JESSICA ALMON: I wanted to ask you about your name: how you chose it, what’s the story behind it.
ALEXA WILDING: My real last name is Georgevich, a Serbian last name. And I loved my last name, I didn’t have any issues with it, except—it was my parents’ name. I liked the idea of having my own, sort of a stage name. I come from a family of artists, and my mom had a stage name (she’s an actress), my dad’s parents were both opera singers in former Yugoslavia, so they all had stage names. So it was definitely something I grew up with: this idea that you could do that. When I started playing, it was just a practical thing; Georgevich is like the longest name ever, totally hard to pronounce, and I just wanted to start over. I remembered there was an Alexa Wilding who was a muse to the painter Dante Rossetti in the late-eighteen hundreds. So I thought, ‘That’s pretty funny—why don’t I just give it a whirl?” The minute I started going as Alexa Wilding, stuff just started happening for me. It was almost like I got to start over, putting confidence and power behind this new person. I saw it as aligning myself in a tradition of creative people that sort of used themselves as their work.
The other end of the story is when I started working with Tim Foljahn, my collaborator, (I write my songs, he adds incredible musical atmosphere to them), and he gave me all his records—he was in a band called Two Dollar Guitar—and I remember one night loading it onto my iPod and wandering around. This song came on called ‘Wilding’ and I was like, ‘That’s a sign!’ That sort of did it. And then because I can never do something just halfway, I ended up changing it—legally. And I got it tattooed to my wrist. So there’s no turning back!
JESSICA ALMON: Do you believe in signs?
ALEXA WILDING: Absolutely. I feel like there is such a thing as synchronicity. That name just really did it for me. I like that the word has ‘wild’ is in it. Because I really felt like I needed to free myself up a little bit and just go for it. I feel more like myself as Alexa Wilding than I did as Alexa Georgevich. I was very scared as Alexa Georgevich. I really wanted an opportunity to throw all the fear away and become one of the people I would read about. Hopefully!
JESSICA ALMON: You grew up in downtown New York. How has that inspired you?
ALEXA WILDING: You grow up around here, and you’re surrounded by people who are here for a reason. They’re here to do something, and they’re here to do something that normal people don’t do. My mom was a casting director for indie films and my dad was a filmmaker so I grew up in a house where I was supported, I was told: ‘Not only can you do whatever you want like all these people around you, but you better!’ So it was like a different kind of pressure. For most people it’s like, ‘You have to go to law school!’ In my house it was: ‘You better do something really brilliant.’ I think if anything, what’s unique about growing up in the city is the proximity to cool stuff happening—it’s everywhere! You grow up really believing that anything is possible. Most people don’t grow up around people who change their name, or perform for a living, so it definitely gives you courage to pave your own way. Seeing real life people doing artistic things, you learn that there’s value, aside from monetary value, to work.
JESSICA ALMON: You’ve lived in Brooklyn, so I have to ask: Brooklyn vs. Manhattan?
ALEXA WILDING: I’ve lived in Greenpoint, and then my husband Ian and I lived in Dumbo for about five years. We had one of the last artist warehouse lofts that you have to build out. I think there’s great energy in Brooklyn. Certain neighborhoods feel like downtown Manhattan felt to me growing up. It’s funny to watch the change. I remember in high school the East Village was the place to be. It wasn’t ‘til I was in college that people were even moving to Williamsburg. And now it’s like, you know, Bushwick! We might be moving to Clinton Hill, sort of on the edge of Bed Stuy. There’s this old New Yorker in me that’s like (shocked), ‘I’m moving to Bed Stuy?! No one will visit me! I will die!’ But it’s this incredible, vibrant place. Having lived in Manhattan again for this past year, it was a fun experience, but I’m really ready to go back to Brooklyn because there really isn’t much of a downtown anymore. It’s been pushed. To answer your question, I think Brooklyn’s great, it’s wonderful, and I’m excited to go back out there again because it’s a little more wild.
JESSICA ALMON: I read you were a ballerina as a child. Does that experience still influence you?
ALEXA WILDING: It does. As a child, I just lived and breathed ballet. I couldn’t believe that, when The Nutcracker season was happening, I got to leave school early and just join this surreal world. I loved the transformation that would happen: you’d show up in your normal clothes, and you’d go through this sort of time tunnel. By the time you’re out, your makeup is done, you could just become something different.
I think I took away a few things from
ballet. You learn to be very solitary and disciplined, because it’s just you. Thinking back, I was only six years old and I was keeping rhythm, learning my steps, how did I not screw up? I learned to be dedicated very early. Unfortunately, it also made me a total perfectionist.
I developed a relationship to music. I was really happy just doing what music said. That really stuck with me. And then when I got to be a teenager it became very clear that the world of ballet was a little too limiting; I started to realize I was a bit of a sensualist. I liked food! I liked a little more freedom. And so I stopped. I was definitely lost for a couple years and then I just missed music so much that I started writing songs.
But ballet, it affects everything. I mean, my God, I’m wearing a leotard today! I still take ballet class. And I think if anything, ballet is such a cult of beauty. There’s something very mannered about ballet, and my music’s similar I think. It’s mellow, but it’s not relaxed. There’s a lot going on, so you have to spend some time with it. Most of all, I just want it to be beautiful. You know, the world of ballet is ribbons and costumes and sets and fantasy. A lot of that is translated into my work as well. When I get dressed for a show, I often think a lot about what I’m wearing and how it’s going to help me translate what I’m trying to do
JESSICA ALMON: You have such a distinctive style. It’s a funny combination of a lot of things that I happen to really love, like Stevie Nicks and a bit like a Godard muse, there’s a little Alice in Wonderland in you… What does style mean to you and how does it relate to your music and the rest of your life?
ALEXA WILDING: It definitely goes back to the ballet roots, and the idea that there’s the right costume for what you need to do. I also went to girls’ school where you had to dress up every day, so I think between ballet and girls’ school, it really set me on my course. For instance, my first album, which was my EP called Alexa Wilding, I was definitely channeling Anna Karina. It was very urban, and very whimsical, too. Like ‘Black Diamond Day’ is a very whimsical song.
JESSICA ALMON: The video for ‘Black Diamond Day’ is so Anna Karina!
ALEXA WILDING: Yes! That’s a perfect example of costume fitting. When I approached Paola Suhonen, who is the designer for Ivana Helsinki and who did the video for me, she had already been dressing me for my shows at that time. So I said to her, ‘We should do something with diamonds!’ And she said, ‘Oh, no, diamonds are too obvious.’ And she had just done the polka dot collection, so we thought, ‘Why don’t we just do dots?’ And to me there was something very dark about it because by the end, it looks like she’s covered in a disease—she’s attacked by the polka dots! I worked very closely with Paola those two years I was promoting that EP because there seemed to be a kinship; her stuff is very 60’s, but also very urban, and a little Nancy Drew, too.
JESSICA ALMON: I noticed you often work with friends. What does collaboration mean to you?
ALEXA WILDING: I do all these collaborations, but it’s not like I sit down and say, ‘Who am I gonna tap into this time? Who am I gonna call?’ They seem to always happen very harmoniously and naturally. I just meet someone who I feel a kinship to and the next thing I know, we’re sort of collaborating in this way that’s very special.
For the new album, Coral Dust, I met Mina Stone, who is an incredible woman, an incredible designer, and an incredible chef. She makes these beautiful silky, hand-dyed pieces that are very Isadora Duncan meets Stevie Nicks. When I met her, I just knew I had to wear her pieces. So it’s very much what fits the mood. And yeah, then my every day style is the same thing. It always sort of vacillates between the Stevie Nicks thing, Anna Karina, and then there’s days when I’m totally like, ‘I just want to be Patti Smith today.’ (That just means I’m in pants.)
JESSICA ALMON: How did writing songs come about for you?
ALEXA WILDING: It came about in a very romantic, girls’ school kind of way. I had a ridiculous, old school education. I did mythology, poetry and Latin. I became obsessed with Sappho and the Greek and Latin poets. So I just started to copy. I would write my own, and I’d always been musical, I’d always played instruments, so it was very natural, very teenaged. I had my first heartbreak, wrote some songs about it. By the end of high school, I was very clear: this is what I’m going to do.
JESSICA ALMON: Do you remember the first song you ever wrote?
ALEXA WILDING: Yeah, it was horrible. It was like a medley it was so bad. I was very into medieval music and poetry, so I think it had, like, ‘Green Sleeves’ in it or something. And I was so stupid I didn’t realize that Leonard Cohen already did that. It was a song about not knowing how to tell someone I had broken up with I was sorry. I mean, it was very sweet.
JESSICA ALMON: How old were you?
ALEXA WILDING: I think I was about sixteen. I was very dramatic and upset about it. It was really bad. I’m glad it started early, because I think you have to get the bad stuff out first. I still feel like I have to work through some of that. I’m so grateful when a body of work is done, because then I can get on to the next thing.
JESSICA ALMON: When did you finish this most recent record (Coral Dust)?
ALEXA WILDING: This one took a while! I was changing a lot. The first album is very simple. It’s acoustic and voice. I don’t know if you could tell the difference—it’s subtle—but there’s more stuff happening in this record. It took time for me to learn how to do things this way, and I have to give credit to Tim Foljahn. He knows me so well personally that he kind of pulled me out of my shell. He helped me to articulate technically what I was trying to do, and for that I’ll always be so grateful.
The new record took about a year. I felt like it was never going to be done, like it was taking so long, but I had to. I knew I needed to push and make something different. It was a great experience. We recorded it at Ground Control Studio in Williamsburg. To mix it, we went to Fred Smith, who did my first one. He’s an original member of Television. And being a New York kid, I was tickled to have Fred work on it. I loved Television. My parents used to see them. And Tim had played on all my favorite records: Cat Power, Thurston Moore. I felt like I was in really good hands. I was in good hands to fall apart. It was a long process, but I’m happy with it. It’s an imperfect album, absolutely, but it’s a transition for me. I know where I want to go now, and that was sort of the road trip.
JESSICA ALMON: So what’s next?
ALEXA WILDING: I want to keep experimenting with sounds. I want to eventually free myself from the guitar altogether. One of the things that happened on Coral Dust was I found myself working with keyboards and organs. We started—just a little bit—experimenting with some electronic sounds, and I kind of want to see what happens if I keep moving away. My voice is so warm and acoustic that I think it’d be nice to contrast it with something else. I want to keep making it bigger, but keep it intimate at the same time. So we’ll see. It’s definitely getting weirder, but I think weird is good!
JESSICA ALMON: Your lyrics are very dreamy and whimsical. You mentioned Greek poetry. Does that still influence you, or is it more personal the way a dream is personal but disguised, in a different language?
ALEXA WILDING: The thing about all the poetry I read as a young girl, Greek and Latin poetry, is that it’s very cryptic. A lot of it is just fragments. I think that worked its way into my head. My songs can be really cryptic. I like to think that that’s so you can insert your own self into them. I’m a very practical person in real life but my inner world is very rich and music for me is where I can give voice to that. I’m very interested in dreams, very interested in daydreams. I am constantly wandering the streets—it’s amazing I haven’t gotten hit by a car—listening to music and just letting myself go. Music for me is a place to do that. My lyrics are personal, they’re always based on a personal mythology. I have a certain way of saying things, there are certain themes that seem to come up a lot. Like horses. I think they represent freedom. And I think we’re scared of freedom. A
lot of the songs on my record seem to say, ‘Could I? What if?’ What if I got on that horse and ran away? What if I found that soulmate? What if I admitted that things are complicated? When I was a little girl I had an accident at the beach where I got taken under. It’s terrifying but it’s also strangely exhilarating. For years I never went back in. I’m still actually very scared of water. I won’t go in the ocean more than up to my waist. I think that that’s kind of a big theme of this record: I really want to go all the way in. There’s that fear of being pulled in, even though it’s gonna be a great trip.
JESSICA ALMON: You spoke about collaboration before—I know your husband Ian is an artist. Do you ever collaborate with him or is there a Chinese wall?
ALEXA WILDING: Ian’s amazing. I would love to do something with him but I don’t know what we’d do! He’s always there, we’re very much partners. I’m very interested in partnerships and I think it’s healthy to have a lot of them. You can have your husband, your spouse, and then you can also have like what I have with Mina Stone. She dresses me for a show when I want to convey a certain thing. Tim Foljahn is definitely my musical partner. The minute I have an idea or want to talk about something emotional, I always call him. I think it’s very healthy to have satellites of people. Sort of like when you go to a pharmacy and you need a certain medicine. I think people can really provide that.
JESSICA ALMON: Speaking of medicine, I read that you make potions!
ALEXA WILDING: I do…
JESSICA ALMON: You need to explain this!
ALEXA WILDING: I was never somebody who had a green thumb—at all. And then when Ian and I moved into the loft we had all this sunlight. I just sort of made this deal with myself: you are going to be somebody who grows plants. We had at one point like forty different plants. I became obsessed with the history of beauty, making things yourself, the sort of self-reliance and self know-how and the green industry was interesting to me. So I just started teaching myself how to make balms, how to make face oils. It’s just something I’m a little private about, but it’s good to talk about because I think people should become more interested in it. It’s very empowering. It’s very magical. It’s just a way to bring some magic into everyday life.
JESSICA ALMON: Do you believe in magic?
ALEXA WILDING: I do. I believe in plants! I believe in nature.
JESSICA ALMON: In some ways, the universe is so extraordinary you don’t really need to believe in magic.
ALEXA WILDING: It is! Science actually is magic. I’m not a Wicka girl or anything—I wish I was, that’d be fun—but in terms of magic, I believe we have the power to change things, to heal ourselves and to heal others. There’s so much we can’t control in the world, there’s so much ugly, that if there’s things we can control, why not make them really great experiences, like putting stuff on our bodies that are actually going to feed our bodies, eating food that will make us feel like we’re in touch with the world and nature. I definitely became this sort of nature person, which is strange because I’m such a city being. So it wasn’t natural at all. I started taking some courses with some medicine women, and I was definitely the girl in the leather boots, shouting, ‘Ew! I don’t want to touch the worm!’ And then it just became… it’s a letting go thing, maybe like trying to walk further into the water, I don’t know. Going towards things that are a little scary.
JESSICA ALMON: Are your songs a way for you to explore things that you wouldn’t get a chance to explore, or are too afraid to explore?
ALEXA WILDING: Definitely. I’m gonna sound like such a fraidy cat in this interview, but it’s the neurotic New Yorker in me. I definitely dare myself to do things. I dared myself to change my name, I got on a horse finally last year, which was amazing, and I really want to swim. I can swim, but I would love to really go into the ocean. I’d love to learn every flower’s name. I’d love to learn how to pick a flower and know what to do with it and be able to help people. Maybe it’s the year of living dangerously! (laughs) I’m not jumping out of planes, but going for things, and doing things that might surprise people.
JESSICA ALMON: Do movies inspire your music?
ALEXA WILDING: Oh, absolutely.
JESSICA ALMON: Do you have any favorites?
ALEXA WILDING: Well, obviously, some of those 80’s Woody Allen films. Hannah and her Sisters is one of my favorite movies. It’s all about emotion. And Alice.
JESSICA ALMON: That one’s great because it’s about magic!
ALEXA WILDING: Totally. I’m so glad you know that one! Growing up, I had a sort of pseudo-godfather. He’s an art-film guy, his name is Mark Rappaport. He made a bunch of films in the 70’s and 80’s, my mom was in some of them. We called him Uncle Mark, and Uncle Mark had the best film library in all of New York. So we would go over to his loft, and much like going to the pharmacy and picking your medicine, we’d tell him how we were feeling, and he’d be like, ‘Oh, honey. You need A Woman is a Woman tonight.’
JESSICA ALMON: That’s one of my favorites.
ALEXA WILDING: Yes! Because it’s real life fantasy, and it’s funny. I think something that doesn’t come across in my music and surprises people when we meet is that I am a total screwball. I love watching comedy. But in terms of stuff that relates to the music… Cocteau’s Beauty and the Beast. I saw Maya Deren films as a kid, and they had a profound impact on me because they were so fantastical. Also as a kid, I loved Shelley Duvall’s Faerie Tale Theatre. It was brilliant. She would get all these actors to perform fairy tales.
JESSICA ALMON: I hear you’re a big reader, too.
ALEXA WILDING: I’m a really big reader. I’m a book collector, too. I collect memoirs, specifically memoirs of women artists and poets. I have a collection of memoirs of the beats’ girlfriends. They are so much more interesting to me than the guys. Jack Kerouac’s girlfriend Joyce Johnson, she was with him when On the Road came out, that’s one of my favorite books. I love Francoise Gilot’s book, she was Picasso’s mistress. I’m totally into the mistresses and the girlfriends. Tim said to me recently, ‘I think you’re a feminist.’ I never thought of myself as a feminist but suddenly I realized, well, yeah—we’re still struggling to have a female voice. I want to represent the girls out there who are strong and opinionated and can blab your head off like I’m doing right now, but aren’t afraid to be beautiful and to have a softness to them as well. I don’t know, having that softness is still something that’s not okay. When I was on tour, there were all these businessmen at my show, maybe they were there with their girlfriends, I don’t know. They hated me! And I can tell now who’s not gonna like it. It’s terrible, because it’s a prejudice on my own part but it’s people that have a very specific idea of what sexy is, what feminine is, and I’m just not that. I think Coral Dust actually—there are a lot of issues about gender in there. I have a song called ‘Orlando,’ which is based on Virginia Woolf’s book. The lyric is, ‘Oh to be/he is a boy/looking at me/looking as a boy.’ It was about looking at someone and desiring them, but being a woman and being a soft, feminine woman, not knowing how to give expression to it, and wishing for a second that I could be a gentleman who is expected to act on what he desired. The song makes me sad because I don’t have the answer. That’s why at the end of the song it turns into just a choral sigh basically. Like, ‘Well, oh well.’ I don’t know, it’s something I definitely want to keep thinking about.
JESSICA ALMON: What would you be if you weren’t a musician?
ALEXA WILDING: I think I would probably work with plants. I’d love to be a botanist-slash-psychoanalyst. Someone who’s interested in healing. I would definitely want to work with kids. I think children are just amazing because they haven’t learned to censor themselves yet. They’re still going in the water all the way.