out to be her neighbor in Colorado, and after winning his contest, Alex and Tyler have been fast collaborators ever since. Originally unable to perform in public because of her stage fright, Alex found YouTube to be the perfect alternative. Determined to show people she could sing, Alex took to her webcam to film her first video “Marry You,” which started her career in the Colorado area. Two years later, Alex has been the opening act for two of Tyler Ward’s tours and now splits her time between Colorado and Los Angeles working full-time developing her YouTube channel. After a lunch that stuffed us with cheesecake and sweet potatoes, Alex and I hiked around Los Angeles to chat about her inspiration to pick up guitar, how the boy next door launched her career and the tattoo she plans to get when she turns 21.
NMR: Lucille Ball is one of your favorite people. Why do you love Lucy?
Alex G: I grew up watching “I Love Lucy” and “The Carol Burnett Show,” and I’m like obsessed with Carol Burnett. And I don’t know, there is just something about that humor, that old humor back in the day that I’ve yet to see captured today. It’s kind of like this innocent — I don’t know how to explain it — I just absolutely love her because she’s a genius. Same with Carol Burnett. She is the only lady, the only person in the world that I would ever cry if I got to meet her, like it’s so weird. You’d think like everyone loves [in high girly voice] Justin Bieber and Zac Efron and One Direction, and I’m like Carol Burnett. She’s like gonna die in the next 30 years; I gotta find her and meet her! It’s so crazy. I don’t know, I have a soft spot for Carol Burnett.
What inspires you about them? What have you picked up from them?
Just something about watching their shows and watching them makes me happy. It’s just like I could be super sad and like literally watch a Carol Burnett show and make my whole day. Something about them is just genuine, and I feel like they are good. Well, I don’t know, but they put on a persona that is very like relateable-ish, and I feel like I’d meet them and they’d be just so down to earth and awesome, and I don’t know, I just love them and how genius their comedy is.
Do you have any other celebrities that you would maybe tear up if you met them, but maybe not full on bawl?
Maybe Taylor Swift. I don’t get too fangirl over a lot of people. Never have, but I just really look up to Taylor Swift a lot and her songwriting, and I guess like I said before how relatable she is to someone like me. And I really respect her for not taking the route every other young star seems to take; like at least if she’s doing crappy stuff, we don’t know about it, so I really like that about her. And she has this kind of — I don’t want to describe her as magical; she is just aww Taylor cute.
What do you think about her dating the Kennedy kid?
[laughs] I didn’t have any thoughts about that. All I know is my mom was like, “Oh, the Kennedys! She doesn’t want to get involved with that! Like woah,” and I was like, “What?” [laughs] And I’ve heard stuff about her from people from people who work with her that she’s not as innocent as she comes across, like she gets around, and I’m like, “Oh dang.” I’m like, “Taylor! Girl, what are you doing!” That’s okay; I still love her.
When you began, you were really anxious to perform in front of people and that stopped you from pursuing music at first. What made you decide to start your own YouTube channel?
Okay, interesting story. A year ago I had a boyfriend, and his sister actually sang, and she was like the kind of person that would sing in front of people and do it a lot and do it loud so that you knew she was singing — “Look at me.” And I was just like, “Man, like I can sing, I know I can sing, I want people to know that about me.” It was like this talent that I was just too scared to show people, so I decided to make a YouTube cover. So I got on my computer and just sang to this karaoke track, and all of a sudden, people from my school would see it and be like, “You sing,” and I was like, “I guess so. I don’t know.” [laughs] And it just kind of took off from there I guess.
Were you anxious the first time you put this video up?
Oh my gosh, yeah! I did like 17 takes, and I was nervous but was a lot easier for me to just do it to my computer even though technically more people were going to see it because it was going on the Internet. It was a lot easier for me to just do it in my room by myself on my computer, but I was still nervous.
Do you still get nervous?
What was your first cover?
[laughs] Yeah, “Marry You” by Bruno Mars. We’ve come a ways. I didn’t know how to act in front of the camera so I was just like … like, “What?”
What was it like watching that video afterwards for the first time and seeing that you had done something you had wanted to do for so long?
I mean, I never really thought that I would be the kind of person to put myself out there in front of the world like that, so it was kind of scary seeing myself on video. And you’re your own toughest critic, obviously, and it’s just like there are little things that bothered me about how I was doing things but you just kind of got to throw it out there and see what people say and be vulnerable. It was scary, but it was really exciting. I was like, “This is so cool. I just did this myself, with a friend. It’s neat!” So yeah, it was cool.
Since then you’ve joined the Tyler Ward contest, and then you’ve collaborated with him and so many other people. How has your channel grown and evolved since these first videos?
Well, lets see. I mean, Tyler helped a lot. He gave me kind of like a platform to go and do things myself and that I could create a fanbase that was an Alex G fan base and not just like Alex G and Tyler Ward sort of thing, because I wanted to be an independent artist, and I wanted to do my own thing. So I guess what happened was I was relying on him a lot to do certain things, and he was helping me, and we collabed, but it got to the point where he would get really busy, and I was like, “What do I do? I don’t want to just end this music thing.” So I found ways to do it myself, basically, so I learned how to edit video. I came out here to L.A. and started working with other producers and stuff like that, so basically he helped me, and I kind of just took off on my own and grew my channel by like just doing the cover thing, and now I’m getting to put original stuff in.
How do you strike a balance between covers and originals? Is there one that you’d rather be doing?
Oh yeah! It’s so much more fulfilling to do originals, and it’s fulfilling when your fanbase appreciate your original work and then respond to it well. So I would rather be doing a bunch of originals. It’s cool to do covers; covers are cool, but covers basically just help the channel stay relevant and it brings in more people.
For both your covers and original stuff, you really like writing about things that you’re passionate about. Is that something you drive to focus on when you’re picking a song or when you’re writing a song?
For writing a song, it’s very hard for me to write if it’s not something that is dear to my heart or something I’m going through that I’m, like you said, passionate about or just having a hard time emotionally with. So it’s much easier when it comes straight from the heart, straight from the mind, instead of just like, “Well,l what would this person say if they were going through this situation?” and yada, yada, yada. And then for covers, it doesn’t have to do so much with what I’m passionate about. I guess if I like this song, and if it’s a big song, it’s like more of like the business side of things with covers, and then originals is more like focus on myself as an artist.
It’s kind of hard doing covers that everyone and their mothers know. How do you keep yours unique to you then?
There are ways. Like some people do a karaoke type version of a cover song, and in my opinion, that’s not going to drive as many people. It will drive views; like there will be a lot of views but it’s important to me to like kind of have this Alex G flavor on the song, like acoustifying it and stuff, so yeah, sorry I kind of like forgot what you said. Wait what was your question? I was like going off and like what was the root of the question?
How do you kind of keep these covers unique so that people feel like they are getting something different from this cover as oppose to everyone else?
You just have to change the cover basically. Like say it’s a pop hit: I’ll make it into a slow acoustic. If you just make it as unique as you can, show a little bit of artistry into it, I think they’ll appreciate that. A lot of them will download it and stuff like that. Instead of just being a singer, it makes you more of an artist.
What made you decide you wanted to pick up guitar — because you learned it super quickly.
I guess I did! Basically, I was going to college, and my roommate didn’t really talk to me ever so I was like, “What am I going to do sitting here in my room,” so I decided to pick up guitar because I had always wanted to learn, but I was just too impatient for as long as I could remember. And so my mom gave me her old guitar, and I took it up to school and literally just played Taylor Swift songs over and over again until I learned it, and I never took lessons or anything. I learned by myself, and I’ve been doing it for two years.
Did that make your roommate love you more when she heard Taylor Swift eight hours a day?
She just … no. [laughs] No, not really. Not really, but that’s okay. Sweet girl, I guess. Just kidding — don’t put that in there, she might be reading this.
When did you decide that college wasn’t for you, that you wanted to pursue being an artist? What was the feedback you got from people? Was it kind of a huge leap of faith?
It really was. At the end of my first year, my college experience, I was waiting to hear back from Tyler if I was going to go join him on the American tour on the end of the year. And so I was thinking like, “If I get to go on that tour, that’s going to be five weeks, and if I get to go on that, I don’t want to go back to school.” I kind of just want to focus on music, and he basically said like, “I think you’re ready. Let’s do it.” Okay! So from then I just put all my focus into my channel and music and performing, and man, I never thought that that was going to happen for me because I was always really focused on school. And my parents were just like, “Go for it. Sweet, we don’t have to pay for your college anymore,” and I was like, “Yeah, I guess?” And I had a boyfriend at the time; he wasn’t too thrilled about it, I guess. Well, that’s a long story, but most the people around me were very supportive.
So you’ve kind of taken this non-traditional route not going to the big record companies and giving them your demo; you’re using YouTube. What have been the advantages, and also maybe some of the drawbacks to using social media to support yourself?
I mean, I’m very lucky because I met Tyler. It would be very hard for me to just like do it on my own, starting fresh with like no one to give me kind of a platform. I’d say like a disadvantage would be if that was the case and I was just doing it on my own, because everyone’s like, “Yeah, YouTube is great exposure,” but the truth of the matter is if you’re working with people who are bigger than you and can get you that exposure at the start, like that’s a great way to jumpstart unless you have a completely unique different-than-anyone-else sound and everything and you’re just driving people yourself. So it’s hard, but if you can get to that point where you don’t really need a record label, it’s like all the better because you get to do whatever you want: you get to put as much music as you’d like, you control your channel, you control your brand and your music, and in my opinion, if you can do it that way, do it that way. It’s cooler to have everything done and then go to a record label and be like, “Look at my fanbase, look at all the songs I’ve written and all this stuff. Now I’m ready to get on radio or something.”
Is that something you would want to do eventually? Do you want to go to a record company and show them all your music?
I think if I have grown independently first, I think that’s what I would like to do. Because once you want to start to get on radio and stuff like that you would need a record label, so yeah. Yes.
The ultimate dream?
I think so, yeah. The big dream — far-fetched — is like I would say I want to be as big as Taylor Swift, and I have a ways to go, but that’s the big dream.
What do you love about her so much?
I just love her. I think her relatability to people of my demographic and her writing to me is just so — she’s just so gifted in how she can say things so simply and so unique and creativity. I’m like, “That’s exactly what I just wrote in my diary yesterday sort of thing!” Like, if I had a diary. And she just seems like a sweet girl. I don’t know — I would want to be her best friend sort of thing.
Some people critique Taylor because she writes a lot of break up songs that can be tied back to a specific individual almost all of the time. Do you think that makes her more relatable, or do you think there is a point where you can’t draw on those experiences so much?
See, there is a lot of people that say that, there is a lot of people that kind of get sick of the whole like, “Oh, it’s just all about guys,” and I’m like, “Well, yeah,” but I kind of get that. I think I get that more now because I am doing music and I’m writing. For me, so far the most passionate I’ve been about a subject and the most emotionally involved I’ve been about something is like relationships. And so I get it. It’s the easiest thing to write about. I think it would be really, really cool to hear her do something else. She always has one or two songs on her album that are like not about a guy, which I like those, I like those a lot, and I think it shows a lot about an artist and their talent if they can write about more than just one subject, you know? So I think people would respect her more, but I mean, I’m fine with it. I like listening to it because I can relate.
What are you working on right now while you’re out here in L.A. and also when you go back to Colorado?
Right now I’m working on writing sessions, and that’s new because I’ve only written with myself and Tyler, so I get to write with some really talented people, and I’m just doing a lot of recording and like filming and trying to get my YouTube channel going again because I haven’t been able to since I’ve been on tour.
How was touring?
Tour was awesome! Europe is like fairy tale wonderland; it’s crazy. It’s just another world. But it went by so fast, and I think by the end of it I kind of go sick of the weird German meats that we’d be fed at the venue, but other than that it’s an amazing experience to perform live. It just always is, and especially with a crowd who’s so engaging and who knows who you are. It was just really awesome and a good experience for me because I need more experience performing live.
How do you balance these two careers, because you have the things you have in Colorado and then you come out here to L.A. and you seem to be going a thousand miles an hour?
Yeah, I mean it’s not too hard. I love Colorado because it’s my home and my family and like the core of who I am. I love being there, but it’s good to come out here because everybody is doing what you’re doing, and it’s good to network with everybody and just go crazy, and it’s nice to just come back to Colorado and just like breathe, because I am like working myself to the core here, but it’s good; I like that. Sometimes I get a little anxious because I feel like I need to be working, so I like coming out here and doing that, and it’s like a different motivation when you come out here because everyone’s like just hardcore working, you know? So it’s just more of a competitive scene, but it’s good for me, so it’s cool, it’s cool.
Who are you working with out here?
This week I came out to work with these writers. I’ve never worked with them before, but my YouTube management company Big Frame, kind of set me up with them. We wrote some stuff together, and usually I’ll come out here and collaborate without YouTubers. I just did a song with Chester See, and me and Dave Days have been talking about doing a song together so as much networking as I can get done, I will. And I have a producer here, Jameson Bass, who lives in Thousand Oaks, so I’ll go to him.
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How has it been working with a management company? Would you recommend it for other people?
Yeah, at first it was a little bit more difficult for me because of what I do, and I was one of the only people in Big Frame who do music so there wasn’t a lot of brand dealing I could do, but there was a lot of networking and other people to like do stuff with and things to get involved in that I would have never known if I had never signed with them. So I would definitely recommend it, it’s good. It’s a good way to get opportunities like I said and just meet everybody on YouTube. It’s good; it’s definitely a positive experience!
When you think back over the craziness over the past couple of years, what are some of the best parts of this entire journey?
I feel like I’m just a completely new person than I was before I was doing music and the beginning of this music thing. I’ve learned so much just about myself and about music. I didn’t know anything! And it’s just cool now knowing that I can be so independent and do something that I’m passionate about. It’s the coolest thing ever to do something you are passionate about for a living, and I’ve just learned that to be more independent I’ve grown up a lot, had to deal with things on my own, and it’s just been a real blessing. And I’ve met some of my best friends, so that’s cool; they are kind of like family. They are all dudes, so it’s cool.
What do you hope that people take away from your music?
I just hope that they can hear the realness. I always want to be genuine in my lyrics; I never want to just write a song to write catchy song. Like I want them to get a piece of me in each song that I write. I think that’s important; I think you will have long lasting fans that way.
So your 21st birthday is coming up — do you have any big 21st birthday plans?
[laughs] No, I don’t, but I really don’t have anything planned, but I feel like maybe my friends are probably going to “Just let’s go be crazy!” And I’m going to be like, “Holy crap, slow down.” We’ll see. It’s in April, so we’ll see.
If the craziness happens, and you have the option of going to the tattoo shop like the one we passed at lunch, what would you get?
Okay! I have been thinking about getting a tattoo for the past like six months. I’ve been considering it, and I finally figured out what I want. Nothing flashy, but literally the word “serenity” like on my wrist, and I say that because have you ever heard that saying “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change and change the things I cannot accept”? So that’s been quite the life lesson for me in the past year is to just accept what I cannot change and realize that it’s not all in my control and to calm down and to relax. I might just do that actually!
YouTube channel: http://www.youtube.com/user/AlexGMusic7
Photography by Melly Lee