Camden’s Graham Alexander discusses inspiration, childhood and his mindset going into his new album with Victor Talking Machine Co.
Rock revivalist Graham Alexander first raised eyebrows when he stepped into the music scene with his self-titled album back in December of 2011 and his pop rock magnetism quickly won him a regional fanbase. In 2012, Graham was featured in our live studio sessions, performing alongside Find Vienna, and now the Camden-based artist is back again with new jams, a new record label and a new musical approach. Most recently, he released two music videos for his newest tracks “She’s A Chameleon” and “Games”, which will both be featured on his upcoming album set to be released December 19th. The Key got a chance to speak with Graham Alexander about making new music, acting on Broadway and working with the historical and newly reformed Victor Talking Machine Company.
The Key: You were born and raised in post-industrial Camden, New Jersey. How has this affected your development as a musician?
Graham Alexander: I was born in Camden and spent time around the entire county – Camden, Haddonfield, Collingswood, Pennsauken. I remember heading to the new (at the time) PSE&G headquarters prior to the Internet to pay a bill and seeing the piles of burnt out crumbling factories. Something always fascinated me about how a seemingly primed area for industry could simply….no longer exist and be ignored by its new owners. How could something called ‘Radio Corporation of America’ (RCA)…..ship its jobs overseas? Or not support the place that allowed it to exist? This was my first sort of brush with what I felt was corporate corruption…this always stuck with me and would later become a general theme in composing and songwriting – and to an extent – the energy release in vocal and live performances.
TK: Was music always your priority growing up? What is the current music scene in Camden?
GA: I’m not incredibly sure what I’d be doing without music and it was an early priority. It’s really such an incredible thing for me personally because I tend to grow tired of things quickly. I like progression and forward motion and for my taste, music has always been progressing. We as humans are incredible in the development of music because it seems like we start off simply, bring it to complexity, dumb it down (this isn’t always a bad thing), make it symphonic, turn it electronic, abandon all electronics, meld these things together, break them apart again THEN you take that and put songwriting and general themes.
Music is not just notes and sounds. Songs are a reflection of their time and feelings in or about society at the time. It’s interesting because right now in music you hear a lot of “they don’t make ’em like they used to”…and that may be true for the time being…but I’m not sure where music can go besides internally melting with its various forms from here on out (barring new instrumentation, which I always welcome). People seem to forget we’ve only been recording music for roughly 100 years. The ‘golden years’ of album making in popular music were about 40 or 50 years into making music (LPs, etc). We may very well have 1000s of years left. We need to keep innovating or things are going to get veryyyy dull…very fast. More value in recorded music will be required to grow public interest back to pre-digital file era levels and subsequently the artists who create that recorded music.
TK: What have been some of your music influences?
GA: I come from a musical/artistic family. My grandmother sings in an 18-piece big band called The Brass & The Beat, my father is a singer/songwriter (and bassist) and my mother is a dancer (and an artist). My grandmother raised me on incredible American songbook standards, my father is in the Rock, Blues, 60s to Contemporary camp, my mother was responsible for the hip hop, R&B sector of development (let’s cite Janet Jackson, Teddy Pendergrass, 2pac), and an honorable mention would be my grandfather’s love of folk music (early American folk, regular folk, electric folk)
TK: What music are you currently jazzed about?
GA: Who me? Call me crazy…but anything on 78s. Right now one of the projects at VTMC is re-assembling a Victor vault… essentially finding and acquiring the Metal masters lost during 1965 RCA’s infamous “let’s dump nearly every metal master of the first 30+ years of music into the Delaware River” era. So needless to say right now I’m enjoying listening to several songs being re-issued from the late 20s that have been remastered from their original master matrix.
TK: You have performed on Broadway in the past, in Rain and Let It Be. Has this affected your attitude towards musical performance?
GA: I think once you do musical theatre, if you weren’t a type A personality before, you are a type A personality when it comes to performing (or you get fired, essentially). There is a tremendous amount of pride and drive on Broadway that you don’t get to see as often playing the live music venues of the area. I’m not saying you don’t SEE it ever, but on Broadway it seems everyone is vying for a medal. It has absolutely carried over for me and I’m so thankful I got to experience that a few times. I’d do more, too
TK: Are there things that easily translate between the two of them?
GA: Speaking. I think one of the most important things is learning that the way you speak on stage sometimes doesn’t naturally translate in the room/speakers/audience, so some of the things you say have to be said less like a caveman and slightly more intelligible or else people truly won’t be able to hear it. Diction! That is one thing. Staging, Choreography, and Vocal stamina. Broadway singers are rockstars of 30 years ago vocally (especially in musicals like Jesus Christ Superstar, American Idiot, Rock of Ages, etc). These are hard singing singers that do it up to 8 (and sometimes 9) 2+ hour shows a week!
TK: Your upcoming sophomore album is set to be released December 19th from the newly reformed Victor Talking Machine Company. Is there anything on this album that pushed your musical boundaries?
GA: This whole album has been the best experience of my life, really. It really came together in such a way that allowed me a lot of musical freedom, but while retaining what we wanted to say about the world, love, society, etc. You make so many mistakes in life and you learn from them and you move forward and you make more mistakes and then you move forward again and at some point…we learn things. This album is a product of having learned more about how the world, life, and love works and applying that to an album of music that cuts a lot of new ground for myself and everyone that worked on it. I’m not sure we will ever be able to make an album quite like this one again, but then again….why would we want to?
TK: How has it been working with the re-formed label? How did you initially become involved with it?
GA: Actually, this is an interesting story. Long story short, I’ve been producing records (and songs and doing licensing things) since about 2007 under my own production company I’d formed (which was called LAIR). We had our studios/admin offices built out of this 1900s dairy bottling plant (insanity, really) which is where we did the first album, Graham Alexander. Recently the opportunity came up at auction to reform some the old RCA Camden brands, so I wound up buying them up and reforming them under a petitioned for Radio Corporation of America (which GE purchased in 1985 – and subsequently sold off its trademark portfolios in every which direction…and held as an empty company). Since I really wanted to be Camden-centric to honor not only my birth city, but the ‘back to basics’ philosophy I’ve always felt the recording industry needed to follow again, I decided that since it’s Victor Talking Machine Co. that started it all, it would be the record label for the company.
You can check out Graham Alexander’s new music videos for “She’s A Chameleon” and “Games” below. Stay tuned to Graham’s website for more information on his upcoming album and future shows in the area.