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Alexander Nate Writes for All of Us

By DJBooth on

A gorgeous voice can only take you so far. When you can pair an undeniable vocal with unshakeable lyricism, that’s when you’ve got a winner on your hands. Enter: Alexander Nate. The Virginia artist’s pen and deliveries hit the heart in equal measure. His latest, an EP entitled bluejay, out now, finds him seeking peace through the ups and downs of life and love. As Nate processes his sorrow and joy, listeners are treated to 20 minutes of revelations.

bluejay breathes wonderfully. Opener “Lay Low” brings us into Nate’s orbit by way of pensive keys and a pattering percussion. Hip-hop flavors underscore the ballad-like piano. It’s a perfect storm.

Later, the project evolves into a full-blown and heartfelt R&B exploration with “Company.” The plucking of guitar and Alexander Nate’s forceful voice singing “Dance with the devil for a season” brings us to tears. “Could you save my soul?” Nate practically begs before a grand swell. “Company” tackles the hard truth of being out of love and only interested in the option of your partner. It’s a painful dissertation on how we devalue our potential lovers. And yet, Nate’s powerful singing buoys the song, keeping us from drowning in sentiment. Another perfect storm.

Alexander Nate’s writing and singing are nearly overwhelming. He takes us to the edge without letting us tumble over. bluejay is but a taste of the depth he brings to the table. He writes for those who have lost love, but who will find love again. He writes for all of us.

When did you realize you could sing?

It was when I was younger. My mom would always play those old-school legends. Sam Cooke. Nina Simone… My mom is from Ethiopia, so when I grew up—a lot of Ethiopians were [listening to the same music]. Songs from Al Green, all those. So when she came to America, those songs were what she was listening to and played for me growing up. Hearing that and Ethiopian music at the same time… I would be singing to myself, singing in the shower.

My mom put me into the church choir. As I got to high school, I was finding myself at this crossroads. I was trying to be a sports guy, but it wasn’t really for me. The more I started singing and diving into the choir, the more I got into the musical side. I just started singing Sam Cooke and started doing talent shows and went from there.

When did you fall in love with writing?

Right about then [high school] is when I started putting down stories. I write in a storytelling style. I remember hearing songs that Sam Cooke would write, telling you from start to finish this really cool story. It inspired me to [write]. I loved being there and being transported.

I loved reading books growing up, too. When we were kids. my mom wouldn’t allow us to watch TV in the house. But me and my sister were allowed to go to get books from the library. That was our outlet to let our imagination run wild. I went through different phases of stories. I learned the art of storytelling and telling something that can resonate with you, even if it’s not directly linked to your journey.

Lineage is everything in music, so who do you consider yourself a sonic child of?

Hm, Macy Gray. Sam Cooke, of course. The greatest. Nina [Simone], but in more recent times. Macy is one of inspirations because her vocal approach is so unique.

The new EP, bluejay, is about seeking peace. How do you find peace in your daily life?

Red Canary [my last project] talked about my past relationship and things I’d gone through in my past: My upbringing, life with my parents…

[For] bluejay, I dove into what I’m going through currently and reflecting and the relationship I’m in now. After a certain time, especially after you leave home, you’re trying to find your footing. Trying to find your route. Over the last year or two, I was able to find myself within this ecosystem of making music and what my stories are. In regards to peace, it’s really the life I currently have.

In the press release, you wrote, “bluejay has allowed me to depict what’s been going on with me in the present. The ups and the downs, learning who to trust and navigating through love.” Talk to me about how love impacts your creative process.

It heavily influences me. When you find somebody you really click with… How do I put this into words? It really changes how you approach things. In Red Canary, I talk about relationships from the past that could’ve been more, but weren’t.

Finally, in the last two years, I’ve been able to find somebody I click with and tell the story of love, not wanting to lose that person. Or, the ups and downs and love. You know that dance you do in the beginning, when you’re trying to figure out who that person is and also trying not to put yourself out there too much? There’s a certain point where you cross this barrier where it’s either gonna be something more, or you’re going to have to call it quits. That fine dance is something that always fascinated me.

In “Company,” I talk about looking for something. It comes from a place of “You’ve not been that kinda guy, so I don’t really know if you are that kinda guy.” I’ve always found it really fascinating, because everyone goes through that moment.

It’s that now-or-never moment.

Correct! Everyone has their fears and when you come to a relationship, in the beginning it’s all fun, but as time goes, it becomes deeper. Sometimes those things scare people away. In my past, I don’t think I was as ready, but as time has gone on, I’ve found myself really… It’s just that concept of whether or not—there’s this show called Normal People

I’ve read the book!

I think the show is incredible. The fact you can’t see what the people are fully going through internally. You see people who don’t know how to communicate, even when they’re next to each other. Things like that, they’ve always fascinated me, because they can’t get out of their own way in a sense. When they’re finally able to do it, it’s a great thing. I don’t know if I’m rambling…

Well, tell me this: what’s the hardest lesson you had to learn to make bluejay?

Who to trust, and mainly setting aside ego. Learning how to be a better version of yourself. When you have ego in front of your mind, you’re thinking about what could happen, what can’t happen, and you’re missing out on situations. That kind of decision you have to come to, of whether or not you’re going to be that person and let that guard down, so you can actually be happy or be serious with someone or anything, that’s the start of me being like, “I don’t really want to be around situations that I feel I shouldn’t be.” I don’t know how to say that correctly, but I don’t want to… I’d rather sit back and focus on myself and what I have to do.

Dealing with that tangle of emotions, which song on here was most difficult to write, and how did you get through it?

Writing “Company” was difficult. It depicts that moment I was telling you about, that push and pull. Whether or not you’re going to dive into something deeper or not. That was difficult to describe, because when I write, I put myself in those exact moments. [Singing]. It depicts the moment I’m in the room with that girl, and takes me back. It’s hard to convey exactly what I’m going through at the moment. I tried really hard.

Obviously it’s for you, but who else is bluejay for?

This is for the people who have either lost love, or are in the middle of finding love. Maybe even the people who are hopeful for even more.

By Donna-Claire Chesman for DJBooth. Photos by Genevieve Adams and Nicholas Bates.

InterviewAlexander NateVirginiaR&BFeatures

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