Faster Than Sound: Alexalone, All Together
Soft-spoken guitarist details world-building Polyvinyl debut – with help from bandmates
Driving south on I-35 during the precise onset of flash flooding and rush hour last month, I wasn't optimistic. I worried the rain may prevent all members of Alexalone from making it to our interview about upcoming album Alexaloneworld, because, at the time, I didn't understand what a capital-B Band Alexalone is. When I arrive, the fivepiece unit instead waits on me.
Drummer Sam Jordan even comes out with two umbrellas to escort me into the home of newest member Hannah Read, known in indie music circles as the artist Lomelda, a folk-inflected singer-songwriter on Brooklyn label Double Double Whammy. Her living room serves as a practice space, with peg board hooks for cables. Days later, Read would again invite myself, and a large crowd of muddied relative strangers, into the warm space when another unexpected storm interrupted a backyard show.
But today, Alexalone and I crowd around the kitchen table. The band supports the songwriting project of Austin native Alex Peterson, quietly occupying a corner seat. The soft-spoken principal explains the origins of the current lineup, following guitar-centric output dating back to 2016 through waves of drone, noise, and shoegaze.
"We were acting as a threepiece for a while, and then Drewsky [what the band calls multi-instrumentalist Andrew Hulett] came into the fold, playing bass," says Peterson, last heard on 2017 EP Sadness3 and 2016 album We Can Be Alone Together. "We wanted to move him to guitar, because that would be really fun. It was like, 'Now we need a bass player. I bet Mari [Maurice] would."
Before I understood what a band Alexalone is, I asked their publicist if I could interview only Peterson, and was rightly nudged in the communal direction. The publicist – whose messages note the Austinite as influenced by literary visionaries Tolkien and Murakami alongside seminal indie rockers Low and Yo La Tengo – followed Peterson's signing to Polyvinyl Records. Janelle Abad, local art director at the big-name indie label, messaged Peterson last summer after viewing an Instagram livestream of their expansive, improvised solo guitar loops.
"We did [distribution] for Hum, and the response was incredible," said Abad last May, when I visited the newly opened Austin Polyvinyl office. "I was like, 'If we could tap into these Hum fans with a new band that isn't from the Nineties, that would be really cool.'"
"With the Lomelda connection, it made so much sense," she added, referencing Peterson's years of touring as a bassist for the latter project alongside Austin group Hovvdy.
Lomelda and Alexalone are now one in the same, with the lineup supporting both Peterson and Read's songwriting. After moving back home to Texas from Los Angeles last year, the latter attended just one Alexalone practice before proposing the idea of a joint tour, beginning in January 2022. "We were like, 'Hannah, want to play some heavy songs?'" recaps Jordan, a longtime bandmate of Peterson in Ama, also known for local percussion across acts like the Infinites and the Hermits.
"We all really like Alex's music, so we all weaseled our way into the band," jokes Read, who handles guitar/bass/synth and backing vocals.
The roster includes sonic texturist Hulett, guitarist alongside other instrumental duties, who has worked with Read ever since meeting as students at Baylor University. There's also Maurice, Alexalone bassist/synthesist who makes electronic music of her own as More Eaze. She recently received a Pitchfork nod for ambient album an afternoon whine, in collaboration with San Antonio artist Claire Rousay.
Read says the crew's upcoming 2022 tour will dash "the very evil, normal thing of having the headline band basically screw somebody over" with an underpaid opening slot. This sounds like an actualizable idea, as there's a lot the members of Alexalone agree on. I can tell when, between bouts of respectful listening at the table, they all start laughing and chiming in.
Agreed-upon idea No. 1: Alexalone assembles a very obsessive, detail-oriented group, which some may use another word for.
"This is a very nerdy band," says Maurice. "Our practices can very quickly devolve into diving deep on whatever equipment we're working with."
If you zoom in, the gear employed on Alexaloneworld is listed scrupulously on the front cover including hi-hats, an avocado shaker, and a compendium of recording programs across Pro Tools, Ableton, and different iPhone models.
"That screams: pandemic, made over the internet," says Jordan, one of many collaborators trading files with the bandleader throughout the process.
Peterson furthers: "There was this Premier Guitar article with Boris with photos of all of their gear. That's really interesting to me, because I'm thinking about how they're doing what they're doing, but it's not an advertisement. It makes me wonder a little bit, which is the good thing about gear."
Agreed-upon idea No. 2: The best part in the adorable video-game-based video for "Ruins" hits when the whole band, represented by cartoon sprites drawn by Peterson, scurry through a tunnel in a pack. In collaboration with illustrator Karolina Asadova (@minipete_), the songwriter developed an entire fantasy world present throughout the album packaging. On the single, Peterson sings: "I'm a ruin/ I'll get through it/ Eventually."
"A lot of the world-building on the cover was definitely inspired by lyrics," says Peterson, who identifies as nonbinary. "I try to write songs the same way I talk, and not use pronouns. A lot of times it's reminders of who I've been, things I want to remember."
Agreed-upon idea No. 3: Volume should be utilized to a precise end. Specifically, Maurice says the band aspires to "sound like a giant, massive guitar." On a live-recorded video for "Eavesdropper," after playing his electric guitar with a violin bow, Hulett holds a tape recorder up to the strings.
"[Each person] is in charge of covering a small orchestra," he explains. "One of [album contributor Blake Robbins'] tape loops is on that song, so I actually recorded the loop on my tape machine and played that through my pickup. It's like yelling into your guitar."
The austere "Eavesdropper," alongside a few others on the record, were originally recorded years ago by Peterson's previous act Smith+Robot. The guitar shark's sound shifted when a friend, Jeff Mertz, asked them to create a soundtrack for a documentary on local gentrification through the lens of barbecue establishments. The 2015 project generated subtly relentless Alexaloneworld opener "Electric Sickness," as well as the nuanced solo outlet for Peterson.
"A lot of elements of Smith+Robot were pretty noise-based, but you don't want to hurt peoples' ears with feedback," says Peterson. "Playing in other bands has shifted my perspective on what volume means. [Alexalone] isn't as loud, but our loudest point is ... not quiet. It's like a feeling, instead of a constant thing."
To end our kitchen table assembly, the quintet already anticipates material beyond their debut LP. Peterson says the writing process will change completely with a steady set of collaborators. For coming live shows, the band integrates a track beyond Alexaloneworld, their latest opus.
"[This first album] is a world of its own, but there's this one new song that's like, 'Okay, we're entering a new world," decides Read.
"It's 12 minutes long," adds Peterson. "We've been practicing a lot."
Alexaloneworld arrives August 13. The band celebrates August 14, 7:30pm, at Meanwhile Brewing with local melodic rap project Tåsi and Dallas bedroom group Teethe (featuring members of Crisman and Dead Sullivan).