[Photo courtesy of Alexander 23]

Alexander 23 on working with Olivia Rodrigo, his sophomore EP and more

Alexander 23—born Alexander Glantz in the Chicago suburbs—has a fondness for the number that has settled in place of his last name. Not only is it his birthdate, but it’s also the number worn by basketball icon Michael Jordan. When it comes to the sports legend, the singer and multi-instrumentalist is a die-hard fan.

These days, the Los Angeles transplant acts as the sole creative in terms of writing and recording his songs and is gearing up for a North American tour—his first headline run—with many dates already sold out. Inspired by his love for music and his father’s ability to play guitar, Alexander 23 has spent the majority of his life performing live, including scores of pizza places and bars that he’d have to bring his parents to in his under-21 days.

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Touring’s not the only area of his life where things are looking bright. He’s got nearly 6 million monthly listeners on Spotify, and the single “IDK You Yet,” from his Oh No, Not Again! EP, is a gold-certified hit.

In addition to a music career that’s continuously picking up steam, Alexander 23 has been busy solidifying his name as a writer and producer. Along with Dan Nigro, he co-produced Olivia Rodrigo’s No. 1 song, “good 4 u,” from her debut release, SOUR, and has collaborated with Selena Gomez, mxmtoon and more.

Alternative Press spoke with Alexander 23 about how his career has evolved since childhood, what his creative process is like and the surreal nature of seeing “good 4 u” top the charts.

When you decided to pursue music full time, you were studying at the University of Pennsylvania. Were your friends and family supportive of your decision to drop out of an Ivy League-level university to pursue a more creative path?

I’m fortunate to come from a really supportive family. There were certainly speed bumps along the way, but I definitely wouldn’t be where I am today without my family and friends having my back every step of the way. Also, [it’s] important to note that their love was unconditional, but their support was conditional. They were always honest with me, especially when I needed it the most.

What was the most difficult thing for you to accept about yourself after dropping out of university to pursue music? Were there any tough challenges that tested your passion for music or this career path?

Of course. There were many days along the way where I wasn’t sure if this was the right path for me. I think it’s such a fallacy that you need to have this binary, unwavering belief in yourself to make it. A healthy dose of doubt can in turn motivate you even further sometimes. In the end, I just realized it’s about fulfillment and chasing after what is gonna give you enough. And I realized for me, that was music. I started playing guitar when I was 8 and just fell in love with it. I started my first band when I was 9. [Laughs.]

You don’t hear that all the time. What was it like to start a band that young?

It was awesome. I was lucky that my best friends growing up were also musicians and played piano, bass and drums. So it was just a natural marriage between us all. It was our favorite thing to do, and we practiced every single Friday. Our first-ever show, I believe, was at lunch either in third or fourth grade. I do remember we weren’t good enough at our instruments yet to play and sing at the same time—so we all sat down to play.

I remember that it just felt right. I played in bands continuously after that. I went to school—not for music—but I ended up meeting some guys who I started a band with and did that for a few years. When that ended, I started writing and producing full time for a little bit and fairly quickly realized that I liked doing that but needed to balance it with making my own music as well. So, I started writing for myself.

When you started playing in those early years, were you influenced by anything particularly, and how did that evolve?

Initially, I was super influenced by whatever my dad was listening to. On car trips, we’d put on the Ramones or the Strokes. Then as I got older, he introduced me to more progressive rock, and then I got into groups like Genesis, Supertramp, Kansas and Pink Floyd. I think that’s why I still retain some of those harmonic choices. Once I started writing songs on my acoustic guitar, I definitely gravitated toward John Mayer and people of that ilk. It’s been a journey, and making music now, I can feel all of those influences.

Your songs have a melancholy nature. Does it come easy to you to express yourself that way?

I don’t know if it necessarily comes easy, but it definitely feels natural. It’s a way that I can moderate my emotions in a more healthy way. It’s funny you say melancholy because I was talking to my mom a couple of months ago, and she asked me why all of my songs are so sad. She said, “You’re not a sad person.” I was like, “You’re right.” I’m not sad. I guess I just don’t need to do anything with the happy stuff—I can just experience it and live it. I’m very fortunate that music led to a healthy, productive way that I can express the sad stuff.

What’s the creative process like for you?

It definitely varies, but I think most of the time, it’ll start with a little kernel—a feeling—whether that’s the first line of the song or a chorus lyric. I usually start with lyrics because I’ve found that if I finish a song, no matter how catchy it feels, if I don’t think the lyrics are 100% honest and authentic to me, I’m just not going to end up liking the song. So as a preventative measure, it makes it easier to start with the lyrics because then I at least know that it’s something that I can stand behind and keep working on until it feels like it clicks. 

Oh No, Not Again! was released at the top of the pandemic, but obviously, you couldn’t tour to support it at the time. Are you going to focus on that release now that you have a chance to play it live?

Yeah, I’m so excited. My journey began playing music onstage, so playing shows will always have a really special place in my heart. Shows are the one thing you can’t fake. Real people have to buy a real ticket to come to a real place to see a real show. There are a lot of steps to it, and I think that’s what makes it so sacred and special. I’m also extremely grateful that people are streaming my music. I just can’t see that when I go out and play in front of a thousand people. That will always be the craziest experience and something that is the best part, in my opinion.

While touring wasn’t an option for anyone, did you write any new material?

I did. I definitely had a lot of trouble writing in the beginning [of the COVID-19 pandemic]. My music is so based in my actual life that when new things aren’t happening constantly, it makes it a little bit more difficult to write. I think some people are so good at taking the narrator’s perspective or projecting themselves onto other people’s lives and other scenarios. And for me, that’s always been a bit more difficult, so it was definitely hard in the beginning, but then I came around to it. But now what I’m fighting a bit with is that some of those songs are about things that I’m not going through anymore and not really thinking about anymore. I still like them, but at the same time, I gotta be excited about it to pull it out and go and play it in front of people every night.

You mentioned the importance of being able to create music for yourself and for other musicians. Has your perspective changed or evolved since “good 4 u” has skyrocketed to the No. 1 song in the country? You can hardly open the TikTok app without hearing it echo back at you. Has it been surreal?

Yeah, it most definitely has been surreal. To see a song I worked on achieve that magnitude of success has been super cool and inspiring. The coolest part for me is having done it alongside two people—Olivia and Dan—who I love and respect so much. I feel very lucky to get to make music that means so much to me with people who mean even more.

This interview appeared in issue 397, available here.