My Firsts: Alex Somers | Under the Radar Magazine Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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My Firsts: Alex Somers

Vodka at the Playground

Apr 28, 2021 Web Exclusive
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My Firsts is our email interview series where we ask musicians to tell us about their first life experiences, be it early childhood ones (first word, first concert, etc.) or their first tastes of being a musician (first band, first tour, etc.). For this My Firsts we talk to Alex Somers.

Last month Somers released two new albums, Siblings and Siblings 2, via Krunk. In 2019, Somers released an album with his former romantic partner Jónsi of Iceland’s Sigur Rós titled Lost and Found. Somers has also worked on various Sigur Rós albums. Last year, he scored the Apple TV+ short film Here We Are: Notes For Living On Planet Earth. Somers has composed music for several films. His work scoring the 2016 Bill Morrison documentary, Dawson City: Frozen in Time, impacted his solo music and aided in the creation of his new albums.

“It’s such a poetic story,” Somers said of the documentary in a press release announcing Siblings and Siblings 2. “And it’s so in sync with how I hear music, and my obsession with found objects. The footage is so weathered and fucked up and beautiful, and it was wonderful to match those images with sound. I’d dub sound onto machines, and through different mediums, play it back and re-record it, gathering imperfections. As I wrote the soundtrack, I’d splinter off in different directions, adding more stuff, and these turned into Siblings tracks.”

Somers also further explained why the project was spread over multiple albums. “I’ve carried this music for a long time—so long that it’s become two albums,” he said. “I wrote most of it between 2014 and 2016, but I abandoned it at different stages, thinking nobody else would want to hear it….I don’t know any artist who doesn’t struggle with creativity. But friends who heard it, especially Jónsi, encouraged me to finish it. I’m really excited about making music that’s more relevant to where I am now. But first, I’m really excited to finally let Siblings go.”

Read on as Somers talks about his first visit to the hospital, his early musical influences, his first exposure to the films of John Waters, the first time he got drunk, and performing grunge classics at a school talent show.

First record your parents played for you?

The first record I remember my parents playing for me was a 7-inch single of “Hello, I Love You” by The Doors. I remember it so well and I played it over and over again on my little Fisher Price turntable. It was so simple and sing-song-y to me and kinda feels like a kids’ song. Most of my childhood musical experiences were with CDs and tapes, but this is a very early memory where we still had a turntable set up for some reason. And about a year ago I found the very same Fisher Price turntable on eBay and treated myself to it. Sounds very warped and lo-fi from the built in speaker.

First pet?

My first ever pet was my beautiful dog Wesleigh. Oh Wesleigh, what a kind and sweet and adventurous creature you were. He was really my best friend and we would do everything together. I have a distinct memory of my mom waking me up one morning and asking why I was sleeping on the floor next to my bed. I told her that it’s because I wanted Wesleigh to have the best spot right in the middle and then there was no room for me, ha ha! But usually it was all snuggles I love dogs to this day and I’m so grateful I had a furry friend as a kid—I think it really informed my sense of play and love for all that is cozy.

First favorite band?

My first favorite band was definitely Nirvana. Nirvana changed my life. Their music and energy and rawness and just everything about it were incredible to me! They are basically the reason why I wanted to play the guitar and make noise. Their songs are all so simple that you can basically learn to play all of them really quickly, and soon I was in bands with my friends switching instruments and making our own songs. Was such a fun time!

First band you were in?

The first band I was ever in was called Jayne. I think we were vaguely named after a girl in our class. We were all in the same middle school and we had so much fun playing together! We made up our own songs and played lots of our favorite songs by other bands, too. We used to love playing “Star Power” by Sonic Youth. We usually rehearsed at our drummer’s house. He and his older brother were already drinking and smoking weed and they were kind of bad influences on us nice kids. But it was mainly harmless. Oh, that basement is also the first time I was exposed to John Waters’ films. We watched half of Pink Flamingos after band practice one day and I just couldn’t believe what I was seeing. Years later I met John Waters in London and he is such a gentleman and a true Baltimore icon.

First time you performed in public?

The first time I played music on a stage I think was at the sixth-grade talent show at my school. My dad filmed us playing so I think there is footage somewhere, ha ha! I remember wearing my favorite Hole T-shirt that was like a silver heart or something, so ’90s. I think my band played three songs. I remember we played “Love Buzz” and “Aneurysm” by Nirvana but I can’t remember the third song. It was thrilling and we had so much fun! We lost.

First music festival you went to?

The first music festival I ever went to was Lollapalooza 1995 and it was soooooo amazing to the 11-year-old me! My mom took my older brother, his best friend, and me. The two of them were allowed to go out to the front of the mosh pit for Hole and Sonic Youth but I had to stay further back with my mom. But it was still so cool! It was the first time I ever smelled weed wafting through the air and there were so many punks and real rock and rollers and I was so into the whole scene! It really left an impression on me! And I still remember Sonic Youth playing “Schizophrenia.”

First favorite song?

I’m not sure what my first favorite song was, too many to recall. But I do remember the first song that I became obsessed with that I had to have looping in my bedroom for many days, maybe even weeks. It’s kinda embarrassing but it’s a song by The Smashing Pumpkins from their 1996 boxset called “Medellia of the Gray Skies.” I was so obsessed with this song and I think it was me finding something out about myself. I am quite particular when it comes to sound and music and environment and I would do this thing where I would want it playing in my room but the volume level had to be set just so. I would walk around my room, lie down in the bed, get up and slightly adjust the volume level over and over until it felt just right to me. It’s an obsessive behavior but at the time I was just a 12-year-old kid alone in my room and didn’t know that this was weird. But I mention it and feel it’s relevant because I do think of it as my first ambient music experience. The song has no percussion and is a simple little reverb-y tune. Maybe it was more about the duration of it and the environment it would create after looping it for days than the song itself. I found it very satisfying and I’ve been looping single songs and whole albums obsessively ever since.

First time you got drunk?

The first time I ever got drunk was with a kid named Ryan Gibson. It was the seventh grade and he was the drummer in my band. Ryan was so cool and already was smoking and drinking and he scored some vodka and orange juice and red cups and we went to a local playground and sat on the swings and got drunk and silly. I do remember it tasting pretty bad!

First recording device?

Tascam Potrastudio 424. My first recording device was the classic Tascam 4 track tape machine. This machine changed my life. It’s where I first discovered my love for layering and overdubbing sounds. It expanded my mind to think about music and songs as not something we play but something we build. It turned me on to thinking about arranging songs that had nothing to do with reality or “real” instruments or anything like that. Multitrack recording was so mysterious and I was so, so drawn to it and that wonder and curiosity remains in me still today. Brian Eno once said something about how when the film camera was invented a new art form was born—theater productions gave way to cinema. Then as the recording studio was born, live music gave way to this other new art form, but sadly we didn’t give it a name. So we call it music, but music that can’t/wasn’t ever meant to be played live or made by people playing as you hear it in the recording exists in its own non reality, and I’m so inspired and moved by this space. My early experimenting with my 4-track tape machine led me to a lifelong love and obsession with recording.

First bad review?

Ha ha, I remember when Jónsi and I released our album Riceboy Sleeps and our management showed us one hilarious review that just said something like “I didn’t know you could make an entire album of DVD start up screen music!”

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