Thursday, September 24, 2020

HEY! LISTEN: Alexander Wren -- "The Earth is Flat"

Nothing says autumn like a sense of warm nostalgia and a cool edge of sadness. And if anyone has the song of the season this year, it's Alexander Wren's "The Earth is Flat."

The former Americana idol contestant is readying his first full-length album, and if the careful songwriting on this tune is an indicator, it's going to be a beauty. On this "country/jazz" song, Wren uses his wistful voice to craft a tale of intimacy with stunning imagery. The clarinet in the song supplements the traditional country elements: steel guitar, a gently walking bassline, and a gentle drum shuffle that provides a steady foundation to the listener's emotional journey.

A Ft. Wayne, Indiana native, Wren grew up with an Epiphone-playing wedding-singer mother and a Hank Williams-loving father, ‘salt of the earth’ people who taught him to follow his heart. 

Following his heart led Wren to audition for American Idol and ride that wave into Nashville, where he wrote 350 songs instead of attending college.

Photo: Landon Edwards

A handful of these songs materialized into his sophomore EP, Assorted Love Songs, which released in 2018 under Nashville indie label, Peptalk Presents. With Gershwin-esque clarinet solos, psychedelic synth shimmers, and phased-out steel guitar; Wren and producer Micah Tawlks felt as if they were truly beginning to venture into a strange yet exciting territory.

"That was the project where I began to fall in love with the simple act of writing. Many people can out-sing me and out-perform me, but when you start to strip away all of the smoke and mirrors, you are simply left with a song- and this is what I think my strong suit is," says Wren.

Wren released what he considers to be his 'magnum opus' thus far, "The Earth is Flat," on September 18th, 2020. “This is a song about conspiracies,” is how Wren jokingly announces it from stage.

Co-written with Lauren Weintraub, a Nashville artist signed to Big Machine Label Group, it doesn’t take long for the listener to realize that the song isn't actually a 'flat earther' anthem...

Go on honey tell me that this thing's still love
And heaven is below us, hell is up above
The sky is green, the grass is blue
A wedding dress is black
Aw, honey, you love me
And yeah, the earth is flat

“I remember having that hook for a while," Wren remarks. "I kept mulling over that sort of situation in my head- where it would be easier for someone to convince you that the earth is flat than to convince you that they still love you.”

After the co-write, Wren originally shelved the song, giving it a grade ‘D’ in his song catalog. And he thought nothing more of it until six months later when Lauren started playing the song in public at the likes of the Bluebird Cafe and even Belmont University’s ‘Best of the Best’ event, where she said she was getting an overwhelming response.

Wren quickly caught on and began recording during the pandemic. But this time around, Wren and his producer, Tawlks, were forced to take a different approach: mask-wearing, sanitizing in-between takes, and only hiring in players needed for the bare essentials. The result? A country/jazz concoction with a Velcro-fierce valuing of emotion and ‘old-school’ turn of phrase:

We could keep on playing make believe
Just ignore Columbus; hell, it's third grade geography...

"Originally, I thought I heard the song stripped bare with some traditional country steel and maybe even sparse synthesis. But Micah had a different idea, which is why I love working with him so much. The song always turns out slightly different than how I had envisioned, but always better."

Tracked live in Tawlks' basement home studio, dusty percussion, improvisational piano, and tactile tenor saxophones; all emerge from the mix- creating what they both describe as a, "feeling you would get when free floating through space."

Looking to the future, Alexander plans to put on his hypothetical ‘blinders’ and continue down this path - following nothing but the North Star of the song. He remarks, “Instagram will lose its luster, streaming numbers will eventually fade, and this industry will forget you as soon as you’re not within the monthly trend... but the older I get the less I’m seeing music as a means of popularity or even success as much as a tradition that we get to participate in - bringing songs into existence. And songs, well... they are something that could quite possibly be eternal.”

"The Earth is Flat" is the first single off of Alexander's full-length debut.


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