THE LADYBIRD IN THE LOWLANDS
Photo by Peter Twigt
2014 was a very busy year Maltese singer-songwriter Alex Alden, and rightfully so. After moving to the Netherlands in 2013 soon after releasing her debut EP The Curious Child, last year she relocated from Utrecht to Rotterdam. Describing the move as a bit awkward, "in the sense that it was a drawn out 'in-between' phase of moving from one city and lifestyle to another completely different one", she admits it was a spontaneous decision, quickly adding however, that she has no regrets, and why should she? The move was complemented by a sharp rise of her public profile within the Dutch acoustic music scene, thanks largely to her regular live performances in Rotterdam as well as other locations around Holland. All this of course, on top of the fact that she was accepted at the CODARTS Conservatory of Music in Rotterdam, where she is reading for a four-year Jazz Bachelor's Degree with vocal studies as her main subject. MICHAEL BUGEJA catches up with ALEX ALDEN during a recent home visit as her latest release Ladybird continues to grace the local airwaves.
Moving to Rotterdam has certainly given your music career a boost, hasn't it?
Having spent a year studying in Utrecht, I decided to start afresh in a different city, which also brought with it a new sense of freedom. It was during this time I took part in the JongQuiteQuiet song-writing competition which was being hosted in Delft. Being one of 6 chosen contestants, we met up every fortnight in front of a panel of judges and were given assignments to write new songs according to a particular theme or idea. These songs were later performed for a live audience, with winners announced for each performance and an overall winner that was announced in December.
Apart from winning this competition, what did you make of the whole experience?
I welcomed the challenge of being told what to write about, for once. Waiting for inspiration to shine down some creative beams on you rarely yields any results, especially with a looming deadline. The chase for it however, is what the competition was all about. Before being named the winner of the overall competition in December, I had also won one of the preliminaries, when the assignment was to compose a song using a motif from Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody.
How challenging was that?
I wrote the song Galileo in two days, more as a kind of last minute thing as I wasn't sure I was going to make it on the night as I'd become quite ill at that point with a virus. I went ahead with a plan of action and chose one of my favourite parts of the song to work with, which was the 'Galileo, Galileo!' part and did some research on the man himself, noting his controversial life and views on the world at the time. His fascination with the world outside, as well as the world inside inspired me greatly and is a topic I gravitate quite frequently to. My goal was to reflect this all in my writing from a more personal viewpoint.
How has living in the Netherlands impacted you as a person and musician?
The school I attend is very international and one of its main assets is the World Music department. I'm being exposed to a whole range of different musical styles - from Flamenco and Latin to Turkish, Indian and other ethnic music. This is a direct reflection of the diversity in cultures in Rotterdam and the rest of the country. I'm very grateful to be able to nurture my palette to appreciate different kinds of music and learn about cultures that are completely different to the one I was brought up in. It is definitely impacting my writing and widening my perspective.
What's your view of the live music scene there now that you've experienced it yourself?
The music scene here has a very 'underground' feel to it. Bands will crop up in random bars and cafes on a Sunday afternoon or late on a weeknight, as well as regular jam sessions happening in some staple venues every week too. There's a lot happening here thanks to the initiative of the musicians themselves, the co-operation and encouragement of venue owners and of course, the support and interest of audiences that will happily sit (or dance) and listen to a few hours of whatever musical genre is taking the stage that night, with a drink in hand.
Your latest song Ladybird is relatively more introspective compared to your previous work. How representative is it of where you're at musically right now?
Ladybird is one shade of where I am at musically. It's a less-produced sound, relying more on the basis of my voice and guitar and a strong form and groove to fall back on. In a way I think it's bolder than any of the songs I wrote on The Curious Child because of this. Recording the song did give me a little nudge to gear up for the release of a new album, so I'm making plans at the moment to hopefully begin recording in the summer. I have the musicians and studio in mind and also (nearly all) the songs I'd like to include, so now it's just a matter of rehearsing and getting in the groove to make things happen. I've been wanting to record something new even before I ever released The Curious Child, as the songs on that EP were written when I was 15 to 17 years old, which I've moved on from.
This year has already been quite fruitful too..
Yes, it has been taking on an interesting shape. Further to the release of Ladybird and an accompanying music video, I've already played a good number of gigs, among them a support slot for Michael Prins, a Dutch singer-songwriter who won a TV show called De Beste Singer-Songwriter Van De Nederlands. The show is quite a big deal here and so Michael has quite a following. I was invited to be play a 40-minute set before him at Theatre De Veste in Delft to an audience of 250 people. It was still a very intimate concert, with a few people sitting on the edge of the stage right next to me, so close I could reach out and touch them if I wanted to. The response to my music has been very positive here in the Netherlands and new opportunities are presenting themselves when I least expect them. Depending on what else develops here, I will be visiting Malta quite regularly too, visiting family and friends and putting together the plan to record and host workshops in the summer.
Photo by Doranne Alden Caruana
This article was first published on The Sunday Times of Malta (12 April 2015)