At the ripe age of twenty, Los Angeles singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Alexa Melo has paved her own personal yellow brick road. After signing to a major label at fourteen, the singer was put through the longest music industry endurance test that ultimately led her to being shuffled around from producer to producer, refusing to conform to what others thought she should sound like. With dignity and guitar in hand (along with thirteen albums’ worth of material) Melo walked away from some serious risky business to branch out on her own as an independent artist. They say the best type of revenge is success and Melo is proving the former naysayers all wrong. Conformity be damned. She shares her story with us below.
You have a rather interesting story, and one I found myself relating to on different levels. You basically spent five years going back and forth with your former label and producers in search of someone to finally let you have creative freedom. Describe what those years were like emotionally. I’m sure it fueled you creatively in the long run.
It felt a lot like running on a treadmill with bait being dangled in front of me. A lot of work with no reward or no movement. Every step of the way I was introduced to a new potential champion who’d promise me the world, get my hopes up, make me feel understood and accepted as an artist, and after gaining my hard-to-earn-trust they would systematically disappoint me. The first few times it happened, I’d let it break my heart, but after several years of it I just started to expect it, never allowing my hopes to build, never expecting anything positive to happen under their roof. That trapped hopeless feeling drove me crazy. Getting lied to by the people contractually bound to my dreams was an everyday thing for me. I’ve always been a very stressed and anxious person, but I know for sure the label contributed immensely to that. It also contributed to my already cynical nature and my lack of trust in people. Now I don’t get excited when good things happen and I don’t trust anyone ever. Thanks ‘major label system’.
It was five years’ worth of emotional and artistic investment in something that led to only two, almost unrelated, benefits in the long run (which I’m very grateful for). The company bought me recording equipment when I was 14, which led to my knowledge and love for production and has changed the way I write and create forever. Also, they introduced me to my producer and drummer, Christian James-Hand, who produced my debut album with me amongst other bodies of work. He was the champion the label did not want me to find because he allowed me to have equal part in the production and 100% control of the writing. He also gave me the confidence as an artist to leave the record label and move forward with my career on my own terms. After all the brainwashing and emotional abuse, I needed someone like Christian to give me courage to do the right thing for myself. If it wasn’t for him, I’d most likely still be trapped.
Every day we see (and hear) people conforming to one thing or another, whether it’s a trend or a sound on Top 40, which can ultimately lead us to think that the world has lost its backbone. The music industry is a tough act. How do you find courage to pave your own path when it feels like everyone is barreling down that one way street?
I actually don’t feel like it takes too much courage to be honest with my music and myself. That’s where I feel safest, and that’s what I’m best at. I think people respond more passionately to artists who are 110% emotionally invested in what they do, especially now that we’re the minority. There is, of course, a very powerful audience for Top 40 artists, but there’s also a loyal and equally as powerful audience being denied new music that they would enjoy.
Not only would artists and audiences benefit from a more career-minded approach (instead of a pop-single-orientated approach) within the music industry, but I think the business side would benefit as well. The old formula is clearly no longer working, and it’s causing rapid financial decline. If more innovative artists were given the chance to be heard on a grand scale, people would react and invest. Music is powerful and people want to be in love with it. Sometime in the near future we’ll see more of this approach within the music industry. People are ready for change and when they get it, they’re welcoming it wholeheartedly.
I’m sure you hear this a lot, but your voice is so intense, which is something I find that music is lacking lately. What goes through your mind while recording and does it ever get to a point where you feel as if nobody can ever feel it as deeply as you do?
I don’t know how people will feel it. When I’m recording, it’s important for me to be completely alone in my room on my own equipment so I can sing completely unabashed – especially if the lyrics are dramatic. I actually try not to have anything go through my mind while recording. Nothing will get done that day if my mind is too busy. If I can successfully clear my mind from any judgement or expectation, then I can give my best performance.
You’re responsible for every voice and instrument heard on your debut album. First off, HIGH FIVE! Second, what fueled the inspiration behind this record, besides the former label drama? How do you interpret it live?
Well first, let me start by saying that I’m not 100% responsible for every instrument on this record. I am responsible for every voice, arrangement, lyric and most of the instruments, but I can’t take credit for all of it! I play guitar, bass, ukulele, keyboard, Omnichord and maybe a couple of other random sounds on this album, but I’m not a drummer – I’m only capable of organizing drum samples. Christian James-Hand produced this album with me, and he’s responsible for most of the drums. I can’t play the saxophone, trumpet or upright bass which are also featured on this LP. There were also a couple of rare incidences where I didn’t feel completely confident in my skills, so we drafted some talented friends to take a crack at a bass part, or a piano part or whatever it may have been. This album is entirely my vision, but would not have been the same without a little help from my friends.
Most of the songs on this album were written before the frustration with the label reached its peak and began seeping into my songwriting. Most of the inspiration for the songs are typical situations involving young love, heartbreak and the confusion of growing up as a female Millennial. Most of these songs were written in a venting manner, simply trying to figure shit out as a young adult. But during the split with the label, four songs about that exact situation were added to the album.
My band and I try to keep things very close to the way the recorded songs sound when we perform them live, but naturally the music becomes more raw, less polished and more rock ‘n roll during a live performance.
Do you have any specific albums that you’d say you owe your life to?
In Rainbows by Radiohead was like a portal into an alternate universe in a time where all I wanted to do was completely escape. Houses Of The Holy by Led Zeppelin completely changed the way I thought of rock music. It taught me you can make a rock album where each song is completely different in its genre DNA. Tubular Bells by Mike Oldfield BLEW MY MIND when I thought it could no longer be done. There are so many more. Don’t get me started, I could go on for days!
What are your top five favorite tracks at the moment?
“Cocoon” by Bjork
“Give Me All Your Love” by Alabama Shakes
“Gemini” by Alabama Shakes
“Elephant” by Tame Impala
“Paranoid Android” by Radiohead
Album available now here.