Alex Giannascolli could easily be described as a bright young thing. At just 26 years old, the man behind the moniker (Sandy) Alex G has already released nine albums and attracted a legion of uber fans who collect every morsel of information about him they can on the subreddit r/sandyalexg. The uninitiated may already be familiar with his work from Frank Ocean’s “Blonde” and “Endless,” on which Alex played guitar.
But to dismiss (Sandy) Alex G with a surface-level reading based on his youth and seemingly fast rise would be to miss the point of his work entirely. Alex’s story isn’t one of a child who dreams of becoming a rock star and all the glitter and glam that come with it. His ambitions have always been much more focused on being a story teller, conveying narratives in the best way he knows how. Music came to him via his older siblings’ interests. “I have an older brother who is really musically gifted. He has perfect pitch; he could play the piano before he could hold a fork. So when my parents got him a guitar when I was little, I was like, ‘Guitar is cool. I’m going to try that.’” Inspired also by his older sister Rachel’s taste in music—Elliot Smith is often quoted as one of his early influences—Alex started writing and recording his own songs in his room in the suburbs of Philadelphia.
To this day, he still plays almost everything himself, crafting each album with complete control until the point of completion. His latest album—2019’s House of Sugar—was no exception. In addition to recording at home on his laptop, Alex now often pops down to his friend Tom’s new studio PUHD II, a handy 10-minute drive from Alex’s apartment. On the rare occasion Alex does allow another musician to be included, he chooses to work with those close to him, still keeping the process close to his chest. His girlfriend, Molly Germer, a classically trained violinist, can be heard throughout his recent albums, and the band he tours with comprises his childhood friends. Even Alex’s album artwork is a family affair: all his albums feature artwork by his sister Rachel that is inspired by their conversations.
Following a slew of tour dates across America in support of “House of Sugar,” Alex welcomed HYPEBEAST down to Philadelphia. What better setting for Alex to tell his own story than the world he’s carefully crafted step by step?
I saw you play in Brooklyn on your last tour. You were really generous in your performance—the encore went on for about an hour. Is having strict control when recording your music what allows you to be so generous when you’re collaborating or playing live? Does it allow you a sort of freedom or flexibility?
I think that sums it up, because I have so much time to craft this representation of myself that I’m proud of. So, then, moments when I don’t have control become easier because I’m like, “Okay I constructed this core that I think I can fall back on if I look like an idiot here.” You know?
Does it require two different versions of yourself—one that is a strict self-critic and then one that is a more flexible collaborator?
I think everyone has those two versions. It’s hard to force control over every situation.
“When I was a kid, I remember just being like, ‘I’m the best.’ Now I know I’m not the best, but I think that’s where it started. I was always thinking, ‘I don’t need help.’”
I’m always impressed by anyone with an artistic practice who can, in real time, be having a dialogue with their work. That, to me, takes such a level of self-awareness. Is it hard to then shift into a collaborative head space?
Yeah. Working with the mixer is a little tricky because it’s my friend Jacob Portrait who mixes my albums. I feel insecure about all the little things we do because we’re still working on constructing this thing that’s going to be permanent. I’m such a pain in his ass every step of the way. But with the band, it’s way easier to just be like, “Here’s the songs, guys. Let’s figure out how to make it an exciting show.” It’s easier because the show is temporary. No matter what I do, I can’t have total control over it.
There is a certain level of self-assuredness in your way of working. I don’t know if you feel it, but it certainly comes across like that. Did you feel that way even when you were younger?
When I was a kid, I remember just being like, “I’m the best.” Now I know I’m not the best, but I think that’s where it started. I was always thinking, “I don’t need help.”
Where do you think that came from?
I have an older sister, Rachel, who was really supportive. Like, I’d make a stupid song and send it to her, and she’d be like, “Oh, you’re so good, Alex. Good job.” Probably a lot of people don’t have someone saying “good job” when they make stuff. Then they don’t foster that inside themselves maybe, because they don’t realize it’s there.
Are there people you use as your sounding board when working on a song?
You know, I try to do that but by the time I’m showing it to someone, it’s at the point where I’m not going to change it. Criticism throws me out of whack. If I bring a half-finished song to somebody and they’re like, “Oh, this is good, but this part is a little weird,” I then think the whole thing is flawed. And then it’s harder to continue working on it because I think, “Oh, maybe this isn’t a pure, perfect idea.” I know that’s illogical, but I can’t really help that train of thought. Because of that, I just try to finish a thing as far as I can before I show it to somebody.
How do you navigate being your own critic, though?
That’s the easy part for me. I’m not sitting there thinking, “Oh, I have this idea for a song. I know exactly how it’s going to sound.” I just sort of hash it out step by step. I’m like, “Okay, this sounds weird. And this sounds weird. Oh, I hit it. This is the right part.”
“I have an older sister, Rachel, who was really supportive. Like, I’d make a stupid song and send it to her, and she’d be like, ‘Oh, you’re so good, Alex. Good job.’”
Is music the only medium you work in?
I mean, it’s the only medium that I’m showing people. I write, but nothing I’m proud enough to show. Music is something where I know what I’m doing. I’m still trying to figure out how writing works. I know what chord feels good after another. But with writing, I’m like, should I put a comma here, or a period? Just basic shit like that. Not like I don’t know how punctuation works, but just flow. And I still don’t know what a semi-colon really does.
I don’t think many people do. Does being a singer come naturally to you?
Singing was always the biggest hurdle. Even now it’s the part of the recording process that takes forever because it’s so three-dimensional. There are so many little points that it can be awkward. There are so many songs that I was really proud of until I had to sing on them and then had to trash them because my voice couldn’t do it. I could hit the notes but not the way that was needed.
Is it easier or harder when singing live?
I think about it less live because I’m not going to listen back. I can’t watch live videos of us because I hear myself and cringe. If I could sing better, I would. At this point I’m just like, okay, it’s happened, it’s over.
How involved are you in choosing or designing your merchandise?
For shirts and stuff? That’s me and my manager. I do have final say. Someone in the band will suggest we should sell hats, or we should sell tote bags, etc. I used to be worried about being viewed as using the music to market other shit as opposed to the music being the product. But now I realize nobody cares. I’m trying to make everyone get paid the most, so fuck it. The label doesn’t have anything but the records. We have to buy the records from the label to sell on tour. The merchandise—shirts and all that—is just ours. I think there’s probably certain types of record deals where the label controls that stuff, but I don’t know. With my deal, the touring is totally separate.
” I used to be worried about being viewed as using the music to market other shit as opposed to the music being the product. But now I realize nobody cares. I’m trying to make everyone get paid the most, so fuck it.”
So then do you have to organize finding your own tour manager and all that stuff as well, or does the label help with that?
No, that’s all us. Like, my friend Sam [Accione], the guitar player, he basically does the tour managing.
I think fans forget that there’s a lot of admin involved with being an artist.
We’re just working.
Your albums feel so cinematic. Have you ever scored a soundtrack?
No, that sounds like fun, though. I would love to. My girlfriend, Molly [Germer], could play violin on it too. Every movie score needs to have violins. I’m waiting for someone to ask, I guess. Give me a movie.
Someone please call Alex and let him score your film.