A few months ago, we came across New York based musician Alexa Wilding and found ourselves entranced. Her music, which features breathy vocals that rise and fall around perfectly plucked guitar notes, somehow takes the chill out of our late winter commute and lends some magic to the swirling snow in the air. Add to that Alexa’s evocative songwriting, which conjures up the fantasy and imagination of childhood, and suddenly the listener is presented with the perfect soundtrack to turn a subway ride into an adventure. Given all of these qualities, it is no wonder that she has been compared to the likes of Florence Welch and Stevie Nicks. This week, Alexa took time out of her busy schedule preparing for the rerelease of her album Coral Dust (to be accompanied by a performance at Rockwood Music Hall this evening) to tell us about her inspiration, influences, and favorite NYC shopping destinations.
When did you first know that you wanted to make music?
Really early on. As I child I danced in ballets like “The Nutcracker,” and when you’re that little, it’s really easy to blur reality and fantasy. You get lost in the lights and the snow and the music. I felt like Lucy in “The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe” when she climbs into Narnia! I missed that escape when I stopped dancing. So at twelve I got really serious about listening to music. I would listen for hours on big headphones to Kate Bush, Joni Mitchell, whatever music my mother had lying around and I found it had the same effect - I could go some place else! I felt like I had stumbled upon the biggest secret. One day my mother’s boyfriend left an old guitar at our apartment, and I found my permanent key to that other place. I started writing immediately and never looked back. For me making music is pretty magical. You can time travel, revisit old friends and lovers, live out a dream or a nightmare. But much like the ballet, you can go home at the end of the night, safe and sound.
Where do you find inspiration for your songwriting?
I usually write a song when I’m not sure how I feel about something. It’s my way of safely sitting with an experience, a person, a memory. I’m not as brave in real life, so for me music is a place to explore feelings, no matter how difficult, dark or exciting. There is a joy in coming to terms with a feeling, so while my music can border on dark, I hope the joy of revelation comes through as well. Those are the best songs, I think, the ones where you can totally identify with the singer’s experience, even though it is their own. I’m inspired by New York, having grown up here it is my greatest love after my husband! And while I am a city girl, I am also a plant and flower person, and I find much inspiration from spending time with my plants. Taking care of a small seedling and watching it grow, sometimes struggle, then bloom is akin to writing a song. It makes me very happy.
Who has had the greatest influence over your music?
I tend to revisit the music that hooked me in the first place, the music I heard at home and growing up downtown. Patti Smith, Nico, Lou Reed, Television, Kate Bush, and of course Joni Mitchell, Laura Nyro, Stevie Nicks. This gang never gets old and I check in with them again and again, they remind me to always remain that 12 year old with her head phones! But in terms of a direct influence, Nico and Leonard Cohen. Nico’s solo records with John Cale changed my life when I first heard them. They are sparse and mystical and medieval and from the future at the same time. It’s like going to Narnia! The same with Cohen. It’s their own universe. I strive for that with my own work. The biggest gift would be for a listener to say, this sounds like she’s singing on the moon, I don’t know where I am but I’d like to stay here for a while.
What was your most memorable moment on tour?
Au Revoir Simone took me out on my first tour a few years ago. I was green, I had no idea how tour worked. I followed them around like I was the fourth Simone, the little sister! The first couple of shows were rocky for me - what was I thinking, going out there by myself with just a guitar and my voice? When we got to San Francisco I was determined to fix the situation. I don’t know if it was the beautiful old music hall or the fact that we all did our hair together back stage like in my ballet days, but that night I went out there and one by one people moved closer to the stage until I had the whole hall. I couldn’t believe it. I learned patience that night. I was so grateful that they gave me a chance and in return I gave them everything I had.
What was your favorite on-stage outfit?
Same tour, I wore the same dress every night! It was a black lace Rachel Antonoff dress and I wore it to shreds. Good thing she let me keep it! I was so scared those first few nights that this dress was my secret weapon. I keep all my stage dresses in a special cluster in my closet. They bring back special memories for me. Clothes are truly magical. They can transform you into who you want to be! Fake it til you make it?
What kind of clothes have you most excited for spring?
Up until last year I was always a winter girl. My style seemed to go out the window when the weather got warm, it was really frustrating! I’m pretty boring when it comes to my style in that once I find something that works, that’s my uniform. So last year I felt like I got it down and I lived in leotards, full skirts and wife legged pants, belts and espadrilles. I’m excited to revisit this again! It’s my take on Diana Vreeland meets Stevie Nicks.
What is your favorite place to shop?
Hands down my favorite shop in New York is Albertine in the West Village. I grew up in that neighborhood so it feels like home to me, and Kyung’s shop feels like my bedroom. It’s so feminine! She has the most perfect mix of new lines (A Detacher, Mina Stone) and vintage. I always leave perfectly satisfied. My last big purchases there were a Mina Stone moon dress and a vintage floral floor length tea dress from the 20s. Close runners up would be Legacy on Thompson Street (same thing, mix of new and old) and of course, Geminola.
If you could have a super power, what would it be?
To be invisible. I’d love to be a good fairy and make things right for people. I’m too superstitious to do anything terribly naughty!
Buy tickets to the Coral Dust rerelease show.
Images via Paola Suhonen and Sonja Georgevich.
Is there a designer, artist, or musician that you would like to see featured? Tell us in the comments.