Ezzah Rafique | March 12, 2021
Red Bull Records' sad alex has a natural talent for creating emotion by beautifully incorporating pop beats with her dynamic lyrics, placing herself in a "sad indie-pop" genre of music.
The multi-faceted creative, Alex Saad- better known as sad alex- talks about the plight of the modern artist, utilizing your social resources, and her first single of 2021 "dating myself".
Photo by: Raz Azaari
E: Hi! How are you?
A: "Hi! Good, how are you?"
E: I’m great! How are you doing? How’s this year been for you?
A "It’s been… it’s been good. It’s raining today. I’m just sitting here, actually by my piano, I was just chilling by the window playing it was nice. You know I like rainy days... But this year [has] been good. This year’s been productive and just kind of, I don’t know, going about the releases and content thing[s] kinda the way we have before."
E: You’re an avid songwriter, right? How would you describe how you tackle a project and has Covid change anything of your process?
It actually has I think, and my process has been changing a lot even over the last maybe four years or so. Everything, like back when I was starting to write and all that stuff, it was only purely based on personal experience and I couldn’t possibly imagine taking from outside that and I was always kinda going into every song blind and I wasn’t coming in with like a chorus idea or anything like that. I would just be free-flowing ideas and didn’t really know what I was doing. But that’s also a beautiful way to write and there [are] benefits to that style, but as I started writing more, I became a little bit more aware of coming up with concepts. And then when you’re writing with other artists for their project you kind of have to be- you always want to find a way to relate to something you’ve been through at the end of the day and you usually can- but you’re tryn[ing to] tell someone else’s story so that’s gonna be a little bit of a different approach than telling your own. So I’ve done every which way like I was working with another artist for the last two weeks for her project and I did come in with ideas that we would sometimes use. I would come up with an idea based on [how] she had gone on a tangent about something the day before about something then from there I would pick and choose and do my homework at the end of the night to come up with something based on something that she’d talked about. But then it could go every which way because I do want to make sure to not lose sight of [it]. As much as I love concept writing like for Covid too, once the life experience thing was kind of taken out of the equation, I got into more like reading and also watching TV and movies which I always deemed a while ago a complete waste of time- like why would I want to sit there and watch TV- but I actually get a lot of song ideas from watching a TV show and someone says something really powerful and I’ll be able to take th[at] and make a song out of it which I think has helped keep the gears turning. It doesn’t necessarily result in the best song of all time but at least get your mind to think of something because that’s almost functioning as watching a life experience in front of you and you can try to get something from there. So, I think the key to writing now, has been versatility and seeing what unique areas can you draw inspiration from that may or may not be [a] derivative from your own life experience but [also] how can you tie it in enough so it feels real to you singing it and all of that stuff.
E: Do you pull like inspiration- asides from concepts- from like different artists or different musicians like style-wise too not just like lyrically?
A: I think there is there's like ‘smart copycat’ and ‘stupid copycat’ stuff when it comes to.. like I don’t want to say the word stupid it's aggressive, but like it's great to listen, in my opinion, it's great to listen to old music you grew up on or stuff that hasn't been cycled into your ears in a long time. And maybe you can get a really cool chord progression idea from that. Or maybe you can be like, ‘wow, that that line is sort of like if maybe we flip now to be modernized’ or whatever it is. But a really easy way to spin your wheels is to go down the like trying to chase something that just came out like a week ago kind of approach. And I'm not saying that I've never done that. Everybody's been victim to that. And we've all been there when a massive song comes out and you're like, damn, I'm so mad I didn't write that. And even though, you know, you won't be able to recreate that magic that they've made, you'll find yourself trying to. And so you'll try to do it, but for the most part, that's like the Max Martin approach too is to like take things with old 70s hit and like flip it into like Backstreet Boys or whatever he was doing. So I think it's one hundred percent good to get inspiration. You just kind of have to be a little bit careful were, for me anyway, you have to be careful where you take it from because then you're at risk of doing something that doesn't feel completely authentic or genuine or you feel like you've taken someone's idea and that's not great.
E: I love the way you worded that, I read that you also draw all of your artwork, which by the way, that's incredible. How important do you think it is to put yourself into your work? And do you plan on, like, drawing the rest of your artwork, like even in the long term?
A: I think, well, it's funny because I was talking to my manager about th[at] this morning to we were kind of joking about the plight of the modern artist. With all of these platforms popping up on your worst days, you can look at it and get frustrated because like at the beginning, I signed up for this job to make music. That was my only goal, to make music, to perform it like that was it. And now it's like, oh, well, you have to be... it's better if you can do your own art. It's better [if you're- also feel like a comedian and an actress and you have to do all these things, all these like you have to be like a viral star on this thing or whatever. And I'm like, damn, I didn't sign up for all this stuff. This is a lot of responsibility. But you do have to kind of accept like we signed up for like an evolving, constantly evolving industry. So I try to look at it more pragmatically and I don't ever try to do something that's like I find the balance. So I don't feel like I'm completely losing sight of myself and why I got into this. But I will try to use the resources at hand to help my positioning or help me find additional outlets. And maybe it works, maybe it doesn't, but at least I'll give it a good old Girl Scouts try and so for the drawing stuff that was even more out of necessity than anything else. I was in a position where I was really struggling. I had just rebranded and previous to the rebranding of the name change and everything, I was struggling to find a visual direction at all. And you would often end up spending a few hundred dollars or more on graphic designer stuff that you don't even at the end of the day like and I'm not a big I don't like photoshoots. I don't like that kind of stuff. And I'm not a huge fan of a song that's called like ‘Heartbreak City’ and the artwork is just like some person, like in a pose that doesn't for me have anything to do with the song, not to bash that stuff. It's beautiful. Those are beautiful photos. But for me, it] made a lot more sense to try to find something that not only pertained to the song meaning a little bit more but also was just within my control to finish from point A to point Z. I don't have to depend on anyone else. I've had situations where I've had to procure artwork by the end of the day and I can do that when you're having to rely on someone else for it becomes a lot harder to be able to do things kind of on the fly. So that was both started and then and I didn't even really I could draw somewhat ok, I wasn't I'm not by any means a phenomenal artist, but I doing it over and over. You do get better at it too. So now it's become this thing that I'm drawing five art pieces for each thing I'm working on the ones for the next single right now and they're turning out to be a bit a lot more intricate than I'm used to so it’s taking some time. But it's fun. I think there's something I've actually got a lot of joy in putting on a good playlist and maybe smoking a little weed and drawing some cool art for my song. I think that's like fun [and] not the worst way to spend a night, you know?
E: Yeah, sounds fun, definitely relaxing, especially in comparison to photoshoots. Like there's a lot of work that goes into that.
A: And I've never been a fan of those. I mean, I have to do them, but I think I struggle with a lot of body image stuff growing up, and photoshoots used to give me and still give me a lot of anxiety because you're like, man, my body has to be right. My skin has to be right. Like all of this stuff and some of that's within your control. Some of it's not. And I'm not like the most photogenic camera... I'm not that girl that can really just know my angles and slay a photo shoot. And it's not something I just really, really enjoy that much. I've found I can work around it. At the end of the day, once I get good pictures from something like we just had a shoot for this last song, I was like, oh, these pictures are cool. Like, I'm glad I got this, but the process of doing them is not my favorite thing to do in the world.
E: I totally understand that. If you were to create a playlist for your music, you know, how people give, like, oddly specific titles to playlists and curate them, like sometimes based on mood, sometimes based on situations. How would curate the music that you've made so far? If you were to give it a title like that?
A: I would call it probably like ‘places I've been at least in my head’, you know, so like stuff that's happened to be whether in real life or in fantasy or in well everything that I've put out has been in some way or another based on life, but some are more personal than others. And this next song that's coming out after we haven't announced yet is maybe a little bit more whimsical. So it's more like... it's kind of like being a little bit more poetic. So obviously like that line might not have done in real life, but it's something that I've dreamt about or something like that. So everything has a through-line of either somewhere that I've been emotionally, physically, whatever, or somewhere that I've thought about being.
E: I love that, that's so cool! You also released a collab song with gnash, 'i'm glad that you found someone' back in 2020. How was creating the song and releasing it like especially with Covid because you know where you're restricted to doing a lot of stuff with that?
A: Well that had been in the works for a long time and I think we actually did the recording process and everything for that song before.. it was either before we at least wrote his verse together, before Covid started. It might have even been shortly before that hit. And then he sent the vocals over separately. If he recorded them, I can't remember. The process for getting the song together, we did end up shooting a video, which was a whole getting tested and the whole scenario to make sure it was like a safe shoot and all of that. But, yeah, I mean, the rest of the promo was a whole lot of like we did these TikTok campaign stuff, which the good thing about something like that is that it doesn't really require you to be in anywhere. But like you could do a Tiktok campaign from your bedroom. So we just filmed a couple of things that we posted and encouraged artists and people on there to, like, enter this third verse contest. And that helps generate a lot of attention to the song as well. And so I think there's like a lot to say, not to say that's always the most enjoyable approach, but there is something to be said about this whole situation, forcing you to get a little bit more creative in how you're going to get a song into people's ears. And that's not to say that I do it well every time. It's not easy to get songs in people's ears. You cannot at the end of the day, control if someone's going to like a song or not. But the easy approach before was well, I'm going to take a song I’m gonna tour it for the summer… I'm going to promote it, I'm going to get fans, and that's what's going to happen. But when that outlet’s taken away from you then and same thing, it's like the way you would make connections to whether it's on streaming platforms or radio connections, all these things like it's very hard to make those personal connections now and in a way to help get your song out there. So you have to think about what is within your control. Might require some spending, your time in some things that you're not used to. I'm always a big believer, and I don't think you have to do anything at the end of the day, like you can choose exactly how to spend your time or not spend your time, but... I'm not saying that you have to get on tiktok to be a famous artist or a songwriter for your songs to do well. But by choosing not to, you have to accept that there are certain i dont want to say consequences. But there are certain things that come with choosing to not utilize those resources. They might not be bad. It might just be a different landing point for your career at this moment or whatever it is. But you do have to like... there is a certain kind of cause and effect thing for me about that kind of stuff. And same thing with promoting your songs. It's like you can choose to not change anything that you've done and just doing it the same way that you did before. But you have to just understand that the results are not going to be what you're expecting maybe and be ok with that.
E: Congrats on releasing her new single, ‘dating myself’. I love the message behind it and I love how it focuses on focusing on yourself and loving yourself, how is the creative process for that song like?
A: That one, it was funny because I actually wrote it with my friend Noah... It was a complete joke. I mean, I walked in there and had that idea and we were just laughing and kind of I think I even said, but I was like, maybe we shouldn't do this. Like, this feels like a little bit too, like, jokey. And he was like, no, this is funny and this is fun, let's just do it. So we just had fun, wrote a ridiculous honey joking song, and finished it. And I didn't even think much of it. I was like, well, that was a really fun way to spend the session. And I'm glad that we got to have that moment together. And then fast forward like two years later, it just kind of happened to be like when we were trying to figure out how to roll things out this year, that one came into the picture and I was just like, oh, shit, we're actually going to this song. Like, ok, I'm so getting my head around. That was a bit interesting. But then I brought my friend Gazzo in to help them at the production. And we had a lot of fun, obviously, with the content around it. And that's what I think my content manager, Justin, came in with this [idea] about the dating show thing, and we're rolling all this episode with that. So I think that's where we really try to use our strengths and do what we can to get the song out there or at least have a good time with it, you know.
E: That flows perfectly with my next question. I was going to say, like with putting the song out, you also put out a dating show, which I've watched all the episodes you've put out so far and it's so entertaining. How is that for you? And like, did you know that that was what you wanted to do or like how you wanted to promote it, especially with social media always like changing. You know, there's always different ways you can promote things. I love how you chose the dating show as a way to promote it.
A: Thank you. It was really fun. And it was very genuinely like that show was… it was me getting punked, in a sense, by my friends. I thought that I was hosting this show with pairing off contestants together and ended up being like a complete flip of I am the contestant and one of my good friends, Ricky Wang, was the host. And I think that's where, like, I have a really good working relationship with [one of] my managers, Justin.... but for the content stuff, he is very good at those visual ideas. That's never been a strength for me. And so it was really important to me when we were last year, when we really started launching the project more seriously after signing with Red Bull and everything I really wanted, we wanted to have a system for like how to consistently make, you know, intriguing content for each song. And some are bigger than others. Some are really small, little kind of lyric-y video things and some or whatever. Some are more like unique and creative, and this one being one of them. And I think that's where we just try to set ourselves apart a little bit. That's not to say that it always generates massive views or moves the needle in the streaming numbers. But at least I can feel like we did something to try to do something different and had some fun in the process, because it can be a lot of times disheartening to put music out. So it's really hard to break through. It's really oversaturated. It can be difficult to get the results that you think you want. And so to do something to have a little bit of fun in the release process along the way. And maybe that helps the performance of the song. Maybe it doesn't, but at least it builds up. And so now we have a really good report of unique content for each release so they each get its kind of moment. It's a little world that the song lives in and that has been really fun to keep to keep up with.
E: And lastly, like for any rising stars, people who really want to pursue music. What advice would you give them? Or similar to like how would you if you could go back in time, what advice would you give yourself?
A: I think the simple is stupid, but like following your gut is a big thing. And I know there have been a lot of choices that I've made that I made when I was younger trying to do things. And I knew in my gut that it wasn't the best choice, for whatever reason, whether it be working with someone that made me uncomfortable, whether it be pursuing an artist direction that didn't feel like it was it wasn't doing enough for me to, like, make me feel confident that maybe or if it was anything like a song or whatever, if your gut is telling you that something is not the thing. You're probably right. And so that you can use your gut to put you in something that makes you feel the most powerful, the most uniquely you, the most satisfied with what you're doing, and that'll be making a decision that not everyone else supports or working with someone that, like you didn't expect to be working with or whatever it is. It can kind of come to be in such a variety of ways. But I think there are so many choices that I made that I wish I could like do a little differently, but you have to learn from things. And for me, I find that a lot of times have to learn the hard way, but just like my life. But you can listen. Your body will let you know what it feels comfortable with and then you can, because at the end of the day, if you're doing this, you're going to be doing it for a minute. And it's really hard. And it's not like, you know, there's no right or wrong way or simple rule book to follow. So you might as well feel comfortable and happy while you're doing it. You know, that's the only thing that you can really control.
E: Yeah, that's perfect! I think that's really well said too because I've heard a lot of people give different advice, but I think you put it like you put the words together really well when explaining that.
A: Thank you. I feel like I've kind of babbled them, but I hope the point at least gets across.
E: Yeah, that definitely did [make sense]. Especially with, like, you know, trends are always changing and you don't know what's like in style. Going in one day it changes the next and then trying to steer through all of that. Finding your gut instinct is like really important [especially when] trying to see what you're comfortable with.
A: Well I get questions a lot like how do I write a song? How do I do this or whatever. And it's there is no there might be exceptions that I can be debunked in the comments about this. Some people have it easier than others, but I do truly believe there is no such thing as overnight successes. There's a lot of work that goes into that stuff. And for songwriters, that means you're writing a thousand songs before the song that you write makes you like is the thing. And for an artist, it's trying out how many names and putting out however many singles or EPS or albums until the song catches or you've been circulated through the industry until you finally landed with the team that was able to propel you whatever it is or you write a behind the scenes or so for this many years. And then finally you bring out as an artist and people are like, well, look at this overnight sensation. It's like, nah, Julia Michaels has been writing for people for a long time and she's been doing the thing. So there's always a story behind people. And I think it's more about like doing. I think that's the hardest thing. And the scariest thing is just doing the work. And that's not to put people down. I do the same thing. I procrastinate all day. I'm procrastinating like already today on like many things that... I would like to get done by the end of the day. And I've been spinning our wheels on some dumb shit. But at the end of the day, doing the work is what gets you to the next step. So it's really just about choosing to consciously buckle down and do it. Not to say that that thing is necessarily going to be the golden ticket that takes you to the next level. But, you know, it's at least you're on the right trail to get there. And it's a long, like, really winding trail, especially for me. So just keep your head down and walk the trail, you know?
E: Yeah, that's perfect advice. Thank you so much. No problem for your new single that you're working on right now. Good luck with that. I'm really excited to hear that.
A: Thank you. I'm excited. It's one that I've been wanting to put out for a long time, so I'm really excited that it's all come and come together and gets to have its moment in the sun.
E: Absolutely. Thank you so much.
A: Well, it was a pleasure talking to you and I hope to see you soon.