You’ve had a whirlwind year already, but I want to hear about the very beginning. What’s been your most memorable part of the year?
Alex: Man, it has been a whirlwind year. I was just thinking about it because the year pretty much started with “Work The Middle,” and then the most recent thing is “Does It Feel Like Falling” so it’s crazy that when I think about this year in retrospect, it’s been so wild. I released my first original music with a major label, and I’ve toured throughout the US two times, been to Europe five times, gone around the world a few times, hosted Arthur Ashe Kids Day, then played shows with some other amazing artists. It’s all been so amazing, I don’t think I can pinpoint a highlight.
Take me way back: How’d it all start?
Alex: Waaay back! I grew up, my mom and dad loved each other a lot and I was a product of that. That’s how I got here (laughs). No, I grew up in a family where my parents were all about music and loved listening to it, my sisters & I love music the same. It was just super natural. Not supernatural, it was… Super. Natural. Very organic and real. Music was just something that was my favorite thing as a kid.
So your family was super supportive of your music.
Alex: It’s not vital, but it’s definitely such an important thing for me to have family support. I know a lot of people don’t have their family’s support and, not even just in their career choices but in anything, family support is something that is super important to me. Like I said, it’s not vital, it’s not like you’re not going to be successful if your family doesn’t support you, but when I look back or look at my future family, I encourage any families that it’s all about support; supporting dreams, a lifestyle, each family individually or separately is so important.
I always love asking this because I get such unique responses from artists, but how’d it feel getting the call from Interscope?
Alex: It was at such a crazy time because “One Dance” had come out and started making waves.
Started to make waves?! It went viral!
Alex: (laughs) Yeah, but it’s funny because even then it was already at like 8 million views. It was the biggest video I ever did, the coolest thing that ever happened. When they reached out, it had just started. I had interviews, I had all different magazines and blogs adding up and then had other labels coming at me. And Interscope is obviously such a big label, I think I would consider them one of the titans of major labels these days. They have everybody: Lady Gaga, Kendrick Lamar, Maroon 5; we’re talking like real frontrunners.
And they have an amazing range.
Alex: Yes! When they came to me and we’re talking, they said we have all these people but we don’t have the young, male singer… You. And I just felt so lucky to be thought of, let alone, get signed. It’s been such an amazing journey with Interscope so far that it’s almost like a whirlwind. I feel like we’ve been signed for two days, but it’s already been a year.
I love all of your mash-ups and sing-offs. How do you find you assert your creativity into other artist’s art and kinda make it your own. Have you heard any feedback from the original artists?
Alex: (laughs) I’ve had a bunch of love from some of the original artists like Hailee Steinfeld, Meghan Trainor, Nicky Jam.
Not gonna lie, I didn’t know about “Hasta el Amanecer” until you covered it.
Alex: It’s crazy! One of the moments I realized how big the world is, is when I first heard it, I asked one of my friends. I said, “Yo, I’m going to cover this new Drake song, what’s a cool Spanish song?” So he asked one of his friends who actually lives in Mexico, and I had never heard the song then looked it up and it already had hundreds of millions of views. That’s when I realized this could be special because I’m going to tap into something that my entire fanbase doesn’t even know about it. Nobody’s requesting it, but it already had so many views after only a month of being out. Back to your original question of putting my own style into it, I think I pick my songs that I want to do, and make the track and the vibe of it how I feel. It’s just something that’s, again, super… natural. Not supernatural. Just very organic to me and I can’t really explain how I do it, but I just have fun and do it.
I mean, that’s a good way to make music, to have fun with it.
Alex: It’s my favorite way, it’s the only way.
You could say it’s super natural.
Alex: Super. Natural.
Tell me about your heritage. I read that you’re Samoan, and grew up in New Zealand for a little bit…
Alex: When you first said that, I thought you said “Tell me about your hair” and I was about to be like “well, it’s really curly.” My heritage, yeah, my dad comes from New Zealand and his dad comes from the island of Samoa, so you got it right on the head. My mom comes from the island of, uh, Los Angeles (laughs). My mom’s just a Valley Girl. They met in California, but I’m just half white, and half not white.
Would you say your Samoan culture has peeked through in your music or style? Because in some songs I get kind of an island feel.
Alex: Yeah! I think it’s one of the biggest things that influences me from my culture is that, if you look back at the Polynesian culture, there is so much music that surrounds it. You have Dinah Jane [from Fifth Harmony], you have all these amazing reggae bands, even The Rock who was singing all over the Moana soundtrack. There is seriously so much musical talent out of the Pacific Islands that kind of goes, not unnoticed, but some people didn’t know until now. So I feel very lucky that we get to become the mainstream people to push that. Musically, I definitely feel the island, and like you said, it’s a vibe. Not even necessarily a sound, or a specific instrument, or genre. There’s that vibe and I feel it when I listen to artists from the Caribbean, just naturally there’s that vibe of rhythm and cool.
I first discovered you when WilldaBeast was posting teasers from the “Work The Middle” music video. How’d that collaboration come about?
Alex: It’s crazy! They’re amazing. I met Will at the Radio Disney Music Awards last year so the 2016 awards show. I told him I was such a huge fan and he said “Bro, I’m a huge fan of yours. Let’s do a video together!” That kind of sat as an open-ended, then “Work The Middle” came out. And one of the reasons why I love Interscope so much, is that they give me so much creative control, and they said “What do you want to do?” And I said “Let’s get WilldaBeast in there for choreography and let’s box.” The video, in general, was such a fun thing to make because it was such a collaborative experience. We went to Will and said “Make the choreography amazing. Make these girls look so beautiful and powerful and strong,” which I feel translated to all the dancers Caché [Melvin], Jamie [Hauptmann], Delaney [Glazer] and Jade [Chynoweth], especially. They all just looked so strong, independent and at the same time they were sexy, fun and cool. It was such a fun video to make.
It’s amazing what a great platform YouTube is and what it’s become, and how it’s changed in the last 5-10 years across the board; whether you are a musician, a beauty guru, a comic, etc. A lot of your videos have gained viral status. Have you had a strategy, or just posting what you want, when you want and hoping your fans were into it?
Alex: I did. I followed a super strategy when I first started out because I hung out with a lot of YouTubers who follow “the strategy” and there’s nothing wrong with following it. I feel like when I was following a hardcore strategy like post at this time, post with these tags, do this, do that, say this and that, I wasn’t having as much fun. It was becoming like a job.
It only got me so big. It definitely worked, it got me to like 200-300,000. Maybe even 400,000 using those strict strategies. But it was also like cover this song, cover that song, and I was starting to cover songs I didn’t necessarily like or artists that aren’t my favorite and I came to a point where I was like “I’m not happy making YouTube videos.” I decided I don’t care about the strategy, I’m going to keep a couple things and still post on a specific day, but forget tags, and forget trying to follow the trends and do songs that I like and that I think would translate. So if a brand new song comes out, and I’m into it, I’ll cover it. But if I’m not, I won’t, and not feel obligated to. There’s been a lot of big songs and people would ask why I didn’t cover it, but I can’t be like “Because I don’t like it!” It’s not because it’s a bad song, but didn’t feel like I would make a good cover of it.
Once I started doing that, oh man! That’s when everything started changing. “One Dance,” and “I Spy,” and all my videos with Will [Singe]. We were in the studio, and I was just like “Let’s have fun!” With Will, I was like “Let’s do an old Usher song!” Boom. It’s so important to have fun. That’s my biggest advice I’d give to everybody when they’re talking about YouTube. “How do I get popular, how do I do this?” Don’t worry about it. Just trust your inner child. Do that, have fun. And you’ll have more success and happiness along the way.
Tell me about “Does It Feel Like Falling.” How’d that come about?
Alex: “Does It Feel Like Falling” is the brand new single. Super fun. I’ve answered this question so many times, I want to give you a fresh perspective on it. Without name-dropping or anything. I feel like I listen to love songs and feel like I listen to sad songs. And I listen to sad songs more than I listen to love songs. Sad songs are real, and love songs about rainbows and butterflies and how great it is… I mean, it hasn’t happened to me. But it doesn’t mean I haven’t fallen in love before, but it wasn’t like “Man! This is the greatest thing on Earth! I wanna stare at you until my eyes burn!” No. When I fall in love with girls it’s more like “Damn… do you like me? Or do you hate me?” (laughs)
When I fall in love with somebody, or I think I do, and then I wake up the next day and it’s like… Not anything. That’s why with this track, I wanted to put out something that was still about falling in love because it feels so fast when you’re going down, like a boxer in the first round, or feels like lightning striking the ground, because it’s like feelings just come out of nowhere, but sometimes it overpowers you. Sometimes you love somebody who doesn’t love you back, or you love somebody who doesn’t even know you exist. I’ve done both of those. Then sometimes, it’s perfect and you’re lucky! And everybody is damaged, different and imperfect and I wanted a song about falling in love, but falling in love that way. Sometime you fall in love with somebody and you wanna let them go the next day! That’s what the song is about, and kinda how it came about.
Tell me about the Feels Like tour.
Alex: Feels like falling, feels like tour!
It’s gonna feel like winter! Especially in Minnesota where you’re starting out.
Alex: Yes. Minnesota.
What do you have in store for us?
Alex: I can’t tell you what I’m doing, or else you’re not gonna wanna come! I’ve been focusing so much on it. It’s my first North American headlining tour. I’m going to be playing a whole lot of original music, and it’s going to be the first time that I get to do that. It’s not Alex singing covers, I’m definitely gonna be singing the classics and good ones, but I want to focus so much on the show, and showing who I am. The lighting is going to be different, the music is going to be different. I want to be doing such crazy stuff. Every night is going to be different and special. I’ve been practicing day in and day out on the setlist, mixing and matching what songs I’m going to do. Getting my cardio up so I can go crazy every single night. In every way possible, I feel like I’ve been training to make these shows as amazing as possible. At the same time, trying not to tell anyone any secrets.
I really, truly want the fans to come out and say “Oh my gosh. What did I just watch?” Last time I saw Alex it was just him on stage with his computer, dancing and singing along, and I want them to come to this show and be like “Damn, that’s not even Alex anymore.” This is a moment. It’s so great because I feel like once I’ve gotten to that point of playing a show, I feel like I can play that show to one person or to thousands of thousands of people. That’s the quality I want to start setting the bar at when you come to an Alex Aiono show. You’re gonna feel different. With that high of a goal, all I can do is work, work, work.
What’s next? What’s new? What’s exciting?
Alex: What’s next, new and exciting! Well, the tour! I’m also so excited about this new music. We’ve been having conversations with the team, shooting videos you guys don’t even know about. We’ve been doing so much new stuff with the music, and I feel like this music is so real and honest, and things I’m going through that I’m just excited for the fans to hear it. Don’t get me wrong, all the music we’ve released already “Work The Middle,” “Question,” “Does It Feel Like Falling” they’re all real to me. But this next music is like, I’m in the studio, I’ve gone through some real, gritty, heartbreaking stuff. I miss yous, and meaningless I love yous, I’m really pouring my heart out in this music and I’m just so excited for everyone to hear it and be like Alex is a real person.
At the end of the day, your music is like your diary.
Make it whatever you want.
Find all tour dates and ticket links to Alex’s Feels Like tour online here: http://www.alexaiono.com/tour