Making the transition from a band to a solo artist can be a rough and long road. When an artist finds a way to transition successfully, they often stay true to the original sound of the band all while, being willing to push the boundaries.
Alex Mendenall, an alternative singers/songwriter from Michigan, has only been a solo artist for five months in the Michigan music scene. "I have only been performing as a solo artist for five months, but I've had a lot of support and some great experiences already. Things have been happening pretty fast. In June, I played my first solo show and since then, I have played a number of other great gigs, recorded and released my debut EP, and met some great people along the way. The highlight of it all so far was probably my show opening for Ryan Cabrera and Tyler Hilton in Lansing. The place was packed and the audience was electric. Interactions with them during and after my set made for an incredible experience. This journey into music has been a blast so far and I look forward to everything that the future holds," said Mendenall.
Mendenall and fans alike are now looking to the future. The Michigan music scene is still the main focus for Mendenall but the whole country is on his radar. "In the short term, I plan to do my best to spread my music around Michigan. I hope to play all over the state and to meet a lot of really great people. Eventually I want to tour the country with friends and make some really great memories. I will continue to write new songs and try new things in music, always keeping it fresh and never forgetting that music is simply a vessel through which I convey my most honest thoughts and feelings to the world."
Mendenall elaborated, "Long term, I think my future looks like a winding road heading deeper and deeper into a yet-to-be-determined landscape. I will continue to move forward along it despite not having a clue where it may lead and how it may change my life."
I had the chance to interview Alex Mendenall. We discussed everything from how Mendenall first discovered music to what his future looks like. The entire interview is below.
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C: When did you first discover music?
A: Some of my earliest memories center around music. I can clearly remember dancing around my living room as a four or five year old with my mom and dad while listening to Frank Sinatra. Sinatra was my first real exposure to music. As far as the creation of music, I picked up my first instrument (the Alto Sax) around the age of nine and loved learning movie themes and fun jazz pieces. I played in school for seven years before finally picking up the guitar after my first semester of college. The guitar struck such a chord (pun intended) with me because it gave me the ability to sing along with the notes. For the first time, I could incorporate music and lyrics and then eventually write my own. This was when I started to fall in love with music and let it become such a big part of me.
C: What would you consider to be some of your most notable music influences at a younger age?
A: As a young kid, my favorite genre was without a doubt Big Band music. Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, Bobby Darin, Count Basie, Jimmy Durante, Harry Connick, Jr., and others filled my formative years. I loved the emotions and meaning saturating every one of their songs. As time went on, I became interested in almost every other genre: from rock to country, and oldies to metal. Tons of artists like Journey, Styx, System of a Down, Eminem, Big and Rich, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Garth Brooks, The Beastie Boys, and The Eagles brought new sounds and feelings to music. Looking back, I realize that I was doing more than just casually listening to their songs. I would analyze each phrase and solo and ask myself, "What makes this work? Why do I like this so much?" I was trying to break the code to their musical successes without even knowing it. Today, I use these lessons from my unique interests to help improve my music and create something entirely mine. I really feel that my widely varied influences have helped to make me a well rounded artist today.
C: In a few words, how would you describe your musical sound?
A: An outsider would probably say that I am an alternative singer/songwriter with a varying range of genres moving from one song to the next. But for me, my sound is somewhat more difficult to describe in words. From my point of view, my musical sound is just the sound of me. It is the sound of my life, my happiness, my pain, my successes and my failures. Because of this, my music can be light and poppy or dark and melancholy. You can hear flavors of jazz, alternative, pop, rock, and funk depending on the story I am telling. I love simple progressions with surprises thrown into the mix, but I also like more complex patterns taking listeners places they didn't think they would go before they pushed play.
As far as my writing, it always comes from the heart. I find chord progressions that really speak to me and just let the harmonies fit where they may. To me, the music is important, but a song is only as good as its lyrics. If it doesn't truly matter to me and have meaning to it, then it was really was never worth writing in the first place. I write my lyrics with the mindset that you should be able to pull the words away from the music, read them as poetry and still get an emotional reaction from people. I tell stories and paint pictures and spread messages. My biggest goal in music is to write honest, genuine music to which people can relate. The words and tunes may have come from my voice and guitar, but the songs are meant to be for everyone. I want listeners to be able to hear a song and think, "Wow, that's about my life. This is exactly how I felt when…" Music is a universal language and I want the whole world to be able to hear mine speak to them.
C: What musical influences do you pull from when you are performing or writing music?
A: I draw from many of the same influences that I had as a kid, but I think that when it comes to performing and writing, I pull from a more select few. Mumford and Sons are certainly one of them. They have brought an honest and wholesome sound to a mainstream public desperately in need of it. You won't hear a compressed kick drum striking every quarter note or any autotune with them, just rich, acoustic folk-rock. They are genuine and really care about the music they put out. I always hope to come across in the same light. Another band in my select few is Maroon 5. Though I'm not a huge fan of the more recent albums, "Songs about Jane" and "It Won't be Soon Before Long" are two of the most brilliantly crafted I have ever heard. They were funky and fresh. Poppy but still meaningful and heartfelt. Also, I love the amount of energy they give to a crowd in their performances. They are focused solely on the audience in front of them. I try to inject many of my songs with that same energy and funkiness.
The last of my main influences is more than just a musical one. Jason Mraz is one of the most sincere, good-hearted people on the planet and is probably my single biggest role model. He uses his popularity to spread messages about peace and love and an interconnectedness that is difficult to explain for most. I draw from some of these messages for my own music. He writes in much the same way I do, from the heart. You get the feeling that he deeply means everything he says. Each word just spills over with emotion. In concert he has a way of engaging the audience unlike any other artist I've seen. He makes you feel like he is speaking directly and only to you while also uniting the entire crowd, creating an amazing feeling of togetherness. Mraz always seems like he is having the time of his life on stage and does his best to help his listeners feel the same. I definitely draw from his energy and hope to develop the same relationships with my audiences in concert.
C: You are gaining quite a large following in Michigan, what was the process of coming up in the industry like?
A: I have only been performing as a solo artist for five months, but I've had a lot of support and some great experiences already. Things have been happening pretty fast. In June, I played my first solo show and since then, I have played a number of other great gigs, recorded and released my debut EP, and met some great people along the way. The highlight of it all so far was probably my show opening for Ryan Cabrera and Tyler Hilton in Lansing. The place was packed and the audience was electric. Interactions with them during and after my set made for an incredible experience. This journey into music has been a blast so far and I look forward to everything that the future holds.
C: How would you describe the Michigan music scene?
A: I would say that the Michigan music scene is as rich as it has ever been, especially on the indie front. There is a ton of talent coming out of our state and even more touring through it from around the world. I love the work that Fusion Shows has been doing around Michigan, bringing in some great acts and giving locals a platform in the spotlight. They are helping to connect music lovers with their favorite bands throughout the state. We need to keep aspiring to be a great destination for music and continue to cultivate our rich musical tradition.
C: How do you feel social media has helped and will continue to help your career?
A: Social media is an incredibly valuable tool for me. I can keep my fans updated on everything from music releases to future shows in a single click. I like the closeness to fans that it gives me. With it, I can share my personality alongside my music. Also, social media helps me to give venues a good idea of the musician they are booking. With one link, they can find: pictures, videos of concerts, music, touring history, fan support, the artist's dedication to promotion and outreach, and much more. This makes booking a band much less of a guessing game.
The biggest asset that it gives me as an artist, is a powerful networking tool. Once a fan has connected to me, they don't have to do anything to see what I'm up to musically. It just automatically shows up on their newsfeed when I post an update. If they happen to like, comment, or share this post, then all of their friends can see it too. This one step just doubled the audience of my post. As you can imagine, this helps immensely in growing my fan base. I think that these tools will allow me to focus more on music and less on logistics and will open a lot of exciting doors in the future.
C: What does your future hold?
A: In the short term, I plan to do my best to spread my music around Michigan. I hope to play all over the state and to meet a lot of really great people. Eventually I want to tour the country with friends and make some really great memories. I will continue to write new songs and try new things in music, always keeping it fresh and never forgetting that music is simply a vessel through which I convey my most honest thoughts and feelings to the world.
Long term, I think my future looks like a winding road heading deeper and deeper into a yet-to-be-determined landscape. I will continue to move forward along it despite not having a clue where it may lead and how it may change my life. Perhaps the road will be easy, perhaps it will be harder than I can imagine. But either way, I will keep going forward. My life goal is to just take it easy; To live my short life spending the maximum amount of time possible being content and music gives me the greatest contentment. At the end of the day, that's how I will measure my success as an artist.