The Verse’s Autumn Micketti interviews Alexandra Stréliski ahead of her show at the Great Escape Festival today.
One of the rare women in the neoclassical world, Alexandra Stréliski, takes her listeners on an emotional journey with her captivating piano pieces. It’s incredible what one person can do with two hands and set of keys, and Alexandra’s vulnerable piano creations evoke more emotion than a full orchestra ever could. With the release of her new album, Inscape, the pianist is embarking on a massive world tour that extends all the way into 2021. Alexandra admits that she tries not to look ahead, “I just get anxious. I just go one thing at a time because if I look at everything, I go crazy. Because then I’m like ‘oh god I’m booked until February 2021’. You don’t want to look too much ahead.”
Alexandra will be performing at The Great Escape this week and this intimate show will feature a solo performance by her, but she will not be alone on the road. “I have a team supporting me and so I’m doing this with a group of people. If I was just alone, I would go nuts. I mean, in the end, I’m still alone on stage and that’s something that I have to face, but it does help.” Her performances are not the only act of vulnerability, as her previous album follows a very intense part of her life where everything was shifting at once.
Alexandra spoke to The Verse about creating her new album and how she takes care of herself through the ups and downs of every-day life.
A: I wrote [Inscape] after a period that was very transitional [for me], I switched my job, I separated from my partner, I changed a bunch of things. That’s what Inscape is, it’s like this transition in life. [The word] inscape means inner landscapes [as well as] the unique points in each individual. I say that on stage too; it was this sort of trip towards finding that unique point in my life and that was the piano and going on stage and presenting these songs.
V: How has your life changed since releasing Inscape?
A: It changed radically because my album in Quebec had huge success very quickly. I started doing these really big show’s in front of thousands of people and media and then I started travelling with it. Before, I was doing a nine to five job working in the studio [doing] film and advertising, so everything changed. It’s been fast and great!
V: You’ve referred to yourself as a pop musician as well as a classical one. Do you ever feel like you want to find more of a place in either of those genres or are you happy being a hybrid between them?
A: I just gave up on having a place that already exists in life, like just in general [laughs]. I know that I’m sort of like a different type of human, I just feel things very intensely. I really don’t care about having a genre and now I do [have one] because there’s this whole neo-classical modern-classical movement. I’m really not alone, but I don’t care for classifications, I really don’t.
The important thing is to just move people through your art and get through to them. I think once you do that, whatever you’re doing, your job is done as an artist because we translate things. I’m doing what feels most natural to me.
V: Looking ahead for just a moment, are there any places on your tour that you’re excited about going to?
A: Sure! I’m excited to go to Iceland. I’ve never been, and I was excited to come to England and here I am, and I’m going to Germany next fall, so I’m looking forward to that. I’m doing a lot of Quebec shows, so I’m excited for that too. In Quebec, I have a very large audience that’s already built. So that feels great to just show up on stage and have people that are already familiar with the albums and stuff.
When I go on tour in Europe people are discovering me all of the time, so it can get a bit more intimidating, but I’m looking forward to going pretty much anywhere. I mean, it’s so cool that I get to travel with my music, and I just have to bring my hands! [laughs] I just get on a plane and show up somewhere and they have a piano and I play. It’s great!
V: What are you doing when you aren’t playing music?
A: I just watch Netflix [laughs]. Like, I’m kidding but I’m not. It’s so exhausting to do what I do, [to] go on stage and perform and then meeting people and I’m sort of an introvert also, so this takes a lot of energy. So, when I come home, I’m so tired. I just turn my brain off [and] I play video games and watch Netflix, and I cook, I love to cook.
V: What kind of things do you like to cook?
A: I like to cook soul food. Like classics that are just so good. I’m a classical person, classical with a twist, it’s the same as my music. [laughs]
V: When I think of soul food, at least where I’m from, it’s macaroni & cheese and fried chicken. What’s soul food to you?
A: Soul food for me is spaghetti, and my dad is French so like Boeuf Bourguignon and stuff like that.
V: With a good bottle of wine you can’t go wrong with that.
V: Do you have any future recording plans?
A: I’m working on a short film right now, and I’m also writing for a circus. These are my next recordings that I’m doing. It’s mostly for the circus and the film, and then I’m going to go into [a] creation phase, maybe during the tour or after, I don’t know.
V: So, you’ve worked in advertising and you write for other things as well. What has been the most difficult thing to write for?
A: I think it was probably in advertising when I had to write some music styles that I [was] just not that good at or comfortable with. One of the hardest things for me is folk music because it’s very guitar-istic and I can strum the guitar, but I can’t really pluck and do something cool with it. Also, when I had to write for some clients that I didn’t feel comfortable supporting politically, so that’s always off. The rest of the time I was pretty lucky, even in advertisement, because I got called [up] for doing piano songs and stuff that was closer to what I do naturally.
V: You started playing the piano when you were about 6. Is that when you started composing?
A: I think I started composing when I was about 10 or 12. I started playing at about 6 when I was in Paris.
V: Do you remember what the first piece was that you composed?
A: [laughs] It was called Atmosphere. It had these really large basses going on and then I played in the high keys and it sounded like a horror movie. I was already kind of Emo; it was way too deep for my age.
V: What you are listening to these days?
A: I don’t listen to that much music because I tend to get over saturated with sound, but of the people in my genre I really love Joep Beving. He’s from the Netherlands. I listen to old soundtracks [as well], and I listen to folk music not like “folk-folk-folk-folk” but like slow folk, like melancholic folk, mostly guitar orientated. I love Jose Gonsalez! That’s the type of music I listen to.
V: Who or what inspires you?
A: Everything. Music is my way of expressing emotions, so anything, like I’m going through another split up right now, and it sucks, so, for sure I’m going to probably express myself through [music]. Just whatever I go through emotionally it’s going to end up being part of the music. Like I said, [music is] really what got me through life and [kept me] sane. I need it, if I don’t play the piano for a couple of days or a couple of weeks, I feel bad inside, I feel like I need to get something out. It’s really the way that I take it out, you know a lot of people work out and stuff. For me, it’s the piano.
V: So, it’s like your own version of therapy in a way.
A: Yep, and I’m bringing it on stage and having the therapy with other people.
V: Well, they’ve paid for their tickets, so they’re consenting so it’s fine [laughs].
A: Yep, they’re consenting [laughs]. Plus, we have a lot of similar emotions within us and I think that’s the whole purpose of art.
V: How long does it usually take you to write a piece?
A: That really depends, I have some pieces that took me two days and I have some that took me three years. Because the melody comes back and then I play it this way and then it’s like ‘Nah, it’s not finished’, and then I can leave it be for a year and come back to it. It really depends, but like Burnout Fugue, for instance, on Inscape, that was very intense in the composition. I think it was like a week where I was just drilling this riff and it ended up being what it is now, so that was quite fast. But when I write for films, sometimes it takes me two hours and it’s done.
V: If you write something really quickly, do you ever question if it’s good enough because it took you a short period of time?
A: No, I think sometimes the first draft is the best because it’s pure and very spontaneous, but if it’s not finished it’s not finished. I have a tendency to know when it’s not complete and I have to work some more on it. Sometimes you don’t need to, sometimes the first draft is the best. I mean it’s never really finished, but I have a sense of knowing when it’s done and it’s good enough for me to want to present it.
You can catch Alexandra’s performance at St. Mary’s Church on Thursday, May 10th at 7:45 pm.