ALEXANDRA SAVIOR IN PORLAND, OREGON, NOVEMBER 2016. PHOTOS: ANTHONY BLASKO.
Alexandra Savior insists on not fitting into an industry-made mold. The 21-year old singer-songwriter (who goes by her first and middle name) cites an early, negative experience with a record company as having pushed her to maintain strict control over her image in order to avoid being prettified and pigeon-holed. Staying true to that sentiment, she directs her own music videos, draws her album art, and crafts her limited edition merchandise by hand. Now, it appears that she’s settling into her version of “Alexandra Savior”—artfully combining seemingly effortless vocals with haunting, cinematic melodies. Her debut album Belladonna of Sadness (Columbia) is slated for release in April of 2017.
Born in Portland, Oregon, Savior was raised with the sounds of Pink Floyd, Muddy Waters, and the Beatles filling the halls of her home. She was further influenced by her older brother, who was also a musician, and moved to Los Angeles straight out of high school in order to pursue music full-time. While she found collaborators there, such as the Arctic Monkeys‘ Alex Turner—who co-wrote her recent single “Mystery Girl“—she was ultimately unimpressed with the city’s superficial social scene. Just last month, she moved back to her hometown, though she won’t be staying still for long.
Come the New Year, we’re pleased to announce that Savior will be joining Hamilton Leithauser on a West Coast tour that begins January 15. While she was out east in New York earlier this fall, Interview spoke to Savior at the Guggenheim Museum about her forthcoming debut album, her time in L.A., and the music industry.
BORN & BASED: Portland, Oregon.
TITLING HER ALBUM BELLADONNA OF SADNESS: Actually, I changed the name so much. I came up with it when I saw this Japanese anime film from 1973; it was about witchcraft. So I named it after that and really fell in love with it.
THE MOVE TO L.A.: I moved to an apartment in Hollywood behind a strip club called the Seventh Veil. It was terrifying. I got signed about a month later. I moved immediately. Those first couple months were very hot—[it was the] first time I’ve ever been hot in my life.
When I was in L.A. I felt like I was missing out on everything because I never connected. I tried to be a part of the whole social thing and get in all the groups, but it was really anticlimactic for me. It was weird. At first I didn’t understand, because I had only ever met real people that genuinely wanted to talk to you because they liked you. And so when I went to L.A. and everybody was like, “So, what do you do?” I thought they were actually interested.
BEING A PRODUCT: It’s hard to have people try to mold you into a version of what they find sellable, or a version of somebody else, or a version of everybody else. When I was 16 I went to a record label … I did a showcase and sang them three of my songs. Afterwards they sat me on a stool and asked me, “Do you want to be like Pink or Katy Perry?” And I thought, “Oh, what have I gotten myself into?” After that I was going to dedicate myself to be whatever I was going to be—into my own mold. I figured the only way I can do that is to just do everything myself, and to have it be what it is instead of having to conceptualize it.
DIRECTING THE VIDEO FOR “SHADES”: I recorded it with a camcorder and edited it myself—that’s why it’s so shitty. [laughs] … I had no concept. It wasn’t like, “Oh, what aspect of this was inspired by the song?” or anything. It was just that my best friend and I wanted to go to Death Valley for free. I was like, “I can write this off on my taxes!” So we went to Goodwill and bought a cheap suit and a wig.
AN EARLY START: I was in a theater production called The Wiz, Wicked, and The Wizard of Oz. It was a medley of the three The Wizard of Oz tales. I always did musical theater—actually, I wrote a play when I was 12, which was very Margot Tenenbaum of me. [laughs] I don’t remember what it was called, but it was about my parents’ divorce, on accident. … My dad [also] got me a ukulele, or maybe it was for my brother. I would never play the ukulele now, but when I was 14 it was great. I wrote a song called “Lazy Daisy Crazy.”
STAYING BUSY: I’m hand-sewing merchandise—making little undies to sell. I hand-painted all of these tiny trinket boxes. I do all the [album] artwork, so it all ties in together with my own style of drawing. I hand-painted all these various things to sell with special additions of the record. I’ve made t-shirts. I’ve also been writing a lot.
When I’m working on music the best thing for me is to have eight different projects going at one time. I’m a young technological baby, so my attention span is super short. I always have to have a lot of different things going on, because if I try to sit down with one thing it doesn’t work. Working with Alex [Turner], he’s very structured. We’d go to work and he would say, “Okay, we’re working on this,” and I was like, “Let’s go get a coffee! Do you want to go here? Let’s watch TV!”
DREAM COLLABORATION: This guy named Adrian Younge who made a record called Something About April. It’s really inspirational. He almost does these ’70s movie scores, but it’s modern. I think he’s fucking amazing—a genius. I would love to work with him.
FEARS ON THE ROAD: It’s exhausting. It feels like you have a rock inside of you that you can’t get out. It’s a lot of waking up at five AM … The thing I fear the most about touring is I don’t want to be swept out of my inspiration and my morals and my own personal code. That’s one of the most important things for me—to maintain control.
BEING HEARD: I really liked the show we had in London, because it was the first one where people came precisely for me. It was really special, because I’m usually opening, doing a press thing, showcase, or festival. That was the first time where it was my show. It was really fun, but it was also the first time where I felt like I couldn’t leave the dressing room. … That’s when I realized that people are listening to my music outside of my home circle. It was cool because people were singing the words, and that was way more than I thought [would happen]—it was nice.
ALEXANDRA SAVIOR WILL JOIN HAMILTON LEITHAUSER ON TOUR STARTING JANUARY 15, 2017 IN PHOENIX, ARIZONA. FOR TOUR DATES AND MORE ON SAVIOR, VISIT HER WEBSITE.