Sometimes you get a rare moment, when an artist is really just happy to have a chat. Not just about music, but about exactly to whom it may concern, words and how science and creativity combine. This is pretty much exactly what happened when I sat down and had a chat with Alex the Astronaut. The Australian singer songwriter is set to release her highly anticipated debut EP: To Whom It May Concern on Friday, and after our chat, I simply cannot wait.
You had your first headline tour in Australia only a few months ago – what were those shows like?
It was really weird because I hadn’t played a show since we released the song and stuff. There was a point where people started singing the words of my song back at me; that was very strange, but very cool. It was a very cool first show experience. And yeah, I did a couple of small supports when I was back in May last year but this was my first proper show.
Have you been doing any shows in New York? Do you jump up on open mic nights or play Pianos?
I do! I played Pianos three times and I played at the Bitter End and at the Delancey just on support, really. I had to drag every single one of my friends to them; there was no one there except for them! I’d sell 20 tickets, it was nothing like the shows at home.
I was at the Melbourne show, I love it how your whole entire family was there!
(laughs) My little cousins were on facetime and I could see them the whole time. It was so cute!
You talked a bit about your Uncle being the first person to really show you the guitar, can you rehash that story a little bit?
When I moved to London, I started learning guitar when I was about 10. Every year I would come back for Christmas and stay at my Grandmas house. Every year everyone would kind of come over and say hi, and my uncle played guitar and I would always bring my guitar back. I had a songbook that I was meant to learn for class and one of them was “Space Oddity”. I’d never heard the track before so I didn’t actually learn it properly, I usually skipped over it but… he wanted to play it so he showed me how to play it. He showed me the recording and we played it in front of Grandma and my family and his family and whoever else. We played a couple of other songs and we had a cool little family gig.
Every time I’ve seen you play and every time I hear your music I feel like there’s so much passion behind what you’re doing, do you know where that comes from?
If I want to do something I’ll do it. I’ll try and do my best at it. There are plenty of things that I do that I don’t really want to do. Like statistics or something like that. I don’t study crazily for that stuff ad I’m not perfect at everything I do. I’m definitely not perfect. But when I really like something I try my best to get really good at it. So I put a lot of time and effort into doing my best I guess. I just find it fun, I don’t find it really hard work. I kind of put in without really feeling like I’m sacrificing time for it, I just like doing it. Because I do like it I want to get good at it.
You can tell though, when you see and hear you play, everything just seems so down to earth and so real. I’ve always wanted to know, are these songs based on real events?
Um…. Yeah. “I Believe In Music” all the things in that are real. “Already Home” yeah that was 100% true the bus was late!
I’ve always wanted to ask – Imagine If the bus wasn’t late!
(laughs) yeah! A lot of the things I do write are real and if they aren’t it’s usually like a line that didn’t rhyme or something that I’ve had to tweak or make sense or adjust. Pretty much everything is based on real stories.
…Your parents are such a big part of what you’re doing as well?
Yeah I think I’m pretty lucky that I get to do music. Kind of anyone that does art is really. I think music is a bit more specific. Because you get to say things that you wouldn’t really say in daily life, it can become a bit more meaningful and honest. It’s pretty cool to express the way you’re feeling. I’m not the best speaker, I can be very quiet like I can be loud but I wouldn’t say that I’m 100% the best with words in daily life but if I get time to write a song, I can express myself a lot better. So when you’re talking about someone you care about or something like that it just makes it better.
It’s like a nice sense of clarity almost?
You’re in New York at the moment, studying Maths and physics. For me as a writer, I can barely add two and two together on a good day! How do the two relate? They are almost two ends of the spectrum?
I’ve always been interested in science since I was really, really little. I always wanted to go to the science museums and make experiments at home and buy all those science books and stuff. It’s always been an interest that I’ve had. I’ve always thought that the thinking behind science is similar to writing songs. I’m doing my thesis at the moment so there’s lots of things that can go wrong, because it’s a big circuit. You can get one thing wrong and the whole thing won’t work, so you have to go back through and figure out what went wrong. Sometimes when you’re writing a song you have to go back through and say “I don’t like that line how do I go back through and make it work? Or what do I want to say with this? It’s the problem solving thinking, that’s how I tie the two things together.
Well it definitely works! Your debut EP is out on the 31st Congrats! It’s Called To Whom It May Concern, does it tie in to that really personal nature that you like to carry through your songs. Is that kind of what you were thinking about when you were titling the EP?
Yeah. It was kind of like that too because different stories play to different people. They’re all not going to be important to everyone. I didn’t write the EP all together. I’m happy that they’re all together, they don’t disagree with each other. It was more like I wrote three songs, then I wrote two more and we added them together. It was kind of like, this is a group of songs I’ve written. Whatever concerns you, listen to it, and if it doesn’t that’s OK.
When did you start recording the music for the album?
I contacted Ben McCarthy, who produced all the songs on the EP, in January last year – he said he wanted to help out and we became good friends. While I was back, I flew to Melbourne for two days and we recorded and now we have an EP together!
And now you have people singing along at the show!
It’s very strange. It’s very cool. I stopped singing and was like, ‘How do you know these words?’ [Laughs]
Has it been interesting watching the songs get a bit of triple j play and support from sites like ours and others over the last six months, from New York?
It’s surreal because I see it all on emails and on the internet, but none of my friends know anything that’s happening. It’s like they don’t believe me!
Have you heard yourself on the radio yet?
The first time I listened, we were on the way to lunch here with my whole family. I can’t remember who the presenter was but they were like, ‘This girl’s from New York and she’s back home playing a few shows…’ I just zoned out because I thought it was someone else, but then they started playing it!
That’s got to be a moment you won’t forget.
It is very strange. I’ve listened to triple j since I was really young and it’s been a goals to get on it. To hear it randomly and to know that it’s been played frequently, that’s been cool.
How is the rest of the year looking for you?
We’re about to release the EP… It’s going to be really busy. I’m doing my thesis for physics and everything; it’s all packed in there. I don’t mind being really busy; I think this semester has been the busiest I’ve been in my entire life, but it’s been fun. It’s good to be busy.
Not a lot of my friends are like that because they’re in college and having fun, so sometimes you feel a bit left out. Everyone’s going out and you’re like, “I have to stay home and do this thing” but it’s so worth it.
Alex The Astronaut’s debut EP To Whom It May Concern is out 31st March
Parts of this interview were conducted in Sydney by Larry Heath earlier in the year.