Alex Siniari

Alex Siniari

This is the first in our newest category “Interviews with NJ Artists”. This is with local arist & singer-songwriter Alex Siniari, recently highlighted in the Philadelphia Inquirer with his Father.

So how long have you been playing guitar?

I’ve been in love with the guitar for a long time but our most recent affair has been the only time we’ve ever taken each other seriously. My Father played in a band back in his younger years and later on in life, he had a friend named Paul Leka, he and his band (Steam) wrote a song that became famous some time ago. Ever heard, “Nah nah nah, hey hey hey, goodbye!”?  That guy. Anyway, he gave me a guitar when I was a boy but I didn’t have the sense to practice. I used to think strumming the strings open was a song. After a while, I lost interest completely and forgot about the guitar all together. I would tell people I could play because I wanted to so badly but I had no idea. I’d try to play here and there but had no clue.

How long have you been writing songs?

After flirting with the idea for a long time I finally bought my Ibanez and started trying to write songs. I never learned to read music and I still haven’t but at some point something clicked and music started to make sense to me. I still can’t sit down and write a song after a feeling or concept intentionally, it just has to come and I have little to no control. The song writes itself through me and I dig that, but often people don’t understand why I don’t write about myself or even get what I am singing about. I clearly remember telling my friend, JY that I could do this, I could write songs and play out. He is an incredible drummer so we’d jam here and there and I’d work up the nerve to play in front of people. I wrote one complete song with lyrics, that I have since completely forgotten, and a few instrumentals that either were lost to my poor memory or later developed into songs I play now, like “Free” and “Hand Over Mouth”. Free was the second song that I wrote, then came “So Far” so I’ve been writing somewhere around the two year mark.

How long have you been “playing out”?

I moved to Brigantine during the first six months of writing/playing and met my neighbor who turned out to have a funky party band (the now defunct Animated Orange) that would practice a few times a week. One night I walked in and introduced myself and a few minutes later they were jamming out one of my songs. I couldn’t keep up then and probably still couldn’t, but it was from there that my neighbor, Christian Glomb (now front man of Ill Rendition) noticed me. I think he used to hear me playing because we shared a porch and a wall. He finally convinced me to open for his band and practiced with me. I can remember falling in love with his feel for the songs and being in awe of how skilled he is at playing, I still am. I barely made it through that first show we played together. I wrote what is now called “All Night Long” because I only had two songs which wasn’t enough to open. The place was a bar in Atlantic City, Duck Town Tavern, so I wrote a song about what people in bars do; drink, run off together and touch each other in private places, it was called “So Good” back then. From there Chris played with me for a few shows and then the training wheels came off. I had to stand on my own and thanks to that, I am comfortable performing with out accompaniment, though I do love to have a guest(s) when I can. Occasionally, I can still get Chris to play a few tunes, those are special performances to me. I just passed the one year six and month mark (6/18/09) and have played more shows this month than any other month in my short career.

Alex Siniari

Alex Siniari

What do you find to be a major source of inspiration for your songs?

For me inspiration comes from the philosophy that informs my outlook on life, Ontology. That we’re all related, the best and the worst of us are all one, created in one image. It’s paradoxical in that the more of a “person” or “individual” you become- the more you separate yourself from the pack, the less of a person you actually are. I want to reach people who feel disconnected from life whether it be from sadness, poverty, addiction, pride, power, selfishness, whatever it is that has them isolated and remind them that they aren’t alone whether they like it or not. Some songs are people’s stories that I’ve seen, I sing and play them as a witness to their suffering. If I could empower one person to remember that life is Eucharistic and that you can’t live without love, not just in a romantic sense either, then I’d feel like my music had some meaning. I also find inspiration in love in my personal life through my wife and family. Then there are the lowest common denominator themes that most people can relate to. Also, I want to be ambiguous enough that the songs can mean different things to different people. I want people to take what they feel from them. Recently, my Brother Nick gave me his take on “Hand Over Mouth” being about a Guardian Angel that sacrifices divinity out of a sense loyalty to protect someone and I love that it means so much to him.

I know you’re working on an album, can you tell me a little more about that?

I can’t say enough about Dustin Miller, who I am recording with. On top of playing drums in many projects of his own (T.J. Fry, Ravioli Shankar) he is taking the time to help me with my music. Dustin is a multi-instrumentalist, a talented song writer, and a hell of a producer/engineer. He “gets” my music. I can really say we share a vision on these songs and in giving to the relationship we’ve really been able to get down to brass tacks and get some hard work done on many songs. The songs are, in a sense, very representative of what you’ll hear if you catch me live but they have this depth; these layers and a fullness that you can grab hold of and listen to again and again and hear a new sound with each listen. There is a rough mix of “Hand Over Mouth” available to download on my blog for anyone interested in getting a sneak peek. We’re writing new songs in the studio and arranging old ones so it will be a while until we’re through, but that’s what the live shows are for. To keep us connected, to share the joy of performing and to draw a bead on what people want out of the record.

You’ve told me that you used to do graffiti art as well, and that you’ve done artwork for your songs as well. How did you start doing that?

I have loved art since I was little. Again, just like everything I do I’m self trained. The pissing contests that I see artists and musicians frequently in drive me crazy. It just contradicts, I feel, the spirit of art. People have these hyper-competitive tendencies and can ruin what you love by making it feel like work. So, for a long time, I was “over” visual art because of some bad experiences I had in my senior year. But, when I was a kid in school I would draw as often as was possible. Class meant time to add something new to the notebook for that subject, even my notes were drawings. I love many different styles of art( illustration, oil and acrylic painting, whittling) but graffiti was so interesting to me. I’d sit in the back seat of my parent’s car with my headphones on as we drove through Philadelphia and I’d see this art that felt so free. So I practiced for a few years in seventh and eighth grade and as I became high school age, I’d go out and bomb where ever I thought I could get away with it. It started out simple and by the end of it, I was doing murals. I won’t give up my writing name for obvious reasons, in fact, I’m making all of this up...what this all means for the album is that I’m going to create the album art and it will show influences of all of the different types of art I love. It will be themed after ancient Greek art and infused with modern day themes. People who have affected my life will be in there in some way, too. I’m having fun sketching for now. As the music comes, the art will follow that feel, it should be symbiotic.

Alex Siniari at the Gregorios Market Open Mic

Alex Siniari at the Gregorio's Market Open Mic

What is the craziest thing that’s happened to you while playing out?

Man, late last year I had a fever but I had booked a performance at Panoramic Poetry in Philadelphia with my friend Crucial. I really didn’t want to miss it so despite having a literal 103 degree fever my wife and I made the trip to perform. I felt terrible the whole time, I was shaking and my voice was cracking, some of the younger people there actually laughed at me. You could hear my stomach bubbling, I had been throwing up that morning. The whole way home I had a vicious bout of flatulence. It was a bad night overall, but, people say those things happen. I’m too stupid to be afraid to bomb, I’d rather play than chicken out.

Your blog, is always very-up-to-date, which is rare for many performers. Do you feel like it helps you keep sight of things? Does it encourage you to write new songs?

I want to share my music with people and make it easy for them to find it if they want it. Outside of spelling my last name, I think I’ve done that. I’m always open to suggestions about the website and I try to share whatever people want to know. If anyone has question I want to answer them. Also, I’m in love with the idea of having listeners pick my set list for Pratt’s. I want to know what songs people want to hear, it hasn’t worked out yet but I’m holding out hope that someone will take me up on the offer. I try to make show dates easy to find and I’ve added neat little features to keep people coming back like the download center, video bar, latest set, and gig almanac. The blog pushes me to make an effort to keep the creative stakes high. I don’t want to play the same set over and over so keeping a record of what I’ve played when and where really helps keep it fresh. Also, I can use the blog to post ideas for lyrics so people can give feed back or ask questions. If anyone reading this has a question about a song or wants to know certain lyrics I encourage them to ask. As the base of visitors grows it makes it easy for me to stay connected.

And finally, What is your biggest tip to someone just starting to go to open mics?

In my short time playing out, which is just a hair over the year and a half mark, I have met some fantastic people who have guided me out of kindness and generosity. Starting with Christian Glomb, who taught me about “feel” and “composition” and Raymond Tyler who has helped me get my sea legs as a performer by sharing the years of experience he has as well as having me as a guest on his radio show (97.1 WLFR Alternative Soul Friday Mornings 11AM to 1PM) and at many events, right up to guys like Dustin Miller and Jeff Caraway who give me the benefit of their experience as seasoned musicians it is hard to say what has impacted me the most. I will say this though, be fearless in the pursuit of passion. No matter what shape it takes don’t be afraid to take chances. I held back for years in my life worried by what people would think or say. The dogs are gonna bark no matter what you do. If you’re honest in your effort, people will see that and whether or not they “get” your art, they’ll appreciate you heart.

~Alex Siniari

That’s all for the interview! You can grab that sneak peak song by downloading it below:

Hand Over Mouth