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ROCK TALK: Q&A with guitar Shane Alexander performing Aug. 28 at Ojai Underground Exchange

8 27 21 SHANE ALEXANDER2

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Guitar guru and master of melody Shane Alexander will perform Saturday, Aug. 28, at Ojai Underground Exchange.

 


GETTING THERE: Shane Alexander at Ojai Underground Exchange, 616 Pearl St., Sat., 7 p.m. COST: $20. CONTACT: 818-516-6642.

By Bill Locey, Special to the Ojai Valley News

A guitar guru and a master of melody with deep local roots, Shane Alexander will be at the Ojai Underground Exchange Saturday night, Aug. 28. He won't get lost getting there – Alexander has played the 93023 plenty of times, and many remember him from all those gigs at a place that locals still whine about missing the most – Zoey's in Ventura.

Alexander is from San Diego, but lived in western Pennsylvania long enough to have become a Pirates' fan. Upon his return to SoCal, Alexander studied Guitar Hero 101, and evidently, he learned plenty. So far, there are nine albums plus Alexander songs are all over the TV.

His skill set has enabled Alexander to tour the world and play with famous rock stars at cool venues – sharing the bill with the likes of Jewel, Suzanne Vega, John Hiatt, Styx and Yes (Yup in the South). He even played a porno awards show — how could he not?
This will be a convenient opportunity to reconnect with an old friend; well, unless you like to drive. At the end of September, Alexander will embark on an East Coast tour with stops in Pennsylvania, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, New Hampshire and Maine. Mr. A had this to say about all that.

BL: Hey Shane, congratulations on not dying and sorry about the Pirates.

SA: Thanks. The Pirates are going to have to work a little harder and add a little more determination, I think.

BL: How did you survive the pandemic?

SA: Well, it's pretty interesting because for me, there were two chapters. I actually laid pretty low during spring, summer and fall of 2020 – I read 25 books that year. I'm not a huge reader, but last year I was a huge reader, and I spent a ton of time with my daughter. As it turned to fall of 2020, I got into a rhythm of writing songs with other people, which was wonderful. I started with Ted Russell Kamp — I'd written with him before — I co-wrote a song on his previous record, and now, Ted and I have probably written 10 songs together. By the beginning of the year I had gotten into a really good rhythm with co-writing four or five days a week with people all over the United States and Europe, so I kept that going for months. Now I have about 60 songs for 2021, and I'm also producing singles for a handful of artists and in pre-production for a couple of EPs and I'm getting things together for my eighth solo album.

BL: Can we expect a new album this year then?

SA: Yeah, definitely. I'm going to put out a single in a minute just to tide people over. I have an acoustic cover of “Asleep” by the Smiths which should be ready by early September, but then I'm gonna get cranking on my new record and try to get the basic tracks with my band live at my place. We actually played our first live show in 18 months at the Hotel Café in July, and it was wonderful. While rehearsing for that show, I taught the guys five new songs, and now we've got this show coming up in Ojai so we're rehearsing for that show as well as for the record. I had not seen those guys for so long, so it was wonderful to actually be making music in person. Hopefully things will continue to trend in a positive direction – obviously, it's strange times for performers – for everybody.
BL: I'm going to the Hotel Café tonight (Aug. 19) – so was it safe or am I going to get COVID besides being robbed for parking in Hollywood?

SA: We had a great turnout. I was surprised that we did as well as we did. They re-implemented the mask thing a week before our show and people were compliant, but as far as visiting with people, I directed them outside in the alley after our set.

BL: So obviously, you got your shots?

SA: I did and I'm lucky that I didn't have any strange reactions to the shots. After my second shot, I felt crappy for a couple of days.

BL: So my son and I drove to Maine on our annual roadtrip in July, 30 states in 14 days, 8000 miles — we took the long way. Nobody was wearing a mask except us — three Californians.

SA: Wow.

BL: Anyway, you have deep roots in the 805 — all those Zoey's gigs — anyway, this will be a preview for your Ojai show. So, will it be just you or you and the band?

SA: I'm gonna play with the band — it's a four-piece.

BL: And the check is still in the mail? Your songs are all over the TV...

SA: Well, I try. I guess the biggest thing over the last few months was the fact that I was lucky enough to get on a Chevy commercial. They used my song “Everything As One,: and a lot of people saw it and I got messages from all over the place, but I myself don't watch a ton of television so I never saw it but I did see it on YouTube.

BL: How many Shane songs are there now? Can you play longer than the Grateful Dead?

SA: There's a lot, man. I played at Nabu Winery in Westlake the other day, and during these COVID times they do separate seatings, but I played straight through and didn't take a break. It didn't dawn on me until I was driving home that that was the longest gig in my life. I played 55 songs in one sitting and I think I only repeated two or three, so with all the stuff that's released and all the stuff that's not released, I'm doing all right when it comes to choices for songs.

BL: Wow – 55 songs would make Bruce Springsteen tired.

SA: Yeah, it was a pretty major undertaking.

BL: Of all the shows you've played, can you pick the strangest – perhaps even stranger than the porno awards gig?

SA: Another one that sticks out was a show in Friesland in a city called Weir in northern Holland and I played in this 800-year-old church. When I got there, the whole road was lined with candles, and once I got inside, the entire place was lit with candles. The entire village came out, so there were people of all ages, and it was such a beautiful event and I just felt “What a gift this is.” I thought of my grandparents and I wished they could've seen it. I was pretty choked up, actually.

BL: How do you get up for a gig — a gig less cool than that one?

SA: My prayer is to always reach the hearts of the people in the audience, so when I'm far away from home, that's the one thing that sustains me – that I might comfort someone or bring them a little joy or a little bit of gratitude or whatever. When it comes to my evolution as an artist, there's been a few events that sort of put me on my path – one that always stands out is when I saw Neil Young at the Greek Theatre when I was a teenager, It was just a solo acoustic show and he moved me to tears. It was just such a beautiful experience that just sorta stuck with me and I thought that if I could reciprocate and give someone a similar feeling, what a gift that is. It doesn't matter if I'm playing before a big audience or a small audience, I'm just very, very grateful for the people that come out to see and appreciate what I do.

BL: So you actually went to school for all this – what'd you learn in college?

SA: I went to Indiana University in Pennsylvania, then after that I went to GIT (Guitar Institute of Technology), and after all that, I'm still basically self-taught. I can't read music, even though I've recorded a number of records and written a million songs, and melody and lyrics are my strengths. Before I was a songwriter, I was a lead guitar player, so I sort of did my communication through melody, even though I came up at a time when it was all about playing as fast as humanly possible, but I was always fortunate to have a sense of melody. So people like David Gilmore of Pink Floyd — all his guitar solos were like, musical pieces — they had a point, they had themes, they had repetition and melody, so that's always been my thing — to try to find evocative melodies that people respond to, but the main lessons I've learned as an artist over all this time can be boiled down to three things: Don't suck. Don't quit. Make friends. That's my advice — yeah, that's what I've learned.

BL: When it comes to essential characteristics of a successful musician, I would think a sense of melody would be near the top of the list. Knowing what a good song should sound like? Definitely a good thing.

SA: Yeah, yeah.

BL: So who would you pay to see?

SA: That's a good question. I've never seen the Stones and I know they're going to tour without Charlie (Watts). I've never seen Springsteen but I have seen Little Steven and Springsteen jumped up on stage with him — that was at the Wiltern a couple of years ago. But beyond that I've been blessed to see so many of my heroes. For 10 years I worked for Irving Azoff — that was my last day job. I left there in 2006, but while I was working for Azoff, I had tickets to everything and often got to meet the artist so that was very inspiring. The main takeaway from working for Azoff was I didn't want to serve the artist – I wanted to be an artist. They were kind of taken aback when I left – it was a good paying position in the heart of the industry, but I was serving artists and not serving myself. So what I took away from all that was to have that major label standard in all that I do but do it on the indie dime.

BL: Back then the basic rock ’n’ roll dream was to get signed. Not anymore.

SA: That's right and it's really served me pretty well because since then the indie world pretty much exploded and I was one of the first to go that route and make a determination to make music on my own terms, to tour internationally, to license music and get to own my own masters and make my own choices. To be autonomous in this business used to be very rare and I do feel blessed to have been able to do some cool things, plays some amazing stages and reach people with what I do. Now I have my own studio and have been producing my own records for the last five years. My amazing wife gave me the green light that I could leave my day job and pursue this full time. Since then we've had fat years and really lean years which were terrifying. It takes a lot of hustle to do it yourself — I wouldn't advise it for the faint of heart. No one cares more than you do so you have to put in the work, and then strive to get properly compensated because people will undercut musicians every chance they get.

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If I had a faster car, a richer girlfriend or even one with a job, here's where I'd be lurking in the back this week:
— English Beat at the Canyon in Agoura (Aug. 27)
— Teresa Russell at 1901 Speakeasy in Oxnard (Aug. 27)
— John Zipperer at Ojai Underground Exchange (Aug. 27)
— Berlin at the Canyon (Aug. 28)
— Cary Park at Four Brix Winery in Ventura (Aug. 29)
—CRV at Winchesters in Ventura (Aug. 29)
— Ball & Sultan at Cold Spring Tavern in Santa Barbara (Aug. 29)
— Jerry McWorter Trio at Copa Cubana in Ventura (Aug. 31)
— Allman-Betts Band at Regent Theatre in L.A. (Sept. 2)
— Gogol Bordello at Wiltern Theatre in L.A. (Sept. 2)
— Free Love Project at Tony's Pizza in Ventura (Sept. 2)

— Bill Locey has been covering the Ventura County music scene for more than three decades and writes "Rock Talk" for the Ojai Valley News.

 

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