Glimpses of the South Florida Scene is a weekly column devoted to the
artists thriving within Broward and Palm Beach counties featuring
interviews with the folks making it happen. This week, Alexander.
Ryan Alexander is a superhero. When I met with him to ask him about his band (entirely his brainchild), his charity work (it's extensive), and his inspirations (a toss-up between his closest friends and the sociopolitical issues he feels are most profound), he had to squeeze me in before a meeting about his and a few others' project to microlend sustainable supplies to areas outside of Port-au-Prince, Haiti.
"People are going there now and finding mass shortages of food and resources," he explained. "It's not going directly to Port-au-Prince, but it's helping people from there so they can get out and rebuild." Ryan, without pomp or pretense, has taken it upon himself to promote awareness about social struggles here and afar, and it is difficult to imagine how he finds the time to have a band. It is lucky, then, that his views, mission, and band function as one entity and luckier still that the music itself is never preaching but always romantic, thoughtful, and kind of gorgeous too.
Ahead of Saturday's headlining show at Respectable Street with Miami's Ex Norwegian and West Palm Beach's Die Stinkin', Ryan Alexander discusses Dashboard Confessional and having a song on The Real World and assesses other local acts.
You have a lot of spirit behind these tracks -- in what ways are you
using your music to discuss the problems you feel go unnoticed?
The music and being proactive definitely go hand-in-hand; one does not
exist without the other for me. Throughout history, art has dictated
the culture; I think that if you're trying to foster a new type of
culture, you need to have a new type of art. The music is an expression
of what I feel is important to write about socially: homelessness, sex
trafficking, child slavery, accelerated consumerism. When you're
creative, it unlocks something in you; it allows your brain to open and
think about things differently. The art I'm making is reflecting a part
of our culture that isn't saluted or taken seriously -- the part where
20-somethings are willing to give everything and rethink things.
Your song "Cholesterol" reminds me of those ideas -- can you talk about
what inspired that song in particular?
That song addresses the most offensive concepts. When I was writing it,
I thought about what I grew up being taught: that America is the savior
of the world. And then as my eyes opened, what I saw was a lot of
laziness, judgment, hatred for certain groups. "Cholesterol" is very
personal, but I think it has a very public type of gravity. It demands
that people listen. It's like speaking to people -- like saying, "You're
the talent. You're the hands and the feet that bring these changes."
Our city has the chance to ask questions that no other city is asking.
The question is, can we stop drinking long enough to ask it?
What is your favorite part about being a band and living in this city,
then -- and your least favorite?
There's nowhere for us to go but up. Musically, artistically,
culturally -- we literally have nothing but the ability for forward
motion and progression. I grew up down here but amongst the old money
that is Fort Lauderdale. I don't see myself living anywhere else. I
feel like I'm invested here. My least favorite part is that it gets to
be Friday night and the only thing to do, it seems, is go to a bar.
There's not anything really unique happening. I'd love to see more art
shows, more pool parties, more bands playing. But I see those things
coming; there will be people coming up with cooler things. I want our
city on the map. I don't want to be the next L.A., but I want people to
have good ideas, good things to do, to be pushed artistically.
So do you feel like you and your friends are alone in this music scene
here, or do you feel like you're part of something bigger?
For all the crappy bands in the area, there are some amazing bands and
songwriters. I'm influenced by what's come out of South Florida already
-- like Further Seems Forever. They're representations of a really good
music culture that's dwarfed and hard to find but exists. There's
John Ralston from Lake Worth... Goolsby from Boca. There's a new breed
of bands from here, and they're actual artists. They don't do the hype
thing; they're not genius marketers; they just write really freakin'
good songs. I think that's going to foster a new age of promoters and
venues. As the economy continues to crumble, fewer bands are going to
make the drive down here. The natural response is either all of our
culture dies -- which I refuse to let happen -- or bands in the area are
going to start playing out and give us things to do on the weekend.
What's your favorite show you've played here in South Florida?
Definitely a solo show I did with Dashboard at Propaganda last November.
I knew that he was playing this show because I know the promoter for
the venue, Steve Rullman, from the Honeycomb. He's kind of like the
gatekeeper of the West Palm music scene. So he told me, "Chris is
playing." And Chris is a friend of mine, and he said, "I'm playing this
secret show." I was just stoked to see him play. Not only do I think
the music is awesome but he's a really big influence in my life. The
night before the show, I texted Steve and said, "Is anyone opening for
Chris?" and he was like, "Yeah, you are." That was his response! I was
thinking "What the freakin heck? When were you gonna tell me?" And he
goes, "Yeah, Chris asked me awhile back, and I forgot to tell you."
Something like that -- I was so elated, I can't even remember! Someone
had broken into my house and stolen all my guitars, and Chris let me
borrow his for the night. So I played a show opening for him, with his
guitar. I was playing songs that were influenced by his writing, and I
was opening for his show in a venue and a scene that he developed. I
realized the absolute smallness of my role in this scene, but I also saw
the potential of it.
You're a manager at local coffeehouse Brew. As a means of promoting
both the scene here and yourself, do you shamelessly play your own
tracks there as background music?
No, not at all! It's a really weird thing. I remember when we had that
song on The Real World. A bunch of my friends and I were watching it,
and I got this sick-to-my-stomach feeling. I was like, "The production
quality doesn't even sound as good as it does on the album; my voice
sounds bad." It was a fat-little-kid-in-a-swimsuit feeling. I get kind
of shy if I'm not playing it live -- even in my friends' cars. It's
like, I want you to listen to it, just not while I'm here, please.
Alexander. With Ex Norwegian and Die Stinkin. 9 p.m. Saturday, June 26, at Respectable Street, 518 Clematis St., West Palm Beach. Call 561-832-9999, or visit here.