This weekend, many of the live music fans among us will be making the trek up to Central Florida in search of the smorgasbord of sounds that will be the inaugural Orlando Calling Festival. Put the Pixies and Dr. Dog atop this writer's personal list. Especially with the gaping void left by the demise of closer-to-home Langerado, it's really all we got within a reasonable drive.
There is a glimmer of pride for the local music set in all this too: Civilian. The band lead by fiery-haired singer Ryan Alexander, formerly known as Alexander, won its way onto Orlando Calling Festival's Republic Stage by overpowering some 20 other bands in a two day battle of the bands contest. Outside of its home turf, the emotionally charged four-piece -- consisting of Ryan Alexander on vocals and guitar, Alex Bennett also on vocals and guitar, Nash Nardone on drums and Nick Nardone on bass -- drew a large crowd to one of Orlando's prominent live music venues, Firestone, to take the grand prize and win its way onto Saturday's lineup.
We caught up with the personable Alexander while he was looking for some odd jobs in Orlando -- which is now his part time base -- to make ends meet, and asked him about how his band was feeling going into the gig and what other changes have occurred since changing his band's moniker.
New Times: Congrats on winning that battle of the bands and landing on the inaugural Orlando Calling Festival, can you describe what that experience has been like so far?
Ryan Alexander: We competed with about 20 or more bands that are local to the Orlando area, so that was a challenge. Having had to start over with a new band, we were really worried about our ability to draw in a town that only one of us lives in, and only having lived there for a period of two months. We ended up having the largest draw of any of the bands, and played a pretty big show at Firestone for the final stage of the competition. We see that there are alot of people that love us as individuals a whole lot and really helped us promote the show. We are honored to be playing Orlando Calling on Saturday.
I hear you had to play a couple of shows to win your way through?
Yes, it was kind of expensive to drive back and forth twice to play shows as most of us live in Fort Lauderdale. We won't make any money to cover gas with the win, but it was fun.
But you are getting paid to perform the Orlando Calling Festival I hope?
So through your experience so far, do you think there will be another Orlando Calling next year?
It depends on the turnout. The people putting it on aren't looking for anything except profit. I think Saturday will do well, Sunday may struggle.
At Orlando Calling you are scheduled to perform at 11:40 am, have you ever gigged so early?
This will be the earliest show we have ever played. We normally don't even play before 11:40 pm much less am! In an industry that is almost solely operated in favor of nightlife, it's going to be odd setting, an alarm to load in and play a show.
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Will you play former Alexander material too?
We don't play anything pre-Civilian. Everything is new. Actually, I had written and demo'd an entire new Alexander record that we ended up having to scrap because of the name change and our desire of creating a new sound. A couple of those songs were springboards for the Civilian songs, but we outgrew them rather quickly.
About the name change from Civilian from Alexander, was there more to it than simply having the same nom de plume as Edward Sharpe's side project, Alexander?
When we started the band, six years ago, we didn't have the foresight to trademark the band name because there weren't any other bands really operating under that moniker. The name change has been both frustrating and liberating. It was frustrating because we had a relatively large fan base that we obviously weren't able to completely transfer, and all of the money, time, sweat, equity, tours and albums were something that we had to leave behind. However, it has been liberating in that it has given us, as Civilian, the chance to break the mold we had unintentionally created for ourselves.
Besides the name change, any sonic differences in the two projects?
The difference between Civilian and Alexander is that we decided to stop trying to write songs that were inspired by other songs. I stopped writing on multiple instruments and decided to focus on guitar. Alex brings a completely different element to the band that we didn't have with Alexander. We are being intentional about making the songs as musical as we can. We grew up in a musical culture that just plays as loud and hard as humanly possible and we are trying to move out of that. The new songs are noticeably more vocally intensive and a good bit more rhythmically complex.
How is that Kickstarter campaign working out?
It's coming along slower than I would like. Enough said.
Well, tell us, how much funding does it take to nail down studio time with Dan Hannon, the producer you intend on using for your album?
We have raised $3,300 of the $8,000 we need. [Donate to Civilian's Kickstarter project here]
How far along are you in recording your album?
We head to Atlanta the day after Thanksgiving to track the new record. I can't really give a definite launch date, but we are hoping that it will be done shortly after the New Year. We have already recorded demos for the songs, so tracking will take us two weeks max.
Your Alexander albums always had a social-political edge, what issues are you going to grapple with in the new album?
I have been writing mostly about what's wrong with me. What I found was both shocking and revealing. I discovered that I am guilty of alienating people that I view as ignorant and writing them off. I found that I operate as though I were an island. I found that when faced with the option of choosing the well-being of the populace over my own, my well being takes priority the majority of the time, because after all, I earned it. I have been writing about life post-war, the hidden blessings of being in the lower class, why I made a terrible boss and businessman, the pro-life hypocrisy, Bin Laden, insurrection.
I know that you are a man with strong faith, explain how that works into your music?
No matter what opinion a person has in regards to faith, they sound crazy when they voice it. That said, in response to my faith, I am discovering there are nights when I go to sleep and wonder if there is anything guiding the lives of my friends and family. I wonder if the plight of the starving child or homeless widow is going unnoticed. I can tell you that my faith isn't as strong as I thought, although my spirituality is as important to me as my health. A lot of people can just ignore spiritual things. I can't. Trust me, I've tried. I am trying to land somewhere in terms of spirituality.
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Switching gears here, in this year's New Times' Best of issue, your were voted "Best Young Guy," has that accolade helped with the ladies?
My friends hassled me for a long time about that, but I was really honored. I wish it would help with the ladies. Girls terrify me. No superlative in the world can mask that.