37-year-old Alex Wong started to play piano as a preschooler. He studied classical music at college. After being in several bands, the Brooklyn-based singer/songwriter/producer decided to form this solo-fronted project called A City on a Lake. Eclectic arrangements and instrumentation, particularly percussion, drive the subdued techno beats of A City on a Lake. The self-titled debut released today. I spoke with Alex by phone last week.
Amy Steele: It sounds like you’ve always been involved in music or wanted to be part of music in some way?
Alex Wong: I think I always wanted to be part of music but I thought it would be in a more orchestral way. I never thought I’d be singing and writing songs. I didn’t really start writing music until I was about 25.
Amy Steele: How does the classical music influence your writing today?
Alex Wong: Instrumentation-wise, the multi-tasking of the live show I’m playing lots of things and switching between instruments. It’s very textural.
Amy Steele: How is the live show different from the album?
Alex Wong: The live show is played as a trio. The record has a lot of instrumentation and we’re not trying to recreate one or the other. I want the songs to work great live and I want them to work great on the record.
Amy Steele: How did you move away from classical music to playing more alternative music?
Alex Wong: There’s nothing like playing in a symphony with all those people where there’s all that power. And creating all that great music. I couldn’t control the song and the arrangement. It just made a lot more sense to me to be in a band. I had a lot more freedom creatively.
Amy Steele: Where are you from and how did you end up in Brooklyn?
Alex Wong: I grew up in Northern California. Then I lived in L.A. for a little while. Then I moved to Brooklyn specifically for the music. I was working with somebody. I wanted to be there. I wanted to be pushed more. I wanted to be intimidated more. I really felt that I was being pushed the way I needed to be pushed at the time. It made me grown a lot personally and musically.
Amy Steele: Why did you want to do this solo project—A City on A Lake?
Alex Wong: It was the natural next step for me. I had done two or three other projects that were co- or duo-projects. I love collaborating. I love feeding off another person. But I was also frustrated that there was nothing that I wanted to move in the direction that I wanted. At that time I wasn’t ready to do a solo project on my own.
Amy Steele: How is it different from your other projects?
Alex Wong: Musically I don’t think it’s drastically different. I think it’s just an evolution. It was a way of expressing myself that became more involved.
Amy Steele: As a singer, you have a very soothing voice with hopeful vocals.
Alex Wong: I was trying to do something more grown up with this record. I never considered myself a singer. I was always an instrumentalist and it too me a long time to get to the point where I felt comfortable singing leads.
Amy Steele: What do you like best about the album?
Alex Wong: I feel like I got what I wanted and I feel it’s something I can stand by.
Amy Steele: What makes a good song?
Alex Wong: For me, all the elements of the song are working together– the instrumentation as well as the melody and the mood are all part of songwriting. It’s all part of the emotional aspect of the song. It’s just something that makes you feel a strong emotion that makes a good song.
July 18 NEW YORK, NY Rockwood Music Hall
July 19 BOSTON, MA Club Passim
purchase at Amazon: A City On A Lake