Alex G sitting by the Thames in a North Face Jacket
Image: Holly Whitaker

I Spent a Soothing Day in Nature With Alex G

Every music nerd's fave spoke to VICE about faith, pop music and fucking around and finding out.

Alex G is literally just a regular guy. So regular, actually, that when we first meet we both clumsily go in for a half-handshake, half-hug, reciting the kind of well-worn choreography that’s hardwired within the socially awkward. We ultimately decide on a hug. He is just like me, for real. 

Our day begins on a cloudy morning in Central London, at St. Dunstan’s in the East, the remains of an 11th century church that was bombed out during the Blitz and is now surrounded by winding ivy and overflowing plant life. Though the sky is typically dismal for late November, the church’s grounds carry an air of tranquillity, the surrounding city’s buzz almost mute behind the tumbledown walls. 

Advertisement

We ramble around the grounds, occasionally stopping to notice squirrels chewing on fallen tree nuts or labourers having a mid-morning spliff round the corner. Alex’s demeanour is low-key and relaxed. No one seems to clock him – if you weren’t aware of his music you’d probably presume he was just Some Guy in a baseball cap and North Face puffer having his photo taken at a semi-tourist spot because it resembles one of the various hollowed out churches of Elden Ring. 

In simple terms, Alex G is a musician from Pennsylvania, US, who started out by uploading lo-fi tracks to MySpace and Bandcamp as a teenager in the late 00s to early 10s. His early slacker production, disarming melodies, raw vocals and cryptic, sometimes humorous lyrics are part of what made him King to music nerds and the extremely online – like an internet virus exclusively for people that grew up reading Pitchfork or frequenting 4Chan music boards. 

Fifteen years on and he’s widely considered to be one of the most talented songwriters of his generation. He’s released nine (nine!) studio albums, appeared on various magazine covers, composed an original score for 2021 horror film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair and collaborated with Frank Ocean on Blonde (he plays guitar on “Self Control” and “White Ferrari”). All the while sustaining a cult following of devoted fans who have memorised every facet of his oeuvre. 

Advertisement
Alex G at St. Dunstan’s in the East

His latest record, God Save The Animals, is a wide-ranging, genre-defying album which confronts the abstract pillars of existence head-on: faith, forgiveness and growing up. From tongue-in-cheek ode to faith “S.D.O.S.”, to the aching, guttural emotion of “Forgive”, the record carries an air of introspection and emotional growth, taking listeners along on his – or his various narrators’ – search to understand the ineffable inquiry of existence. 

Though he makes no definitive statement on the ecclesiastical – or any ‘one God’ – the record hints towards finding hope in weird times (On “After All”, he sings: “People come and go away / But God, with me, he stayed”). The album is also one of his most sonically experimental, seamlessly transitioning from the polished Americana riffs of “Miracles” to the nu metal leanings of “Ain’t It Easy” to the emo-cum-hyperpop production of “No Bitterness”, all of which makes for a sound that is impossible to pigeonhole, but distinctively his own.

For our day out, it felt fitting to be outside in nature, where you can actually breathe and think. As we explored St. Dunstans, walked to a near-by Church cafe, and went mudlarkling along the Thames’ shores, Alex and I spoke about faith, music and just saying “fuck it.” Oh, and lice.

Advertisement
Alex G at St. Dunstan’s in the East

VICE: Hi Alex, how are you doing?
Alex G:
I’m good. I got to sleep in, so I can't complain. 

Do you like my t-shirt? [points to t-shirt that says Jesus Is My Boyfriend]
Yeah, that’s awesome [laughs]. 

So, on “No Bitterness” you sing “My teacher is a child”. I was wondering what you've learned from children, or what we can all learn from them?
You know, when I was writing that song I didn't have a particular child in mind. If I'm being honest, I haven't spent that much time with kids – though I have a nephew. But what was on my mind was the idea of not holding any grudges, or just letting go of the past. I don't know if that's necessarily a trait of children. Just in my mind, it's like an innocence, and coming into each day with like, a sense of freshness or something.

Yeah, children are just so innocent and non-judgmental. I think we have much to learn from that. 
Yeah, there's no preconception. That’s kinda the idea.

They're also not malicious people. I mean, some kids are, maybe.
Yeah, maybe I was a malicious kid. 

Really? Why?
I just remember being like, kind of mean.

Were you the kid that pushed people off the monkey bars?
No, I used to do this thing – I didn't do it to that many kids –  but I would like, take kids' lunches by just making a really big stink about saying that their lunch was my lunch, and that they took it from me. [laughs]

Advertisement

You stole people's lunches?! 
OK, I didn't steal. I don't want to even get into it.

You're going to get cancelled for stealing people's lunches as a kid.
It wasn't stealing, but I would just lie and be like: "That's my lunch." And they'd be like, "No, it's not." And I'd be like, "That's my lunch. You took it." I don't know why I did that. I was really young. It's not like it was an adult decision. You know?

It'd be slightly different now if you took someone's lunch.
Yeah, it wasn't that often. I don't want it to seem like I was some kind of bully lunch thief. But it was a fucking weird thing to do. 

Alex G throwing stones by the Thames

Yeah, it is a bit weird. Do you like being weird?
[Laughs] I don't think of myself as weird, but I do get it. I definitely see that sometimes I'll say something and people will be like “OK,” and then I'd be like, “Oh, that was a weird thing to say,” you know? But I don't dislike how I am – that's just how I am.

What do you think the weirdest thing you've ever done is?
See that's the thing, I don't know. I'm sure someone else would have a better answer, because I can't tell. To me, I'm just normal.

You’ve said in previous interviews that a lot of your songs are written from the perspective of “grotesque caricatures”. Could you tell me a bit about your own personal relationship with faith that’s kind of explored through these caricatures on God Save The Animals?
This is something I've been asked a few times in interviews, and I think it's tricky to answer because I didn't have any relationship to [faith] prior to making this album. It was something that felt big and far away, you know. I just thought it would be fun, I guess. 

Advertisement

I don't even know what I'm doing, but it seemed like another tool or another paint to add to my canvas, or something. It also seemed like a tool that could be used to make you respect yourself more, and to feel more trust in the future. That's what was appealing about it to me. 

I agree. Like, I don't know if I believe in any one God, but I think it's good to believe in something. Otherwise, you're just kind of floating and existing…
It's such a corny thing to say, but [I believe] in a leap of faith. I think there are moments when I completely believe it and I'm like, “Of course, it's always been like this!” But when I'm just going through every day, like drinking coffee, doing my bullshit, it’s not that present. Whereas I know some people where it's always present. So maybe I'm just not there yet.

You have to believe that there is some inherent value in yourself. So I think that's almost like the first leap of faith, for me, at least.

Alex G hanging out by the thames

For you, do forgiveness and faith go hand in hand?
I guess so. I mean, this is from someone pretty ignorant about faith in general. But yeah, from my very, very limited understanding, that's how I see it. Like, forgiving yourself. A friend of mine recently sent me something that boiled down to just forgiving your past and trusting your future. And then there's something about the present, but I forgot [laughs]. 

Advertisement

Feels like a very good mantra to live by. I've read in other interviews that you've done that you appreciate “humanness” in other music. What makes your music human? 
I guess that's for other people to answer. All I know is that I'm just trying to make it good. And for whatever good means to me in the moment. It’s that I'm a human and I'm just trying to entertain myself.

And what is “good” to you now?
It depends, I guess. Something that feels representative of my surroundings or my life. I listen to the radio a lot.

What sort of radio stations do you listen to?
Mostly the pop station and well, this just sums up every radio station, but the college radio station. It's like an NPR college radio station. Sometimes the college station plays shit I’m not fucking with, so I just flip back and forth. 

Untitled (38).jpg

How do you feel about pop music that’s on the radio at the moment?
Mostly I love it. I love really drone-y stuff. And I feel like there’s a lot of songs coming out now that are really repetitive which I really like. They'll be just really low-key and the chorus doesn't get huge. It's just the same timbre and shit the whole time. I love stuff like that.

Have you got any favourite current pop artists?
The radio station I listen to plays a lot of Drake. I just love how it’s always just the same thing, you know? Like, he doesn't go crazy. I love that because I can zone out. He has a really soothing voice. Everything's really muffled. He never goes crazy with his vocal lines or anything. I love stuff like that – it’s just like warm water. 

Advertisement

Yeah, like an audible bath. So, did you see that tweet claiming that loads of people got lice at one of your shows? What did you make of that?
I thought that was funny. It’s true!

Did they? Really? I read an article that said it was a hoax. 
No, it’s true. I gave everybody lice. 

Did you actually have lice? Have you ever had lice?
[laughs] No, I’ve never had lice.

Me neither. I feel like I was once told as a child that if you don’t get lice as a kid you’re more likely to get it as an adult, like chickenpox. Though, maybe that’s bullshit. 
Really? I thought they were just like… bugs. So then what would make us more prone than anyone else? It’s like, the lice ate all the good shit out of someone else’s head so they don’t want to come back? I gotta look that up.

[At this point I feel such a deep nausea rise within me, a result of visualising lice ‘eating the good shit,’ having the flu, and drinking coffee on an empty stomach, that I have to excuse myself to go and be sick halfway through the interview in. Alex is very nice about it.]

Dani Ran and Alex G chatting in the church cafe

Sorry about that. Back to the interview, I guess. So, from what I've read about you, I feel like you fall trap to thinking that everything that you've written is the worst thing that you've ever written. I was wondering how you got past that, on a personal level?
Okay so the process I have is: I’ll have an idea for a song, and as I’m making it I’ll get excited and then it’ll get better and better, and then the closer it gets to being done, the more I dislike it. And then I get to a point where it's all about the craft and not the artistic statement anymore. And then when I'm just thinking about it from a craft standpoint, I'll be like, “Okay, I see that it's done.” Like, there's some movement going on, and it has the bass and the high-end and shit.

Advertisement

But, pretty much with all of them, by the time that they’re done I’m like “This shit doesn’t even sound like music anymore.” You know?

Probably because you’ve listened to it so many times, right?
Yeah. There is no cure for that – you just have to trust that initial feeling that got you started was worth something. And that's kind of what I do. I'm just like, OK, I feel this every time. So I can't trust that voice that's telling me it sucks, you know? I'm sure some people think it sucks, though. 

Your music is very critically acclaimed. 
Well, yeah. So you see what I mean? The time when I think it's good is before it's even started. And then it's like, as it gets closer to being done, it’s less good, but I'm still working to make it good. It's like there's a light at the end of the tunnel that it just gets farther and farther. And then I'm just like, fuck it. And then I put it on the record. [laughs]

So what you’re saying is the best thing to do is just not think about it, just fuck around and find out?
Yeah. And just drink a lot of coffee. When I'm not feeling it I drink a bunch of coffee and then listen again I'm like, “Oh, yeah!” And then the coffee wears off I'm like “This shit sucks.”

I can safely say it doesn’t suck. If you weren’t a musician, what do you think you’d be doing?
I never finished but I was in school doing English. My goal was to be a teacher. So yeah, I probably would have still been working on that. Or I would have just fallen into something. Even if I wasn't doing music as a career, I'd probably still get a lot out of it and want to make it all the time. So it's sort of hijacked any other path that I was on, you know, because I've just spent all my free time doing music instead of pursuing stuff that would actually help me. Whatever I did, I'd probably only do it halfway.

Here’s to fucking around and finding out.

@iamdanran / @hollyemmw