Alex G Celebrates the Miracle of "Just Being a Human and Being Alive"
The unflinchingly chill songwriter discusses the enigmatic spirituality of 'God Save the Animals,' one of the year's best albums
Published Nov 29, 2022Alex G doesn't consider himself a trendsetter — so how does his music always seem to heat-seek the inciting forces of contemporary culture?
"I guess I just do a lot of, like, disparate things," he tells Exclaim! while setting up for a show in Boston on the tail end of his North American tour behind new album God Save the Animals. "The odds are good for me that something I do might be catching on and elsewhere in the culture. … I think it's just like, I'm just spread out as far as my creative decisions."
Unflinchingly chill in conversation, revealing only morsels of insight into his process while remaining humble about being ahead of the curve, the prolific musician seems to believe he stumbles into triumph — and, subsequently, the good graces of his ravenous fanbase — via the law of averages.
"It's just like throwing stuff at the wall. See if it sticks — you know, for hours, and eventually, you get a couple of things that stick," he explains of how it feels when a song "hits." "Whether it's at home or … at the studio, it's the same process."
Paradoxically, his big pandemic album was the first he brought outside the confines of his home studio into professional recording spaces. Co-producing alongside longtime collaborator Jacob Portrait of Unknown Mortal Orchestra, the artist born Alex Giannascoli demoed his songs at his apartment and trekked them to multiple studios across greater Philadelphia (which he calls home), New York, New Jersey and Maine in an effort to try out new tones while getting himself out of the house. The resulting 13 tracks are unsurprisingly some of the artist's most refined to date.
"It's great having other people there to work [out] a lot of the technical stuff like mic placement, just even hitting record and stop," he says. "I can just focus on getting the performance down. Saves me a lot of energy." And it's a setup that evidently works — he shares that he'll definitely "be at the studio for the next one."
While changing up his process, much of his output does seem to have that sticking factor: in 2019, the artist covered Shania Twain's "You're Still the One," unwittingly early to signal the Canadian country icon's big comeback the following year; in November of this year, he likewise released a cover of Michelle Branch's "All You Wanted" amid the early-aughts singer-songwriter's renewed (albeit fraught) relevancy; and, in lending his hand to the spooky soundtrack of Jane Schoenbrun's first narrative feature, the winter-set We're All Going to the World's Fair, he deftly spun the delirium of the chronically online into a cozy all-season score, which obviously became even more relevant during lockdowns. It's been an eclectic few years — which is exactly what listeners have come to expect from the adventurous musician, who notably played guitar on Frank Ocean's 2016 albums Endless and Blonde, thereby putting himself at the cutting edge of R&B as well.
On God Save the Animals, his ninth proper studio album, he dabbles in everything from nu metal to hyperpop, both unmistakable tenets of retro revivals at work. He admits, however, "I actually don't think too hard about the genre before I'm going into it. I sort of end up in a place that sounds like country or that sounds like nu metal ... but it's not as much of a calculated approach.
"I guess [there are] places that I'll end up that I hadn't been before, but there's nothing in mind for the future," he surmises. It follows, then, that the reason the seemingly agnostic 29-year-old's record so prominently turns to themes of God and religion has likely not yet been revealed.
An oddball of the industry, Giannascoli has never been one to spell out his master plan — if he ever had one at all. Just as he sings on mid-album sleeper "No Bitterness" of "big questions in my mind," he correspondingly tangles himself in mysteries of faith on songs with revelatory titles like "Mission," "Blessing," "Forgive" and "Miracles."
On the last of those, he's uncharacteristically forthright, as he convinces himself to start a family despite doubts about his own ability to ditch his youthful insecurities, singing, "You say one day that we should have a baby, well / Right now, baby, I'm struggling, we'll see / You say one day that we should have a baby, well / God help me, I love you, I agree," ahead of a chorus populated by Christian imagery of "miracles and crosses."
Whereas "Mission" concerns itself with doing good, and "Forgive" alludes to bible verses about judgement, second single "Runner" — Exclaim!'s No. 1 song of 2022 — finds Giannascoli in a confessional mood. "I have done a couple bad things," the artist repeats before descending into a fit of screams.
"In my limited experience, [spirituality] seems like a way to love yourself and forgive yourself for things and [believe] that there's value in yourself beyond what society and other people are telling you to value," Giannascoli considers when probed further about God.
"There's just an inherent value in just being a human and being alive," he reflects, conceding, "I'm kind of ignorant myself about a lot of things spiritually."
Of his own beliefs, he admits, "I wish I had a good answer, but I just don't." And yet, the record's theme remains so authentically a product of his craft — one rooted in considering all the answers — which oscillates between revealing and obfuscating parts of his personal life, as he has done for more than a decade.
It's a balancing act that he's long used as both vice and veil, an approach that has been a winning formula among his young fans, who are able to draw practically any meaning from his lengthy discography, posting about it endlessly on Reddit. It's no surprise, then, that Giannascoli recently sold out the majority of his North American tour, including the "biggest headlining show [he's] ever played" in Toronto — a "good time" he attributes to "really cool" kids.
"I can't tell when something's going to hit for other people, but that feeling is basically how I make all my decisions," he says, humbly indifferent to his dedicated following. "Basically every song I put on the record, [I chose] because it gave me a feeling."
As for those big questions in his mind? "Making the album doesn't solve any questions, but I think living life does."