This time last year, Alex Giannascoli was on the cusp of something big. The singer-songwriter, who records as Alex G, had recently finished his junior year at Philadelphia's Temple University and released his breakthrough album, a fire-bright indie-pop gem called DSU, on the tiny Brooklyn label Orchid Tapes. His house shows were getting more crowded, and journalists from national publications were making the trip to Philly to meet the artist at the center of a growing cult of diehard fans.
This fall, Giannascoli is making good on that promise. Beach Music, due out October 9th, is his first album for the indie powerhouse Domino Records, where his new labelmates include bands like Animal Collective and Arctic Monkeys. "It's like getting hired for a really good job or something," says the 22-year-old artist, who's now focusing on music full-time instead of school or work. "I have a career now. I have something I can count on to feed myself. That's awesome."
On a Wednesday night in August, Giannascoli is meeting me for a drink in Brooklyn. His hair's cut a little shorter, but otherwise he's very much the same artist I met a year ago in Philadelphia — soft-spoken, earnest, not the least bit arrogant despite his prodigious talent. He orders a cider and tells me about recording the album, which he did entirely on his own at home, as usual. "It's almost like some kind of zen thing," he says. "It's just what I do. It's like a mantra."
Some of the best songs on Beach Music, like the warm, flowing "Bug" (watch the new video below) and the urgent "Kicker," refine the sound heard on DSU and earlier fan-favorite LPs Trick and Rules.
Others bring in newer twists. The spacey synth-pop dreamer "Salt" began life as a fairly straightforward guitar song, says Giannascoli, "but I knew that a real drum kit would seal the deal too much, and I didn't want it to be a neatly wrapped thing like that." So he tinkered with his girlfriend's vintage Yamaha keyboard until he found a drum-machine patch with the right feel — soft as a pillow, and ever so slightly disorienting. "The riff just came from me sitting in my room, fucking around for a while until I came up with something," he says. Another standout, "Brite Boy," evolved from a pop-punk demo to a lilting lullaby with one of the most immediately appealing melodies Giannascoli's ever written.
A few months ago, he came to Brooklyn to meet with Unknown Mortal Orchestra bassist Jake Portrait, who mixed some of the bedroom hiss out of the album. Giannascoli named Beach Music after a phrase he saw on the cover of a book. "I just like the way it sounds," he says. I tell him the name reminds me of Neil Young's On the Beach, and he perks up: "I gotta check that out."
Giannascoli says he has no interest in leaving his home base in Philadelphia anytime soon. "I'm confident in Philly," he says. "I know where I'm at, and I don't feel the need to escape anything. And it's cheap as fuck."
After the new album's release next month, he'll be heading out on tour again with the three bandmates who join him in the live incarnation of Alex G. Until relatively recently, they were used to playing DIY spaces and small clubs where Alex could look out into the crowd and see his friends looking back, but that's in the past now. "The bigger the places are, the less personal it feels," he says. "Everyone's just a blur. I don't want to down-talk our show, but sometimes I can't believe this many people are excited to see us fuck around with our guitars." He shrugs. "It feels good, but it also feels a little weird."