We had the pleasure to chat with Alexandra Alden during an interview in the light of her upcoming role as a judge on The X Factor Malta, as well as the release of her debut album ‘Wild Honey’. She speaks to us about it all, and gives us a few hints about what is yet to come.
GROWING UP, DID YOU ALWAYS WANT TO BE A MUSICIAN?
The straightforward answer is yes, but it wasn’t a very clear and direct path for me. I hardly studied music formally, or felt like a career in music would be realistically possible. I just didn’t think I had what it took. Growing up, I was always the creative, artsy one in
school, dedicating my summer holidays to coming up with new projects to keep me busy. Drawing was my first big love, and the one that made sense to me first, because the result was tangible straight-away. It was easy – I had my crayons and my paper. I could see the
lines as I drew them, and I could see the picture take shape before me. I was surrounded by art growing up, with both my mum and my granddad being painters their whole lives. Whilst living in Germany as a child, my brother and I always went with my mum to her exhibitions, keeping close to her, and curiously watching people walk around the galleries holding their wine glasses, and discussing the exhibits. I spent hours in my grandad’s studio too – sometimes lending a helping hand, or offering a creative thought. My grandmother and my dad, in the meantime, read me fairytales, and my brother and I had a thing for Lord of the Rings. So, naturally, I was inclined to become an illustrator for a number of years. I applied for a foreign art school and I got accepted. As fate had it, it all fell through, and in the meantime, I was already developing my music. I had begun recording my EP during that time, and I was also singing backing vocals for a band when I
was 17. I finished my album at age 18, which gave me two number one songs on the local radio stations. The gigs started pouring in, and suddenly, I was playing on the biggest stages in Malta. It was a wonderful time, but I was also confused. I wanted to learn more, but I felt like I didn’t have all the tools I needed to make the music I wanted to make yet.
YOUR CAREER IN THE MUSIC INDUSTRY STARTED AT A VERY YOUNG AGE. WHAT LED TO YOUR MOVE TO THE NETHERLANDS?
The feeling I mentioned earlier is what led me to seek out a music school to further improve my skills and knowledge. Having been mainly self-taught, I thought studying for a bachelor in music (jazz music at that), was something completely out of reach, but I had to try. With the help and encouragement of a few great local jazz musicians, I was able to prepare myself for the auditions abroad. I quit everything apart from music for a few months, and threw myself into the unknown to learn more about technique and theory of music. I haven’t looked back since. I’ve always been the intuitive type of musician, and I still am – preferring to figure out what it is that I’m doing after I’ve done it. Luckily, I was accepted into the school, although it was a very difficult process. I guess the teachers saw potential.
YOUR DEBUT ALBUM ‘WILD HONEY’ WAS RELEASED IN JUNE 2018. WHERE DID THE INSPIRATION FOR IT COME FROM?
My album ‘Wild Honey’ was mostly written during 2017, when we first started recording at Rocktown Studios in Rotterdam, together with producers Ocki Klootwijk, Hanyo Van Oosterom, and cellist Marien Okkerse. The songs seemed to just flow out of me during an
intense grieving period after the death of a very close family member, but meanwhile, a new romance was budding too. Looking back, it was a delicate balancing act
of trying to bid farewell, and welcome the new. I think the songs have a very searching quality to them. The songs ebb and flow, and at times my voice is nearly a whisper.
The lyrics are all quite bittersweet and contradictory. There are the five stages of grief in there for sure, and trying to come to terms with the irreversible. Another theme is asking the loved one to ‘stay’ in some way, and wanting to fight for love. The opener song,
‘Pilgrim’, sets the stage for the journey of songs, which sometimes feel like a moonlit rocky path through the mountains, arriving to warm beautiful caverns for rest and shelter, then finally ascending the peak, and taking in a vast, rolling landscape with clouds floating along. In fact, the last song is a waltz called ‘Keep Floating’. I find deep connections in dreams. I feel like writing songs is a bit like dreaming too – dreaming awake, and
getting in touch with my subconscious mind. I lose track of time when I’m writing – I feel the past, present, and future in one instance. I’ve had instances when a song
was a prediction of sorts too and I get the feeling that sometimes I think I know more than I do. Some have mentioned a ‘Mediterranean mysticism’ about the songs too, which is accurate enough. I was immensely inspired by the Mediterranean countryside while living in Rotterdam, and dreaming of Malta from far away, but also lamenting about the overdevelopment and destruction of everything that was once natural and beautiful, that is
taking place currently.
HOW WOULD YOU DESCRIBE YOUR MUSIC TO SOMEONE WHO MAYBE HASN’T HEARD IT BEFORE?
My usual go-to line when describing my music to people is that I am a songwriter and singer, and that I accompany myself on the guitar, using mainly fingerpicking. A bit
Nick Drake-ish, and a bit Joni Mitchell-ish. But I take inspiration from everywhere. In fact, I was inspired by some West-African fingerpicking patterns for a few songs on ‘Wild Honey’.
DO YOU HAVE PLANS TO PERFORM IN MALTA ANYTIME SOON?
Although I’ve shifted my focus abroad, I do play in Malta as often as possible, and whenever I’m back, I always organise a few gigs. Most recently, I performed with my
jazz and tango trio ‘Fleur De Gin’, which was created in the Netherlands. I also supported Ira Losco at her Women in Music concert at Teatru Rjal. I do see some concerts coming up in the future, but nothing is concrete yet. Do keep an eye out on the events pages of the venues Cafe Society and Kennedy in Valletta, though within the next few months. I will be back in between my Scandinavian tour, for XFactor filming and maybe some local gigs!
ARE THERE ANY BIG MUSICAL INSPIRATIONS YOU LOOK UP TO? WHO WOULD YOU ABSOLUTELY LIKE TO WORK WITH IN THE FUTURE? To name a few, there’s Nick Drake right there at the top, as well as Fiona Apple, Bill Callahan, Nick Cave & The Bad
Seeds, Joni Mitchell, Eric Clapton, 10cc, Anne Briggs, Bert Jansch, Tinariwen, Chris Whitley…it’s an endless list. I would absolutely love to work with Nick Cave. I wouldn’t
mind working with Robert Plant too. Well, you know…I’m up for anything should the opportunity arise.
HOW DID YOUR ROLE AS A JUDGE/MENTOR ON THE X FACTOR COME ABOUT?
My role as judge came about within a matter of days. It all went from asking about who was involved in the program to suddenly being told “you’re right for the
job!” I had already booked my flight to Malta exactly during the time that filming was about to commence. It all fell impressively right into place, and it’s been a wonderful experience so far. I am bringing all that I’ve learned about making music to the forefront of my role. I do think I can be quite to the point with this at times.
WHAT SHOULD WE BE EXPECTING FROM THE X FACTOR? CAN YOU SPILL SOME DETAILS?
Be prepared to laugh and cry, and for a TV production made at the highest quality. It’s amazing what Malta has to show for itself in such a program. I only hope that
Maltese audiences are ready for it. There were some stand-out acts, definitely, and some really bad, yet innocent ones, too. The judges have a very interesting dynamic, and it’s great what each one brings forward since we all have such different, but also similar
experiences in music. I’ll leave it up to the viewers to judge for themselves come October!
ARE THERE ANY OTHER PROJECTS IN THE WORKS YOU CAN TELL US ABOUT?
A second album is in its early stage of writing, and I’m also developing a few side projects. I hope to bring these to Maltese audiences too, eventually. Recently I’ve jumped into the world of film-making. I’m working on visual storytelling in the form of my own self-directed and edited music videos, and short videos to accompany my songs during live shows. On my Instagram page (www.instagram.com/ alexandraaldenn), one can find 30-second short movies, which I created highlighting a particular lyric from each song. They’re very evocative, even though they are so short. It’s fun to compress everything that needs to be
said and shown in such a short amount of time, without sending the viewer into an overstimulated fit. This is also a quality I enjoy in lyric writing, too. I’m a big
fan of Bill Callahan in that way. I really enjoy working with colour, light, symbolism, and
sound. I have plans to design storybooks relating to my songs and albums, as well as designing unconventional merchandise. I guess I am still a painter too, of sorts.
I was recently blown away when a nail artist created a set of nails inspired by my song ‘Ladybird’, and its backstory. I think that’s a very creative approach. If only I had more time for all of this! There is so very much to do.
© 2018 – VIDA Magazine