Shane Alexander Releases Mono Solo to the Masses
Written by Chrissy Mauck
If you were to throw on singer/songwriter/guitarist Shane Alexander’s new album Mono Solo and listen to his contemplative lyrics and soulful acoustic guitar work, we’d bet you a dozen custom-built Fender guitars* that you would never peg him for a shredder who was first inspired to pick up an axe after being jolted by Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.”
Although he now professionally plays folk rock music that draws comparisons to Jeff Buckley, Art Garfunkel and Jackson Browne, Alexander confesses that he is indeed a closet shredder.
“One day my dad played ‘Iron Man,’ and that’s the definitive moment where you get the electrical shock through your body,” recalls Alexander. “I heard the intro of that song and I’m like, ‘What the heck is that? It’s like the white light, and it’s pulling me toward it.’”
Both as a session player starting out in Los Angeles long ago and then as the frontman for Damone, Alexander held steadfastly to his desire to be fast and flashy.
“All I wanted to do was be Eddie Van Halen and I thought ‘I’ll just find me a David Lee Roth,’” he says. “Playing fast and all of that — I still love that; there’s just not really a place for it in my music.”
Now and then, he’ll still plug in his Fender Tele or Strat and relive his rock star days in the comfort of his Los Angeles home, but onstage he shines brightest while unplugged.
Armed only with his trusty acoustic guitar, Alexander won over thousands of fans in 2005 and 2006 when he opened for Jewel, and again in 2007 opening for Seal.
“When I walked offstage having done a good performance for audiences of those sizes, it made me feel very empowered,” shares Alexander. “This is a very difficult choice to do this with your life, and anytime I’ve had that kind of exposure and felt like my music really connected, it’s sort of the dangling carrot that keeps me doing this. I don’t mind if I play for small audiences or giant audiences; I just want captive audiences.”
Hoping for a captive audience with his fourth solo effort, Alexander indulges his love of the guitar with two short instrumental tracks that he refers to as “musical palate cleansers.”
“Mono Solo” is an ethereal melody that highlights Alexander’s slide guitar work, while the Middle Eastern-infused “Vegeta” shows off his fingerpicking chops.
“I wrote ‘Vegeta’ probably a week before I went into the studio, and I wrote it exactly as it’s recorded,” shares Alexander. “I thought, ‘This is an odd little duck but it’s really cool.’ I liked the idea of sort of anything goes. A lot of Beatles’ records — there would be strange things and surprises around every corner. I like that about this record. I think it’s a good ride.”
“Miles for Days,” the album’s melancholic-yet-rocking opening track speaks directly to Alexander’s road travels. Born out of a late-night drive across Texas while Lucinda Williams album West blared through the speakers, the song has been described as an “upbeat ode to depression,” which is the perhaps the perfect paradox about touring.
“I was driving and this lyric ‘miles for days, days for miles, no one knows’ popped in my head, because no one knows what it’s really like to be on the road,” says Alexander. “I love touring but for a moment there, you think, ‘This tour is a monumental task.’ It’s always a superhuman feat of strength to get through one. So I just sort of wrote about that experience of ‘here comes the blue.’ I felt myself for a minute slipping into the darkness in the corners of my mind. I just indulged that and when I got to where I was going I wrote that guitar riff.”
Citing Neil Young as his biggest influence, Alexander frequently mines his album lyrics from personal journeys.
“I’ve always dealt with everything in my life by writing about it — that’s how I’m sort of able to move on and keep my head up,” says Alexander, who also hopes that at the end of his days, his catalog of albums will help document where he was in life.
Unfortunately, the life experiences on his new album reflect themes of loss and instability.
“The songs sort of wrote themselves, and as I look back on this body of work from this period, there’s a lot of deep, real stuff,” Alexander says.
For instance, while touring for 2008′s The Sky Below, Alexander observed firsthand the widespread fallout from the economic freefall.
“I saw a lot of people who were quite successful lose their fortunes; a lot of people who had good jobs lose their jobs and a lot of people who had stable home lives lose their marriages,” he says. ” I just saw a lot of this tumultuousness out there. A lot of people I had seen on previous tours who were fat and happy all of a sudden were sort of desperate, and that was really hard to see. That was definitely in the back of my head while writing this, having seen a lot of people that I actually know and care about suffering.”
Though Alexander acknowledges the suffering, he doesn’t dwell on despair. Instead he pens tracks like “Never Knew the Sunshine,” a folk ballad that reverently focuses on life’s silver lining.
“I just tried to put a positive spin on life’s ups and downs and just know that no matter how bad things get, there’s always another chance to turn them around,” says Alexander. “It was a very simple sentiment but sometimes you have to go through the really, really dark times to appreciate the good things. If things were always great, you wouldn’t have the same appreciation. So having weathered the storms of the last few years, I wrote that song to try to put some positivity out there.”
But channeling positive vibes is never more challenging than when confronting life’s most turbulent storm — mortality. “Corey’s Song” is Alexander’s farewell ode to one of his best friends, who was killed in a drunk driving accident. Alexander wrote the poetic tribute after returning home from the funeral in Pennsylvania, at which he served as a pallbearer.
“That in itself was a major experience,” he says. “I’d been a pallbearer before for family members, but never for a young person. It was really a deep profound, terribly sad/beautiful experience. So I came home and I was writing this song, and I thought I had a real responsibility to have it not be morose in any way or a super downer.”
That responsibility stems from his childhood, when, long before songwriting ever became a cathartic exercise for processing life’s trials and tribulations, song listening served as his lifeline.
“Without going too deeply into my personal situation, my dad was married a number of times so there was a lot of weirdness from the time I was quite young -just sort of unsteadiness,” reflects Alexander. “It wasn’t particularly bad or anything; just a lot of changes and stuff. My respite was staying at my grandmother’s house and playing all of these vinyl LPs that were my dad’s.”
Spinning music by the Beatles, the Moody Blues, Cats Stevens and Simon & Garfunkel moved and inspired a young and impressionable Alexander.
“I’ll still hear Simon & Garfunkel’s ‘The Boxer’ and get chills from head to foot because I remember the low brass; the giant alto at the end of ‘The Boxer,’” he says. “Musically, it just blew my mind. The instrumental apart alone was just like, ‘holy crap.’”
Alexander’s musical creations have also been similarly transformative. Because of their evocative nature, his songs have been used in more than 40 television and film scenes — from ABC family drama Brother and Sisters to Fox forensic crime show Bones and USA Network crime comedy White Collar.
“White Collar used my song ‘Feels Like the End’ at the end of an episode recently and it was awesome,” says Alexander. “It was put together beautifully, edited just right. This was an edge-of-your-seat, really great end to the episode and the song placement was really strong.”
The television and film placements have also helped strengthen Alexander’s worldwide presence.
“The TV thing is pretty great because in one fell swoop you are reaching millions and then as these shows go across the pond and re-air overseas, you are just getting in front of millions all over the planet,” he says. “That’s really driven my business extremely well and I’m always grateful for those placements.”
Alexander’s worldwide following can see him live this summer and fall as he tours in support of Mono Solo in the United States, followed by his first-ever performances in Sweden in July and a return to Europe this fall.
Purchase Mono Solo at iTunes now.
DISCLAIMER: We are not actually betting a dozen custom-built Fender guitars. SORRY!