"Xenomania? It's like a British pop Motown!"
Last week I had the pleasure to meet Alex Gardner, about whom I had already written in the past (here and here). The 18 year-old supercute Scot was in Paris for some promo, as he's getting ready to release his music outside of the UK, and he was kind enough to answer my questions, From the not-so-good chart position of his first single I'm Not Mad to sitting on a couch with Girls Aloud and being a serious musician, he said it all... Did I mention he's supercute?
It’s Pop! How’s your conquest of Europe going?
Alex Gardner: Steady but surely. I’ve been to Germany so far, Italy, and now we’re in Paris.
IP: How’s the response so far?
AG: It’s great. I never expected to go from the UK to the rest of Europe so quickly, cause I only had one single out for the moment in the UK. But it’s nice to branch out a little bit.
IP: Are you branching out because the single didn’t do as well as expected in the UK?
AG: Not at all. I’m proud of its success. I think for an 18 year-old to hit the charts at all is amazing. The single went to number 41 and I was over the moon.
IP: But was your team expecting more from I’m Not Mad?
AG: They were not angry because for all of us, success is something that’s gonna happen at some point. The team never worked thinking the project was a short-time thing. I’m Not Mad is a track I had written long before I met the people that are involved in this project and now we’ve got that body of work that we are going to release no matter what. It doesn’t matter if it’s a success or not: it’s a body of work, and I’m Not Mad is a teaser to what my album is. It is one aspect of it, and it’s gonna revolve around the rest.
IP: What’s the plan with the album?
AG: First thing first, I’m Not Mad will be released [outside of the UK] and then I’ve just written the second single, which I honestly believe is the best song I’ve written in my life, it’s very exciting. I’m not quite sure what I’ll call it but for now its working title is Take This. Then eventually the album will come out in early 2011.
IP: You’ve been working with Xenomania [the team of producers behind Girls Aloud and many other pop acts]. How is it working with them?
AG: It’s incredibly special. You know, I started working with them as a sixteen year-old boy, so you can imagine what it did to me. For example, on my first week at the mansion, Cheryl Cole and Girls Aloud were there sitting on the couch next to me, so I was like “what IS this crazy place??!” It’s filled with the most creative, eccentric people you will ever meet in your life. It’s actually the house where Alice In Wonderland (the book) was written. It’s got this amazing, fabulous garden where everybody sits and writes music. I’ve met tons of fantastic people through Brian [Higgins, Xenomania’s mastermind]. It was a great place for me to grow as an artist. Actually this place is like a British pop Motown.
IP: At the moment girls are pretty much owning the UK pop music scene. Do you think you (and other male pop singers) can compete with them? How so?
AG: I’d like to think I can, yeah. I think it’s turning around now. There’s a few male artists, but they’re more urban, they’re from the same category. I obviously don’t belong to that category, as I’m much more into using real instruments and adding my twist to it. So maybe I can bring something fresh and new!
IP: So would you say there is an “Alex Gardner Sound”?
AG: No. I know I surprise people every time I say that, but that’s because I love different types of music, and I will keep experimenting and going as far as I possibly can.
IP: Are you still working with Xenomania at the moment or is the album done and ready to be released?
AG: At the minute, we have a finished album. But being a musician, I am never finished until they take it off me, until they say “you can’t work in here anymore”!
IP: Who are your inspirations, your models in music?
AG: I really look up to my older brother. He’s in a band now, he started playing the guitar and then I started playing to be like him! I also like iconic artists and people, not necessarily musicians. For example James Dean; he’s my hero. Then Marlon Brando, Elvis. I really love Elvis. There’s also Michael Jackson, Stevie Wonder, Marvin Gaye, George Michael, Bob Marley. And from the current music scene I’d say Amy Winehouse and Duffy. They’re two incredible women, I can’t wait for their new stuff. Oh, and there’s Florence of the Machine.
IP: Who’s your dream collaboration (dead or alive)?
AG: Maybe I want to work with a rapper. Why not?! For real, I'd love it! And also with a girl, and do a classic duet, just like the oldies. Anyway I really love to be challenged so if I had to choose a big name, I’d say Micheal Jackson. But for now I think I’ll concentrate on me! I’ll worry about others when I can!
IP: Your voice and songs sound a lot more “adult” than what people might expect from such a young artist. Do you think you can seduce teen girls as well as other pop music fans?
AG: Hopefully I won’t need to try to appeal to just one particular market. In fact I don’t wanna try and appeal to “young girls” in particular as you said, because I really try to experiment with a lot of different music. I’ve got a reggae track, a rock track, a blues-driven track… They’re all relevant, because they’re “me”. This whole album is my twist in these different things so hopefully there’s a little something for everybody. It’s a body of work, not a book of songs. I obviously cannot ask everybody to love me, but what I can do is try and provide something for everybody, if that makes sense!
IP: Being a Xenomania baby, would you say you’re more Girls Aloud or Mini Viva?
AG: Neither! And I LOVE Mini Viva, I’m very close to them. I spent every day with them for about three years. And I love Girls Aloud as well, but I feel very different from these acts. If you listen to me next to all other Xenomania artists, my music is completely different from theirs. I guess I have a bit more input than a lot of people, because I WANT to.
Do you think that’s why Mini Viva are not successful? Do they lack commitment?
AG: No! There are lots of factors that contribute to an act being successful or not. Music is not 100% sure. For example their third single [One Touch] was not really taken seriously, but if the third single had been the second one I think they would have had a top 10 hit. So there are a lot of factors that are out of your control and all you can do is keep trying, keep releasing other tracks, keep doing gigs. And you know, they’re both great.
IP: Finally, what would you do for a top 10 song?
AG: Let’s put it this way: I’ve already given up so much by moving away from my home, my friends, my family at the age of 16 and by putting myself in a situation trying to chase a dream. So I’ve already given everything to make things happen with my music, what else does it take?
And because he's nice and all, Alex agreed to make a little playlist based on my "one song..." questions.
1 One song to wake up to
Bob Marley – Red Red Wine
2 One song to work out to
Kansas – Carry On Wayward Son
3 One song to sing in the shower
Alex Gardner – Yesterday’s News
4 One song to hum along to on the street
I Blame Coco – Self Machine
5 One song to blast on the car’s stereo
Mos Def – Mathematics
6 The ultimate party song
Basement Jaxx – Raindrops
7 One song when you feel blue
Amy Winehouse – You Know I’m No Good
8 One song to make love to
Finley Quaye – Even After All
9 Your guilty pleasures
Ricky Martin – Livin’ La Vida Loca
10 The song you’ll never get tired of
Stevie Wonder – Ribbon In The Sky
11 The song you’re listening to a lot right now
Miike Snow – Animal
12 The last song you’ve listened to
Miike Snow – Animal
13 The first record/song you bought
Santana – Evil Ways
14 The song you own you’re the most ashamed of
"I don’t have anything I am ashamed of… Ok, some girl group maybe!" [I chose Girls Aloud's Wake Me Up]