Photo courtesy of Alexandra Savior
This past May, Alexandra Savior played a small show at the 200-capacity Los Angeles venue Hotel Café. Midway through the set, Arctic Monkeys frontman Alex Turner, arguably Britain’s biggest rock star right now, walked onstage and played two songs with Savior. Word spread quickly.
Turner’s appearance wasn’t simple serendipity; once fans did a little more digging, they discovered that Turner and Savior are songwriting partners. The two have been collaborating in the studio since 2014, and the results are on her forthcoming debut album on Columbia. Little else was known about Savior, though, outside of a couple songs under her name (“Risk” and “Shades”) and a duet with Tame Impala member Cam Avery. But because of that single performance with Turner, each night, fans cross-check The Last Shadow Puppets’ tour schedule with Savior’s, hoping for another surprise performance.
Here’s the thing, though: She may have a superstar’s cosign, but she doesn’t need it.
Savior doesn’t say much on stage. She opens her show declaring, “I’m Alexandra Savior and these are my dudes”—her backing band is made up of members of PAPA—but otherwise she lets her stunning, laid-back, Josh Homme- and Joshua Tree-inspired desert rock speak for itself, purposefully allowing the mystery surrounding her persona to grow night after night—which it has, leading her to sell out shows with just that small catalog of songs.
That aura breaks down on live set closer “Mystery Girl” as she casts aside her cool Franciose Hardy persona for about 30 seconds and screams “Don’t you try and calm me down” over pulsating guitars, growing ever louder as her voice doubles in intensity. That thrilling finish leaves the audience wanting more, but outside of those few aforementioned songs, there’s not much else for them. Until now, the 21-year-old artist hasn’t even done a full-length interview.
Noisey: How does it feel knowing people want to interview you now?
Alexandra Savior: I haven’t really thought about that yet. In my mind, it sort of feels like… I’m so fearful of becoming successful because I think I get very afraid of what success can do to people, especially and particularly in the music world. I just think, “Nah, nobody actually cares.”
If you’re kind of fearful of success, are you nervous to release new music? When you put out “Shades,” what was going through your head?
I didn’t really give a fuck. I actually finished the record over a year ago—the masters were done over a year ago—so I’ve spent so much time battling between what I wanted it to be and what people assumed it should be. I made that video for “Shades” with my best friend Emma. I guess it was sort of a statement showing how you shouldn’t do everything the way everyone else does it. Basically, it’s like a fuck you. It was nice, I was just like finally. It was a release.
If these songs have been around for so long, do you still identify with the lyrics even though you’re past whatever made you write them?
I identify with a lot of them, but it really depends on how it’s going. It’s a little harder when I’m having a really good day, everyone’s being nice, and my boyfriend bought me dinner or something—it’s hard to get up and sing these songs. I wrote them in a couple years of hardship. It’s harder to be connected to it, and I find it almost obnoxious that the audience wants me to sing for them.
When did you start writing music?
From the time I was 12 until I was 15, I was writing a lot of poetry and short stories. Then when I was 15 or so, I had been kicked out of my musical theater club—I was a theater nerd. I was an extra in Our Town, which was a horrible, horrible production, and I couldn’t make it one night. The director screamed, “You are banned from theater!” He kicked me out and I needed some sort of kinetic energy musical something, so I started singing to myself. I decided to try out for the talent show and when I sang, everyone was like “Oh girl, shit. That’s what you’ve got to do!” Then I figured out that they were songs that I was writing the whole time, and I’m shit at poetry.
When you release music then, do you want people to look deeper into your lyrics and try to analyze what everything means?
Of course I want people to know what they’re listening to. I think no matter what, everyone is going to relate it to their own experience, so no one will know me. I don’t think anybody—even my best friend and my mom—will ever know what it’s all about. [sings the “Hokey Pokey”] I do hope people read a little into it, but because I wrote it with someone else, I don’t even know what a lot of it means. When we would be writing, and Alex would suggest something—he’s a lot more stoic with his lyricism, and it’s more logical and masculine. It’s good because I think if it was just me, it would be a lot more obvious what it’s about. I hope people read into it, but they’ll never know because I don’t even know [laughs].
You use first person over the course of “Shades.” Is that “I” even you, or is it a different character entirely?
I think it’s all me. It’s easier to write something fictionally because of that quote: “documentary is about someone else, fiction is about me.” When you make it a story or make it about someone else, I think it’s because it’s a topic that you don’t want to be relative to you, but it is. With “Shades,” it was me at one point, but it’s not me anymore.
Why did you move to LA?
Fucking I don’t know why. I moved to LA in September 2013. I was just turning 18 years old, and I had written a few songs in London. My mom said she’d help me for six months, and if I didn’t make it, I’d have to go to college. In October, I signed to Columbia. Then after that, she was like, “Oh, that was fast!” [laughs] I pretty much went there to make the dream come true, whatever that dream was.
So you met your songwriting partner Alex Turner around that time. How did you two meet?
I actually met Miles Kane at a party. After that, I suggested briefly that I should work with Alex, but I didn’t really know much about him. They had just put out that last Monkeys album, and my boyfriend at the time was like, “Fuck that, he won’t want to work with you!” A week later, Miles said, “Alex Turner wants to meet you.” We met at a café, and chatted for a long time and had a lot in common musically. We went back to his house and listened to records. I played him some acoustic songs that I had been writing and worked on them and wrote a song that day. I went back every day until the record was done!
Are you in control of every aspect of this release?
Yeah pretty much. I’m very particular. I painted the album art, did all the photos in it, and I’m working on a couple music videos. I like to be involved creatively, and I don’t like anyone to have control over me creatively because I hate the idea of being a product. I want to make myself feel like I’m doing it for my own pleasure.
If you wanted to be in control over everything, was it tough when you first started writing songs with Alex?
Yeah, it was tough! [Laughs] I had written with other people, and I’m very communicative, so it wasn’t that bad. At first, it was hard.
So how did the Cam Avery duet, “We’re Just Making It Worse” come about?
It was written already. Cam wrote that song. I had finished the record and was pretty much in a creative no man’s land; my mind was completely milked of all the things I do creatively. Cam’s been a friend for a few years now, and he’s always talked about doing a duet. He moved down the street from my house, and we started hanging out all the time. He’d come to breakfast with my mom, and we became best friends. He helped me move out of my house, and he still has my coffee table. He let me use my storage place, but only for free if I did this song with him! Of course I did it—it saved me $30 a month! I also wanted to get into the studio and James Ford was playing drums, and it was really fun for a day.
Did you ever think that these songs would take you all over the country and eventually the world?
If I’m being honest with you, I was fearful of it, but I had really hoped for Europe. That was my main goal, to spend some time there. That’s pretty much why I did this entire thing!
Steven Edelstone is a writer based in New York. He is the only writer in the world without a Twitter.