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In conversation with LA based R&B musician Alex Banin

Jack Barton talks to the fencer turned singer about collaboration, decluttering and her new EP

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Image Credit: Amanda How

Spotify is a wonderful place, and its recommended playlists have guided me to some great artists that I still listen to. ‘Fresh finds’ is a playlist dedicated to showcasing the very best sounds that independent artists have to offer. One such artist is Alex Banin, a London born, New York raised, Chicago based singer who recently moved to LA to become a full-time musician. Her hit ‘Hawthorne’ is a powerful R&B infused reflection on the complex parallels between drugs and the collapse of a relationship. Banin’s voice effortlessly cuts across excellent production (often by Vlush) to deliver a well packaged sound that surpasses her age of just 23.

Alex would describe her sound as “Introspective, nostalgic, chill.” Her sound has not gone unnoticed, as she has worked with a host of powerful lyricists such as ‘femdot’ and shared Kota the Friends ‘EVERYTHING with Joey Bada$$, tobi lou and bas and KYLE. I had the pleasure of catching up with the rising star over Zoom across time zones to chat about collaboration, fencing and her debut EP featuring the critically acclaimed ‘Saba’.

I caught Alex at the beginning of a usual workday, having moved to LA a few months ago; “I am just working on finishing stuff, I’ll usually have a session or two, either for my own stuff or another artist or producer. And now I am starting to do live shows again…”. Banin chose to make the move as “it felt like things were moving there for me, I was taking trips between Chicago and LA. And Chicago winters really put you through it. And it’s warm in LA.” While Covid has had a big impact on us all, organically meeting new people is something Banin enjoyed as “navigating the online sphere is new for me”.

Having been born in London, raised in New York and then moved to Chicago and LA, Alex “is comfortable with moving”, but “a lot of my personality and style comes from New York, London I was pretty young but I am sure stuff came from there… (chuckles)....I spent a summer with my dad, so I did meet a lot of people in London for music but it was like way before I even started thinking about music.”

After moving to LA a few months ago she noted, “I don’t know if I’m going to be here forever. I can’t see myself more than five years here, but the whole industry is here and it’s so easy to meet people and have a session. There are so many working musicians and creatives here, if I want to do a music video it’s so easy to do it in LA… there’s definitely more that I can do in terms of spaces I want to explore, but I think I am always going to have that.”.

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Image: Nathan Valencia

Discussion then shifted to Alex’s love of fencing, the focus of the brilliantly made ‘Hawthorne’ music video: “I’ve always wanted to do a music video with it, it’s a super strong visual so I have always had it in the back of my mind. Putting fencing next to massive brutalist architecture was a great contrast. As you can imagine, fencing was her ‘entire life’ before music… “and when music came into the picture I was like ‘wow I really love this’. And then at some point you’ve got to pick one or the other when things get serious…. and it’s not like I am going to fence into my 30s.” Whilst music is Banin’s focus, she would still like to do it once or twice a year.

Music videos and visuals clearly play an important role in Alex’s creative life, noting how music is more than just sounds she said “There are so many facets of visual art, you have your personal style, music videos, cover art, performance visuals. It’s really cool you get to do all these things as an artist.”.

Whilst Covid has impacted us all, Alex notes the shift away from the organic way of meeting people has made it difficult, both for travelling and how ‘online touring is a little more iffy’. With that said, since the pandemic began a whole host of material has been released with various artists like Kota the Friend, femdot, and The O’My’s.

Since collaborating with a whole range of incredible artists, on reflection she stated that “It’s cool that people in Chicago who I knew of way before they knew me are reaching out and wanting to work on projects with them has been an incredible experience…. Things happen quickly in Chicago, there’s only going to be one or two shows a night, so everyone gets gassed up for the same thing. It’s organic, it’s friends of friends, like a community.”

Alex notes that since moving to LA, “there’s a lot more going on, there’s so much to do, it’s much more about meeting people again.” She’s clearly excited with the direction she’s heading in: “a lot of these people are new, or people that I’ve always wanted to work with, it’s all new.”

On the note of collaboration, Alex’s debut EP 'DID I IMAGINE' featured 27-year-old ‘Saba’, noted as a ‘master of his craft’ following the critically acclaimed ‘CARE FOR ME’. “He had set such a precedent for other people; he had a sound that shaped what Chicago music is now.”. The song titled ‘Rolling’, Alex agreed with producer ‘Vlush’ needed a feature, “Saba was one of the first people we both thought of, so I asked my manager ‘could you get Sab on here?’, he said yes. It was sick.”

“It was cool to work with someone who I had such a respect for such a long time…I didn’t tell people until I had the verse, because it didn’t feel real…”

Whilst there are other artists such as Frank Ocean who “would be a dream to work with, I would start crying!”, for Alex, the “best collaborations are natural” and this has certainly proved true. However most newfound partners have often fallen on the production end “as a writer most of my sessions are with producers’’, with her EP produced by “all different people.” Whilst she ‘does not want to speak things in’, her dream list features the likes of Dijon, Phoebe Bridges, Omar Apollo. However, ultimately “the best things happen with no expectations, it’s about getting into a room and having a really good time.”

Clearly then, for the LA based artist, her music is going through “constant evolution”. Whilst her earlier music was slower, she’s excited for the upbeat and dancey tracks that are coming out. “I’ll think they are really upbeat and dancey, and everyone’s like ‘oh this is really mellow.’” Alex clearly possesses the ability to move and experiment with sound, something she is excited for moving forward. Looking into 2022, the singer doesn’t want to get too hopeful with shows however she is hopeful musically “I feel so much better about creating and having time with it, and that’s what’s really important.”

Starting songs are Banin’s favourite part, noting how they ‘just happen’, “which is why finishing songs such for me…like I can come out with a great hook or verse and that’s the best part”.

Whilst Alex does not always follow it, she notes the best advice she has been given is about ‘decluttering your space’. More about tidying her room, Banin notes it is “promoting having stuff around you that is essential, and not just extra clutter”. That said, “I don’t follow it at all, but when I do I feel really good about only having things that benefit me around me… not extra, extra fluff…”. On the topic of advice, the singer would advise new artists to

“Have fun and meet as many people as you can, once you start putting pressure on yourself that’s when problems come.”

Alex’s work ethic is clearly paying off, as she is doubling tenfold in listeners each year, “it just goes to show if you keep working at it and responding to what’s working, it pays off…” On advice for herself, looking into 2022 the singer wants to “stay happy, healthy and grateful. If I can keep all of that up, everything else is extra.”

Moving to LA has clearly given the musician a sense of excitement, noting how it is easy to wake up and write music. However, she acknowledges that “burnout is real, losing your love for music is as real as it is for anything… I don’t ever want to sell out, I know it’s a popular word, but I don’t ever want to make music I don’t like just for the purpose of it.”

You can find Alex's latest EP 'DID I IMAGINE' on Spotify here

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