Cleo Alexandra Opens Up about “Who Can It Be Now? (Reimagined),” Her Guitars, and Recording Techniques

Cleo Alexandra
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Rock singer-songwriter and guitarist Cleo Alexandra recently released her new single/music video, “Who Can It Be Now? (Reimagined),” her version of Men At Work’s 1981 hit song.

More than four decades ago, the Australian rock band Men at Work took over the globe with a song so bright and catchy that listeners often missed the darkness of the lyrics. “Who Can It Be Now?” was an irresistible musical confection. It was also the story of a paranoiac, in isolation, clinging to shreds of sanity.

Alexandra took the song, toughened it up, and pushed the lyrical subtext to the surface, resulting in a deliciously disturbed, ferocious, and artfully damaged interpretation of the tune.

The world-famous hook becomes a barbed guitar riff; the bouncy new wave rhythms become slinky post-trip-hop grooves. Six-strings probe and insinuate, synthesizers and electronic effects shimmer, and the star coos the lyrics in a voice that’s part challenge, part come-on, and part nightmare.

The haunted music video depicts Alexandra as a spectral presence, imbuing the visuals with dangerous allure and the twisted poise of a pageant queen turned wicked. She shares time with sequences from famous horror movies and slasher flicks from the ‘80s and ‘90s: Scream, The Shining, and Nightmare on Elm Street.

Guitar Girl Magazine spoke with Cleo Alexandra to find out how the video came together, her guitars, and her vocal recording technique.

What inspired you to reimagine Who Can It Be Now?”

My producer JJ Farris suggested we take a crack at it. He thought with me being from Australia and Men At Work also being from Australia, it would be a good fit and give the fans something to talk about. JJ does a lot of re-imagining popular songs for trailer placements, so it was kind of a no-brainer. I also grew up listening to the song and was inspired by how dark the lyrics are when you really sit and listen to them. It was fun to play into the darker themes the song explores while creating a gritty musical landscape around it to match.

Who directed the video and where was it shot?

This time round, I directed the music video myself and filmed it at my home in Australia. Directing yourself can always be a challenge, however, the horror movie aspect made it a lot more fun and a little less serious than other music video shoots I’ve done. Who wouldn’t want to dress up as a horror movie villain and dance around to a killer rock track? Haha. It was great to try new things I hadn’t explored before, including playing around with AI to really make the character come to life.

What do you want people to take away from the video?

‘Who Can It Be Now’ is for horror movie and rock music lovers who are looking for the perfect song and video to add to their Halloween playlist. It pays tribute to horror movie monsters and villains, while also introducing the Cigarette Lover character we have created whose story will develop over my next few single releases. With its creepy lyrics and hard-hitting rock edge, it’s a thrill from start to end! I hope people get a kick out of the satanic panic interlude and have fun recognizing the horror movies included while jamming out to the track.

How did you get started in music?

I grew up singing and writing music from a very young age; I could read music by the age of 6, started guitar lessons at 13, and always knew music/songwriting was something I wanted to pursue as I got older. My real start came about due to the late legendary record producer Keith Olsen. He was my first real mentor and the first one to hear something in my music. He took a chance on me when I was only 19 years old! It was through Keith that I have been lucky enough to meet the team I work with today, who I love and respect and continue to learn from with every release. Keith taught me so much; I will be forever grateful to him, and I will never forget that he is the reason I am lucky enough to pursue my dream. I hope to make him proud of what I have achieved and created even now after he has passed.

What kind of guitar, amps, and pedals are you using?

For guitars, we used a vintage Les Paul Jr., a ‘90s Fender Stratocaster and I even think a Paul Reed Smith Mira made the track. For amps, we used a Matchless Laurel Canyon and a Randall RG-80 to cover the basics. These two amps can pretty much cover anything you need them to. And for pedals, we used an old Echoplex, Boss Chorus, Ulrich Overdrive, and a Dunlop Wah along with some FX processing in Pro Tools Ultimate.

What is your definition of tone? And is your tone evolving?

Tone to me is best when the song requires a certain energy, the tone supports it and brings that energy to life. Tone is a key factor. I feel that my tone will always evolve as I plan to mess around with new technologies to get rad sound ideas with every new song I write or produce.

Are there certain recording techniques you prefer in the studio?

I love to sing through an old Neuman U87 through a Urie 1176 then into a vintage Neve Mic Pre. By doing this I feel these tools create an aura around my voice that really cuts, has lots of attitude, and is inspiring. The clarity is superb. With Pro Tools, there are so many tricks you can do on the vocals. I prefer to keep things raw in hopes that the audience will feel what I’m feeling.

How do you keep your sound consistent onstage?

I love working with my producer JJ as he nails the tones live. We do lots of pre-production to ensure we’re nailing everything like the recording. For me, I like to sometimes have backing tracks on certain songs to fill out the vocals live. In doing this I’m making sure that the fans who come to see me live are never disappointed. My band kicks ass and sings live!

What inspires your writing? Do you draw inspiration from poems, music, or other media?

As an artist, I definitely tend to draw a lot of inspiration from other creative outlets such as film. Movies have always conjured up a lot of inspiration in terms of emotions and experiences that have then inspired lyrical ideas for me. I feel this is very apparent in my most recent release,’”Who Can It Be Now’ (Reimagined). All of the horror movie references were very influential when creating the whole vibe for the video and developing ideas around the Cigarette Lover which inspired the lyrics of my next song coming out early next year

What can you share about your writing process?

The songwriting process, for me at least, can vary a lot from one song to another. Sometimes I’ll just send a lyric or vocal stems to my producer JJ and he’ll take it to another level. He thinks of stuff I don’t think of and vice versa. Other times I’ll hear the entire song in my head, do a basic demo, and send it to him. A lot of times I’ll hear the guitars in my head and relay them to JJ when we’re working on a track. Often JJ will also send over a new instrumental track he has been working on, if it sparks any inspiration on my end I’ll write and record lyrics to it and we’ll create a song that way.

That’s why I love collaborating with JJ, as he’s always up for any new ideas no matter how they come about, and is always encouraging me to be the best songwriter and singer I can be. It’s a blessing to be able to work with someone whose creative abilities inspire me to aim higher and get better, I couldn’t create what you guys hear without JJ!

What can your fans look forward to over the next six months? Music videos? Live gigs?

My next music release will continue to build upon the Cigarette Lover character introduced in Who Can It Be Now as her devilish story unfolds, with an AI music video and another killer rock track. Definitely stay tuned!!!

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