Introducing Christian Alexander: The genre-bending singer representing the north of England
We meet the 22-year-old Preston-born musician to chat about his new record "Summer '19".
Isolation suits Christian Alexander. Despite a rising public profile and offers of studio time in L.A., the northern musician is still happiest recording alone in his parents’ garage in the sleepy northern town of Garstang, where he grew up. That’s what he’s up to today, having recently returned from a 12-day stint in the US, where he was shooting videos for his astonishing new record, Summer ‘19.
“It was crazy but good,” he explains of the trip in his gentle Lancastrian tone. “But experiences like these have just made me realise that I'm a British boy through and through. Garstang is green, it’s comfortable and there are good people around here, so I use the area as a way to focus, really. I know with future music the way to go is to work with other people and see what happens, but at the moment I'm enjoying doing things my own way and not going at somebody else's pace.”
Call it focus, call it control freakery, but Christian has always been happiest creating alone. During his brief spell studying Music Production at college in Salford, he would spend break times “hiding” in the studio, dropping out completely once he’d grasped the “core essentials” of production and setting about sourcing the equipment required to create his own home studio. That rudimentary set-up has changed very little to this day -- comprising just speakers, laptop, keyboard, and guitar -- but from that limited palette Christian continues to create the most extraordinarily intimate and emotionally raw bedroom-pop.
His self-funded, self-produced debut, Summer ‘17, arrived in April, its beautifully bruised ballads positing the 22-year-old singer-songwriter as the missing link between Rex Orange County and Blonde-era Frank Ocean. Seven months on, that record has racked up more than half a million streams and won him scores of followers who regularly reach out on Instagram to thank him for articulating what they couldn’t.
“It’s crazy,” Christian says, clearly still in disbelief at his growing fandom. And yet when I suggest having an expectant audience might have piled the pressure on for subsequent recordings, he’s quick to contradict me. "I’ve never written anything with the mindset of pleasing people: I want to impress myself. And with this new album, I knew exactly what sounds I wanted.”
Written and recorded in the first six months of 2019, the 12-track collection is released today via his own Dirty Polo imprint. Album is the operative word, too: when I refer to Summer ‘19 as a mixtape, Christian diplomatically sets me straight. “Mixtape is cool way of framing something, but in reality I've worked hard at this project and it's a full body of original work. And even though I'm aware it's not fully produced and mixed and mastered the same as a proper album, it's an album to me.” Whatever the categorisation, it’s a startling collection of songs, at once playful and revelatory.
Melding the acoustic singer-songwriter influences he inherited from his older brothers with his own love of boundary-pushing rappers Tyler, The Creator, Earl Sweatshirt and Schoolboy Q, Summer ‘19 demonstrates the huge strides Christian has made as both a songwriter and producer. On "Toooo Much", seasick piano and delicately autotuned vocals mingle with cavernous hip-hop beats and distorted electronic screeches. “Broke My Heart” utilises a languid trumpet melody to pack extra punch, while “So High” sets a Radiohead-esque guitar melody to a fantastically low-slung beat. His vulnerable vocals are front and centre throughout the record, his drawled diction doing little to disguise the painfully raw lyrical preoccupations.
Heartbreak, anxiety and feelings of inadequacy abound. On “Ripped Jeans”, those themes are framed with humour, in lines like, “I think I’m changing / Yeah I’m maturing / I hope you’ve noticed”. At the other end of the spectrum, short interlude “Mood Swings” features Christian’s pitch-shifted vocals confessing, “It’s those thoughts when you lay in your bed at night and you just sink into these places full of sadness and it fucks you up / Mentally, it just messes you up / I don’t know if we’ll ever come back from this.” And then there’s “Peter Parker”, which features the lyrics, “So sensitive, I’m so fragile, please don’t hurt me, I’ll just deal with myself,” and “Life isn’t fair / I grab my gun / put it to my head / pull the trigger”.
“I don't know, maybe I'm just a really dramatic person,” he says when quoted the lyric. “I get sad about something and I'll write a sad song.” Rather than some softboi shtick, Christian’s open-hearted approach is a survival technique. Because, while he maintains that often his songs are not entirely autobiographical, he will concede that songwriting allows him an outlet to work through and process his innermost thoughts and feelings.
“I go into the studio and it's like I'm a kid again: I get a chance to open my emotions. Anxiety is a thing everyone deals with, and all of this is stuff I’m still figuring out about myself. The only way I can show people exactly how I'm feeling is through my music. Recording is the only place where no-one can touch me and I can just let everything out. Summer ‘17 -- that was the first time that I really stopped caring and overthinking, and let what was in my head fall out into the music. And Summer ‘19 was the same. I always forget that making music is a pure outlet. That's why I'm shying away from working with other people, just because I'm very honest with myself when I'm making music on my own and I can't really do that with someone else there."
“At some point I want to introduce myself into that world of meeting other musicians. I want to meet people that can introduce new ways of doing things and help me improve. I'm looking forward to it, but at the moment I'm just enjoying doing things on my own.”
Christian Alexander's new record Summer '19 is available now.