Alex Giannascoli, the musician better known as Alex G, is feeling pretty “easy” today, as he puts it. Zooming in from his home in Philadelphia, where he was born and raised, the 29-year-old is sitting at his desk in front of an earthy, taupe-coloured wall, his composed demeanour permeating the screen.
As a character, Giannascoli’s pretty inscrutable. He’s also one of his generation’s most interesting and enigmatic artists (although he’d insist otherwise), whose work straddles autobiography, fiction and even caricature without ever skimping on emotional gravitas. His ninth album, the gorgeous, critically-acclaimed God Save the Animals, offered all of this up in spades, revealing a level of vulnerability Giannascoli doesn’t tend to display in interviews.
“Something I was trying to be aware of [while making the album] was trying to be more forgiving of myself – realising that you’re the only one who can accept yourself, no matter who accepts you already,” he says thoughtfully, before visibly wincing at the earnestness of his words. “Getting into this shit makes me feel like I’m trying to be a guru or something, which I don’t want to be.”
Even though the album’s poignant, melodically rich earworms might sound transcendent, Giannascoli sees God Save the Animals as a by-product of himself evolving as a person rather than a grand statement about humanity. While he’s grateful for the fanfare, he isn’t under any illusions about what his music is or isn’t achieving, or what it should or shouldn’t embody.
“It feels really good [that people love the album],” he continues. “But I don’t think I’ll ever hit a point where I’m like, ‘Oh, yes, this record did what I wanted it to do.’ I have to turn away from all that stuff to avoid this itching sense of dissatisfaction. I was just making stuff that I thought was cool and then I put it out.”
This easy-going approach – alongside making really good music – is apparently what it takes to reach cult status. It’s also earned Giannascoli a fiercely loyal fanbase over the last near-decade, which hasn’t necessarily been intentional. His reticence to explain the meaning behind his music fuels fan hysteria. They hang on his every word, dig up countless unreleased tracks and come up with wild theories on Reddit. That’s all part of the fun of being an Alex G fan.
“Some people get a lot of joy from deciphering what stuff means and figuring it out, which is valid, but I don’t operate that way,” he says. “I only listen to music that I love and then I tend to romanticise the artist in my mind. I project onto the song whatever it is I’m personally going through, living vicariously through them, honestly. I don’t want to fuck anything up for people who enjoy stuff the way I do. That’s why I’m so reluctant to say shit.”
When Giannascoli started self-releasing music, it spread like wildfire across early aughts internet blogs and MySpace. He put out four albums from 2010 to 2012 (Race, Winner, Rules and Trick), before breaking through with 2014’s DSU. Dropped straight onto Bandcamp, it was an experimental, melancholy indie record that cemented Giannascoli as an underground favourite. It also got him signed to Domino, the label that’s home to Arctic Monkeys.
Since then, he’s collaborated with Frank Ocean, changed pseudonyms, become renowned for his live show antics (namely covering Coldplay and pouring beer all over himself) and, most recently, contributed to a song on Lil Yachty’s new album, the slow, ethereal :(failure(: alongside Mac DeMarco. How the hell did that happen?
“That was really out of the blue,” Giannascoli says, laughing. “I didn’t even meet Lil Yachty! My friend Jake, who co-produced God Save the Animals, was working on the record. He was trying to come up with some instrumentals and asked me to play some piano, which I did. That was it, I drove home and next thing I knew, it was on the album.” As you do.
Giannascoli has remained committed to pushing his own sonic boundaries over the years, leading up to a ninth album that sounds just as innovative – albeit less frantically experimental – as his earlier output. But now, making music feels satisfying rather than cathartic.
“Something I’ve noticed about getting older is that my lows aren’t as low but my highs aren’t as high, either,” he says. “I still enjoy music more than most things in life, but I’d be lying if I said it felt the same. When I was young, I’d stay up all night making songs, feeling fucking crazy and awesome. Now it’s a mildly enjoyable thing. The best shit comes from that crazy feeling, which I used to get every single time. Now, I get it every once in a while.”
At the time of our interview, Giannascoli’s gearing up for the European leg of his largely sold out tour and it’s fair to say he’s feeling satisfied. The songs have translated well to a live setting (he had some practice performing them on Jimmy Fallon and Stephen Colbert’s late night shows – no funny business on stage there), and he’s looking forward to tucking into some fish and chips at Tebay services in Penrith. “That’s my favourite rest-stop by far,” he says. “The food is so delicious there – it’s all local and natural. There’s even a buffet and a duck pond!”
On that note, Giannascoli mentions an appreciation for British slang and abbreviations, especially the “cute” ways us Brits like to describe stuff, like “toastie” over “sandwich” and “gear” for, well, make of that what you will. Maybe the best way into Alex G’s psyche is to quiz him about novelty food and turns of phrase – who knows, they might even make an appearance on his next album. He wouldn’t tell us anyway.