Sometimes you encounter an artist that seems born to be unique, with an organic sound that just doesn't sound like anyone else. When I first heard Alex Siegel, it was hard not to have the thought "where on earth did this guy come from?" I knew I loved his songs from the first listen. He has this distinctive high soul voice, smooth and silky, then you see a picture of him and you say no, that can't be coming from the guy in the photo. But it is, and he makes it sound so effortless. The song Run Home has already brought me so much pleasure at this juncture. It reminds me of the kind of song that came out when I was in high school, when I was buying 45s and the charts were populated by the likes of Al Green, the Stylistics, the Dramatics and Chi-Lites. Someone making music like this now is the rarest thing imaginable. The combination of soulful melody and that voice makes his song a sure fire hit, and Run Home is already at #18 on the Kayak Big 25. Anyway I had to find out more about this artist so I asked him to be the next Spotlight Interview.
Scott: okay, let's start from the beginning. I looked around online and couldn't find out much about you except that you do play most of the instruments on some of your songs. How long have you been writing songs and how long have you been involved in music? When's the first time you sang in public?
Alex: I grew up playing music with friends - in 7th and 8th grade we'd jam at a friend's house after school or at lunch. At home I would play guitar for hours - I listened to a lot of Jimi Hendrix and Sublime. In high school I was making electronic music with Ableton Live - I once performed this at the Roxy Theatre. Then around age 19 I got into folk and bossa nova. That's when I started singing without a vocoder :) I also played in a band called Waterstrider for a couple great years in Berkeley, CA.
Scott: When I hear you I think soul music, find you to be a soul singer. Are your influences from that arena?
Alex: I love groovy, funky music. And I learned to sing mostly from Gregory Isaacs, Sugar Minott, and Dennis Brown - reggae singers. They have a lot of soul, and a sense of humor too. I also love the voice of Joao Gilberto, the godfather of bossa nova.
Scott: You're from LA but you recorded your record in Finland, how did that come to be?
Alex: I met Matti Kari when we were both staying in a hostel in the center of Moscow. We became friends and he invited me to his studio to stay for a while and record. I had travelled to Russia to ride the Trans-Siberian railway (my quarter life crisis?) but I didn't end up doing that. I spent two months exploring Russia and Ukraine, where I had many unforgettable experiences. I shared beautiful connections with people even when we couldn't understand each other's language. After that I went to Finland and made this record at Matti's house. I used many songs I had written on the way.
Scott: You sing in your song Good Leg that half of your life is gone. You seem like a pretty young guy, are you fatalistic?
Alex: It's a major realization we all have at some point: one day we will die (and our ashes will fly from the aeroplane over the sea…)
Scott: There's something really unpretentious about your music, the way you put the songs out there with little image trappings and such. Do you have a wild, angsty blog ranty side or is your life as mellow as the way your songs come across?
Alex: When I make music, I just open up and let it flow. It's less about me, and more about getting out of the way. It takes me to a very peaceful place. Even a sad song can soothe you.
Scott: Do you do live shows? What's your peak moment thus far that you remember in regards to unleashing your songs on the world?
Alex: My favorite moments are when people sing along and join in the song. Sometimes this happens even if they've never heard it before. One memorable show I did was in Ukraine in a small village called Zoziv. It was a big community event, and everyone in town gathered and brought dinner and homemade vodka. There was another singer there who did a bunch of Ukrainian folk songs, so I sang Woody Guthrie songs and it was a really fun exchange. The picture in the newspaper is from that night - the headline says "Music Unites Us."
Scott: I think your song Run Home sounds like a hit single from the days when the music on the radio was magical. Have you gotten a good reaction from the online world thus far?
Alex: Thanks! I can't say I remember those days. Here in LA though, KCRW still keeps it real. The online world is fickle and saturated with new releases, but Run Home has been warmly received at IMP.
Scott: Your album cover for Good Leg is strange. :) Is that some sort of alien, and is that your mom? Any stories you want to share on this?
Alex: My cousin Austin Welch created the artwork - it's a collage with magazine clippings. He invented the alien.
Scott: Just taking a wild stab here but what's your relationship with the ocean?
Alex: A lifelong love affair...
Scott: Not many are born with a voice like yours, do you feel blessed by nature or have you never really given that a thought?
Alex: I feel blessed by the people who taught me how to play, who taught me about jazz, and recommended albums like Kind of Blue (Miles Davis) or Empyrean Isles (Herbie Hancock) when I could have been stuck listening to whatever was on the radio…
Scott: I ask this question of all Spotlighters, have you had any experiences of high strangeness like with UFOs or the supernatural, that sort of thing?
Alex: Nothing I'm allowed to disclose :)
Scott: Describe your most elaborate dream about the future success of your music.
Alex: Have you ever seen the movie Searching for Sugarman? Imagine that my songs become wildly popular on an alien planet in a distant galaxy, but I don't find out for fifty years. They'll come down to earth to find me, and they'll fly me away to do sold-out shows and be a rockstar on their planet. And at the same time, I'll discover the secrets of the fabric of space-time like in Interstellar!