woensdag 29 februari 2012

Interview with singer-songwriter Shane Alexander

Interview with Shane Alexander for WoNo Magazine
by Wout de Natris

Copyright WoNo Magazine 2011

'Mono solo' was one of my favourite albums of 2010. When Shane Alexander played the Q-Bus in Leiden in 2011 I was enraptured by the way he made his songs come alive, with his presence, voice and guitar playing. Finally I got to see him, as I had missed previous gigs there, although we shook hands once after a Hackensaw Boys show at the Paradiso, where I missed him, but bought an album. After the summer I contacted him if we could do an interview, that was supposed to come out in the fall issue of WoNo Magazine. As due to circumstances the magazine is on hold for a while, it is premièred on the recently opened WoNoBloG. This makes the interview in some parts slightly outdated, but still shows a man of consideration, who is seriously dedicated to his career in music. At present Shane is working on new tracks and recording for a new album. Interview by Wout de Natris.

You’re latest album is called ‘Mono Solo’. Where does the title come from?
Basically, the title means "one, alone". I liked the idea of a record as a document on one guy's life.

Shane by Mocha Charlie
One of your songs is titled is ‘The fringes’. You sing “it’s better in the fringes”, but as a performer you’re always in the spotlights. This calls for an explanation.
Well, you're right. I'm not always in "The Fringes", but when I get home off the road things are different. I live 40 minutes outside of LA, where things are a lot slower. In my town, there aren't as many international rock and rollers, so sometimes I feel like I lead a double life - sometimes I'm your neighbor, then I slip away for months on end. I like that I can get out of the craziness and relax with my family and my guitars. I'm blessed to see many of the great cities of the world, but is is nice to slip back into The Fringes when the job is done.

How hard is it to find the balance between being an artist and the neighbour and keep up relationships with friends and relatives? Have e.g. modern media made this easier over the past years? (It seems to me you’ve struck that balance from what I read!) 
It's definitely tricky to balance a home life and a full-time music career, but I'm a testament to it being doable. My first record was called 'The Middle Way' which is a Buddhist term which means the "the path between
extremes leads to enlightenment". That idea works for me.

‘Find the light’ is just under a minute long. When did you realise that this was all it takes (supposing that you’ve tried to make it a “full” song)?
That was written almost as a mantra, for anyone who's life is complicated for whatever reason (which is really all of us). I liked that it was ending the record with a positive message. Life can be a bitch if you constantly wallow in past transgressions or constantly worry about the things you don't have. But once you focus on the good stuff, you begin to see life for the precious gift that it is. I went through a lot of soul-searching during the time I wrote this record and what I came up with is simply, "Find the Light" wherever you can. It's true that my first draft was short and I'd thought "I should flesh this out", but I really think it says what it needed to say. I liked the idea of it being short and a little unexpected.

What struck me on ‘Mono solo’ is the tremendous growth in richness and impact of your songs. (I have all your albums.) Dennis Kolen mentioned it on stage also. Was there a moment during the process of making the album that you became aware of this growth?
I've grown a lot since my first record, that's for sure. I'm always trying to connect on a deeper level. My best songs are always born in something real - be it my experience or from someone close to me. Times have gotten tougher for many in the last few years, and for some the future has become very uncertain. I started seeing friends and relatives begin to lose jobs, marriages, and their financial security - that's about as real as it gets. 

I don't know if there was a specific moment that I became aware of my growth, but burying one of my best friends was surely an eye opener. That day was full of so much sadness, but also so much beauty and such an outpouring of love. It was a very beautiful experience, despite being the most painful thing I've ever dealt with.

Who influenced you most as a musician?
There are obviously too many to mention them all, but as a kid I got into my dad's wonderful record collection. Simon and Garfunkel, Harry Chapin, Cat Stevens, and bands like Zeppelin, Sabbath, The Moody Blues, and The Beatles were a great thing for a kid to discover at 5-10 years old. I really feel like some of that music moved me to a cellular level. I picked up guitar at 10 and have never looked back. Listening to artists like Neil Young, Elliott Smith, Joseph Arthur, Jeff Buckley, Beck, and Ron Sexsmith continues to inspire me. I'm either listening to music all day or playing it.

Your albums are with a full band, your shows are done solo. How do you write your songs, with the album or live in mind?
I have no preconceptions about my music. I just want to write songs that can last. A good song will work in whatever configuration you want. When I write, sometimes I can hear the song with a full-band arrangement, and sometimes I'm totally surprised by the way things evolve in the studio. I don't tour with a band that often, but love it when I do.

Last summer you’ve toured extensively with Styx and Yes. How did this come about? What was your experience and was it hard to transpose your show from the club level to arenas? Do you have a good anecdote on either of the bands?
Jessica Loucks Shane at Red Rocks

Well, I had a friend at Yes' management who asked me if she could pitch me. Of course, I agreed. I had just come home from Holland and I ended up in the hospital having an emergency appendectomy. I was in hospital for three days and then learned I'd gotten this big tour and had three weeks to get my strength up. The first show was July 4th in Philly, and we were off! It was incredible. This wasn't my first major tour, but it was the biggest. I toured the US with Seal a few years ago, and Jewel a few times before that. For this tour with Styx and Yes I had a short set in front of up to 20,000 people per night. All shows were outdoor amphitheaters. I just tried to play my bigger, more uptempo songs and make sure my storytelling was spot-on. I was really happy with the response I got. As for anecdotes...coming off stage at Red Rocks in Denver to find Styx surprising me with a birthday cake and a wall of harmony singing happy birthday was pretty great. And just hanging out and talking about songwriting with Steve Howe was incredible - he's a God of rock for sure, but a total sweetheart. Everyone treated me so well. To share the stage with those two iconic bands was truly an honor. I had a blast!

By contrast. You’ve performed a few times in the Q-Bus in Leiden. Do you have any special memories of that venue?
I love Q-Bus. I have lots of great memories from there. It's a great listening room and the fans are always into it. The first time I played in Holland I met Dennis Kolen at Patronaat, and we quickly made friends - so I asked my label if we could get Dennis on the bill with me at Q-Bus a few nights later. We have had some great moments playing together on stage there. I think I've done Q-bus three times now. The second time I played Q-Bus, a nice guy named Fonz gave me a canal tour of Leiden, which was just lovely. Hans treats artists wonderfully and we always have a great dinner together with the crew and the performers. 

You’re a performer who seeks close contact with people in his audience after the show. What do you get out this, if anything?
I get a lot out of that, actually. When I'm an ocean away from home, it's because I want to connect with my audience. All the ups and downs of the road lead to one thing - your next show. Seeing the fans coming back each time I come over is the reason I do what I do. I have made many, many dear friends and fans in Holland and it's great to catch up with everyone face-to-face. I really do feel so at home there and I always look forward to coming back.

From your postings, but also your collaboration with Dennis Kolen in The Netherlands, I take it that you value working with and supporting fellow musicians. Why is this important to you and who should we watch in the future?
I'm no different from anyone else. When I see great talent, I get excited. Many of my best friends are unbelievably unique artists with something that I want the world to hear. If I find something that I think is cool, I do my best to spread the word. I'm not competitive like that. I'll always say "hey everybody, this is amazing - go check it out!". Speaking of Dennis, in May I did a record in Germany with Den and Eugene Ruffolo (from NYC) - we call the group The Greater Good - it's my first side project in a while. We're three individuals who came together to make an acoustic vocal record - like CSN or something. It came out really nice. It should come out by the end of the year.

You started out in different bands. What made you decide to pursue a solo career?
Shane by Moonie
To be in a real functioning band where everyone is contributing something is rare. I liked being in bands and I always wanted to find that magical combination of talents that would turn us into The Stones or Led Zeppelin. But, in my case the reality was that I was writing most or all of the material and I got tired of having to fight for every word or chord. I have faith in myself and in my songs and I enjoy the freedom to play what I want and with whomever I wish. In the past 5 years I've been fortunate to perform and record with some of the greatest guys in the business, and they are always there to make my music the best it can be.

Your first single of Mono Solo, "Good as Gold" made it into the Dutch chart, many of your songs have appeared in tv shows. How important is this kind of exposure for you and do you notice the effect afterwards?
Yes, I was thrilled when "Gold" got onto the Dutch pop chart - and we almost cracked the top 100. My second single" You Are the Light" will be next. When any song I care about gets heard by a large audience - be it onstage, on the radio, or TV, I feel like my music is getting out there. My songs have been used in many shows and films and I'm always grateful. It's a tough business, and any time you get to be heard in millions of living rooms around the world, it's a blessing. Every year I see my name growing in the marketplace. This isn't a hobby, this is my life. My goal is to headline theaters internationally, and as an indie you have to work twice as hard to make an impact. I'm cool with that.

You’ve already been working on new material. Can we expect a new album anytime soon?
Yeah, I'm writing a lot now that I have some time at home. I've toured so much this year that it's been hard to find some quiet time to finish new material. I have at least a record or two worth of new songs now. I still want to see Mono Solo get out there a bit further before I put out a new record. I hope to get my next release out in early 2012.

When can we see you perform in The Netherlands again?
I was hoping I'd get back by Christmas, but my schedule is filling up fast. I'm already booked into late November, so we'll see. I'll get back as soon as I can. Holland is my home away from home!

Thank you for time and I’m looking forward to hear you play again in the near future.
Proost, Wout! See you soon.

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