When Alexander Glantz, known by stage name Alexander 23, got the call that John Mayer wanted him to open for the Hall of Famer's recent SOB Rock Tour, he thought it was a joke. "I was like, 'this isn't funny, this is not a funny joke. I'm not laughing at all.' Then, once I realized he was serious, I just couldn't believe it."
Though the humble 27-year-old Illinois-native wasn't expecting the sudden recognition from one of his inspirations, if you've been following his journey over the past few years, this pivotal career moment shouldn't come as much of a shock.
Alexander 23's music struck a chord with his generation from the very beginning. The indie-pop artist cultivated a fanbase early on with his 2019 debut single, “Dirty AF1s,” and subsequent EP, Oh No, Not Again! which included the viral single “IDK You Yet.” Shortly thereafter, Alexander 23 had a string of successes with songwriting credits on Louis The Child's "Bittersweet," co-production credits on Olivia Rodrigo's mega hit "good 4 u" off the Grammy award-winning SOUR, and, more recently, the release of "Hate Me If It Helps," which had its own trending internet moment this past Valentine's Day, gaining attention from the likes of Offset and Adam Levine.
The secret to Alexander's success isn't a secret at all, but rather his ability to unpack, write and record his innermost monologue — no matter how intense the process might be. "I use songwriting as an emotional tool to work things out," he tells PAPER. "It can also be super grueling to relieve certain feelings over and over again until you finally get the best possible vessel of that emotion." His deeply personal lyrics from his own lived experiences tend to resonate with fans online who often see themselves in the tracks produced — or, at least that's what streaming numbers could conclude. His most recent single “Crash,” with the line “I miss you but I don’t miss us” that you've surly heard while scrolling your FYP, went viral on his TikTok account even before Friday's official release.
"That’s probably the most gratifying post-release feeling that you can get," he says. "You’re actively helping people."
With his first full-length album on the horizon, slated for release this year, PAPER caught up with Alexander 23 to chat writing process, internet virality and why he never feels anxious before taking the stage.
What first sparked your interest in music and when did you realize it was something you were good at?
I have always live listened to music. When I was eight or nine, I saw my dad at the guitar and that's what really sparked something more than an intrigue. At that point I was like "I gotta learn how to do that." I started playing on my own, and then formed a band with some friends and we realized, “we’re not bad at this, we're 10 years old and people wanna see us play. It's maybe even something more than novelty at this point.” Then I played in a band through high school, played cello through high school, went to college, not for music, but after one year I ended up dropping out to pursue music full time.
Do you have a song or an artist that somehow marks the beginning of your journey in the music industry, or that made you realize “I wanna do that?"
I think what made music so fun was discovering some of my favorite artists. My band and I used to cover a lot of Red Hot Chili Peppers songs. Feeling the joy in their music definitely inspired me to start wanting to expose my own thoughts onto my music.
How is 2022 going so far for you?
It's been wild so far, better than I ever could have dreamed that would be. I got to be on tour with John Mayer who I’m now honored to call a friend and someone who has been super generous with his time, emotions and resources. That was a dream come true. I came to play in arenas with someone that I’ve looked up to both personally and musically for so long; It was really, really cool. It feels like I'm just getting started this year.
Diving a little deeper into the SOB Rock Tour — what was going through your head when you got the call that John Mayer wanted you to open?
I thought it was a joke. I thought my manager was kidding and I was like, “this isn't funny, this is not a funny joke. I'm not laughing at all.” Then, once I realized he was serious, I just couldn't believe it. My first thought was, “I have to go practice guitar.” When you go on tour with people of that level, it's really inspiring and it makes you want to get in the studio and just start practicing right away. It's like sports. When you play with someone, you play the level of the competition. If you play with a really bad team, you're gonna play a little worse; but if you play with a really good team, you're gonna play a little better. And playing with him and his incredible band every night brought up the energy in the proficiency of me and my band.
Do you know where he first found you?
I am not totally sure where he first found me, but I'm certainly glad he did.
Did this tour experience give you any ideas for your own tour down the road?
It was really inspiring to see that level of musicianship and musicality and that's really something I want to bring into my own tour. Just going for it. He and his band really, really go for it every night and it's really inspiring to see. The show is different every night and they're unafraid to make mistakes in the pursuit of doing something truly excellent, which is something I've always strived to do. It was cool to see that there's even another level to that.
You seem to be super busy these days, between going on tour with John Mayer, and releasing new music. “Hate Me If It Helps,” which just came out in February, has seen such a positive response. Tell us a little bit more about the inspiration behind the song.
I wrote that song with my friend Olivia Rodrigo and Dan Nigro and it was definitely an emotional song to create. It felt, in the best way possible, almost like a reset for me. I think that, every once in a while, you write a song that resets who you are as an artist and how you want to present yourself as a musician. That was the thought process behind putting it out. At first, I thought “I don't know if the song can do better or worse than any of my other new songs, but I know that no one else could have made this record." I'm not saying it's the best record ever, but it just felt so personal to me both promotionally and in a production sense. As an artist, it is a very good feeling to know that you have made something that is hyper-specific to yourself and your talents.
Singing is just one of your many talents — you also write and produce. Last year, you collaborated with (speaking of) Olivia Rodrigo on the explosive “good 4 u.” What was that process like?
It was a fairly easy process. It is always nice when something you do does really well, and it is about a hundred million times as gratifying when it is with people you really like outside the studio. Both Olivia and Dan [Nigro] qualify for that. It's been such a blessing to have success with people that I really care about.
Is there one role that you enjoy taking more than others, or do these talents all come together, feeding one complete creative identity?
It's different every day. Sometimes I feel I'm in a super songwriter mode. Other times, I am just sitting at my desk producing for hours and hours on end. Sometimes it's a mix of both: I would be producing while I’m writing. It depends on the song. I let the song dictate the process so I'm not too stuck on one process or one way of making things. If the song is telling me to do something, then I'm just gonna follow that.
Tell me a little bit about your writing no-holds-barred process. Do you find it grueling or cathartic (or both)? Do you have a place, or surrounded by certain people, where you feel most comfortable writing?
Grueling and cathartic is the perfect way to describe it, at least to describe my song writing process. I think that those two words can be synonyms in many cases, or at least they are for the type of songs that I like to write. I use songwriting as an emotional tool to work things out. It's the last step in my emotional process. Often it ends up being cathartic, but it can also be super grueling to relieve certain feelings over and over again until you finally get the best possible vessel of that emotion. I think that's why it ends up being lyrics first — obviously, not all the lyrics, but at least that seed of lyrics first. I find that to be my most effective way of communicating certain experiences and emotions.
Do you think you write on a schedule, or is it more inspiration driven?
It's definitely more inspiration driven. Some people are just very good at writing every day. I can do that if I'm not writing for myself. I love writing songs and diving into someone else's experiences. I can totally get there emotionally. However, for my music, I find it much more difficult to try and get there every single day. It's much more driven by a spark and I'll let the spark come to me and then I'll chase it.
Do you ever get anxious before going on stage?
I don't and I'll tell you why — because I feel like sometimes this comes off as cocky. It's about knowing that I've done the hard work already, I have been in the studio and spent hundreds of hours trying to make this music as good as it can possibly be. Then I have spent another hundred hours in rehearsal trying to find the best way to present this music, locking it with the band, and just doing it over and over and over again. You know you spent hours and hours cultivating the best gears and getting the best tone, and then you spent hours in sound check trying to make sure it presents as well as it can in that specific room, in that specific venue. So, by the time you get on stage, it is almost a liberating feeling and it's not really up to you. I have done everything that I can do and I'm gonna do the best show I possibly can. At that point, it is really up to the crowd how much of a team player we are both gonna be in this room tonight at the same time. It is really a cool feeling. It alleviates some of the nerves because I know I have really done everything that I can, and now it is just a fun little game between me and the crowd. I have the same feeling before releasing new material. I'm gonna do the best I can to promote this song because I believe in it, but at the end of the day it's up to anyone else how much of themselves they are gonna see in the song.
Speaking of releases, you've recently gone viral with “Crash” — which at the time of this interview is not even out yet. Did you expect this response on social media? What is it about the song that you think really resonated with your online audience?
As a songwriter, I consider myself a kind of translator. You really try to find new ways to say old things. When I came up with the lyrics "I miss you, but I don't miss us," something clicked, it snapped and I thought, “oh my god, that's exactly how I feel.” I found that whenever I find specific ways to say exactly how I feel, even though it feels super specific to me, it will end up resonating with a bunch of people. The other side of it is that, as confident as you can be, you're never really sure. So I was still extremely surprised, very grateful and pleased to see that it was resonating with people.
What has been the biggest challenge within the industry thus far?
This is certainly not unique to me, but I think that being an artist in 2022 is definitely different from even being an artist in 2019. With technology you have to learn how to change and adapt constantly and figure out new ways to broaden your audience and connect with people. It is certainly a challenge, but I try to look at it as more of a fun game.
I was reflecting on your song “Brainstorm” which shines light on mental health. What do you think is the role of your music in today’s world? Is it only a matter of entertainment, or is there more to it?
I definitely hope there is more to it, at least that is an ancillary goal of mine. I'd say that I write music for me. When I write music, it is super selfish because it is me trying to work through my own things. But after music is out, I want to positively affect as many people as possible. With a song like “Brainstorm,” especially since it is about something so heavy and sometimes overbearing to deal with, the hope is that it can spread its wings, fly out and help as many people as possible. That's probably the most gratifying post-release feeling that you can get: you’re actively helping people.
As a songwriter, I am unbelievably grateful to be afforded so much time to really consider how I feel about things. It is so unbelievable that I have the time and space to do that and it is even more unbelievable that I get to call it my job. A lot of people don't have the time and space to do that, so if I can think through something for them and then present it to them on a silver platter source and make them feel more understood instantly, that's the coolest thing that can ever happen.
If you could choose anybody, alive or dead, to collaborate with, who would it be?
I got so many. I would have to start with Tom Petty, a huge musical hero of mine, who unfortunately passed a few years back, but someone who I'm still unbelievably inspired by today. I think it would be so unbelievable to sit down and write a song with him, or even just having five minutes of his time and ask him a few questions. He was such an incredible person in and out of the studio. It would also be cool to make a record with George Martin, the Beatles producer. He was so forward thinking and so ahead of his time. Finally, I have always wanted to work with Kacey Musgraves. I feel so fortunate to be alive at the same time as her. I could go on for an hour, so I'll leave it to those three.
Are there any collaborations that are currently in the works and you can speak about?
I am a little bit timid about making collaborations on my own music, unless it feels super, super natural. But I feel I scratch that collaboration itch by producing a lot for other people. My collaborations needs are constantly met. I currently have some songs that I have produced for other artists that are coming out in the near future. I’m very excited about it.
What’s next for you?
My debut album will be coming out. I spent so much time and energy and blood and sweat and tears on it. I’m really really excited for people to hear it. It’s scary because it is certainly not in the same world as my previous music. However, I think that, as an artist, it is your job to push forward, push your fans ahead, and do what feels right for you. The hope is that they’re not only fans of your music, but they’re fans of you. I’m excited for people to see where I’m at, both emotionally and musically, and I hope they are excited too.
Photo courtesy of Alexander 23
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