Breakup and an unexpected romance shape the latest from the indie-rock quartet
Alex Cohen, singer and guitarist for Austin/New York indie-rock quartet Alex Napping, has never shied from pouring her most intimate thoughts into her songs — a trend that dates back to some of the musician's earliest attempts at songwriting.
“I met this boy at [college] orientation and … we would talk on the phone for hours. This was my first intense emotional experience gearing up for the adult world, and I wrote this song over that summer about those long conversations we would have,” said Cohen, who wrote her very first song, “Mender of Souls,” as a high school sophomore, taking inspiration from a Shakespeare play read as part of a class assignment. “That was the first song where I was like, ‘This feels like me. It feels like I'm writing about my life and … not fake experiences.'”
Fittingly, a number of songs on Alex Napping's sophomore album, Mise En Place, sound like they could have originated as phone calls between two people, with the singer detailing the wreckage of a doomed relationship and her attempts to find footing while “navigating my first few years in the real, adult world,” as she explained it.
The strain builds in songs like “You've Got Me,” where a dissonant, slow-building guitar riff mirrors the growing tension in the singer's words. Then on “Living Room,” Cohen wrestles with the anxiety brought about by cohabitation, torn between the daydream of shared pictures on the wall and the reality that a living space rarely reflects both individuals equally.
“I've called ‘Living Room' the thesis statement of the record,” said Cohen, who joins her bandmates for a Spacebar concert on Wednesday, May 17. “I think that my problem now, and what wasn't my problem when I wrote that song, is that I really imprint on the space so much so that it's hard to imagine fitting someone else into it.”
While the album undoubtedly chronicles a breakup, a burgeoning romance serves as a welcome counterpoint: the one between Cohen and her band.
“I really dug my heels into making a music career for myself, and that has required a lot of mental and physical energy and a lot of sacrifice,” Cohen said. “The creative process for me is a really personal and intense endeavor. It's something I'm happy to spend a lot of time on, but it's made finding balance in other areas a little more elusive. When I was writing this record I hadn't come to the conclusion I wanted to go full-force with trying to be a musician. And part of the record was figuring that out.”
Despite the personal nature of the material, Cohen said she's got plenty of emotional distance from the events that inspired the record, since they predate recording sessions, which took place in Austin between November 2015 and February 2016, by nearly a year.
“The songs still feel like snapshots from moments in my life … but when I listen back now I feel like I'm in a completely different headspace,” Cohen said. “It does still draw me back to those moments, but it doesn't feel like a part of my life anymore.”