Alex Hudson is the lead man in new London based post classical, experimental musical entity ‘No Alexander’. His pensive music came to my initial attention whilst on one of my trademark and completely obsessive online digs for new music. My ears pricked up upon listening to his emotive and cinematic piece titled ‘You Have To Open Your Hands To Catch Things‘. I reached out to him last week and we met on Saturday down in Barbican for a chat. We ended up having a lovely conversation about his upcoming debut EP and other little tidbits about music in general.
As the trains were out of action that afternoon, I treated myself to an Uber from Baker Street to the rendezvous cafe. En route, I had my brain absolutely fried to shreds by the driver as he relentlessly explained to me the inner details of his future tinned fish business. It was the most mind boggling and intense twenty minute ride ever. I was temporarily frazzled but dusted myself off just in the nick of time. I met Alex and we settled into a small bar and began the conversation we had arranged.
This is what came of it:
With the release of his debut EP approaching on March 13th – Alex gave me a breakdown of each of the four tracks that will be included and the origins and emotions behind them. His work is extremely intense lyrically and instrumentally, so I was curious to hear more about the meaning behind it all:
You Have To Open Your Hands To Catch Things:
This song was written as a piece of advice for a friend that just had a shitty time and felt he would never fall in love again. It was written to help him understand how to be happier. He is still a miserable shit, it didn’t work.
I’m hoping new listeners will see it as a pick-me-up styled piece.
Summer Before The Fall:
In my younger years, my rent ran out in my house, I was staying on my friend’s sofa and was unemployed. In that period I found myself stuck in London jobless and without any real responsibility. I ended up just sitting around the house yet had this incredible feeling of optimism. It was a tiny little house in Mile End and can remember it being a sweltering hot summer. The song is based around that one particular summer and the carefree feeling we had where anything was possible. The lyrics refer to a true event where I found myself jumping off the roof of a building after a house party with Matt Smith, who became Dr. Who years later. It’s littered with Mary Poppins references depicting the jump. I try to encapsulate the feeling of freedom I had that summer in this song.
This is my favourite song to date and the most complex. It mainly based on a past relationship and the moment the spark was lost. This single contains the most poignant line I’ve ever written too.
‘Drunks always think there’s somewhere else open, so with you we never had to go home’
The song reflects lyrically on the bad decisions that were made keeping up with a partner who constantly drags you into ridiculous situations. Eventually the novelty wears off and the lifestyle is no longer sustainable.
This is a composition that has fewer instruments. It is played in a jazz scale, but is still classical piano based. It is inspired by the jazz chord progressions of Gwilym Simcock – he is a fascinating pianist to listen to. His album, ‘These are the good days’ inspired me to come up with the chords here. The track will be released on March 13th as part of the debut EP.
I was impressed by the personal breakdown of the lyrics and decided to ask about the techniques he uses to formulate emotional lyrics like in ‘The Disasters’. I wanted to know if it is a difficult process for an artist to go through:
No not really, all of my lyrics come from notes I take down on my iPhone. Most are terrible ideas and there are thousands. I don’t want to be THAT guy with a notebook so I jot them into my iPhone when I’m on the go. The Disasters was actually a fragment of three different ideas and topics merged into one. This is how I gather the seeds that then become the songs.
Following the in-depth conversation about the EP, we had a chin wag about some topics surrounding the music scene in general. It was fascinating to hear his intriguing opinions and views.
I indirectly instigated a conversation about the types of feedback that help artists during and after the creative process. Alex explained the initial feedback he takes on board from others and the response he gets from people he sends the music to:
There lies a huge importance in the technical aspect of feedback in the creative process rather than when the song is released. In the studio, Its important to know when something needs to be pushed further back in a mix, if there is an off note somewhere or there the panning is not what it should be. It’s all part of the process when you compose you own work, it’s almost a mechanical science that the composer follows as the track is being assembled.
When someone critiques the work from the outside, it’s nice to gather feedback of their gut feelings rather than them going on about the technical side of it. In my experience, I have already listened to the song thousands of times, picked through every note and moved them around millisecond by millisecond. It’s such a nice feeling when a track is totally complete and mastered, it’s only then I can sit back and listen to it from the outside without over-thinking. For me, the time in the studio often is not good for my health; as it is a quest for perfection. I think hearing peoples gut feelings as they listen is useful.
Feedback can be funny. You can work really hard on the most complex compositions in a project and it’s the simple eight note solo piano track that people tell you is their favourite.
We went on to speak about the techniques musicians can use to promote their music to a wider audience. This is often the most painstaking and grueling part of any musician’s journey, I asked him how he will attempt to push the music of No Alexander out to new potential listeners:
Well, I have just set up a Tik Tok account this week. I think it is a very fun experience for musicians at the moment, fiddling around with all the different social platforms and finding the right platforms that suit. It’s important to be adaptable and willing to try out new things to make your work stand out in the crowd. I’m constantly looking for ways to enhance my performance and work out how to make it even more memorable to the audience. The downside of all this experimenting is that the impact of the music itself can be affected. The more you pull the attention of the crowd away from the music itself, the less impactful and emotive the performance can become.
I’m not a fan of all of this modern hustling. Ultimately, I’m a beleiver in finding five people who like the sound of my music and working from there. I had my first gig for No Alexander at SET in Dalston back in October. It gave me a chance to meet those few unknown faces that had come to see my performance.
I have just recently been to SET myself, I pried for more information about the night of his first gig:
I prepared some props to enhance the room on the night. My disco ball did not work at all – we spent all afternoon before the show trying to make this disco ball and to be perfectly honest, it looked horrible. We brought in a spotlight and were so excited to put it on and bounce it off the ball. I actually turned out looking like a shit GCSE project – a really really bad one. This was my attempt at trying to create something a little bit different visually for the audience.
Finally, we spoke about the mastering process of the EP itself. I was curious to hear of his personal experience of allowing an engineer chop around with the recordings:
The EP was mastered in the same place Adele goes to, Metropolis Studios in London. That was a beautiful time, seeing a thing that I felt was finished, being dissected and worked on for hours. The engineer put parts through analogue filters and other magical dark arts. It was an experience. The way the studio operates is that they will ask you to bring along two or three albums that you like the feel of. This is aimed to give the engineer a sense of what type of sound they will add/remove from your work. The albums I brought were Elbow’s ‘Asleep In The Back’ (2001) and Regina Spektor’s ‘Soviet Kitsch’ (2004).
Regina Spektor’s ‘Soviet Kitsch’ (2004) was an album of superb quality. One of my favourite songs ‘Ode To Divorce’ was on that album. The lyricism of Spektor was what stood out to me as a nineteen year old at the time. It is a song that beautifully described the end of a relationship – this was back when CD players were a thing and I used to wander around London with my headphones in listening to her enchanting music. Regina’s concert in Shepherds Bush Empire was one of the best gigs I’ve ever seen. She made the whole crowd fall silent that night. The scale of making a crowd fall quiet is just incredibly beautiful.
Make sure to check out the Debut EP (which is yet to be fully named) when it is officially released on March 13th. In the meantime you can stream three of the tracks now on Spotify if you don’t feel like waiting around. It was a pleasure to get my teeth into an informative piece of writing like this: I think I might make these types of interviews a regular thing from now on.
*This interview was recorded in an open conversation format – the transcription is edited very occasionally purely for readability sake (occasional word alternatives, structural etc…)’*
Check out his website: www.noalexander.com
Irishman Christian Cohle has just released his debut single this week: I wrote about it here:
Absolutely love “You Have To…” – beautiful strings in the background!