Alex G looks a bit lost. Ahead of the release of his new album, House of Sugar, out from Domino Records, I meet Alex Giannascoli—the singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist who releases music under the monkier (Sandy) Alex G—at the long-standing Economy Candy on the Lower East Side. It’s a literal house of sugar, lined with swirly lollipop towers, chocolate cigarettes, and every flavor of Jelly Belly a sugar addict could conjure in a focus group. For the late ’90s kids who came of age listening to Alex G’s music in their dorm rooms, plucking their Fender Squires along to “Brite Boy,” the store is a dream come true, with mountains of Pez dispensers and Nerds Ropes and baskets of now-banned child-targeted consumer products that somehow get a pass here. But despite the sign hanging from the ceiling that says “Like A Kid in A Candy Store,” Giannascoli is a bit dazed amidst the saccharine fantasia, his gaze lingering on some bygone baseball cards. The stimulation is a bit much.
We move to the hotel across the street, and he softens as we speak, his sentences trailing off and then bending into something else altogether—something like little revelations, marked by widened eyes and a relaxing of the shoulders. In an industry climate where the crafting of a “brand identity” has become currency, often overriding the music itself, Giannascoli is refreshingly unsure of himself. “I have the music,” he says. “There’s just so much music. I guess it’s just the way like, you’re in a bookstore, and you don’t have a book in mind. You’re just going to pick the one with the coolest cover.” But they say don’t judge a book by its cover, I remind him. “I judge them by the cover. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with it. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with, like, needing a brand or something. I just don’t really… I don’t know what mine is.”
While he shrugs off any spiritual significance of the parenthetical in his moniker, names are vital to Giannascoli’s project, which features grounding songs with meandering verses and cracked-voice confessions in the imagined memory of lives passed by. His discography is traced with the fuzzy outlines of neighbors, friends, past lovers, split selves: Adam, Bobby, Sandy (inevitably). There’s “Mary” on his 2015 album Trick, the wolfish girl Alex “wants to kiss,” with “big red eyes and big red lips,” and “big sharp teeth and big fat hips.” There’s of course, on that album, also “Sarah,” who I, Sarah, can’t resist asking about. “I wrote it at a time I was being manipulative,” Giannascoli says. “The character is manipulative.”
Alex G’s Grimm-inflected dream rock is perhaps no more evident than on House of Sugar, where he swaps the amorphous girls next door with a dark streak for names with more specific cultural resonance—particularly, one half of the ill-fated siblings in Hansel and Gretel. On the chilling “Gretel,” he loosely follows the narrative of the tale in which two children are lured by a cannibalistic witch into a house made of candy—not unlike where we had just stood, eyeing the hypnotic rows of tooth-rotting delights. He’s hesitant to ascribe the reference as the overarching theme of the album, keen to preserve its status in the uncut haze of pre-interpretation. (“It’s a nice way to say you don’t really know what the fuck you’re talking about.”) “But I guess if I have to narrow it down, that probably sums it up,” he tells me. “You’re indulging, and then the thing you’re indulging in preys on you. You get lured in and then you eat all the candy until it kills you.” He stops and looks a couple feet past my left shoulder. “It’s like you’ve got to gobble it all up as soon as you get the chance, because you might not get the chance again.”
Luckily for him, and his robust, Reddit-primed fan base, Alex G has gotten his chance again with House of Sugar. The music itself is “bubbly,” he says, with the sort of “sinister playfulness” of little kids lost in the woods. As Giannascoli told The Fader, the song from which the album title is sourced is a nod to SugarHouse, a Philadelphia casino he used to sometimes frequent with his brother. It started out as a song for his brother, and blew up from there. “I was kind of just being silly on piano, making a fun song about a casino. It seemed like something that old people would think is funny too. It has this corny vibe.” (“I shouldn’t say old people,” he adds, before correcting himself. “Aged.”) The casino is housed in a former sugar refinery, which makes sense; sweets, gambling, most other things in life—“it’s all trying to find any void and fill it. That’s the nature of my job. I’m selling candy, basically.” But if Alex G’s music is candy, it’s not bubblegum; it’s a dark chocolate turtle, the kind that sits shinily behind glass at a fudge shop near a beach—sweet, yes, but also plenty salty and layered with a nutty texture that leaves one with the lingering taste of late summer nostalgia.
It’s at once soothing and searching, infused with the kind of sentimental pull that makes someone stop in their tracks when they hear the opening chords and remember the first time they heard the song (or the hundredth). It possesses the ache of self-revelation, as well as the will to keep it going—the dearth of empty promises and the pleasure in trying to fill them. With music, with gambling, with fairy tales, with a Gobsmacker (or dozens). All in moderation, they say, but where’s the fun in that?
Special Thanks: Economy Candy