Reaching the end of day two of CMJ, livers are already overworked, eardrums are rattled, and knees are stiff and sore. So far the shows and panels are living up to all expectations for what I was hoping for this year, and there’s always room for more. The end of day two saw me taking my first trip to the newly re-opened Living Room. The once staple in the Lower East Side music scene is having its ‘soft opening’ this week for CMJ events, and was looking pretty impressive in its newer, larger Williamsburg home.
Indie-pop/singer-songwriter Alexz Johnson was the reason for the trip over to the Living Room for Big Picture Media’s showcase on a dismal, rainy Tuesday. Some may recognize her from television shows, but she’s slowly and steadily built a following for her talented singing and songwriting abilities.
With her most recent album, Let ‘Em Eat Cake out since last week, the twenty-seven year old played one of her two CMJ shows this week and blew everyone at the Living Room away with her incredible vocal abilities and strong pop-friendly rock songs. Like all CMJ shows, the set was unfortunately shorter that one would hope, but Alexz made the most of her time on stage wowing the crowd with songs of the new album, and an amazing close out with the soulful ballad in “Thank You For Breaking My Heart” that left everyone covered in goosebumps.
With so much going on this week there are only a few interviews taking place. Carefully selected, the first one being with Alexz made to be well worth the tiresome trip through the rain.
P&W: Let ‘Em Eat Cake has been out for a week, how’s the reception been?
Alexz: It’s been really good
P&W: What has the process on this project been like?
Alexz: It’s been a two-year process. Some of the songs I wrote a while ago that I ended up bringing out from the vault, and some of them are brand new. I only wrote the songs title track about five months ago. I decided to pledge it instead of going with a label, which I’ve done a couple times and it hasn’t always worked out. Just due to some internal changes I’ve recorded for some major labels in the past and they were never released.
P&W: I’m sorry
Alexz: That’s okay
P&W: Fuck the man
Alexz: Fuck the man indeed. That’s what “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” is about. I mean the album is kind of representation of my experiences of a woman at twenty-seven and the whole journey of heartache, and rediscovery of myself. You know, finding what I really have to say and just growing some big hairy balls in this industry when you’re a female. So I funded the album, got David (Kahne) to produce it, got my brother to produce a couple tracks up in Toronto, and it’s become this real labor of love between two producers and the two different vibes going on sonically. It’s good to finally have it out and being on tour for two months. Right now I’m just going to keep going as independent. I’d rather be broke and have control over my words and songs and of course I just want to do whatever the fuck I want to do like get my outfits made for me.
P&W: How was it working with David on the album? For those who don’t know David Kahne is a well-known music producer throughout the industry who as worked on projects with artists including Paul McCartney, The Strokes, Regina Spektor, and produced Tony Bennett’s MTV Unplugged album which won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1995.
Alexz: David is amazing. It was a real tug-of-war sometimes too, because he’s so opinionated ya know? I feel like when you work with such established artists throughout his career it would be tough working with younger generation artists like myself, but he does it really well. He listens to me. It took a lot of humbling shutting up on my end, and trying new things, but at the same time a lot of standing up. A lot of it came down to tastes and sounds- he likes digital programs and I like live and off the floor. Everything we were doing strategy-wise was very current and now. David would keep saying to me that everything that Aretha Franklin would do in the studio was very current, new, and now for that era, even though now we see it as old. He brought that mentality and I really respected that. He was so great to work with throughout it all. I was really glad he was able to come out to the show tonight.
P&W: You touched on how you were able to fund the album yourself with the help of PledgeMusic. What’s it like getting that kind of support?
Alexz: Pressure. I mean it’s great and I love it, but it’s certainly a lot of work. I got a lot of slack for the album taking up to a year and a half to put out. When you open up the door to allow them to fund your project you’re also opening the door for some to say “I want this now”, “Fuck this, it’s taking over a year to get done”.
P&W: I mean in a way they’re shareholders, they’re investors
Alexz: Yeah kind of. I mean the whole entitlement thing happening in society is kind of a piss-off. It’s certainly a question of if I’ll do it again. I mean I still love it. The support has been so amazing. I can only do so much though. The vinyl’s taking a little long to get out so we sent out a signed hard copy of the album to those waiting on it. I feel like I just want to make sure everyone’s taken care of.
P&W: What’s more stressful, fans putting pressure on you to get the album out or label executives?
Alexz: I think it’s pretty equal, but with fans I really feel I owe them this. They’re human beings so it’s much more emotional. With a label it’s like ‘fuck you guys I’ll do it myself’, but with fans there’s just that pressure of not screwing up. At the same time you can’t make everyone happy, you just can’t. When you have thousands of people pledging to something you’re going to have some who are sitting at their computer every day saying mean things while there are some who are super positive towards you. I’m dealing with these people one-on-one every day. So what if you get someone who’s got issues and posting mean shit on your pledge wall? I have to look at that before I go up on stage ya know?
P&W: Where do you feel you get your sound?
Alexz: I dunno. I don’t listen to any stuff. I mean “Let ‘Em Eat Cake” was a just a riff. I was just vibing. I really don’t know, I don’t pull from anything. I write what I would want to hear and try not to overthink it.
P&W: Are you your music’s biggest fan
P&W: Are you your music’s biggest critic?
P&W: Do you ever get to the point where you think you’re being too critical of your music?
Alexz: I let it go. I’m just a human being. We all die. I put it down on paper, I record it, and put it out there. This is how I feel truly- fifty percent of people are going to like you, and fifty percent aren’t. I’m sorry, I know that’s harsh, but it’s true. It’s really true, and they’re not going to tell you to your face, but fifty percent of the people aren’t going to like you. They’re going to find a reason to not. So at the end of the day I just can’t please everybody, so I’ll just do what a do and then, great, ya know? I’ll live my life. I don’t overthink it, I just don’t care that much.
P&W: How’s your CMJ experience going?
Alexz: Good. Tomorrow I’m doing Webster Hall and that’s it. Today’s really my CMJ day. Then we’re going out west for some L.A. shows, hitting Arizona, and really doing the two-month tour. I want to see some other bands on this bill, but I’m already out doing that every night too, so I’m not really in a place to listen I’m in a place to play.
P&W: Do you like the band that you’re out on tour with right now?
Alexz: I fucking love the band I’m out on tour with. They’re so talented, truly amazing. The whole band is like a motley crew. It’s not really a band it’s like a bunch of people that are SO good at what they do and jamming on stage. I have to crack the whip here and there with rehearsals, but I’m learning how to do that.
P&W: Especially on the little bro? (Alexz’s seventeen-year old brother is her drummer)
Alexz: No he’s actually a really big fan of my music. Plus he’s young and has a lot to prove. He wants to come to South America and Europe with me so he’s got a lot to prove, but I’m blown away by him.
Article by: Tom Shackleford