Portland-based singer Alex Whiler's debut EP Look Me In The Eye had sort of become a soundtrack to our lives during the past few weeks, and especially when we travelled out of the city for the first time since March 2020. We had Whiler's Spotify on repeat for a large part of the 13-hour journey. As each track played, we stared out the window at the barren highways gently dissolving into villages, then small towns, and back to the barren highways. Emotions changed as we momentarily glanced at all we'd left behind, for better or worse. Then on to newer things. Her EP is aptly paced that way. Unpredictable, quite like an Indian road trip.
Incidentally, Whiler wrote all six songs exploring six different parts of a life-changing experience. A tough and unforgiving experience, ending in acceptance and empowerment. We suspect it has everything to do with the 'whys' and 'hows' of our experience listening to it.
It's why we're so chuffed about this interview! Now, over to her.
We'd love to know more about Alex Whiler, the Person, and Alex Whiler, the Musician. How similar are they, how different are they and where do they meet?
Well first, thank you so much for having me! And I love this question. Throughout the process of writing music I have also been working through really deep identity shifts so when I decided on my “stage name” it felt like not only a name for my music, but a name for my “new,” more integrated self as well. Alex Whiler embodies the empowered, self-assured, creatively unhinged person and artist that I am already but also strive to become at the same time.
Tell us about your musical foundations, your influences.
I have always been heavily influenced other women artists, starting with my first “teacher” Celine Dion. Then artists like Jewel and Dido growing up, then bands like Paramore and Vedera in my early teens, which is also when I started training in classical music. That opened up a whole new lovely world of singing and music appreciation, but eventually I came back to a more Pop/singer-songwriter feel with my own songs.
We loved your EP Look Me In The Eye from the word go! We want to know the story behind each song, challenges you faced, successes... basically everything!
Thank you so much! Well, there’s a lot to tell! It all started in 2016 when my husband and I decided to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, which is a hiking trail in the U.S. that spans from Canada to Mexico. It’s a major endeavor that ended up being very traumatic and difficult for me within the first three weeks. After suffering dozens of blisters and constant joint pain in freezing temperatures through dripping wet Washington, that physical pain really turned into mental/emotional pain and it became clear that I needed to end my time hiking. My husband, however, was thriving and enjoying the trail so much, so we decided to try and embrace the time apart--I went back to San Francisco and couch hopped, and he stayed on trail for another 3 months and eventually finished the whole thing! It was an incredibly jarring experience that led me to question nearly everything about my Christian belief system and myself in general. That’s where songwriting became an immense part of expression and healing. I wrote all six songs on Look Me in the Eye during that season, exploring different parts of my experience-- missing my partner, losing my faith, feeling like a failure, anger and depression, peace/acceptance, and finally empowerment in the new person I was becoming.
I worked with producer Tyler Hafer in San Francisco who helped me demo the songs and then we took them to Decibelle Studio where we recorded nearly everything, and then spent the next 6 months or so working on post production remotely due to Covid-19. It’s been a wild ride and I’m so grateful to Tyler and everyone who helped put this record together to be what it is!
You're a lot like Enya. Maybe not the same genre, but there's that 'something' about you which reminds us of her. Tell us about your writing process, compositions and arrangements and the musicians who work with you. How do they fit in and why do you work with them?
What an honor, thank you! My writing process is very segmented, I usually get a blip of a melody and lyric together in my head simultaneously and I expound on that original idea when I get to the piano or ukulele. I usually start with the chorus and see from there where the song wants to go. As far as Look Me in the Eye, I worked with amazing musicians who really brought the songs to life. On “Golden Hour” “Queen Anne’s Lace” and “Into the Fire” Sean Thompson played guitar, Kevin Figueroa played drums, and Cody Hamilton played bass guitar. I really think their contributions impacted the songs in such incredible ways and am grateful for them sharing their hearts and talents on the project.
We'd love to know what's on your playlist these days?
- Olive Louise “Undefined”
- Hayley Williams “Over those Hills”
- S. Carey “True North”
- Aubrey Haddard “Portuguese Red”
- Billie Eilish “ilomilo”
- Henry Green “Realign”
Everyone, especially artists, has guilty-pleasure songs/albums/artists that have influenced them. What about you?
The first thing that comes to mind is Tyler the Creator’s album “IGOR”...rowdy in all the best ways. Another total guilty pleasure is Harry Styles new album, it just feels good!
You say you've been singing pop, jazz, and opera your whole life. What's a genre you'd never dare try but wish you could?
Haha I would love to indulge in a really hard rock/screamo detour, but would never actually do it for fear of injuring my voice! But I really appreciate that kind of music. I also would make an absolute fool of myself trying to rap. That’s a talent I do not possess.
What's it like being an indie artist in the States today? Tell us about your pre-pandemic live performances and what things look like for you and other artists now.
Sad face, haha I was just getting started right when the pandemic hit! So I have only played these songs live one time, ever. I would love to play more live performances when the pandemic is over. I feel a bit lucky that I don’t know what being an artist with lots of shows and touring is like and having those taken away with Covid-19. I really feel for artists who made their living from playing live and have had to make it work just waiting for all of this to clear up. Such a hard time for everyone, my heart goes out in so many ways.
If you had to go on tour to another country, which one would it be and why?
I would love to tour in Mexico one day! I haven’t spent much time there but speak enough Spanish to get by and would love to experience the creativity and warmth of cities like Mexico City and Veracruz.
What's next for Alex Whiler?
I have tons of new music I want to share! I am working on recording new singles and eventually another EP or Album. Thank you so much for supporting and sharing my music, it’s such an honor to hear that anyone connects with me and my music!
Order Alex Whiler Merch here!