Alex Napping’s second record Mise En Place is set to be released TOMORROW, and the quartet will celebrate by kicking off tour in its native Austin, Texas before making its way over to the East Coast. In anticipation of all of these things, I had a phone chat to frontwoman Alex Cohen (now Brooklyn-based) last week to talk about the record, the difficulties of transporting watermelons in NYC, a theoretical tribute band titled “Now 4 Now” and MORE, so internet-eavesdrop on our full conversation below and feel REAL ENLIGHTENED! You should also pre-order a copy of the LP (the cyan and bone vinyl is tiiiiiiight) via Father/Daughter Records, and grab tickets to the band’s gigs in 1. NYC at Sunnyvale on May 13th, 2. DC at Songbyrd Music House on May 16th, and/or 3. Chicago at Downstairs on May 20th, depending on which one(s) make(s) sense for you geographically. HERE WE GO:
So I know you were living in Austin before Brooklyn, but did you grow up in Texas, too?
Sort of. I was actually born here on Long Island, and then I kind of hopped around the East Coast a lot before we landed in Texas when I was twelve. Then I went to most of middle school and high school in North Texas, and then I went to Austin for college.
What’s it like to grow up in North Texas?
Yeah, it was weird. [Laughs] We were in the suburbs of Fort Worth, which is another big city that’s about thirty miles from Dallas. It’s just really conservative and boring. I remember when we all started getting our licenses, I had a few friends that were also into music, so we’d drive to shows in Dallas that were forty-five minutes away because we were so desperate for things to do. It’s definitely part of the Bible Belt, and very different from Austin or New York. [Laughs]
Right! And so now obviously you’re in New York now, but you’re also kind of back and forth between here and Austin with Alex Napping. Tell me a little bit about the record that’s about to be released!
It’s our second album, and it’s called Mise En Place, which is a French culinary technique that basically means that you prep all of your ingredients before you start cooking. (So chopping all of your vegetables and putting them in bowls, having everything ready to go so you’re not dealing with any catastrophes.) I chose that title because a lot of the album is centered around how a lot of my life I kind of had this falsely held belief that if you do things a proper way, or you try to have all of your things in place in life, it will lead to a desired outcome. Obviously life is a lot more unpredictable and uncertain than that, though, and that was something that I struggled with a lot in my professional life, my romantic life, my friendships and all of my relationships.
So now that you’re kind of aware of that, or have accepted those uncertainties, do you feel like it’s helped you to navigate life a little better? (Especially this trash fire of an unpredictable year?)
[Laughs] I don’t know. I wish I could say it’s helped with that. I feel like if anything it’s helped in my personal life, but I don’t know. In terms of the grander scheme of what’s going on with the world, it’s so hard not to be anxious!
Right, totally. Well getting back to the record, as with most music or art, people are kind of prone to psychoanalysis in their interpretations of creative work. Is that weird for you? Like, has anyone said anything totally off the wall about the music you’ve made that you’d never have thought about if they hadn’t brought it up?
Not totally off the wall, but it is always funny to me when people are listening to the lyrics and coming up with ideas for what a song is about. The ideas aren’t crazy, and I can see where conclusions were drawn, but it’s also wrong. [Laughs] You obviously can’t just reach out to them and be like, “Hey, by the way, you’re totally wrong,” though. I feel like I’m okay with people looking into the meaning of something and trying to make it mean what they think it should or want it to. That’s part of art, really.
True. Now, you had finished all the songs on Mise En Place before you came to NYC, right?
Yeah, the whole album was actually finished before I moved up here.
So how will you guys approach working on things moving forward with that bit of distance between you?
We’ve been exploring that. I’ve been working on demos for our next record, and Adrian (the other guitarist) and I are sort of on the first tier of writing; we’ve been working on these demos together, so I’ll send him some ideas and he’ll have some feedback, and when he’s been up here for shows we’ve tried to carve out some time to work on things a little bit. I think we’re doing another tour in late July that’ll be leaving out of Austin, so I think my plan is to go there a couple of weeks early for rehearsals and to start writing songs a little bit more in-depth. I think there’s a point where I can’t just be working on them by myself. So yeah, we’re experimenting with that and how it’s going to work. I’m pretty thorough about my demoing process, so it’s really easy to send ideas to people for feedback and work from there. TBD how the process will end up as a whole, though. [Laughs]
Is it always 100% obvious to you what would make a good seed of an idea for Alex Napping as opposed to your other project, Pema?
Yeah, I think so. For example, for this next Alex Napping record that I’m working on, it’s a concept album; all of the songs kind of fit within the story, so that’s pretty obvious to me. But I always kind of differentiate the two more by the mood of what the songs are about, and I always try to have Alex Napping songs have an air of sentimentalism about them, whereas the stuff for Pema is more dry and sassy if that makes sense.
That definitely makes sense. Alright, so you’ve been in New York for a year now or something? That’s definitely long enough to start hating certain aspects of the city, so I’ll go ahead and ask you if there’s anything you don’t like about it at this point.
Oh man, I feel like I’m still in my honeymoon phase! [Laughs] But I always hate when it’s really late at night and I’m leaving a bar and just want to go home and go to bed, and I’m too cheap to take a car, and it takes an hour by train. That’s usually one of the frustrating things, and I’ll end up caving and spending ten dollars on an Uber Pool or something. And I also think the other big thing is figuring out how to buy large items. I have this ongoing joke that the microcosm of New York problems is trying to figure out how to get a watermelon home from the grocery store. Take that as you will I guess. [Laughs]
SO TRUE. Well, you’ll be getting out of the city for a lot of these tour dates; is there anywhere in particular that you’re looking especially forward to passing through?
We have a show in Providence and a show in Connecticut, and I’ve never really been to any of those small Northeastern states, so I’m excited to see that part of the country. I’m also excited to go to Chicago and Minneapolis where I have some friends. I don’t know, this is our first proper tour, so I’m really stoked just to be playing our songs in a different city every night.
For sure! Do you have any kind of survival plan to not get burnt out?
Yeah, I’m going to try and work out every day. [Laughs] I feel like I’m definitely the kind of person whose mood is affected by not having any physical activity, so I feel like I’ve worked on how to be active in short periods of time with no equipment. I’m also trying to figure out how to make time for myself a little bit every day, even if it’s just twenty minutes where I’m like, “I can’t talk to anybody and just need to go and be by myself.” I think the only other thing I’m apprehensive about is just taking care of my voice; I try and do vocal warm-ups every day, but I haven’t had to perform every night for those types of stretches, so we’ll see. I’ve got throat spray and I’m going to pack a bunch of tea and stuff, so hopefully there’ll be no problems.
I feel like not everyone realizes immediately how important it is to like, properly take care of their voice, so when did you come to be aware of that?
I think a year and a half ago when I was in the middle of recording and making the first Pema record and was creating this pop identity more-so than rock band, I was just kind of interested in exploring other parts of my voice and how to use them in different ways, and how to be a better singer. I took voice lessons from a friend of mine in Austin for about six months, and it just kind of opened up my eyes to how fragile the voice is. Singing is something that’s really important to me, even though it’s not my first instrument, per se. I’d never want to do anything that would damage it; it’s part of your body, so it’s way more likely to be affected by things than an instrument that’s an external thing. So I think while I was taking those voice lessons I realized, “Wow, this is really cool that I can do all these different things with my voice, but I also have to be really careful and make sure I’m taking care of it.”
And when did you really embrace singing if it wasn’t technically your “first instrument”?
I think when I started Pema. I don’t know, when I started Alex Napping, even though I was fronting and writing and singing, I didn’t really see myself as a singer, and I didn’t think that I was good enough, you know? (I mean, you have your Mariah Careys of the world, who obviously sounds so different than I do!) It took a while for me to learn that it was possible to learn how to sing, and even though it’s so rooted in the physiological makeup of your body that you might never sound a certain way, you can still get better at it. I think one day I just decided that I wanted to take my voice more seriously as an instrument, and I started to make all these pop songs. It was kind of like a light switched on.
Cool. And now that you’ve briefly brought up Mariah Carey, I’m going to close out this conversation by asking you about if (in theory) you ever formed a tribute band, which singer or group would it be dedicated to?
That’s really tough. Who would it be? I feel like so much of who I am depends on this answer. [Laughs] Well, I’ve always had this idea (and it might not be the best answer) to do a Now 4 tribute set. That’s a lot of artists, but the cover band would be called “Now 4 Now”. (I’ve obviously given this a lot of thought.)
Pre-order a copy of Mise En Place (out tomorrow on Father/Daughter Records), and catch Alex Napping in NYC at Sunnyvale on May 13th, in DC at Songbyrd Music House on May 16th, and/or in Chicago at Downstairs on May 20th.