There’s an undeniable charm that comes from seeing an angsty college band play a show in the soggy, rundown quarters of a musty basement. Moldy walls hug the pseudo-tortured souls inside as cigarette smoke slips in from under the door frame.
When I finally arrived at Area 15 in Charlotte, the building seemed like less of a venue and more of an abandoned screen printing shop. In fact, the street level is a small business incubator housing miscellaneous companies from real estate agents to fitness consultants. The actual show is in the basement of course, down the stairs past some abandoned rooms filled with discarded furniture. But that’s what you would expect of an Alex G and Elvis Depressedly tour.
I identify Alex Giannascoli quickly by his iconic shoulder-length black hair and slouched shoulders. He is sitting in the back of the venue, behind some merch strewn out on a lawn table. Although he is next to his bandmate Sam Accione and chatting occasionally with fans who approach him, the 21-year-old songwriter seems distant from everyone in the room.
I’m nervous initially when I introduce myself to Giannascoli, but his warm, inviting smile quickly puts me at ease in the first few seconds and we fall into a comfortable conversation. I can see soon that he’s just a normal college kid, slightly surprised by his own success, but mostly just taking life as it comes to him.
Giannascoli began uploading his songs online under the name Alex G when he was 17. His raw, emotional lyrics eventually caught the attention of Mathew Lee Cothran – frontman of the band Elvis Depressedly occasionally recording under solo project Coma Cinema. Cothran already had an established internet presence at the time and was signed to indie label Orchid Tapes, so getting the word out about an incredibly talented new artist was in his field. Giannascoli credits Cothran with his renown.
“Mat definitely helped me the most, you know Mat,” he motions to another room where I assume Cothran is waiting. I nod and his eyes brighten as he talks to me about his mentor. “He posted about me on his band’s website and that got me a lot of recognition.”
Mathew Lee Cothran
Over the next few years, Giannascoli released music on his bandcamp at a steady rate, gaining increasing recognition for his work as more people were exposed to it. DSU, his first full 12” vinyl was released this summer through Orchid Tapes and made reviews on Pitchfork, CMJ, and The Rolling Stone.
I ask Giannascoli if he’s ever felt like giving up on music, but he’s confused with the question. I rephrase it asking him if he’s ever lost faith in his ability to produce something good. He immediately rejects the idea.
“I never let myself think of it as a career,” states the song-writer. “I make music for me because I really enjoy it. I would just record songs every time I felt like I needed to personally. I never had any intention other than making noise I like, in order to avoid disappointment.” He thinks about it for another moment. “It’s kind of like having a girlfriend or boyfriend. If you love them, you don’t want to think about marrying them because if it didn’t work out, you would be so disappointed.”
Giannascoli first started playing guitar when he was 15 in a band with his friends called Skin Cells. I ask him about the first show they played in his high school’s library, put on by its own radio station The Screaming Females.
“We were pretty bad, but it was our first show,” recalls Giannascoli. He looks over at Accione who was in Skin Cells with him to trigger his memory. “I remember I couldn’t get my guitar in tune. I had just learned guitar and I switched with one of my friends right before we played. But it went alright I guess, for a first show.”
Giannascoli’s success with his last album keeps faith in the DIY, bedroom recording music scene. Just as he looked up to Cothran, many emerging song-writers look up to him now. I ask Giannascoli if he has advice for young artists.
“Make some good music, send it to a lot of blogs, play a lot of shows.” He considers it more. “You have to do it because you love the process, if you do it for any other reasons, you’ll get discouraged.”
Giannascoli performs a short set later mainly playing songs off DSU. The small crowd screams the lyrics to Animal along with Giannascoli. He ends his set with Message, the final songoff of his album Rules, closing with the somber lyrics But I’m just stuck here by your window / Oh look how you have changed.
Giannascoli said if he DJ’d for his college radio, his DJ name would be “Spicy Boy” and he would play Jessica Lea Mayfield, Lucinda Williams, The Knife, and Aphex Twin on his first show.
All of his music can be downloaded off sandy.bandcamp.com