Alexander 23 has been living the dream that any emerging artist could ever wish for. He’s accumulated hundreds of millions of streams on his own music, penned and produced countless songs for our fave artists, embarked on sold-out tours, received a Grammy Award nomination, and released two 9-track EPs – I’m Sorry I Love You and Oh No, Not Again! Taking all that into account, the only challenge that had been awaiting Alexander all this time was releasing his own album. Just over a month ago, however, the Deerfield, Illinois-born singer finally gave everyone the announcement they had been longing for. After debuting on the scene in 2019, the highly-anticipated Aftershock arrived on July 15 via Interscope Records.
“It felt unbelievable,” Alexander says about sharing the news of an album. “The ironic part was, I started to think, ‘Have I over teased this?’ Like, ‘Have I been fucking with people too much? Are they even going to like believe that this is actually real and coming?’ To my surprise and delight, people were extremely excited, which felt very good.” Having kept everything a secret for quite a period of time, Alexander reflects on how instantaneous it is to announce a body of work compared to how long it takes to actually make one. The same goes for releasing the music. “I’ve been working on this album for a year and a half, and in a couple of weeks, it’ll just be out, you know, at the click of a button. That’s kind of been freaking me out lately,” he confesses.
At the time of our chat, it is just over two weeks until Alexander at long last unleashes his album with fans. He’s just gotten off tour with Tate McRae in the UK, where he was able to play some of his biggest shows overseas. This isn’t the first time he has been in the presence of the Canadian singer. Previously, Alexander helped write and produce two of the songs on her debut album – i used to think i could fly. “I say this a lot, but it really is the truth. I have the coolest job in the world. And the only thing that ever makes it even cooler is when I get to do it with people that I actually enjoy spending time with,” Alexander says about the experience. In addition to introducing himself to potential new fans, he was able to debut his new material to a different audience each night. Despite feeling nervous and “hesitant” to play unreleased songs, Alexander shares the performances went down a treat. “[Tate’s] fans were just extremely receptive to it and they were extremely respectful and listened to all the lyrics. I could feel them connecting with it, you know, in real-time, which was really, really special,” he says.
Aftershock is not a title that came about easily. In fact, the struggle to come up with one almost delayed the album’s release. “My management and label multiple times said we need an album title, telling me I didn’t have more time. They said, if you want to put this out, anytime soon, we need the title and I just couldn’t get it,” Alexander says. In the fullness of time, he was able to find the perfect name that would define the record while on a ski trip in between touring. A lightbulb moment occurred as soon as Alexander spotted a deodorant can that had the word “after” written on it. “My next thought chain was ‘Aftershock.’ I was like, well, that’s a cool word, but, it needs to mean something to me. I Googled aftershock and started reading about aftershocks. I realized that is what the album means to me, it feels like an aftershock. It feels like a delayed emotional response to like a more main emotional event, which in the case of this album is a breakup,” Alexander continues.
Back in 2020, Alexander and I spoke for the first time. High off on the virality of his single “IDK You Yet,” he acknowledged that he knew “how to write an Alexander 23 song a little too well” and wanted to get back into a “more exciting experimental phase again” in order to create future material. In preparation for the album, Alexander did precisely that. “One of my favorite things about making this record is this is the first time I’ve had the determination of wanting to write an album. It was really liberating to do that because, you know, for so long, I’ve been trying to write the next single and it was really nice to have that time and space and freedom of mine to just explore new sounds and try different concepts,” he says.
Aftershock was purposely constructed alongside two other producers. While producing half the album all by himself, Alexander co-produced a good portion with his best friend, Dan Nigro, who he refers to as his “favorite producer.” The only other person involved was another pal, Jeremy Zucker, who gave a helping hand on the song “Cosplay” with Alexander. “I’m really happy with that decision,” he says about his choice to only work with very few people. “I think the album sounds super focused and super together. I know working with lots of producers works for some artists in some albums but that felt like kind of the opposite of the approach that I kind of wanted to take.”
The track that would kick off Alexander’s debut album era was “Hate Me If It Helps,” a raw, emotional anthem about heartbreak. Written with Olivia Rodrigo and Nigro, it was also the first song penned for the record. “Once that song was about 75% done, it definitely alleviated a ton of pressure that I was feeling about making the album,” Alexander says. “It made me feel so confident in the sense that I didn’t know how well the song was going to do commercially, but I felt very confident that it is what I deem as a really good song.”
Relationships aren’t the only topics covered on Aftershock. Track four, “The Hardest Part,” delves into heavy themes surrounding grief, showcasing a darker side to Alexander’s storytelling. “In the past, I have really shied away from writing songs like this,” he admits. “I’m super comfortable with kind of delving into my own personal trauma or grief. It was really intimidating to kind of talk about something that immediately and profoundly affects other people and their trauma and grief.” After penning the ballad with Amy Allen, the songwriter behind hits for Halsey, Harry Styles, and Selena Gomez, Alexander questioned whether he wanted to actually release the song. However, after receiving support and the stamp of approval from the family of the person who the song is about, he felt compelled to include it on the album.
“I’m really happy that I did because it’s been one of the most beautiful releases I’ve ever had by far. I’ve gotten tens of thousands of messages from people telling me how much it means to them. That’s enough for me to feel fulfilled,” Alexander continues.
Writing vulnerable and sad songs can be challenging for some artists. For Alexander, on the other hand, facing those negative emotions makes it a lot easier for him to explore his craft. “If I’m happy, I don’t want to be in the studio writing about it. Like, I’m already good. It’s just not like my natural response to get in the studio if I’m feeling that way. I’d rather just go get lunch with a friend or hang out,” he explains.
On the whole, Aftershock feels like an intimate album, whether that be because of its lyrical content or production. Two particular tracks on the LP that leave an enduring impression are “Cosplay” and “If We Were A Party,” both of which have a distinct boldness to them. When questioned whether it was important to have songs that big on a record this intimate, Alexander says he was extremely informed by going on tour when playing live and experiencing the energy in the room. As a result, he would return to the studio and channel that into songs. “With a lot of my old records, the live versions are completely different and they’re a lot heavier and a lot more maximalist and in a few different dimensions,” Alexander explains. “I wanted to balance this record out. Obviously, some of it is super acoustic but it was important for me to balance it out with some of the stuff that had a bit more attitude and oomph.”
Alexander believes his greatest strength as an artist is taking complex and tangible emotions and putting them into a much more digestible form. “I don’t think I’m the best thing in the world,” he says humbly. “I’m not the best guitar player in the world but I think that is something that I’ve doubled down on time and time again. I feel really comfortable kind of taking on some of these more complex topics because I feel like I’ve put in the time and attention to detail to be able to do them justice.”
Regardless of how he feels about himself, Alexander’s credentials prove he is a big deal, writing and producing songs for Role Model, AJ Mitchell, and McRae, to name a few. “It’s really nice for me to be able to help someone else and to be able to just strictly support their vision in the best way that I see how,” he says. That trust, however, can still lead to a little pressure. On the other hand, these opportunities are still very much thrilling for Alexander. “There’s a part of me that’s always really excited to imprint my case and my ego onto something in a meaningful way. But, I think that’s only fun because you get to be the copilot. I’m an artist who is so incredibly wrapped up with my self-worth and identity, so it’s nice to step away from that,” he continues.
Alexander’s most noteworthy production credit is Rodrigo’s 2021 worldwide smash, “good 4 u.” Topping the charts in 23 countries and going multi-platinum globally, the track became a mini phenomenon and now has a life of its own. “No one in the world could have expected or predicted it would turn into,” Alexander says about the song’s runaway success. “I just remember listening to it and knowing that I fucking loved the song. I guess I’m just grateful that clearly a lot of people agreed.” In addition to its commercial victory, “good 4 u’s” punk-pop-infused production set the tone and heavily impacted the genre’s revival that we’ve seen take over the charts over the past year, something which Alexander agrees with. “As an artist as fresh as Olivia and to get to make music reminiscent of stuff that I have been incredibly influenced by and loved my entire life was so much fun,” he says. “To play loud guitar and bass and drums on a song that did extremely well is super validating. I definitely feel some of the momenta from the success of that is possible for some of my record and the confidence that I had going into making it.”
In the way many people have connected to Rodrigo’s debut album over the past year, Alexander hope’s his audience will do the same when they get stuck into his. “It’s extremely cliche and I think it’s an overused phrase but I do genuinely hope that they feel understood,” he says. Describing Aftershock as a “toolbox,” Alexander wishes for listeners will continue to revisit the record whenever they need it. “I sent it to a friend of mine and she was in Paris and she told me she was going to walk around and listen to it front to back. And to me, that’s like a perfect way to digest it. Like, go take a walk in a new place or a place you feel comfortable with and see what hits you,” he continues.
Having waited a respectable amount of time to make and put out a debut album, Alexander is feeling a mixture of emotions knowing it’ll be in the hands of everyone else. “I’m so unbelievably excited because, deep down in the bottom of my heart, I’m extremely proud of this album and I wouldn’t have put it out if I didn’t feel that way,” he says. “I’m really grateful that people are going to get to hear it, but of course I’m nervous, I want it to do well. Inside and outside of music, I’m ambitious and competitive and I really want it to do well, but that kind of comes secondary to it connecting with people emotionally.”
As opposed to those who do it for sport, Alexander makes it clear that he needs to feel compelled and inspired by something in order to step foot and write in the studio. After taking a mini-break from being in a creative space, Alexander is eager to jump back in, revealing he sat down a couple of days ago with the intention of writing a song. “So many things have happened in my life since the conclusion of running the album that I’ve got a lot of material to work with,” he says.