Prolific young shoegazey indie rocker Alex G stopped by Wesleyan to finish off a quick tour in the northeast. Interviewers Anne Leonardo and Zander Porter stood with him on the chilly Eclectic porch and discussed songwriting, his sister's paintings, and Dick Suck University.
You guys are from Philadelphia?
Yeah, none of us go to school anymore but me and the guy who plays guitar with me went to school together. I was studying English.
You have several little albums. How recent is the first one?
That’s probably Race, and I recorded that from when I was like 16-17.
Do you think there’s been a big arc from then to now, or do you think you’ve kept some steady idea of how to write music or write lyrics? Because as people we grow so much from 16 to 22.
I think I’m more proud–it’s hard to say because it’s all good for its own reasons. I think the flaws in my work when I was like 16 or 17 are part of why people like it. It’s hard to say that what I’m doing right now is better because I think what I was doing then was endearing, even in its imperfectness.
So are you saying something about the music now is more perfect?
Yeah. I think I’m better at recording things faster and I think I’m just a better player, so I think shit just sounds more in time and you don’t hear any fudge notes–or you don’t hear as many fudge notes. [laughs] I think my lyrics are a little more–I don’t know what they are, but I’m prouder of them now when I’m playing them.
I’m curious about what it’s like for artists to have such a large repertoire released–do they go back and listen to hear something they did wrong or something they liked?
It’s usually stuff that I didn’t put out I’ll go back through and see if there’s any little idea I can revisit if I’m real in the wall. Maybe I’ll find a little riff I can go back to and flesh out into a better song or something like that, but once I put it out I don’t really listen to it.
What about DSU, your most recent album, are you proud of lyrically?
It’s hard to say, but I know on Race and the old albums I feel like I’m ripping off a lot more with my lyrics because I was young and I would be ripping off a lot of lyrical style from Wilco, Elliott Smith or Ben Folds. I wouldn’t steal things directly, I was just listening to them so much that I feel like I couldn’t help it. I’d regurgitate shit, but now I’m sitting down and really thinking about it a lot and trying to make lyrics that I’ve really thought out.
Do you have a new songwriting process or way that you sit down to write music, or do you just write things down as they come?
I’ll just come up with a melody, a guitar chord, and slowly create a progression. Then I’ll think of a melody while I’m playing it, which is always sort of implied, and then I’ll record it all and write lyrics after I record all of the instruments. I restrict the lyrics to some kind of phonetic thing. Like when I’ll think of the melody I’ll have some sort of, [makes drum sounds], and so that will limit what I say in the lyrics.
There’s something really shoegaze in the music. Because maybe there is this tinge of melancholy, but it’s like, “whatever.” It reminds me of some early My Bloody Valentine. There are definitely a lot of other things going on.
I know that I want the music to have whatever I’m feeling compacted in there, and I guess it’s always sad and happy combined. I guess melancholy is the right word. I want it to have some emotion. I don’t know what emotion in particular.
I guess that kind of walks the line. It’s certainly not self-pitying; it's more of a wallowing sadness. It feels a little lazy–maybe a lazy sadness. There’s this underlying emotion, but it’s not controlling in any way.
I listen to a lot of music that’s really slow and repetitive, so I guess it just comes out that way. I’m pretty much just regurgitating everything I’m hearing, reconstructing different shapes and spitting them out. So whatever’s going in is this slow shit, so it comes out slow because that’s what I like to hear.
When you’re mixing the album do you lay over synth-type things, or is it mostly guitar and vocals?
I use whatever I can get my hands on. I do a lot of guitar because I have a guitar. My girlfriend’s got a Casio keyboard that has a bunch of different sounds on it, and I use that a lot. I really like the vibraphone, mallet percussion sound, and flute sounds. If I find something else cool I’ll use it–some of my friends have a banjo. But it’s mostly guitar.
How did you end up with a football player on the most recent album cover?
That was my sister! She paints a lot, and we were just talking and for some reason she brought up this dream she had about a football player. I think she was gonna paint this anyway, but she was talking about this dream that she saw a painting of a football player running at you–pretty much describing that cover. I was like, “Oh, please paint that, that would be a really cool album cover.” And that was pretty much it. She was painting it probably at the same time I was recording the album, so that’s kind of cool.
Does it have anything to do with the album, or is it just because you like it? I’ve always seen it as an interesting juxtaposition to the album because the album is kind of soft and vulnerable, and the idea of a football player in a crowded stadium is really not that. Especially because of its painted quality.
It’s sort of just because when she was describing it to me and when I saw it, it looked really cool. I didn’t think about it too much, but I use her paintings a lot for any aesthetic thing I need a painting for. I just like her artwork a lot, so she could have painted anything and I would have used it. But luckily it was a cool-ass piece.
What does DSU stand for?
I used to tell people it stood for “Dick Suck University.” But my sister and I were trying to come up with an album title and she said “Dream State,” so I thought that was kind of silly-sounding so I said “Dream State University,” because that sounded even worse. So I abbreviated it to DSU because I couldn’t bear to have Dream State University.