Alexa Wilding has been dubbed one of “music’s hippest chicks” by The New York Post. Her most recent EP, “Wolves,” was released on July 8, and was written during one of the toughest times in her life: her son Lou was battling cancer. Her eclectic vocals mixed with messages of hope and inspiration makes “Wolves” a very interesting listen.
We chatted with Alexa about recording “Wolves” in one day, what it’s like being a twin mama and musician, as well as finding “a room of one’s own.”
Modern Vinyl: Where did the inspiration for the “Wolves” EP come from?
Alexa Wilding: I wrote “Wolves” on a toy piano in the hospital while one of my baby twin sons underwent (successful) cancer treatment. After one month of staring out the hospital window while he slept, feeling scared and lost, I realized how badly I needed an outlet for myself. The songs came fast, and mostly I was remembering times from before I became a mother — life on the road, relationships, etc. — as an escape, really. By mining memory, I made peace with the past so I could best be present for my family.
MV: Why did you decide to go with Tom Beaujour as one of the co-producers for the EP?
AW: I got to know Tom when we all toured together with Jennifer O’Connor and Tim Foljahn; he produces their records. We actually got into an argument at SXSW; I think I took some criticism about my live performance to heart, and I wrestled with his words for years after. Flash forward, [to] when I was done with “the hospital songs,” I called him, quite literally from the hospital family lounge and said, “I’m ready to make this record. Now!” He must have thought I was nuts, he said, “Now?”
I wanted to work with him, revisit the criticism, because I realized he was simply pushing me to get out of my comfort zone, and we did just that in the studio, hence the fuller, more muscular sound. Best decision, even though the timing was insane.
MV: What was it like recording the album live in one day?
AW: Thrilling. It’s the old-fashioned way to make a record, and Tom assembled the best musicians, all of us friends. It was between chemo cycles for my son. All I had was a day to lay the bones down, and we did it. The energy was so on that we even kept the scratch vocals for “Durga,” as well as all my original keyboard parts. When I listen to the EP now, I see us all sitting in a circle playing our instruments, and I remember how supported I felt during such a tough time.
MV: You have your own record label, Tiny Prism. How did that get started?
AW: I stole the idea from my pals Au Revoir Simone. Years ago, I couldn’t find the right situation for myself, and they said, “Just do what we do, put it out yourself!” So I did. While it’s tough doing everything yourself, it’s liberating, because I call the shots. That said, if the right label comes along, it will be a relief to have support after so many years of being solo.
While social media has made it possible for artists to promote themselves sans team, it can also be super consuming and take away from the artistic practice. I struggle with this, daily, as I know other musicians in my place do as well. A curse and a blessing!
MV: How did you cope with your son’s cancer diagnosis and treatment?
AW: By writing “Wolves.” My son was diagnosed on his and his brother’s first birthday, so I had yet to even come to terms with being a new (twin) mom, let alone being thrown into a mother’s worst nightmare. When I became a mother and wasn’t sure what that would mean for my music, people would say, “Well, your music will still be there when your children are older,” and that used to really upset me. When you’re someone who makes stuff, whether it be songs, words, images, whatever, you can’t put that impulse on hold; it’s how you process the world, how you live. Returning to my craft, albeit under horrible circumstances, was really reaffirming to me as an artist, and it made me stronger as a mother.
MV: How has that influenced your music?
AW: I used to overthink everything; now I just work really hard on the writing, the sounds. Because there was no end goal with “Wolves” — I wasn’t sure what the future held for me and my family at the time — I put all of myself into it, even totally uncool influences, like the ’90s VH1 rock I listened to on the radio at the hospital [featuring] lots of Chris Isaak and Tom Petty! I worked tirelessly on the harmonies, the arrangements, an attention to detail that was new to me. I think it led to a more polished sound than my previous albums. Forced to be a warrior as a mother, I became more fearless as a songwriter, too.
MV: Would you say your music, specifically “Wolves,” could help others in similar positions seek solace?
AW: I hope so. The EP doesn’t specifically address what I was going through; rather it looks back on times in my life when I couldn’t rise up, “do as the wolves do,” and fight. So in that sense, I hope listeners will relate to those stories: relationships that never quite took off, desires that were never acted upon, people I couldn’t say goodbye to. These are universal themes, painful blunders we’ve all made.
MV: Are there any plans for a full LP in the works?
AW: Yes, I am deep in writing a full LP now. Even though life is back more or less to normal — if that is possible after such an experience — I find I am applying the same discipline to the writing as I did in the hospital. I depend more than ever on my music as a place for myself, as being a mother it is difficult to find “a room of one’s own!”
MV: How do you manage to find the balance being a mom to twins and your music?
AW: It’s hard. Part of me was ashamed to tell people that I wrote a record while my son was in treatment; I was afraid they would accuse me of being a bad mother. But it is so important for mothers to take care of themselves so they can best be there for their kids. I make sure to carve out time for myself, when they’re sleeping, etc., so I can keep my practice going strong. It’s important, mamas!
MV: Anything else you’d like to add?
AW: It’s in crisis that we find out who we are. Don’t be afraid of the dark moments. As Leonard Cohen sings in “Anthem,” the cracks are how the light gets in. It’s true.
“Wolves” is available now via Tiny Prism Records, and can be purchased on iTunes. If you’re in New York City on August 10th, you can catch Alexa at Ludlow House.