Popping Up: Alex Gardner
Popping Up is our recurring look at new artists making noise on the music landscape. Because, hey, Madonna and Britney were once unknown, too.
It’s a storyline that might sound familiar—unknown Scottish singer with pipes of gold, determined to become a worldwide sensation. But this ain’t another post about Susan Boyle. It’s your introduction to Alex Gardner, a blue-eyed teen with a soulful voice, a guitar slung over his shoulder and demonstrated ability to write his own tunes. Think a U.K. version of Jesse McCartney, but without the hip hop leanings and nude photos. (Well, so far at least.)
Here’s what you need to know about Alex:
HOMETOWN: Edinburgh, Scotland
MUSICAL BACKGROUND: His mother played violin in a local orchestra, while his brother was in a heavy metal band. “I started having piano lessons when I was 5,” Gardner says on his MySpace. “Though I quit when I was 6. I couldn’t stand someone telling me how to do it. If music sounds right, then it has to be right. It shouldn’t matter about the method.”
INFLUENCES: Marvin Gaye, Aztec Camera, Toots & The Maytals and Elvis Presley. In fact, he’s officially being touted as having “the pop-writing craft of George Michael, the looks of a young Elvis and a soul-pop voice to die for,” though the Guardian describes Alex as being “Less techno-ish than Erik Hassle but more dancey than Gary Go… he could be the first breakthrough male star for eons.”
HIS BIG BREAK: Alex was snagged by fellow Scotsman Paolo Nutini to be his opening act. The 18-year-old went on to perform with the Winehouse-esque Paloma Faith and shirtless wonder Mika.
HIS BIGGER BREAK: “Edinburgh is absolutely beautiful, but it can be a bit of a slow-paced city,” Gardner continues on his MySpace. “I wanted to see if there was a bit more excitement in London.” It turns out there is—he was scooped up by U.K. über-producer Brian Higgins, head of the hitmaking Xenomania (Girls Aloud, Pet Shop Boys, Annie ) team, which has turned its attention toward developing artists in recent years. Higgins and Gardner spent the majority of 2009 crafting songs for the singer’s debut album, which is due out this year from A&M/Universal.
WAIT A MINUTE—XENOMANIA AND GUITAR POP? “Performing is such an essential part of what I do,” says Alex. “I was always the guy at parties who’d get the guitar out.”
Here’s a music video for Alex’s acoustic slowie “There Goes My Heart”:
And here’s the very Xenomania-fied “I’m Not Mad,” which is scheduled to be Gardner’s first single release (in March):
Somehow both are pleasant to the ears, though it’ll be interesting to see exactly how much of a high-gloss adjustment Alex’s initial “John Mayer for the teen set” sound is given for his album. (You can hear the acoustic version of “I’m Not Mad” on his MySpace audio player.)
OUR VERDICT: Expressive, soulful vocals blaring out of a skinny white kid from the U.K., laid over some synths and a mid-temp dance beat? Hey, it certainly worked for Rick Astley.
FREE DOWNLOAD: Grab Alex Gardner’s “There Goes My Heart” for free from his official website.