Image by Tonje Thilesen
In a time when self-aggrandisement is regularly considered par for the course of celebrity-status, few artists manage to subvert this paradigm as successfully as (Sandy) Alex G.
The media doesn’t even know his birthday.
A quiet but firm presence in the realms of indie rock, R&B, and most alternative genres as a whole, the artist also known as Alex Giannascoli sports unpolished vocals and strikingly sparse lyrics reminiscent of the ‘90s LA garage scene. This is neither a small nor large feat; Giannascoli sees no artistic wizardry in the way he perceives or makes accounts of the world around him, and seems unsettled as he tries to articulate his inspirations.
“When I started off – before I could play the instruments that well – I was more focused on playing loud music so we could play shows. So I guess that’s still where my foundations lie. I don’t know… Maybe I have a conflicted way of making music. I’m not sure,” he says.
Giannascoli released his first label-backed album, DSU, back in 2014 to generally positive reviews; most negative feedback was due to an inability to categorise the oddly shaped yet consistent sound of every (Sandy) Alex G track.
The more grassroots acclaim, however, was cult-like; he had niche fans across the globe almost instantly. Giannascoli became a go-to source of lo-fi, 4/20 vibes, especially following the similarly stripped-back subsequent releases, such as 2015’s Trick and 2017’s Rocket. These albums will go down as some of the best alt-rock releases of the decade, no small thanks to tracks like ‘Sarah’, ‘Bobby’, ‘Proud’ and ‘Mary’.
Now, Giannascoli is back with a new set of singles that are stirring up the hype for his ninth album, House of Sugar, which is to be released on Friday September 13 via Domino.
“This album started similarly to the way other albums started, where I just kind of sit down and make songs. I treat it like a job now. I didn’t approach this album with an overarching theme in mind or anything like that, I was just focused on making each song, just… good.
“The thing that makes House of Sugar unique is the microphone I used to record the tracks. I borrowed it from a friend of mine. Before I’d just been using a USB microphone,” he laughs, “which was sort of medium quality. And now using this one, which is super high quality, has allowed me to capture a much wider range of sound.”
The new album’s first single, ‘Gretel’, revisits the hollow, breathy vocals that sent Giannascoli into stardom. Repetitious like a mantra, he revives the hypnotic echo of Neil Young’s ‘Helpless’ as Giannascoli postulates, “I see what they do/Good people got something to lose”.
The music video is a blend of hope and Midwest turmoil: Giannascoli runs through a field with kids while a car rally occurs in separate cuts, interspersed with raw portraiture of various anonymous rally-goers. When the video’s creator Zev Magasis approached Giannascoli with the idea, he was enthusiastic – but, as always, realistic and reserved.
“When making the song, I didn’t have a particular visual in mind. The video was all Zev’s idea. He showed me his YouTube channel and he had all these amazing videos he’s made on his own – not for music or anything, just for himself – so I asked him to make one for ‘Gretel’. I’m so happy with it, it fits perfectly with the song, but I didn’t have any input on that. It was all Zev’s idea.”
As he awaits House of Sugar’s imminent arrival, Giannascoli is preparing for a mammoth tour across the US and Europe. He starts this 41-show marathon in Durham, North Carolina, and winds it all up in Groningen, Netherlands. There’s a noticeable lack of any dates Down Under, but he seems hopeful to remedy that soon.
“Yeah, I hope we’ll make it down there soon,” he says. Having just lamented the cost of touring, his reservations are more than fair. “I’d love to make that happen. Let’s see.”
(Sandy) Alex G’s new album House of Sugar hits the shelves on Friday September 13 via Domino. Check it out via streaming services when it drops.