Christian Alexander has always been ambitious, but it’s only recently that he has started to feel confident. Over the last two years, the boundaries of his life have extended past the walls of his garage studio at his parents’ house in Garstang (a 5000-strong town near Preston) to Los Angeles where he spent six months working on his debut album. In fact, he recently performed live for the first time ever, opening for mentors and collaborators Brockhampton at their final UK appearances at London’s O2 Academy Brixton, facing down the iconic space with a ‘fuck you, I’m gonna be amazing’ energy. Now that’s confidence.
On his debut album, ‘I Don’t Like You’, the DIY charm of his previous projects has been polished just enough to glint without wiping away the grit completely. The clean, spacious piano of ‘Waste Her Time’ slowly builds into a stadium-filling roar of emotion and ‘Where’s Your Head At?’ flips the Basement Jaxx hook into a swirl of layered harmonies. Alexander recently decided that his first two projects – 2019’s ‘Summer ‘17’ and ‘Summer ‘19’ – are best described as mixtapes, and is confident that his latest body of work has a clear purpose: “It’s trying to be an album, that’s for sure,” he tells NME from his AirBnB in LA’s Silverlake district. “The main goal for me was improving myself as a songwriter. Studying structures, listening to other songs that may have done well in the past, realising there’s pretty much the same themes throughout music history, all that type of stuff.”
The release is a culmination of a period of time in which the introvert has pushed himself beyond his comfort zone. He learned to play guitar as a child, but was engulfed in social anxiety by the time he reached his teen years, dropping out of both college and the music production course he enrolled on to further his musical education. Eventually he put together a studio at home where he channelled his frustrations through the prism of his influences like Frank Ocean, The Beatles, Tyler, The Creator.
The two intermittent mixtapes caught listeners’ attention, but he realised he needed to branch out and find a creative family. Months after their release, Brockhampton’s de-facto leader Kevin Abstract tweeted that Alexander was his “favourite artist in the world right now”. High praise, indeed. The pair traded messages and built up a friendship, leading Abstract to invite Alexander to sign with the Video Store label that he had launched with fellow Brockhampton member Romil. He was initially hesitant, but eventually took the leap. “I needed a bit of time to process,” he says. “I realised: who the fuck gets an opportunity like that? To do an album, which is all I wanna do, with people who would bring me into their circle and creatively let me be free?”
He acknowledges it was a massive adjustment moving from “a farmer’s town” to Abstract’s studio, working full-time alongside fellow musicians and bumping into Jaden Smith. “At the time it was socially difficult. I was socially anxious, just because there’s so many confident people who know themselves, and I didn’t know who the fuck I was, basically,” he says. “But when I got into the studio that’s when it kind of all made sense. That’s when you can forget about everything else you’re trying to do and just focus on the music.”
The Brockhampton members have their fingerprints all over ‘I Don’t Like You’. Romil worked with Alexander on its writing and production and Joba mixed the record, helping him “tap more into [my] artistic self.” As such, there’s a radio-ready commercial gloss to the tracks and while Alexander benefited from their expertise, at no point did he feel like he was not in the driver’s seat. “I’m insecure at times in the studio, but I do know what I want, and they let me know that it was my choice, I had the final call on everything. I really appreciated the guys for being like that.” The more he absorbed from this nurturing environment, the more he felt like a peer, not a rookie, and is an energy he is carrying forward.
Alexander is already eager to take everything he has learned and throw it into his new music. He’s working on his next project solo, but still pushing himself to make new connections for his own personal development as well as his career. “I know the Brockhampton guys, I’ve worked with them, but I’m still doing it solo, still just socialising, still figuring it out,” he says. “I’m only just starting to open up and try and make friends, but that’s through music. Everything is music. It’s how I’ve learned about myself, it’s where I get my confidence from.”
Alexander speaks plainly about wanting to be “the biggest artist in the world” but he is equally pragmatic about his approach. “I can say that as much as I want, but at the end of the day the music decides that for me. I’ve got to continue to work on the music, work on the art, work on everything trying to improve,” he says. “It’s a craft and I love treating it that way. I love the fact that it is a continuous growing thing you can always chop and change. Focusing on the next album and how you can improve it, I love that. That’s what life is, I’m just living it through music.”
Christian Alexander’s debut album ‘I Don’t Like You’ is out now