Alexander draws audience of all ages
Beatles tribute, solo album bring more families to performances
Graham Alexander may be something of a newcomer on the national music scene, but he’s far from inexperienced.
Alexander, now 23, first picked up guitar at age 10; by age 12 he was writing songs and fronting his band The Roadrunners, which still backs him up to this day. He first gained national exposure in 2010 when he joined the Broadway cast of “RAIN — A Tribute to The Beatles,” staying on for more than 150 performances and eventually leaving the show in 2011 to focus on his self-titled solo debut, released that same year.
Even before all that, the Philadelphia singer-songwriter caught the music bug from his father, Fran Smith Jr., bassist for ’80s new wave group The Hooters. From an early age, Alexander knew he wanted to pursue music as his career, despite minor resistance from other family members.
Where: The Linda, WAMC’s Performing Arts Studio, 339 Central Ave., Albany
When: 8 p.m. Friday
How Much: $15
More Info: 465-5233 ext. 4, www.wamcarts.org
“Well, my parents kind of split when I was 7, but I guess it made it — certainly in my head, by the time I started playing guitar — this could actually be a career, which is also something that is very hard [for other people] to get over,” Alexander said from his home in Philadelphia.
“Most people don’t even think of playing as a career, but in this day and age — when I was growing up, all your family and friends would say to you, ‘You gotta get a real job.’ But once you start playing and actually do stuff, with the way the economy is, you can almost turn it around — ‘You guys should really think about joining a band or something — something steady.’ ”
The road work has been steadier than ever these past few years for Alexander and his band — including longtime lead guitarist Zach Harski and drummer Rob Fini, along with bassist Ben Barclay, who stepped into the role after being a roadie for The Roadrunners for a number of years. The band has at least 40 dates booked around the country through the end of August, including a stop at The Linda on Friday night.
As attendance has increased thanks to “RAIN” and the ongoing success of the debut album, Alexander has been surprised to find all ages in his crowds. His classic rock and power-pop driven sound and vocal delivery — which not surprisingly bears a strong resemblance to Paul McCartney, who he portrayed in “RAIN” — has been part of this accessibility.
“For the first time — and it’s not something I even expected or even thought while making [the album] — for the first time I’m heading out and seeing audiences, all sorts of audiences,” he said.
“It’s a family-friendly show really, something everyone can enjoy, and it’s amazing to see people 10 years old with people that are 50 enjoying the same music together. And it’s new music — it’s not a blend of old music, it’s just new, written music. . . . There’s not a lot of acts who can do that these days, with the whole family.”
Exit 97.7, WEXT-FM, which is sponsoring the show at The Linda, has quickly become a fervent supporter of Alexander. The station also brought him to Albany for last year’s LarkFEST and did a radio interview and performance with him earlier this month.
“We played a radio conference [last year] in Philadelphia that’s called Nom-COMMvention — basically an industry, radio gathering of all sorts of heads of radio stations, mostly college and triple-A,” Alexander said.
“We played there with a band called Grace Potter and the Nocturnals, and [WEXT] just happened to be there; Dave [Michaels, WEXT morning DJ] happened to be there from the station. He took a liking to us and signed us up.”
Alexander’s transition to solo artist after years of going under the Roadrunners name was set in motion in 2005, when the Roadrunners took a hiatus after releasing two albums, “The Roadrunners: Cellar Sessions” (2003) and “Breakaway” (2006)). Before joining up with “RAIN,” Alexander spent five years writing for other artists and touring with Badfinger, Blood Sweat and Tears, Grace Potter and The Nocturnals, America, James Taylor, and Norah Jones, among others. He also composed the soundtrack for director Kenneth Sheil’s feature film “Friends of Ken.”
Once he was in “RAIN,” Alexander began gaining attention under his own name. Combined with the solo album he had just finished, on which he played most of the instruments, it made sense to go by his name.
“I guess it had to do mostly with Broadway, really,” he said. “I had made the album, and the album — I played a lot of the instruments on it, so it kind of — I guess it just kind of progressed into Graham Alexander, just for the sake of it being easier.”
His Broadway experience ended up having a big effect on his performing as well.
Talking to audience
“Most importantly, absolutely what Broadway teaches you is this incredible sense of owning a room,” he said. “I was always a bit of a timid talker, and what having lines definitely does is, it makes you address the audience as if they’re in your house — even if you’re in another city or if you’re in their house — as you’re performing. Learning to engage the audience was absolutely the best thing I could learn from that show.”
During this time, Alexander was hard at work on his album, which eventually took two years and multiple sessions to complete. He eventually ended up recording in four different studios.
“We did easily two other versions of the album,” he said. “I flew to L.A. and I did a whole bunch of sessions there, but I just didn’t get the sound I wanted. It’s very tough in this day and age to find people that can give you just the sort of sound that I wanted. It seems not that difficult to record, let’s say, drums, but man, it’s terrible. They just don’t make stuff like they used to, and they make stuff to suit the industry, so obviously they suit their equipment to what’s happening in the music world. And what was happening at that point wasn’t real drums.”
Alexander wrote upward of 50 songs for the album, eventually narrowing it down to the 10 that appear on the final track list. This prolificacy is pretty normal — he’s already working on a follow-up album.
“Well, I’m always writing — that’s really what I love to do; I love, love, love writing, that’s where it all started,” he said.
Despite the often upbeat nature of his songs, they usually tend to arise out of conflicts.
“It just is my way of communicating and resolving how I feel about something, and a lot of it’s about me more than the person I’m having an argument with,” Alexander said. “For me I think it’s like therapy — it’s a way of resolving conflict internally, without yelling back at someone necessarily.”