Interview - Grammy Nominated Songwriter, A-Lex
First interview of 2018. I wanted to make sure we started off our series of interviews with a bang. And I think I've provided a pretty tasty interview right here.
The profession of songwriting is a really fascinating job. It is something that has been around since music began. Back in the day, songwriters quite literally wrote the song. Nowadays, being a songwriter usually means writing the lyrics. As a Hip-Hop fan, we all know about the fine line between being a songwriter and a ghostwriter. The latter being a Cardinal Sin. But in every other genre of music, it is a practice that is essential. Sure, there are some that write every single lyric you hear, but that's a rarity.
For this interview, I chat to a songwriter that has just recently been nominated for a Grammy Award as part of Musiq Soulchild's "Feel The Real". He has his own work coming out soon and just to take note. He's only 27. I talk to Alexander Lloyd, otherwise known as A-Lex. Enjoy.
C: We start every interview at the beginning. Where were you born, what was life like and what were you like as a kid.
A: I was born in Decatur, Georgia. Just outside Atlanta, north of it. As a kid, I would play sports. My granddad was the first African-American to play in the NBA, (Earl Lloyd) so what I had was hoop dreams. I wanted to be a basketball player. When I was younger, I had a lot of emotional issues because of my parents relationship, I was kind of quiet, you know. But it helped me grow, thinking in a different way, I think it helped me artistically. When it comes to music, my confidence has grown, my mindset has changed, I'm a much better leader. But yea, I have shifted many times in my life.
C: So what was your family life like?
A: Well my parents got divorced when I was about 5, so I grew up in a single parent home with my mom and sister. See my dad every two weeks on weekends. He was always present but the bond wasn't as tight as I would've liked it to be. You hear a lot of those stories and mine is similar. But I don't want to say it like it was all negative. There really was a lot of positive things around my childhood. I always had support, my mom she sings gospel. She's been singing her whole life, my dad, he didn't do music but managed bands back in the day. He's toured in Japan and a lot of different places. It's been interesting.
C: I can imagine, with your mother being a gospel singer and your father managing, you could say music was in your blood?
A: Yea, for sure! My granddad, my mom's father. I didn't even know until this past year that he was a musician. They say he played every instrument you could name! So I always thought it was just my mom but it really is a generational thing, a generational gift. So with my granddad and mother, it does make me feel I was born for this.
C: I feel that, certainly looks like it! So what music was being played in your house? I assume with your mother being a singer, she had a lot of inspiration.
A: Definitely Gospel, a lot of Soul as well. Aretha Franklin, Anita Baker, The Delfonics, The Temptations, Marvin Gaye. She was in Church two or three times a week, singing in the choir every Sunday, that's been my mom my entire life.
C: And for you personally, was there any inspiration from what your dad listen to?
A: Not really! His taste is actually quite youthful you know. Both mom & dad are up there in age but he listening to people like Future and Lil Pump, all that young stuff. I love that stuff too, but I'm more into Soul. I like artists like Domo Genesis, part of Odd Future. Smino from St Louis. Of course people like Musiq Soulchild, The Weeknd, I'm into a lot of stuff but our styles are a little bit different in what we like.
C: So after the hoop dreams were dashed. Was there a gap of not knowing what to do or was music an immediate alternative?
A: I think music helped me realise that I wanted to do other things. I think music helped me realise that I didn't want to play sports, that it wasn't my gift. I mean, I was good. I played basketball and soccer. In high school I went from Varsity in 9th Grade to captain of my team senior year. But when I started doing music, I felt like I had something special. For the first time I felt like I was the best in my circle. I felt like I had something and it turned into a love. I started of as a rapper, I was in a rap duo and now I write and mostly sing. My love for music told me what I really should be doing not trying to be an athlete.
C: You said before that you're 27, which is really young for where you're at now. In terms of age, when did you start songwriting and writing for others?
A: I had to be like 21 or 22. I was in school, ended my group, stepped out of school and I talked to my dad about it. Said I had a lot of opportunities as a writer, maybe I should lean more into that, build up relationships, learn the business and develop a little bit. And that's exactly what I did, took a few placements throughout that time, learned a lot, figured out who I am, who I want to be in this industry. Five, Six years later, I'm writing for other artists but I'm putting my own stuff out as well.
C: Yes, I saw a recent music video from you, "Empty Space"?
A: Yes sir!
C: When you're doing stuff for yourself and others, Is there any mental transition you have to make?
A: I feel like you have to make a mental transition when working with other artists, when you're in the studio with them, it's not about the song, its about the artist, the producer and making the best song for the artist and getting into their head. But with myself, there's much more freedom. I don't have to go a particular direction, I can do whatever I feel. I can put out whatever I decide based on that. For "Empty Space" I got Cantrell and Chancer Smith with me, I produced that and I was either in the studio with Chancer or Cantrell. It was a true collaboration. Even for the music video we just went out, picked the locations and freestyled it. So when it's your own stuff, you can do things like that. It's open to do anything.
C: Would you say that you prefer doing stuff on your own since you have that freedom?
A: I don't want to say I prefer, because there are many artists I'd love to write for. If Beyonce called me?! I'd drop whatever I'm doing in a second and be working with her with 1000% effort! So in situations like that, I'd prefer to write, but I do enjoy writing for my myself. I believe that God wants me to let my light shine, and I feel if I want to be successful as a writer, let the light shine in every way, so that's been my motivation to step out as an artist in the first place.
C: You said you produced that track?
A: Yes, I made the beat.
C: Okay, so you produce as well. He can do it all. When did you start producing?
A: So the funny thing is, when I started doing music, a part of the love did come from me putting together beats. My mom had a Yamaha Keyboard and you could put 5 sounds in. So in my room I just spent hours on end putting together tracks and this was before I ever recorded a song. Once I went to school, they had a recording booth and that is when I was actually able to get in and record songs. So I was making beats before I started writing, but my skills were better with songwriting, melodies and singing. And now that I've been doing music for nine years, in the back of the studio, I'm able to showcase my skills with my personal work. With the album, collaborating with other artists, engineering, it's developed to a point where I can call myself a producer.
C: That is really fascinating. Because there are a lot of people that say that they can do it all. Rapping, producing, singing, writing etc. But it is interesting when they talk about how they gain those particular skills and worked on their craft.
A: I'm glad my passion for it is showing because I really love what I do.
C: D'you ever see songwriting as a thankless job? Or are you fine not getting recognition from the listeners because the artists know who you are and that's what matters.
A: I think often times songwriters do get overlooked as far as how much value we add to a song. There are artists that will acknowledge you in a public way, but, for the most part, songwriters don’t get much recognition at all for our contributions. I think that should change.
C: I think it's a good time to mention it. You're officially Grammy nominated as part of Musiq Soulchild's Album "Feel the Real". When did you get the word, how did it feel?
A: I woke up and it was one of those days where I really needed some encouragement. Working on this album, you get tired, some days you're discouraged, but one day I woke up, my friend Major Seven called me saying "You don't even know, do you?", I was like "We went no.1 on iTunes?" he said "That would be cool, but lemme just send you this picture". He hangs up and it's the official Grammy Nomination for R&B Album of the Year and it was just a blessing man. I'm just super grateful, there's a lot of people as talented or maybe even more talented than me that don't get recognition like this and I definitely hope to get more of it.
Last year I just finished College. Got a Bachelors Degree in Audio Production. So for me, the Grammy Nomination feels like I got another degree, feels like a Degree in Music. I see it as levels in your development, in elementary school I wanted to record, you start and then you get good. That's like going through Middle and High School, you start getting into studios with these major artists, feels like College. So to get the nomination and nearly finishing this album. It's all a blessing.
C: So you got not one but two degrees! I see you.
A: Exactly. One is in the School of Life.
C: I hear that! So how long has this compilation album taken you?
A: So I've been working on this album since October 2016. With so many people involved, the production itself, it's just been taking a lot longer than expected. And its really a good thing because I don't want to rush it and put out a product that's not completely developed. I've been adding musicians, trying to promote it. But it's coming soon. I'm looking at a release in March, early March but it has been long, a year and a half. It's crazy once you really get involved and see how you got to coordinate everything when it comes to the music. And then when you're done there is a whole other side of work with marketing and promotion which is sometimes harder! The music is the fun part, the hard part is once you have the music and need to get it out. It has been fun but it's a lot of work.
C: I feel like most artists on the come up, what they're not taught about promoting. So they can do the music and if they can produce it then cool, but when they're Independent, they don't have any knowledge in how to get it out there other than the odd social post.
A: I feel like you can learn anything. When you do the work, you find a way. When you're doing the work, you find other people doing the work. If you start on your own, I don't think its about popping off and trying to be famous on your first try, its about finding your team and attracting the people that understand and want to help you. Whether its doing shows or social media, I think you just got to try stuff and be present.
C: I want to move onto Atlanta. I recently wrote a list of Top 5 Hip-Hop Cities and I put Atlanta no.3 with New York & Los Angeles being 1 & 2. With you being around the Atlanta scene. How has the ATL wave looked from your perspective?
A: I'm glad you asked me that because I was wondering how you ranked these. How is Atlanta no.3?! In urban music, I feel like a lot of people are hopping on our bandwagon as far as the sound and style goes. I really feel like we're influencing the entire culture. Most of these rappers are doing music like they're from the South! Lil Uzi Vert is from Philly but if you didn't know that, you'd say he's for sure from Atlanta. Its a reflection to how powerful we are as far as cultural influence.
C: Oh yea I completely understand. But for me, if you look at Hip-Hop as a whole. The past 40+ years, some people would say Atlanta is lucky to be top 3. You could throw in Detroit, Bay Area, Houston. There are a lot of candidates. The reason I put Atlanta at 3 instead of 2 or 1 is because the other two has so much foundation in what Hip-Hop is now. The whole thing was birthed in New York and Los Angeles really revolutionised the sound. I listened to OutKast's first album "Southernplayalistic" and I got a lot of LA vibes in there! So if you consider the Atlanta wave to start with OutKast, and they're being inspired by LA, I can't put it any higher than 3rd!
A: Okay, I see where you're coming from. I see that with OutKast they had a lot of inspiration like A Tribe Called Quest. They're definitely a staple but Atlanta got so many layers to it. I think it's so diverse and we're growing daily.
C: I agree. When it comes to Hip-Hop especially. I think its very territorial and isolated. If you look at like French Hip-Hop or something like that, everybody in France would know the best French artist but with the US being so large, there can be an Atlanta rapper known all throughout the state of Georgia but anywhere else. Never heard of him. Obviously the gaps have closed with Social Media etc. but I still feel there can be an isolation.
A: Yea, its like different worlds.
C: So we're near the finish. Let the people know who you have worked with so far and you you would love to work with in the future.
A: So far I have worked with Musiq Soulchild, T-Pain, Austin Mahone, Tiny from Xscape, Keke Palmer, she recently dropped her new single "Bossy", I'm always working. As to who I want to work with. Pharrell, even just being in the studio, I don't have to work, I just want to be around and just learn. Of course Beyonce, Ty Dolla Sign, I think we could do something real dope, Tyler the Creator, Jorja Smith. I'd love to write or produce for her.
C: I saw Jorja Smith nearly two years ago when she had like three songs out and she was supporting NAO. It's fascinating how you see someone at that stage and now she's already known in the States!
A: Yea man. When you stay consistent and the content is good. Then you're going to grow.
C: So since you're at such a young age for what you're doing now. Do you have a plan past the album?
A: In the next five years i see myself having my own production company, I want to sign other writers and producers. As an artist, after this album I got like two more. A solo project and another group project. I'd probably start teaching, I'd love to do a weekly class, teaching them about engineering, Pro Tools, stuff like that. I really want to give back in any way I can.
C: Well... If that ain't a great way to end an interview, I don't know what is! But we end every interview with the one question. What is your Top 5?
A: Okay well I'll do Top 5 artists who inspire me. No particular order. The Weeknd. I think "Starboy" is a great album. Really inspiring. Even though I sometimes don't agree with him as a person, Kanye West. Musically, next level. Smino, had a project last year "blkswn", really good. As a rapper there's not a lot that can stick with him. I'll put myself in my Top 5. The world will see. I've been putting in this work, the world will see.
C: That's the first time someone has put themselves in their Top 5.
A: You got to believe in yourself man! I been reading DJ Khaled's book! Actually he's 5. His energy, his book, he has a blueprint for what I want. Bringing people in with all positive energy. That's what I want to do.
C: And on that, I think we can end it there! I really appreciate this. I've really learned a lot.
A: I definitely appreciate it too, I look forward to growing and building, hopefully we can change the world together.
C: That's facts right there!
Much love to A-Lex for the time. Really fascinating person and a really good at what he does. If you haven't peeped the video in the middle of the interview, please do so. And all I can say is watch out for him.