Alex Rahal, the co-founder of the band Them Vibes, recently released his debut solo album, Restless, a 10-track collection of alt-rock, soul, country, folk, and Americana songs. The album found its genesis in the pandemic, where the stillness allowed Alex time and space to create a solo record. And although Alex wrote all the songs, the production brought in others, including Alex, Bobby Holland, Larry Florman, and Lydia Luce, Larissa Maestro, and Maggie Rose.
Unlike most artists, Alex chose not to release Restless via the standard streaming platforms. Right now, other than one single on SoundCloud, the album is only available on his website. XS Noize spoke with Alex Rahal to discover more about the person behind the music, his influences, his songwriting process, and his advice for young artists.
What three things can't you live without?
Love. The night. And a sense of humour
What inspired your debut album, Restless?
Wrestling with the human experience in all its beautiful and absurdly agonizing contradictions
Why a solo project? And why now?
Songs were coming to me, and they were songs I could stand by. Last year the industry shut down, and where I would usually find myself co-writing for my band Them Vibes or other artists, I was left on my own. Maybe I was six songs in when it occurred to me; I was halfway through finishing a record I never intended on making in the first place. And at that point, in a world of shutdowns and lives being cut short, time was a luxury I had to cash in on. For in my own Zen Koan, what's a song if no one can hear it?
What's your songwriting process? Melody first, or lyrics?
Songwriting, to me, is a seance; I'm trying to conjure something that has always existed but has never been heard. Dylan once said, and I'm paraphrasing, every song has been written; you just have to find them. On the more tangible side of the process, sometimes a lyric inspires the song's direction, or the melody comes first and shapes the subject matter. What I look for to jumpstart a song is what Keith Richards refers to as the spark; that musical moment - a riff, a phrase, a melody - where you hit it, and then your whole-body rushes with endorphins, shouting, "yes! That's it." After that, the song will tell you what to do.
What do you hope your fans/listeners take away from them when they listen to your music?
I hope they find themselves in the music, where their memories lie and create new meaning within the song. But moreover, I hope it can provide comfort when it's needed most.
How did you get started in music? What's the backstory there?
My dad brought his classical guitar from Brazil when my mom and him immigrated to the US. I was about nine years old when I started picking it up. He would play Bossa Nova tunes by Caetano Veloso and Chico Buarque, while I would try to pick out Nirvana and Hendrix. I remember thinking then that this guitar was the way out of my school, out of my town, into that girl's heart, and into a world that was calling my name. I was a dreamer, and I still am. The only way to create anything is to dream it first.
Which musicians/vocalists influenced you the most?
That list goes on forever and changes by the day. But here goes, Nina Simone for her poetry and sabered honesty. Robert Johnson and Hank Williams, for they are still the most haunting sound on record. The Beatles, both as a band and as individuals: showed the twentieth century that music is an art and that it is limitless in possibility. Dylan, Petty, and Paul Simon, who are arguably my favourite songwriters of all time. They made the profound look so simple. And, of course, the Stones, who showed me that imperfection is pure perfection.
Which artists, in your opinion, are killing it right now?
As of right now, now and I could only pick three...Moses Sumney, Jungle, Madi Diaz.
Do you have guilty music and entertainment pleasure?
I take pride in all my pleasures, but I'll play. As a kid, my mom would drive her car and listen to '90s adult contemporary. So, if I hear Celine Dion's "Power of Love," you best believe I'm turning that shit way up.
Do you have any advice for young artists just getting started?
Well, I'm still trying to figure it out myself, but here's the secret: so is everyone else. Therefore, don't be afraid to take the chances no one is taking. I released 'Restless' exclusively on my website and charged listeners $10 to hear the record. Many of my friends thought I was crazy, but it's been more successful than I could have imagined. And now those same friends are looking to roll out their next records in the same fashion.
But the biggest advice I can give is, one must find themselves and be their true selves to have any chance of survival, let alone success in this industry. People can smell bullshit a mile away. Honesty is all-powerful. So don't be the artist you think people need you to be, be the person you are, and you will become the artist people will want to be.
Why do you make music?
It's the oldest language on earth. It's the way to the truth and the divine; so, I serve it with pride. But mostly, I do it because I love it, and there is no greater high on earth.
What can your fans expect in the next six months? New music? Live gigs?
My band, Them Vibes, will be releasing a new full-length next year, and there is talk of a European tour, so keep your ears and eyes out for that. I will also be playing a couple of shows promoting 'Restless' in the coming months. But hopefully, we can all look forward to the live show's Big Comeback, where for a couple of hours, from wall to wall, we can let go because we all have each other's backs: safe in sound.