Indie folk-rocker Shane Alexander joins us at Blue Bottle Coffee‘s Beverly Hills, CA location to discuss his seventh solo album A Life Like Ours, fighting for full-length records as an art form, and the importance of promoting positivity through art.
You’re riding the highs of your latest album, A Life Like Ours. Lucky number seven! Congratulations!
Shane Alexander: Thank you!
Also wanted to ask if you’d like to share a little bit about the lyrical themes and instrumental elements that you decided to include?
Shane: Absolutely! Well, this is my seventh solo record, and my second year actually producing myself. In about 2016, I built a really beautiful studio called BuddhaLand, and that’s where I’ve been working and doing a lot of my writing. I used to write more on the road, but now I write more in my studio at home.
Probably more relaxing.
Shane: *laughs* Yeah, it’s pretty great. It’s kind of a utopia. Yeah, going into this record, I had written a lot of politically themed songs that I ended up scrapping from the final product. I was thinking about my heroes like Neil Young and Paul Simon and Jackson Browne and how they used their powers for good, and we’re living in such divided times right now that I felt like I wanted to really write about that. I had written a bunch of songs about that, and I put them all aside because I ended up changing my trajectory for this record. It became more based on themes about growing older, growing into oneself, and kind of making peace with everything. And so, with that overarching theme of peace, one of the songs I ended up writing is called “I’ll Be Here,” which I had written after the Vegas shooting. I wrote it the day after, and it was the first time in my life I actually wrote, recorded, and performed a song all in the same day. I released it as a single a few days later because I thought that’s something that Neil Young would do, you know? I strive to put some beauty and love out into the world.
It’s definitely needed, and music consumers appreciate the positivity and raw emotion that’s been coming out through music over the past few years. In trying times some of the best work comes out I feel like.
Shane: Yeah, hopefully so. It’s all we can do as artists to make sure that our music can provide that.
Absolutely! And which song would you say was your favorite to write and record?
Shane: I would say the title track “A Life Like Ours” was a really good experience writing because it came out in one setting, which is always a really good thing.
When the universe aligns.
Shane: Yeah, exactly. It doesn’t happen too often, so you’ve got to appreciate it when it does. And with the recording for that one, I recorded it live, so it’s pretty raw and pretty much the way it was written. Anytime I get that I always cherish it. I had a successful song a few years ago called “Skyway Drive-In” that I wrote and recorded live, and it did really well for me so I was happy that another song happened in the same way. Some of the tracks on the album are obviously more produced than others, but the idea that the title track was written so quickly and recorded raw and live, I’m proud of that.
As you should be! And how would you say that the songwriting and recording process for this album was similar or different than that of your past work?
Shane: Well, with this record, historically my process had been that I would write a lot on the road. I’d record ideas into my phone, and then go to the gym, listen to my ideas and sort them out and dress them up from there. For this one, I wrote more in my studio and I had people come to the studio to co-write with me. As far as recording the record, it happened really quickly this time. I had a really wonderful dream team of session musicians that I’m friends with, and we knocked it out really quickly. So I think the difference between this record and my last was that I did it quicker, just trying to capture the real shit. *laughs*
It’s always good when things kind of fall in line. You just have to go with the groove of things, and if it’s faster, then that’s awesome! Works out for everyone right?
Shane: Yeah. Years ago for my second record, I recorded the whole thing in four days and I’ve never been able to beat that.
Four days is impressive that’s for sure!
Shane: Yeah! I’ve always tried to beat that, but who knows if I ever will.
You never know what the future will hold!
Shane: Very true. *laughs*
So you’ve gotten the chance to have your music featured in a few films and TV shows. If you were able to provide a soundtrack for a film or a television show, what type of genre would you choose to work on?
Shane: For film work, some directors that I really like Wes Anderson and Jim Jarmusch, and I think those are two directors that I really think my music would be able to work with their vision. Wes Anderson always has sort of a nice, diverse soundtrack using a lot of older stuff, but also some quirky indie stuff too. I think I kind of live somewhere in that world. Jim Jarmusch’s movies are always just a little left of center, and that’s kind of where I feel like I live. I’m a little too mainstream for indie, but a little too indie for mainstream. A little too folk for pop, and a little too pop for folk. I’ve got my sort of wheelhouse, and then those movies always make me feel like I would fit in there really nicely. And as far as TV, I’ve been really lucky to get a lot of film and TV placements. The show This Is Us always has a really wonderful soundtrack, and I feel like I could do some damage on that show too.
Joining the ranks of all the amazing artists that have made me cry into my dinner while watching that show. *laughs*
Shane: *laughs* There’s a lot of tears, that’s for sure.
Now you’ve gotten that chance to perform in many different parts of the world. What are some differences and similarities that you’ve seen in terms of how shows are run and how artists are supported in between international touring and domestic touring?
Shane: I tour all over Europe, but I hit the Netherlands and Germany the most, and generally I feel like they really run a tight ship with their clubs in terms of sound and lights, and I feel like the artists are really taken good care of whereas in the United States it’s not always the case.
Shane: Yeah. I think in particular there’s a reverence for California songwriters. There’s so much history here that I think that kind of carries over into the music, so there’s a bit of a mystique with songwriters in California where people really kind of hang on our words. Since my second record in 2006 I’ve been going to Europe, and there’s a certain reverence for the music. In Holland in particular, they speak really good English so they really like the storytelling. They really get involved and they want to know it all, and so I find the audiences to be really warm and really receptive.
And a fun question for you, if you could choose three artists to go on a world tour, who would you choose and what would you name your tour?
Shane: That’s a good question. *laughs*
And we now have the technology to bring people back from the dead via hologram! *laughs*
Shane: I read a review of Roy Orbison’s tour where he was a hologram, and everybody said it was really good! *laughs* One artist that I’ve always really loved is Neil Young, and I think it would be great to support him either full-band or even if he was solo acoustic. Some of the biggest tours that I’ve done, I’ve done solo. Many years ago when I was a teenager, I saw Neil Young at The Greek Theater solo acoustic, and then I got to play there some years later solo acoustic, so it was a real full circle thing. So Neil Young is definitely at the top of the list to go on tour with. Wilco is another band that I really love that I think my band would be a good fit with. And who else? In recent years I thought a lot about Cat Stevens. He’s touring and still making good music, and I’ve always been a fan not only of his songs, but of his message and his music, so he would be another good choice. And I’d name it the ‘Imagined World Peace Tour.’
I love it!
Shane: Thank you. I’ve been a Buddhist for a long time, so I try to put as much peace out there as I possibly can.
That is amazing. Having as much peace as possible is such a good thing to strive for regardless of who we are as people and we believe in.
Shane: Yeah. I think trying to use the powers for good as an artist is a part of our job, at least it should be. I don’t really shy away from the heavy themes in my music, but I also try to embrace life and put as much positivity out there as I can. Trying to find the light and the positive out of the dark moments, I think that’s something that art is really good for. In Buddhism, they talk about turning poison into medicine, and so turning the dark times into a win is always the challenge. I strive to do that and sort of to develop an unshakable state of happiness. So far, so good.
That’s awesome to hear.
So kind of going into modern music listening and how right now it’s very much focused on the streaming aspect and also shorter releases like singles and EPs, why do you think music consumers have kind of gone down that road in terms of how they want their music?
Shane: Well, I think everybody’s got shorter attention nowadays. I’m a producer as well, like, I’m producing other artists too, and this debate comes up quite a bit as to whether to make an EP versus a full record. Most of the songs of mine, my biggest successes have been songs rather than full records because they’ve been featured on film and TV or they’ve had a lot of streams or whatever, but I still really love the idea of a ten or twelve song record as a sort of documentation of a period in your life. I definitely see the trend towards singles and EPs, but I’m kind of old-school and still fight for the record itself as an art form. With this record, I debated putting it out song by song, going forward we’ll see, but for the most part I’m doing for records and I like listening to full records. But at the same time, you know, as a Spotify consumer, they’re always suggesting new music. That can work too, sometimes it’ll make you go and explore the artist and see what else you could find.
You just never know what’s out there until you take a look.
Shane: Exactly. But yeah, it’s very much the trend that everybody has a short attention span. If you could release thirty second versions of your songs I’m sure that would be fine too, but the kind of music that I make has always been the kind of music that you hope people will actually stop and listen to.
Absolutely. And I really like what you said about an album being a moment in time for the artist, because I feel like a lot of time that’s what an album is. It’s like a photo album in song form.
Shane: Yeah! It’s a document of where you are and the life experiences that you’ve had. I don’t listen to my own records very much, but anytime that I do go back and listen to old records, I’m reminded of things that I was thinking and feeling at the time that I might have forgotten about. I always try to write from an honest place, and so life experience really informs the songs. I think for me looking back, I like the document of records quite a bit. For other people, it’s their prerogative if they want to pick off songs and keep those in their playlist. Anytime you can be the soundtrack to somebody’s life is a blessing, and you hope that they listen to the entire record, but you also have to accept that more often than not, they’re gonna find their songs and stick to those.
I feel like social media is a big part of that lack of attention span as well. Do you think that it’s made it easier or harder for artists to make names for themselves?
Shane: I think with social media, I mean, obviously everybody’s addicted to it and it wastes too much time, but I do think that for artists it’s essential to utilize. I think it’s sort of leveled the playing field, and you can kind of be whoever you want to be on social media. Whatever you put into it, you sort of get out of it, and it’s a burden in the sense of you have more content to be creating all the time. It’s easier when you’re on tour and there’s a lot going on, but when you’re at home and writing or whatever, it’s just not as interesting for social media purposes. I strive to have my social media voice be consistent with what I want to say and who I want to be, and like I said, I think social media has leveled the playing fields from independents to major label artists. Everybody has a platform, and it’s what you do with that platform that makes a difference.
And you were kind of going into the idea of feeling the need to have content all the time, but do you also feel like there’s also a pressure to portray yourself in a certain way to your audience, or potential audience?
Shane: As far as my branding anyway, I just want to be really authentic, so I don’t spend a lot of time on falsifying anything. I just have problems putting up posts that I don’t think are interesting most of the time. If I don’t really have something to say, I won’t say anything, which is sort of sort of the downside because there is that pressure to keep it coming all the time. Like I said, on tour it just seems like it’s a lot better for social media as far as I’m concerned. You’re seeing beautiful places, you’re playing in front of big crowds, stuff like that is Instagram gold, working at home is just not quite as exciting. My brand is all about keeping it really real, and so I don’t do anything unless I really believe in it.
Speaking of keeping it real, how do you balance your personal life with your professional life?
Shane: That is the biggest challenge for me. The road and home life are two very strange bedfellows. I have a wife and a daughter, and basically since my daughter was born I’ve toured, so we’ve always had this delicate balance of home in a way. For example, when I’m touring around in Europe, the nine hour time difference is really hard to be in sync with each other. They’re getting ready for school and I’m going on stage or at soundcheck, or I’m coming home from a show and it’s four o’clock in the morning for them, or it’s their dinner time and they want to talk but I’m dying to go to sleep. You’re often really out of sync, but balancing home and away, I’m really lucky that my wife is very strong and that she can sort of handle home without me. It’s a lot of pressure to put on somebody to leave for weeks at a time, but we work on it pretty well.
And if you could give you some advice in regards to what you’ve experienced through music and life in general, what advice would you give him?
Shane: Enjoy it, enjoy everything. When I first started touring, I used to really stress on the details, and if things didn’t go according to plan, it would freak me out. The more I’ve done it, the more I’ve sort of relaxed and gone with the flow, but early on, I was very much the control freak all the time, and all that ends up to be is a lot of disappointment if things didn’t go according to plan. Just the idea of managing home and away, I used to crucify myself with a lot of guilt about being away, but again, that’s sort of a wasted emotion. I think just embrace it, be a little bit more in the moment, and just savor the opportunity because to be able to do this for a living is a blessing. Just try to really enjoy it always, and not stress too much about everything. And like I said, I feel like I’m doing that better now, but talking to my younger self, when I first started touring, I felt there was a lot more friction because I had a certain standard that didn’t always get made. Now I’m just learning to roll with it and I’m having a much better time.
It’s easier said than done that’s for sure. When you accomplish it you’ve gotta hold on to it.
What do you hope that your audience will take from your music?
Shane: Hopefully there’s just some comfort there. The music that I listen to, I listened to a lot of songwriters and I listen to a lot of classic stuff, but the music that really resonates with me has a lot of beauty in it. I’d like to be known for trying to put something beautiful in the world, and I hope that messages of hope and peace come through in my music. Hopefully they’ll stick with me from record to record and allow me to be the soundtrack of their life. I think it’s a real privilege when that can happen because everybody is on such a short attention span now, so if you can get three or four minutes, or even forty five minutes, out of somebody’s day to listen to what you’re doing, that’s a real gift, and hopefully the time that they spend listening to me was worth it to them.
And once you’ve got them hooked you’ve got them hooked for life!
Shane: Hopefully. Sometimes doing intimate performances can give you a chance to really cement a fan that way. They can sort of get the intent of the artist and really get to know you a little bit better. I’ve been really blessed to have fans that have been coming to see me for over ten years, and I don’t take it lightly. It’s an absolute privilege to have fans, and I hope to continue to do what I do and I hope my best songs are still ahead of me.
And definitely do not doubt that you’ve still got some awesomeness up your sleeve!
About Blue Bottle Coffee Beverly Hills:
It’s always interesting to hear the backstories of your favorite businesses, and the history of Blue Bottle Coffee is no different. Going all the way back to the late 1600s, Austrian emissary Franz George Kolshitsky opened Europe’s first coffee house, The Blue Bottle, in the wake of the expulsion of the Turkish army from Vienna, bringing the joy of coffee to a community faced with turmoil. Hundreds of years later, a coffee-loving freelance musician in Oakland, CA joined the coffee industry by providing guests with fresh roasts at the peak of their flavor (less than forty-eight hours of life). In honor of Kolshitsky’s legacy, Blue Bottle Coffee was born and has since grown into an impressive family of cafes (including the U.S., Japan, and Korea).
Specifically with Blue Bottle Coffee’s Beverly Hills location, you will be treated to spacious, two-story indoor seating complete with inviting warm-tones that make you want to stay there for a few hours enjoying your responsibly sourced brew and a healthy food choice from their menu. There is an air of positivity and community that looms throughout the shop from their smiling baristas to the families, couples, groups of friends, and many more that step through their doors. And don’t worry, if you’re more of a to-go type person, everything can be grabbed in a pinch so you can enjoy your treats on your time.