“Alexandra’s songs are sad and literate and hopefully hopeless.” – Paul Sanchez
New Orleans is the place I was always coming to. I’ve been fascinated with it since I was a child. As a kid, I’d cook red beans and rice, and when I was in college I used to order coffee from Cafe du Monde. My mom took me to hear a lot of zydeco when I was very young; I was a big Beausoleil fan. Right before graduating from college I took a trip here with my best friend and went to the Saturn Bar. The guy I was seeing at the time had told me it was the coolest bar in the world. Our taxi driver didn’t want to take us there; he said it was no place for two young girls, but I loved it regardless.
I was living in Virginia before I moved here. I had my own solo music project, which was doing very well, and I had a band based out of DC called The DBC (District Basement Collective). We won the Musician’s Choice Award the year Chris Whitley, who was one of my heroes, was one of the judges. Upon falling in love and getting engaged, my fiancé got a job in New Orleans. I moved here with him, weeping, as I didn’t want to live in the Deep South at that time. I didn’t know what I was going to do musically, and I felt like I was abandoning the life I had created for myself. I moved here August 1, 2000. It was so hot, and for the first week or so I thought I had ruined my life.
And then two weeks later, when I was driving home on a Friday afternoon, I got stuck in traffic on Saint Charles by Audubon Park. I started looking up at the palm trees and at the neutral ground. This great stillness entered my soul, and I suddenly thought, “I love this place and I don’t ever want to live anywhere else.” When I finally got home I told my fiancé what had happened and he said, “That’s so funny, because the same thing happened to me.” New Orleans gets into you that way. It’s one of the great loves of my life, and I now can’t imagine my life without it. When I lived in Virginia and New York, people were always eyeing me a little askance and saying, “Are you wearing a feather boa pinned to your head as a turban?” Then I moved here and suddenly there were streets full of people doing just that, and I felt like I’d found my tribe.
My first gig here was singing backup for Paul Sanchez at Carrollton Station at one of his Jazzfest shows in 2001. My producer and friend Tim Sommer introduced me to him. We were planning what ended up being my record ‘Spyglass,’ which got picked as one of the Times-Picayune’s 10 best record’s of 2003. Tim also introduced me to John Boutte. One of my sweetest memories of John is running into him on Rampart Street with my mother, and when he was introduced to her he serenaded her with ‘Ave Maria’ there on the sidewalk. At Jazzfest 2005 I sang backup for John in the Gospel Tent. It was one of the biggest thrills of my performing life.
Not long after moving here, I used to go sing with Jeremy Davenport at the Ritz. In college I sang a lot of jazz, and it was so fun to sing standards again. It was like being the Keely Smith to his Louis Prima. I don’t believe in tying myself down to just one genre of music any more than I believe in eating just one kind of food for the rest of my life. I want to try every kind I like.
Theresa Andersson covered my song ‘Good Girl’ on her record ‘Shine’ in 2003. I remember being at Tip’s, watching her get a sold-out audience to sing along to the words I’d written. It was truly a thrilling moment.
In 2005, I also got booked to play the Bonnaroo festival. They had an Upcoming Artists Tent, where I got to play a set every single day of the festival. I was in pretty amazing company: Brandi Carlisle was also at that tent (although she took one look at the stage, declared it to be too small and too muddy, and never came back). I felt like a country bumpkin because I was so happy to be there that I thanked every single person I came across. Brett Dennen was one of the ones I remember best. That was the biggest booking I’d ever gotten, and I didn’t even have a manager. It seemed like The Tipping Point. Sam Craft, who is my musical true love and longtime bandmate, played that festival with me; he played violin and theremin. We unwisely camped and our tents flooded. We hadn’t picked a very good camping spot, but luckily my friend who’s in Modest Mouse offered us spots on their bus for the night.
Just as the booking at Bonnaroo indicated that my career was about to take off, I got hit with a double-whammy that took me off the beaten path for a while. First, I was in a crippling accident, and later that year, while still recovering from what would turn out to be the first of many surgeries, Hurricane Katrina came my way.
I spent the next few years in exile from New Orleans, living and touring in and around New York, Montreal and Providence. Eventually my ability to tour and play live was compromised by ongoing medical issues. I still walk with difficulty and can’t stand for very long. I may be approaching some kind of world record for knee surgeries & procedures.
In 2008, I moved back to New Orleans, to be in the city I love. The first year back I spent at home in a wheelchair and on crutches recovering from another surgery. I spent a lot of time singing to my dog and my friends in my living room. And while this wasn’t the path I’d imagined, I believe that all this pain and hardship somehow led to a more intimate and joyful way of making music. When I play gigs these days there’s no time to waste. I’m so happy to be there, after having lost it for a while, that I can connect more deeply with people than I did before Katrina and the accident. These days I play sitting down and yet my audience is swaying, they sing along, they cry, and they laugh. These are the shows I always wanted to play. It’s very Zen, you have to give it all up to get what you were seeking all along.
My beautiful and unusual live band, The Grapefruits, leans heavily to wooden instruments and musicians who share a classical background. I call my music ‘dreamabilly’, mixing my Virginia-bluegrass roots with my love of British sparkly rock, and everything in between. I sing, play acoustic, electric and resonator guitar, piano and percussion. Sam Craft, my longtime musical collaborator sings and plays violin, guitar, and percussion. His brother Jack Craft plays cello and sings. Renowned local singer and songwriter Alexis Marceaux sings and plays drums and keyboards. Our live shows are hushed, heartfelt, and hilarious, with a deeply felt beat that never gives up.
I am preparing to take the band into the studio with Rick Nelson, a recording engineer and multi-instrumentalist who plays with The Polyphonic Spree and The Twilight Singers. Rick and I share a musical aesthetic sensibility and sense of humor that makes our collaboration a joy.
I write memorable musical themes, but my songs aren’t necessarily formulaic pop; there’s an element of mystery and suspense. I like to build anticipation: much in the way of a Beatles’ song, you don’t get the chorus when you’re expecting it. The longer I write, the more simple & Guthrie-esque my songs get, but I always look for the singable, hummable hook as well as (I hope) beautiful and poetic lyrics.
During Jazzfest 2011, I was hanging out in Paul Sanchez’s front yard and composed a goofy song for a six-year-old boy. I recorded it on my iPhone, and emailed it to his father, who’s a Threadhead. In return I got an email saying, “If you’re looking to record and need any help, Threadhead Records would love to help you.” And thus a partnership was born.
Threadhead Records is proud to announce this project, and this partnership.