“These are mad good, by the way… I only just discovered them recently.” It’s Saturday afternoon and singer-songwriter Alexander Giannascoli, better known by his shorthand alias of (Sandy) Alex G, is eating a veggie kati roll from a street-side food cart in Brooklyn. The Philadelphian native is in town for the release of Rocket, his latest full-length album for which he took to the stage on Thursday night at a small church not too far from where we are now standing discussing everything from this to his collaboration with Frank Ocean to his new culinary discovery.
While Giannascoli’s immediate surrounds have become a more familiar stomping ground over the past year – for the most part because girlfriend Molly Germer, who plays violin on Rocket, lives in Harlem – Philly remains home base for the DIY musician’s story-centric, lo-fi musical output. It was there that a young Giannascoli got his start, first on keys, then on drums, and at age 13 on the guitar, which has come to serve as his principal songwriting tool. And where no definitive music scene existed, Giannascoli and his mates created their own, declaring the neighbourhood a makeshift stage upon which to hone their skills in front of an audience of familiar faces.
“I just wanted to make music that I could show my friends and they would think I was cool.”
Needless to say, it was not long before his audience extended beyond the well-trodden streets of his hometown by way of a steady surge of solo bedroom recordings uploaded onto Bandcamp. Over the following couple of years, Giannascoli’s prolific solo efforts filtered down into the underground music scene eventually procuring him a record deal and with it his first album under a label – the 2014 home-recorded DSU (Orchid Tapes), followed by Beach Music (Domino Records) in 2015.
Amongst his new and ever-growing fan base was none other than R&B heavy hitter Frank Ocean who was so impressed by what he heard he appointed Giannascoli as collaborator on 2016’s Blonde alongside other high-profile guest features – Beyoncé, James Blake and Kendrick Lamar, among them. Of his work with Ocean, Giannascoli says it was unremarkable in the sense that “he was just really nice and everyone who worked for him was really great”. Nonetheless, a major coup for the indie musician who admits to only knowing one of Ocean’s songs up until that point, a detail which is by no means a sign of aversion but rather one reflecting Giannascoli’s limited musical intake, which has remained more or less contained to a very select rotation that in his formative years consisted predominantly of Modest Mouse, Radiohead and perhaps most notably Elliott Smith, whose resounding influence on Giannascoli is undeniable. “I think that’s kind of how I taught myself to record, just from listening to his stuff, the way he sings and the way he doubles all the instruments and stuff,” he says.
Like Giannascoli’s earlier releases (five self-released, three on a label), Rocket reflects the nostalgic contemplations of a suburban upbringing right down to the sampled sounds of the street outside his bedroom window. “My room is right next to the telephone line so there are lots of birds out there and people walking their dogs. I’ll be recording guitar and a dog will start barking and the recording just picks it up. I like that stuff,” he says. And it’s a good thing too, as it is Giannascoli’s unaffected receptivity and playful experimentation that has given way to a robust musical harvest of collage-like songs which are at once eagerly progressive and warmly introspective.
In the coming months Giannascoli will be taking his record on the road playing a run of shows stateside before embarking on a European tour. And while he says he isn’t working on anything right now, if history is any indication it won’t be too long before we’re hearing more from (Sandy) Alex G.
Rocket is out now via Domino.