Fact: everyone who comes into contact with this Philly kid falls in love with him.
“Everyone who comes into contact with Alex G seems to fall in love with him.” That's a sentence I wrote once upon a time that has statistically never been proved wrong. It even ended up on a critical appraisal sticker slapped on the UK pressings of DSU—his first full-length album to be given a physical release and critical attention. Whether it’s Rivers Cuomo or Ryan Hemsworth, Rolling Stone or Noisey, hometown basement crowds or sold-out European audiences, this early-twenties Philadelphia kid captures something in his songs that is universally affecting. Sometimes, there’s no better way to explain it other than: he’s just got something.
At the cool age of 21, Alex G (full name Alex Giannascoli) already has a backlog of material, with five full-lengths and an equal number of shorter releases on Bandcamp that paved the road to DSU. The album title stands for “Dream State University,” not “Dick Suck University” as previously assumed, and is nothing short of a masterpiece. It’s a collection of simple, well-crafted songs that bury their way into your heart, soul, imagination, and iTunes “most played” section with the subtle ferocity of a new and probably doomed crush. When generations after generations have declared guitar music dead, that every combination of chords and sounds has already happened and there is nothing new left to do, an album like DSU raises the benchmark of “objectively good music” and forces everyone to overhaul all their opinions to date. Hell, I've been listening to DSU on a weekly basis since its release and it still feels fresher than mum's washing to me. In a climate where we're over things pretty much the minute they fall off the trend bar, that is a rare testament of endurance.
Last spring, nobody (except close friends, naturally) had heard a note of DSU, and Alex was playing mostly basement shows in his hometown. Now, UK indie label Lucky Number has re-mastered two of his former releases—Trick and Rules—for vinyl, and he has sold out venues across Europe. Of course, his reaction to all of this is much the same as when I asked him why he chose to study English Literature at college before sacking it off to do Alex G full time, he said, ”I didn’t really have to try that hard with that subject, so I just went with it.” All in all, he has all the nonchalance of someone involved with music for all the right reasons—for fun, and because it’s what comes naturally.
I met up with him and his band after the London date of their second UK tour (a sold-out event at Chat’s Palace) to eat pizza and shoot the shit. After asking a lot of nerdy, pressing questions about the intricacies of music, it became quickly apparent that, today, at least, Alex is most animated when he’s talking about the accomplishments of others and making jokes in the same, off-kilter manner that underlies much of his music.
Noisey: So, I think the vibe in this place is that it’s pretending to be American pizza.
Alex: It’s actually probably the closest we’ve found, I have to say. Hey, I have this same recorder man!
Yeah, me and Sam (Acchione, guitarist in Alex G) would walk around out of town and interview kids outside of convenience stores and stuff. We hung out with this one kid who would scream shit at people out of the window of his car, everyone knew that kid. I have a really long recording of him just screaming.
That’s pretty weird. Do you still have it?
You should release it as a one-track EP. Speaking of weird, the artwork for your Trick album features a stray dog running down the aisle of a church. I read that was a moment that actually happened during a funeral you were at?
Yeah it’s funny, I didn’t even—yeah, it’s just a really cool picture. My sister took it.
It’s a pretty apt metaphor for how you write: something totally real but surreal at the same time.
It was a really surreal moment.
What happened directly after?
Everyone was just like “Wow, that was weird,” and then we carried on.
Classic life. So DSU is the first of your albums to be mastered, but now Trick and Rules are about to be given the vinyl treatment too. Is it weird seeing some of your older material being recycled?
It’s not that weird, because that’s one of the conditions of music. Like, DSU is old now. Once something is recorded it’s just all rehashing after that. So it’s not that weird. It is a little frustrating though when people think Trick and Rules are new, because in my opinion they’re, like, lesser than DSU. I wouldn’t want people to think that I’m like, going in that direction.
What direction do you think you’ll go in after DSU?
The stuff that I’ve been making recently is a little more, I don’t know. It’s different. It’’s a lot less guitar 90s rock sounding. It’s still guitar music, but it’s weirder I guess. Less grounded.
What are you listening to at the moment?
There’s a guy from Philly who I really like and he makes music under the name Brandon Can’t Dance. My friend burned me a CD and it’s the best thing. I’ve just been listening to that on repeat. It’s just weird guitar riffs and loops. So it’s been a lot of that and True Widow. I mean, I don’t think I listen to True Widow that much anymore but I always have to say them because they’re the best band I’ve ever heard. They’re so fucking good. That’s all I got.
It feels like ALL the bands are from Philly at the moment. Why do you think that is?
I think because it’s just so easy to have shows there. It makes people who maybe wouldn’t normally get into DIY shows and stuff—it prompts them to get into it. Like, you’re always one degree away from someone who’s playing shows in a basement or something, know what I mean? And it’s a really supportive community. No one really shit talks the other bands that are playing. It’s just like, everybody’s kind of working together to make everyone do better.
Rivers Cuomo of Weezer fame wrote about “Harvey” for Rolling Stone and he said you were really nice and intriguing. Have you ever been in a position where someone who you looked up to, or was really big when you were growing up, has turned around and complimented your music?
The guy I was just talking about—Brandon Can’t Dance—when I was younger I would see his band play all the fucking time. They were like our favorite band and we had our own band and we’d play with his band and eventually we became close with them or whatever. That was the best. We idolised his music. I guess that’s the only applicable example of someone that I really admired.
I guess that’s the fun part about DIY—getting to play shows with people you look up to within your own community. There was a really stacked lineup one time and I can’t remember where it was but it was like you guys, Teen Suicide...
Yeah! And Pity Sex. That was a big show. It was like McDonalds and Burger King and Wendy’s all under one roof.
All the fast food giants of DIY. Is there anyone you haven’t toured with yet but would like to?
Oh, you know someone I forgot to mention yet whose music I really like is Jessica Lea Mayfield. She has really, really good songs. She’d be cool to tour with.
You sang on a Ryan Hemsworth track for his most recent record. How did that come about?
He emailed me and was like: "Hey, I like your album, do you wanna sing on this track I have?" I said yeah and he sent me the thing. It was funny, I didn’t know who Ryan was at the time so I Googled his name and it came up with the guy who played Thor, whose name is also Ryan Hemsworth. But it turns out he’s actually really awesome. So yeah he sent me the instrumental thing, I sang on it and sent it back. It was really quick, but it was cool. I really appreciated him asking me.
It seems social media has encouraged a lot of unlikely connections between artists now. Like you can make the connection between Ryan Hemsworth to Ricky Eat Acid, then Ricky Eat Acid to Orchid Tapes, Orchid Tapes to Alex G…
Yeah, Sam (Ray, Ricky Eat Acid) was actually the one introducing me to Ryan. He was like the link between us.
It seems there’s always three degrees of separation between everyone, even though you’re not that active on social media yourself.
I don’t bother with it because I always regret everything I say. I regret it period, so when it’s permanent and like logged there… That’s why I don’t fuck with it. I have nothing against it though. It has something against ME [laughs].
It really does immortalize all your grammatical errors. Speaking of the internet though, where did your Bandcamp profile pic of the weird horse come from?
Oh, ha, I just drew that when I was younger and I thought it was cool.
I found an old interview pre-Alex G, and you say Rex is your favorite dog. Yet, on DSU, you sing “Rosie is my favorite dog.” What changed? Did Rex fuck up?
Oh yeah. [Laughs.] I don’t know. Oh, Rex died.
I’m just kidding. They were both alive. I think it’s arbitrary which one was my favorite. My favorite is whichever was the last one whose eyes I looked into last, whichever sweet dog's head I last kissed.
Moving swiftly on with some “would you rathers.” Blink-182 or Third Eye Blind?
Third Eye Blind. One hundred percent.
I was really sad that you covered “Semi-Charmed Life” last time you came over but there was just me and three other people losing their shit over it. On behalf of Britain, I apologize.
Yeah, come on Britain.
Zach Morris or AC Slater?
[Long pause.] OH. Saved By The Bell! Slater, man.
Ren or Stimpy?
Who’s the skinny one?
Kanye or Drake?
Kanye. He’s angrier or something.
Pizza or beer?
Right now, beer I guess.
Oh dear, was pizza that bad?
No, no! The pizza was good. I’ve just satisfied my pizza needs.
Thank God, that could have got awkward. Finally, how would you end The Simpsons?
Homer would kill Bart.
What happens after that?
He gets arrested and then it’s over.
Real talk. Thanks Alex!
Trick, Rules and DSU are all available now via Lucky Number.
Follow Emma Garland on Twitter.