Thursday, July 30, 2009

A Pow-Wow with Alex Lear: He’s the Music, Man

 

When it comes to blogs, this is how I've done things; whenever I have something new written for the teepee, I will sometimes scour the internet (and my brain) looking for the right song to accompany the topic. 

For example, my blog “A Chilly Night in Pittsburgh” was accompanied by Al Caiola's "Experiment in Terror"; and when I quit smoking last July, my personal lament here was set to Bobby Vinton's "Sealed with a Kiss".  (You know:  "though we've gotta say goodbye, for the summer...")  Clever, huh? 

So last weekend, I had begun a new blog about favorite male friends (a sort of followup to my last one about male bonding) & I'm wondering who to write about, and what music to play here.  I jump online to one of my favorite message boards for ideas & see my friend Alex;  I've known him for 4-5 years, a goodhearted guy who has an offbeat sense of humor & has never had an unkind word about anyone.  He's also an accomplished musician and the next thing I know—his music is playing on the teepee!

A Conversation with Alex Lear

Recently, Alex & I sat down for a chat about his music, among other things.  Just to give you a quick rundown, he's a 30 year old single guy who resides in Damariscotta, Maine.  When he's not doing the Monday thru Friday grind as a staff writer at his newspaper The Forecaster, he's performing at coffee shops, fairs, radio stations, and houses of ill repute (he said that, I didn't).  He has so far released two albums – Sandpapered Dreams in 2005 and Memorywall in 2007 – and a third is in the works.

DOUG:  What do you think sounds better, the Daily Bugle or the Daily Planet?  I'm only asking because this dual career thing is reminding me of Peter Parker and Clark Kent...you ever get that?

ALEX: I not only get that, but I use it as a much-failed pickup line. Being a Marvel Comics fan, I’m naturally all for the Daily Bugle. So I’d prefer to liken myself to Peter Parker, if only because he’s done a lot better at the box office.

DOUG:  Are your parents proud of you?  Are they supportive of your efforts?

ALEX: Yeah Doug, they’re great. I know a lot of would-be artists struggle with unsupportive parents who want them to become a doctor, a lawyer, or Bill Gates. Mine have thankfully wanted me to follow whatever makes me happy and productive & doesn’t land me dead in a gutter at the age of 40. What more could a son want?

 DOUG:  Alex, I think “Next Best Thing” and “To Carry On” are my favorites from Memorywall.  If they still made 45s, what two songs would you pick for the A and B sides?

ALEX: Interesting question. Being one of my more catchy songs, “Next Best Thing” would definitely be the A-side of my first single (or 45) from Memorywall, with “Musical Chairs” likely being the B-side since it follows “Next Best Thing” on the album. Plus the last note on “Next Best Thing” is the first on “Musical Chairs,” so they make a good back-to-back combo. “To Carry On” would make a good follow-up single, or possibly “Get Close to Me.” For a B-side I’d choose either “Cycle of the World” or “One of Those Days,” which are slower songs. Upbeat on the A-side, mellow on the B.

DOUG:  I know you're a tremendous fan of the Beatles; do you think they influenced your music?  What about other artists?

ALEX: I definitely get a lot of Beatles comparisons, particularly to John Lennon, which is the ultimate compliment. Simon and Garfunkel are a huge influence, too, in terms of their harmonic style and the way Paul Simon wove melodies and lyrics. Bob Dylan’s material from the early ‘60s to late ‘70s is also high on the list.  Other influences have been Badfinger, a British ‘60s and ’70s group and the most underrated band ever, as well as Billy Joel and Elton John. Yeah, people tell me I should’ve been born 30 years earlier.

DOUG:  Is it expensive to produce an album?   In all seriousness, your records look and sound very polished; where did those backup singers and other musicians come from?

ALEX: Studio time is the largest expense, and that depends on how much time I spend on each song (I can be a perfectionist of maximum anal retentitude), how many songs are going on the CD, and how many session musicians the producer & I bring in. It can run between $2,500 and $3,000. The cost of manufacturing a CD depends on the print run; the more CDs produced, the lesser the per-unit cost. All in all, it can be a $5,000 endeavor. I’ve sold more than enough to break even, which is nice, but it takes time, not being with a major label. In the long run, though, I’m glad to have done it – these CDs are testaments to my life at certain key stages, and that will always be great to reflect on. And if all else fails, the CDs make for great coasters.

 DOUG:  Hey, I know you also perform publicly; what do you think is the biggest audience you've had?  The smallest?

ALEX: A few years ago I performed the first song I ever wrote, “Window Shopping,” in a musical. I played a destitute street singer – gotta aim high! The theatre was packed, and yet I felt totally at ease. With the spotlight on me, I couldn’t see the audience, so that eased the pressure. The smallest audience might have been in a restaurant, where I was “background ambiance” and there was one diner. I could hear him dry heave every time I missed a note. The musical was far less awkward.

DOUG:  Do you only sing your own songs when you're on stage?

ALEX: I do a mix of originals and covers. The covers tend to be well-known – “The Boxer” by Simon and Garfunkel and “On the Road Again” by Willie Nelson, for example – and they’re great for reeling in listeners. Once I have their interest (“ooh, what’s he gonna do next?”), they tend to be more attentive when I bust out an original. Then they go back to dry heaving.

DOUG:  Do you have a manager?  How do you land those gigs?

ALEX: No manager, and I’ve landed many of my gigs through word of mouth or repeat performances. My job at the newspaper has really broadened my network and opened a lot of opportunities to performances I might not otherwise have had. You’d be surprised how many music halls want to give you top billing when you threaten them with a bad review.

 DOUG:  Alex, you're a good looking guy – I imagine being up there on stage gets a lot of attention from one or two females, at least!  Has anyone ever asked you for your autograph, or anything more?  Do you have groupies?  

ALEX: Why, Doug … you’re too kind. There are of course the hoards of older ladies who’ve asked me to be their gigolo. As far as the non-geriatric fan base, there have been a few women I’ve spoken with after a performance, who may be fellow musicians or just want to chat about music in general. I’ve signed quite a few autographs, but not nearly enough of them on undergarments. I think the key is to do more shows around drunk women.

DOUG:  Speaking of women, I read recently that Cher has up to 20 costume changes when she's on stage; do you do anything like that?

ALEX: HAHAHAHAHA!  Funny. My  goal is to make sure my shirt’s not on backwards.

DOUG:  Let's say you wake up tomorrow morning, it's the mid-1970s and you're a teen idol.  Who would you want to be? 

ALEX:  Donny Osmond, hands down. Wait … are you serious?

 DOUG:  Haha!  Hey, I know Memorywall is available on Amazon.com, iTunes, and Napster, but is your first album Sandpapered Dreams still for sale?

ALEX: It is, although currently you can only find it online at my alma mater, www.colby.edu/bookstore.  Just go there & search for my name.  Colby College also offers an earlier “CD single,” of sorts, called Mayflower Hill. Did you know that Colby is located on Mayflower Hill?  Now ya do!

DOUG:  Groovy, thanks Alex.  So--do I have a future in this sort of thing?  Not music, but celebrity interviewing and such...

ALEX: You do a great job of asking questions, Doug. I’ve wracked my brain here so much that my head needs a time out!   Now all you need are some actual celebrities!

.    .    .    .

Well, on that happy note... I hope whoever's reading this checks out his music; thanks for reading--and for listening!

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