Spending time in nature has always been Alex Lleo’s vibe, from the Lickey Hills where he grew up and surfing the various coastlines of the British Isles, to the awe-inspiring mountains of Scandinavia. His attraction to the natural world, its peace and its drama, is ever present in his exquisitely paced, mellow and earthy music.
Beginning his songwriting career from the garden shed in the smaller city of Worcester, Alex has gone on to tour extensively throughout the UK, Europe and most recently the U.S leading into his upcoming New York recordings.
“Music to me has always been about connection. A vehicle to say something in a way that ordinary life often restricts. Having the chance to work alongside new friends definitely allowed us to bond around the music first, which I think produced a certain honesty that you can definitely hear on this record.” He continues “With everything thats happening in the world right now, I know it’s easy to feel insignificant as independent artists. With people going through all manner of difficulties, I know from personal experience how important music and art can feel. I think these new songs capture a real element of communal spirit. A sense of togetherness. And as I try and stay connected to being more present, if it brings people any kind of enjoyment, then they’ve done their job!” – Alex Lleo –
In lieu of a live gig, Alex Lleo is thrilled to present a special stripped back performance of the single in his new video for ‘4:05’ as premiered by BBC last week for BBC Music Introducing in the West Midlands. Recorded in Birmingham at Park Studios JQ and directed by Owain Ulyet, the clip is the closest we’re going to get to an Alex Lleo live show in the foreseeable future. The video offers a perfect encapsulation of the intimate and raw energy of this immense international talent, centering Lleo’s captivating vocals with a minimalist setup that allows space for each note to linger a little while longer.
“Park Studio just feels like home base for me. Owned and operated by my good friend Ali, positioned in a 200+ year-old building that was once used to house many of the country’s most valuable gems (hence the name, gem building), the place just oozes character. Although these songs found their birthplace in Brooklyn, once back on home soil, this felt like the obvious place to tackle them alone!” – Alex Lleo
Recorded over five weeks at a small studio in Brooklyn last year, ‘4:05’ and the songs to follow were tracked with a full six-piece band of seasoned musicians including Quinn Devlin, Zach Calluori, Andy Shimm, Jordan Wolff, Eli Aleinikoff, Sarah Ciceroand and producer, Sahil Ansari. Be sure to keep an ear to the ground for more to come from Alex Lleo in the not too distant future.
Perth musician, Alexis Naylor, had the absolute pleasure of interviewing Alex Lleo, not only about his new single ‘4:05’ and the new music he has coming down the pipeline this year but Naylor and Lleo also had an honest and heartwarming chat filled with laughter and reflection about life as a musician, how COVID-19 changed plans for an Australian visit/ Tour, Vanlife, Veggie Garden’s and so much more.
Alexis: Thank you so much for having a chat to us at Around The Sound. It is lovely to meet you. You have toured extensively throughout the UK, Europe and most recently the U.S, I was just wondering if you have had any embarrassing things happen to you while performing or while on tour?
Alex: There has been a few embarrassing moments where things have gone horribly wrong, usually technical breakdowns, you know. I remember once playing this gig in Bermingham, England actually, and the compère for the evening was a guy called Guy Snowden and I didn’t know the guy’s surname at the time and I had literally just returned from this trip. There is an area in Wales called Snowdonia and the weekend before this show I had actually been on a climbing trip at Mount Snowdon. Sometimes when you are on stage you are trying to communicate to a bunch of strangers in a room, you just start talking about what you’ve been up to and I started giving this really romantic story about me and my friends going on this camping trip, hiking up this mountain. I kinda opened with, “I’ve been up Snowdon all weekend” and the crowd burst out laughing and I couldn’t work out why. I just thought that was really odd, I was still getting chuckles through the whole set and I just couldn’t work out why. It wasn’t till after the gig that the promoter came over and said that the compère’s name is actually “Snowden” so obviously the connotation there being of Snowden, like haha, I was like ohhh God, so yeah that was a cringy moment.
Alexis: How would you describe yourself as an artist to someone who has no idea who you are and has never seen your work?
Alex: I guess for someone who hasn’t heard me before, I kind of grew up listening to a lot of storyteller type artists like Neil Young and artists of that sort of ilk. My music, really as I have got older, I try not to pigeonhole myself in the whole singer songwriter bracket, I am a bit of a team player in terms of when I am constructing albums and music and I work with a lot of people to create cool sounds and more of a band feel.
If I had to say it in one word, I guess the sound I am going for is a cruisy sound because when I think back to when I really got into music as a kid it tended to always be when I was in the car with my parents or something. We would be driving somewhere. I really love those types of soundtracks that you get that when you are driving along and it’s kinda almost as if you are in a movie. It is almost like the soundtrack is designed for this road trip you are on, this whole wanderlust kind of feel.
As I have got older, the feeling you get when you are in transit or moving somewhere and you are listening to a piece of music that almost feels as if it’s speaking to you during that journey. That is something that I have always tried to tap into, more recently, particularly going out to New York, it’s a big strange place and making a record with a bunch of complete strangers, that almost played into that more so. As I was recording it, it was almost a bit of a dream state because I couldn’t believe I was there and I couldn’t believe that it was actually going quite well and everyone seemed to get on and we were kinda just doing it, you know.
Alexis: I have been listening to your single ‘4:05’ off and on. I have a campervan and when I have been driving around and I have just had it pumping in the van. Can I say, it is the best cruisy song. When you were talking about it being in the car and it taking you to a place, I was ohhh, I am so tapping into that right now!
Alex: Ohh nice, that is so cool. What van have you got?
Alexis: I’ve got a sprinter
Alex: I could go deep down the rabbit hole of campervan’s
Alexis: No way!!! That’s your jam too?
Alex: I love that stuff (vanlife). I’ve had a couple, it’s cool man.
Alexis: Ohh really, what have you had?
Alex: I actually have a volkswagen caddy at the moment, which is kinda in the process of being turned. It’s like bright blue, I bought it from the British Gas Board here in England, so it’s a kinda wacky colour, people can see you coming from a mile off. I’m in the process of putting a bed and stuff in that at the moment.
Alexis: Do you mind sharing a bit about your inspiration behind your new single ‘4:05’?
Alex: I guess the first track, it’s funny that we released it as it is the first one that we tracked while I was in New York and it just kinda felt quite fitting to start with that one because prior to the whole New York trip developing and coming to fruition, I was in a bit of a creative lull to be honest. I had gone through a kinda weird faze where I ’d had some small breakthroughs in terms of getting a manager and having some small industry wins here and there, things that were feeling like they were heading in the right direction.
Creatively, the small team that I have been working with for many years, my producer and friend (James Fletcher), who’s a long time school friend, I just feel like as I was getting to that crest of the wave, creatively I think we kinda ran out of juice a little bit. We had been friends since we were at high school, producing stuff in my garden shed, from like 15-16 years old, right up to the age we are at now. Over a decade’s worth of being in each other’s grillz, working this stuff out, we just needed a break and right around that time, I was getting more pressure than ever from the industry side, when you do start getting wrapped up in it, obviously the way music is consumed now, unless you are releasing constantly you are kind of irrelevant. It’s a shame that it feels that way for emerging artists but it is the unfortunate truth, I think.
I was quite naive to it at the time, I kind of had a bit of a purest idea of – make a record, making songs and putting them out then taking some time off. I was getting these questions about: when is the next batch coming along and we just couldn’t, on the creative side, we just couldn’t agree on anything. I felt like the songs that we were creating weren’t really representing where I felt I wanted to be musically. Management were getting annoyed because they felt like it was under performing, I felt frustrated too because I didn’t really feel like I wanted to showcase it to them because I wasn’t really that proud of it. It all got a bit frustrating.
It was really awkward man and it ended up coming to a spearhead and we parted ways on the deal. We are still really close friends, me and James but we just realised that we had to have a break from each other. He’s a great writer and lyricist and he’s got his own projects that he really wanted to do so he kinda took some time off to focus on himself for a little while and I did too which was where the 18 months gap came between me releasing something.
I felt really lost you know, I had all that backing and all that support and all of a sudden it fell away, suddenly the phone stopped ringing and the emails stopped coming in and I just I felt really alone again, I felt right back where I was when I was 17-18 years old just trying to navigate through it and it felt quite lonely.
So I guess coming back round to this first single ‘4:05’, I was trying to meet up with all mates in a more rural part of the country and I was just looking to catch up with and trying to step away from it. In your teenage years, you let it almost define you, music it is what you do, it’s not just ohhh this is my job, it is you, it becomes you, your waking, breathing moments and actually the more I talked to people who have been in similar situations, it is a really unhealthy mindset to get yourself in because you sacrifice other aspects of your life, you don’t go on holidays, you don’t see your friends as much because you are always chasing the dream.
There wasn’t a moment where I wanted to give up I just felt like I needed to reset the balance a little bit because I wasn’t enjoying it anymore, I didn’t feel. Now with streaming and stuff you get sucked into the numbers game and that is so toxic and so unhealthy, always chasing a figure, it doesn’t relate to real life. I think back to some of the opportunities that music has already given me, I am a complete unknown in the grand scheme of things but I have played in some of the most random little places and met a handful of people each night that I would have never had the chance to meet and its all about those connections to me.
When I think about it, life experience and the things that are actually experienced and the people I have met through playing shows and doing music and collaborating with people, it is kind of invaluable. You can’t put a price on it. That’s what I mean about trying to get the balance back, I was trying to get back in touch with that side of things and that’s where the whole New York thing came about (recording ‘4:05’) out of the blue.
It was one of those moments where again I was all about that connection. It was someone who had found a video online, he was a musician in New York, a guy called Quinn Devline, really great musician. He kind of is a gun for hire in New York playing with everyone and he knows everyone, he is just a really cool dude. He found a session I’d done online with Sofar Sessions and just started messaging me and we started talking and became penpals and one thing led to another, I ended up visiting him in June 2019, we met up with all of his friends and saw the studio space he works from then it all started to feel quite tangible.
I felt like, ok, this might be. Its a long short for me to come all the way out here because it is expensive and you don’t know if it’s even going to come to anything. I met the guys and they seemed really genuine characters. It was that genuine connection that I think I was hunting for a little bit. I just thought, why not. So, I came home, worked all the gigs I could to save up as much cash as I could, and flew out to New York in October 2019. I had 5 weeks there and made all these tunes. My single ‘4:05’ was the first one and it kinda of felt fitting because the whole song is about that. Just going out for yourself for once and try not to go in with too many preconceived ideas about things and just try and ride that.
Alexis: What is the meaning behind the song title?
Alex: I was waiting for a train that was due, was going down to see a friend in the south west in Cornwall to do a bit of surfing and stuff and hang out and I was waiting for a train and it was literally coming in at 4:05 and I just started writing some lyrics for it when I was down there and I think I might have just jotted down the train time down on the sheet I was writing on and it just kinda of stuck.
The hilarious thing, is that I never intended for the song to get even close to the length of the name / song title (song length is 4:06). It’s so stupid isn’t it, I didn’t even realise and it wasn’t until I got the master back that I was like ohhh it’s actually that …. and then I was like, I wish he had just shaved off, it is that close, why couldnt he have just took off a second off so that it was bang on, so I didnt have to keep explaining this every single time haha, do you know what I mean? haha
Alexis: haha but do you know what, it is just the way that life ends up, it’s so great though, I love that
Alex: It’s kinda funny, funny talking point I guess.
Make sure to check out ‘4:05’ OUT NOW and New Single ‘Easy Way’ OUT AUG 28th.