Press: KCRW | Earmilk
As a kid, Alex Siegel loved taking care of his fish tank, impeccably arranging the little aquatic world of neon pebbles and decorations just so. The Santa Monica, California, native loved watching the fish swim around their little bubble, a tranquil living diorama. “I loved watching this little world unfold,” Siegel says. On his new solo LP, Courage, the singer-songwriter recreates that feeling, carefully arranging the musical decor at his disposal to revel in the beautiful miniature dreamscape.
Siegel’s impeccable ability to rearrange classic building blocks into brand new shapes is readily apparent from the lux album opener “Tea Leaves”. Rubbery bass and chilly new wave synths provide a misty base, slinky guitar and hazy falsetto vocals dripping over the top. Siegel’s lyrical choices build as well, drawing themes and lines from previously released singles and expanding them here. “The song echoes [2018 single] Daydreaming Pilot, and expands a story about longing and nostalgia,” he says.
Siegel’s ability to pair precision structuring with emotionally resonant melodies was strengthened by time shared with another songwriter adept at that balancing act: Jim James of My Morning Jacket. In addition to having opened for James with one project, Siegel also had the opportunity to work on a record with the rock hero in the studio. "I'd been a My Morning Jacket fan since high school, so it was pretty amazing to get to know [James] and work with him," Siegel says.
It’s clear from tracks like the lithe and groovy “Charlie” that the Venice, California-based multi-instrumentalist is interested in far more than indie rock and Americana. Having grown up playing in jazz bands and obsessing over everything from bossa nova to hip-hop (and even toured on keyboard with Malian guitar legend Vieux Farka Touré), Siegel is unafraid to incorporate unexpected elements into his tracks. Riding a breezy rhythm, “Charlie” is a touching tribute to Siegel’s childhood dog—though his empathetic songwriting makes the sweet track easy to connect a variety of experiences to. “If I had to summarize/ You brought something more to life,” he sings, the warm memories carrying just past the pain.
After spending the beginning of his time as a solo artist mainly releasing singles, Siegel began collecting stray songs over the last couple of years with the idea of fitting them together into an album. “I knew it was going to be called Courage because that’s the key to any project,” he says. “Especially in music when you face so much self-doubt, you just need to have the courage to share this little world you’ve built.”
Hunkered down in a spare bedroom, Siegel began experimenting with the frameworks of songs inspired by everything from Chilly Gonzales and Kings of Convenience to Joāo Gilberto and Neil Young. Having played almost every part on the album and recorded largely in the home he shares with his girlfriend, there’s an incredible intimacy to Courage; his classic pop melodies laze in a lush production cloud.
Siegel began writing and producing songs as a teenager, tinkering with Ableton and producing electronic music and hip-hop beats. But for Courage, he leans heavily on floating, flowing arrangements. “Fluidity and improvisation were key to writing these songs,” Siegel says. The gauzy “Misty Eyes” plays on that duality, swinging hammock bass and vinyl crackle riding over a plonking drum machine. On “See Ya”, Siegel borrows from a Thai melody, doubling it with blurred vocal effects and smacking snare drum. “I was inspired by a famous Thai song called ‘Duen Pen’, which my friend Nicole had shared with me before she passed away,” Siegel says. That same friend inspired a single last year, “See Ya” acting as a sort of echo to “Sangsuree”.
Always building on what came before—both his influences and his own art—Siegel can’t help but compare the art-making process to his childhood pursuit of crafting grand, immersive visions in miniature. “It’s like being a kid and building a house out of blocks, or building a sandcastle. It takes courage to share that imagination with the world.