After his latest album ‘Beach Music,’ there’s no more hiding Philadelphia singer-songwriter Alex Giannascoli.
By Michael Tyler, University of Texas at Austin
Because of advancements in recording technology, nowadays any Average Joe with a laptop and a guitar can create a Bandcamp account and release their Adele covers to the masses, completely side-stepping the music industry hoops that were unavoidable for the artists of yesteryear.
As a result, anyone can be an Emily Dickinson rock star, producing remarkable album after remarkable album unnoticed from their bedroom, but rarely do these closet musicians graduate from sleeping in four-posters to posing for posters.
Even less often do they find success while managing to maintain the innocence and sincerity that made people listen to them in the first place. In fact, 22-year-old Philadelphia native Alex Giannascoli might just be the most successful exception.
Giannascoli has been recording and making songs that sound like a combination of Pavement-meets-Elliott Smith-meets-Modest Mouse for no one but himself since his teenage years. He would take his tracks and upload them to Bandcamp, where over the course of five years he released an astounding seven EP’s, quickly becoming a fixture in the Philly underground scene.
Despite the early popularity, Alex wasn’t ready to commit to music as his long-term plan, and headed off to Temple University in 2012 to study English. He was unaware that this decision would wind up being the turning point in his career.
While at Temple, he met Matt Cothran of Elvis Depressedly, who encouraged him to play more shows and take music more seriously. The results were overwhelmingly positive, and Giannascoli’s popularity continued to grow.
Shortly after 2013 started, he signed to a budding Indie label called Orchid Tapes, a Brooklyn based label that is home to artists that perfectly match the downtrodden singer-songwriter mentality Giannascoli embodies. Orchid Tapes helped put out his home-recorded label debut, DSU, in 2014 to widespread critical acclaim. School quickly became an afterthought.
In spring 2015, following the success of “DSU,” UK label Lucky Number mastered and released to the world even more of the music Giannascoli had recorded in his bedroom, as Tricks and Rules made their debut.
Fast forward to the fall of 2015 to find Giannascoli continuing his vertiginous rise. He signed with prominent Indie label Domino Records, who immediately put the ballad-warbling Philadelphian to work on a follow up to last year’s “DSU” in the form of “Beach Music.”
This time around, Giannascoli’s popularity has forced him to leave the bedroom, as he’s spent the lion’s share of the year touring the country.
It’s tempting to assume that the change of scenery from bedroom to tour bus could sap the sincerity of such a young artist, but the effect’s been quite the opposite. Giannascoli has continued to churn out music with the same voice that he started with, only now it’s come to reflect newer and more eclectic influences.
The effects of his touring are audible throughout the album. There are songs inspired by noise music (“Intro”), Southern Rock (“Ready”), the rhythmic focus of techno and even piano-based laments (“In Love”).
As he adapts to life as an itinerant musician, his music will continue to expand as it digests new influences. But the Giannascoli that crooned alone in his bedroom, and that special something in those croons that got him out of that bedroom, whatever that is, is still very present in his music.
What’s next for Giannascoli is hard to predict, as he’s appeared apathetic about his success and his future on several occasions. On his breakout EP, “DSU,” he relays his his ambivalence toward success on the song “Harvey,” sarcastically singing “I love winning baby, I want it all, I wanna prove that I got balls.”
Later, in a September interview with Grantland (RIP), Alex said he “has no great aspirations. If fame and fortune come, that’d be cool, but if it doesn’t, that’d be cool too.” Despite Alex’s indifference to the limelight, his cult following continues to grow and mainstream success may be unavoidable for much longer.