By Lior Phillips
Photo by Nicky and Juliana Giraffe/em>
Alex Izenberg doesn’t feel the need to speak much. A series of yes’s and no’s form a stark contrast to the 25-year-old’s multi-layered and gorgeous melodic crescendos. He occupies the density of Scott Walker, the indie pop of Tobias Jesso Jr, and the sonic tapestry of Grizzly Bear/The Antlers. Though fledgling in conversation at first, Izenberg isn’t phased by the chaos of missed connections, perhaps because he is so familiar with singing about them. His new album, Harlequin, swells with complex strings, horns, and piano, supporting a voice that bursts wide open when talking about music. Exes, crushes, and Emily Dickinson poems-turned-songs (“A Bird Came Down”) — Izenberg is rising and we’re ready for the show.
[When we first reached Izenberg via phone, he hadn’t yet woken up.]
Sorry about earlier. I was just waking up, but I’d like to tell you a little bit about myself.
Okay, thank you, that’s better. I was getting concerned!
So I started playing music by playing guitar because I would be at my best friend’s parents’ apartment all the time, and his big brother had a Fender Strat that I’d always seen him play, and I thought it was the coolest thing in the world. One day when I was 13, my parents took me to get a Fender. I was at the guitar store, and Linda Perry came up to me while I was playing guitar and thought I was so good that she bought me a guitar. Have you heard of Linda Perry?
Ha! Yes of course, from 4 Non Blondes. So she just bought a guitar for a stranger?
Yeah, and then we stayed in touch. I was at her studio a lot, and she started coming to my band’s rehearsals. She really acted like the “band mom” and eventually signed us to her label, Custard Records, and we put out an EP. We went on tour with Roger Daltry for two months, and when we got back, the band kicked me out.
Oh no! Why?
I guess because I wasn’t paying enough attention to the music, and I wasn’t networking on tour to help broaden our fan base. I didn’t really see it coming to be honest, and then around the same time my girlfriend of two years who I was obsessed with broke up with me. I was very sad at that period of my life. I would even go as far as to say that I was depressed. But, I’m also very proud of the record I’ve got out of it all.
It’s really wonderful.
Oh, you’ve heard it? Are there any songs that you like?
I really loved your first single, “To Move On”, with the accompanying Andy Warhol-inspired video of you eating a burger. “Changes” hit me quite hard, particularly the line, “If I had known that her heart was made of stone, I would flee.” That was quite heart-wrenching. What was that about?
During “Changes”, I was thinking about my ex, just thinking about me and how maybe if I changed my ways she would come back.
The piano lines are beautiful during the track “Grace”. What is the story of that track?
Well, when I was working on my record with J.R. [Chet “J.R.” White] from Girls in San Francisco, I met this girl named Grace who was working there. I thought she was really pretty, and we got talking, and I guess I might have had a crush on her. I kept showing her pictures of my dog, and she’d laugh, but then I saw she had an engagement ring on and a part of me felt really let down because I’m optimistic. I went into the studio, and I just wrote the song.
I’m assuming the line during “The Farm” — “The darkness had taken over me once I had seen her engagement ring” — is about her, too. Have you contacted her since?
I emailed her, Grace, and she never responded. We follow each other on Instagram, but she never likes any of my posts. She hasn’t liked one.
When you write songs like “The Moon” with that notable lowness and introspection, do you feel like it seeps into your personal life, or are you able to have a bit of distance to your songs?
I try to have distance from it because most of the songs are sad and about me not being loved.
I don’t think that’s necessarily a bad thing. I quite like the dark, which is possibly what fuels the light. The muck sometimes feels raw. What do you think is your guiltiest pleasure?
What is your greatest fear?
Tell me about the title of the album, Harlequin?
There is that band King Crimson. I don’t know if you know them, but in one of their lyrics during the song, they say, “Harlequins coin pointless games,” and that line always resonated with me. Sometimes I just feel like people are playing games with me, and I feel fed up with the world a lot. A harlequin is like a clown, sort of, and I kind of just feel victimized sometimes, and that line just resonated with me.