Musicians/Singer/Songwriter Cindy Alexander was born with passion, music, and creativity pumping through her veins. With her upcoming tenth album release, While Angels Sigh, a record that was recorded almost entirely throughout quarantine, Cindy’s dedication to her music and her creative gift could not be any more apparent. She recently spoke with Guitar Girl Magazine, sharing her inspirations for the new album, her songwriting/recording process, her favorite and most cherished instruments, and the evolution of her art and sound.
Hi Cindy! Congratulations on the upcoming album release! Before we get into the new record, could you tell us a bit about when you got into music and what it was that inspired you to do so?
Thank you, Victoria. And thanks so much for taking the time to chat with me today. Music and the call to entertain are in my blood, although my parents have said, “it skipped a generation.” My grandmother on my father’s side was a music teacher. She lived in Detroit, but when she would visit, we spent most of our time around the piano. She played, and I would sing, and she always brought with her boxes of hand drums and percussion leftover from her marching band classes. Grandma Molly was also an amazing storyteller, and the art of narration is something I’ve woven into my musical performances and writing. My grandmother on my mom’s side (my “Nana”) was a Vaudeville dancer in New York until she quit to sew uniforms for World War II.
So, I grew up singing, dancing, and entertaining. I signed up for my first talent show in camp at age six and sang “The Circle Game” by Joni Mitchell.
Which female artists have impacted your style and sound?
Joni Mitchell, Carole King, Mary Chapin Carpenter, Shawn Colvin, Linda Ronstadt, Tori Amos, Aimee Mann, Suzanne Vega… there are so many! I listen for a combination of lyric, melody, and voice. It’s the blending of all components that moves me.
Could you tell us which instruments you play and if you have a favorite brand? Any one instrument that means the most to you?
I play acoustic piano, keyboard, acoustic guitar, and sometimes a little tambourine or shaker. My favorite instrument to PLAY is the acoustic piano, only because I’m more proficient on that instrument. My favorite instrument to LISTEN to is guitar. I write on both.
I wrote my first eight records on Grandma Molly’s antique Grinnell upright (there’s a song about it on my new record: “The Piano”). My last two records were written on a Steinway, which sadly, we had to depart with when we moved to Big Sur during the pandemic. I just purchased a Yamaha U1, and I’m sure she’ll channel the next record for me. I’m calling her Lucy Moonbeam from a silly Facebook game that finds your “hippie name” by the first letter of your first and last name. I was looking at that game when Lucy Moonbeam arrived at the house last week.
My favorite guitar is my Taylor 514ce. She’s been my faithful workhorse since 2003 when my 714ce was stolen. I’ve always written and performed with Taylor Guitars. I fell in the love with them during my first NAMM show in 1999. I usually pick up the guitar to start writing and move to the piano when I need a bigger vocabulary. For the more upbeat songs, I usually stick to writing on guitar, like with “Room at the Bottom” and “Alizarin Crimson” from my new record.
What advice could you pass on to other girls or women looking to become musicians and songwriters?
It’s funny—my immediate reaction to this question is: Wait—do we become musicians and songwriters, or are we born with that already in our system? I was writing songs before I knew they were songs—I made silly stuff up as a little kid. But that silly stuff became a musical diary which became the “songs” that I sing today. My first advice would be to heed the call. Second, pick up an instrument and practice more than I did! I’m better at practicing now because I’ve learned that preparation is key! I studied piano as a six-year-old but was fired by my teacher for improvising with Classical music. After a year or so with the next teacher, who brought in more interesting songs to play, my parents refused to pay for any more lessons because I hated to practice. But, I learned to play what I wanted to play by ear. I taught myself how to play guitar out of necessity because I couldn’t drag a piano out on tour, and I didn’t yet own a keyboard. Now, I lug around both. Instruments are like your very best friend, and you should treat them as such. You will know each other’s secrets. My instruments have become an extension of myself and a conduit of a very special, divine energy.
Finally, I would say that for most creative people, we were given a gift that was meant to be given back. Music was meant to be shared. It connects and engages us. So just DO IT, share your gift!
On April 23rd, your tenth studio album, While the Angels Sigh, is set to release. How does it feel to make it to this incredible milestone within your career?
I almost feel like I haven’t made enough music in the time that I’ve been working as a professional. Life has definitely gotten in the way sometimes, but I can say that I’ve been relatively balanced, juggling a super fun and rewarding career with family as my priority.
Every record is important, as it encapsulates the period of life that was poured into it. Most artists will say that their most recent work is their best work; it’s kind of cliché, but I really do think this one IS my best record for a number of reasons.
1. I said “yes” when I was afraid to, and I said “no” when I was afraid to.
2. I persevered with this one. I had a lot of walls thrown up, and I kept knocking them down until I manifested my art.
3. I write some of my best songs from my most vulnerable moments, and there were a lot of those moments in the last few years.
How has your music and sound evolved from the first album up until this point?
It has evolved in subject matter for sure because I have evolved as a person. In the beginning of my career, I was single, sassy, and carefree. Then I toured the world, got married, had twins, got cancer, beat cancer, among other things, experience seeped into my songs.
Sound-wise, I think I’ve made a few figure eights. In some ways, I really appreciate the scrappy authenticity of the first record. It wasn’t even close to perfect, but it had a ton of heart because we just weren’t trying that hard. We were just making music for the love of it. Then over the years, I tried to fit into genre classifications, and that didn’t work. I would swing in one direction and then swing back. So, the last couple of records have been me going back to what is essentially me—the song, the message, the voice. And the production should support that. I think we nailed the best of both worlds on this one and as one of my longtime fans just said after hearing the latest single, “Room at the Bottom,” “this song reminds me of early Cindy….”
Some of the songs from While Angels Sigh were recorded prior to lockdown, and others during lockdown. How do you feel those songs differ?
I’m not sure that they differ because I did elements of most of the songs on both sides of that wall. I recorded eight of the eleven tracks (without final vocals—we just used my “guide vocal”) at Sage and Sound with a dream band: Sean Hurley on bass, Victor Indrizzo on drums, David Levita on guitar, and Mike Farrell on keys. We did all the tracking in three days during November 2019, with Sean and Vic as producers. Because I was on a budget, I didn’t want to waste the studio time and money on my vocals, which I could record at home. My last in-person session was with producer Ross Hogarth at Sunset Sound on March 12—we laid down the drums and bass for Broken but Beloved. Most of my vocals were recorded during lockdown—with Zack Darling producing them remotely. “Walking Constellation” and “Chiaroscuro” were written and recorded completely during quarantine. “Chiaroscuro” is actually my solo piano/vocal that I submitted as a demo. Executive Producer, Kirk Pasich, liked it as-is and said, “don’t touch it – put it on the record.” For “Walking Constellation,” I sent a demo to Sean Hurley, who then played all of his ideas on a pre-production track. We went through those ideas, and then Sean communicated with the other players and produced their contributions remotely. Tracks were bounced around between home studios and the lesson was: you don’t need to be in the same room to have a great track that SOUNDS like you were in the same room. BUT I do love experiencing the magic in person and collaborating on the production in real-time, rather than sifting through tracks without being able to give feedback right away. The recording process was a challenge, but the delays caused by the pandemic afforded me more time to relax into the process.
Not only did you write and record this album throughout lockdown, but you did it while also adjusting to teaching your twin girls during the “Safer at Home” order. I’m sure a lot of parents can relate to your struggle! How did you manage your time and creative energy? How do you feel this impacted the recording process?
My family comes first, so the only thing that impacts my recording process or music, in general, is the fact that I will stop and drop everything if they need me. It’s just where I’m at in my life. As I said earlier, the pandemic caused delays in everything! But it also gave me MORE time with my family, which I appreciate. Perhaps the clarity of my priorities and purpose is reflected in my musical messages and recordings.
I’m not sure that I “managed” my time and energy as much as I just allowed it to be what it was.
I am so incredibly sorry to hear about the passing of your mother. I’m sure this added greatly to the challenges of the past year. Were you able to find solace through the creative process?
Thank you, Victoria. The creative process has always been a source of healing for me, and it’s essential to my sanity and well-being. I was incredibly close to my mother when she was here on Earth, and now I feel just as close to her spirit. Her unconditional love is infused in everything I do.
What lessons have you learned and can pass on from the writing and recording of this album?
Surround yourself with people who know more than you do, who play better than you do, and have more experience than you do. Have an open mind and an open heart, and do what you’re afraid to do. Take every opportunity to learn, improve, and grow as a musician and human being. Making a record should be a general education requirement!
How would you describe the sound and message within While the Angels Sigh?
Describing my sound is always a hard question for me—because each song on this record has its own vibe. There are elements of Folk, Rock, Country, and Americana—all with Pop hooks. Let’s just call it—Cindyish. Musically, the players were so amazing that they each supplied hooks on top of my hooks. These are catchy, sing-a-long tunes with palpable grooves, and the ballads are played with as much emotion as I had when I wrote them. My producers and musicians elevated my work.
Message-wise, these songs are all about harnessing our own power within but recognizing that there is a greater power than ourselves that must be served and respected by our choices. It is part of the journey to acknowledge both our human weakness and the fact that we are “fragments of the light.” (from my song “Broken but Beloved”).
Where can our readers find and follow you and your music? Any additional plans we can look forward to from you this spring/summer?
I would love to connect with your readers! Please find me on Facebook at facebook.com/cindyalexander.music, and on Twitter and Instagram – I’m @pnutsings. My favorite spot on the internet is the Pnut Gallery on Patreon. (“Pnut” is my nickname.) www.patreon.com/cindyalexander All of the demos for my new record, behind-the-scenes footage, blogs, Zoom hangouts, exclusive merch—it’s all on Patreon.
As soon as I’m vaccinated and feel it’s safe to do so, I will tour. My favorite shows are house concerts, so if anyone would like to host a fabulous event, please reach out! I’ll be doing a live stream performance to celebrate the release on April 23rd. I’ll post the link in my socials.
ICYMI: Singer-Songwriter CINDY ALEXANDER RELEASES HER NEW SINGLE “Broken But Beloved”
(Los Angeles, CA) – March 10, 2021 – Singer-Songwriter CINDY ALEXANDER releases her new single, “Broken but Beloved,” today from the upcoming, While the Angels Sigh, her tenth studio album. “Broken but Beloved,” a song about impermanence, was recorded with Grammy award-winning producer and engineer Ross Hogarth at Sunset Sound. It was the last in-person session before the Los Angeles lockdown order took effect in March 2020. Cindy‘s dear friend and touring buddy, Michael Bacon (one-half of the Bacon Brothers and award-winning composer) contributed cello from his studio in New York. After recording his part, he sent Cindy a note, in which she found the title of her new record:
“When I write my ‘Remediation Practices for Enduring the Pandemic,’ chapter 2 will read: 1. Get an amazing lifelong friend who’s got Beverly Hills chops but keeps it real. 2. Have her write a beautiful song. 3. Have her ask you to put 1,000,000 cell parts on it. 4. Do that. Title of the album: ‘While the Angels Sigh.'” – Michael Bacon
Other players on this song include: Sean Hurley on bass (Vertical Horizon, Colbie Caillat, John Mayer), Brian MacLeod on drums (Sheryl Crow, Leonard Cohen, Jewel), Greg Suran on guitar (The Goo Goo Dolls, Five For Fighting), Loren Gold on piano (The Who, Roger Daltrey) and Bernie Barlow on background vocals (Moody Blues, Melissa Etheridge, Sarah McLachlan).
Set for release on April 23, 2021, While the Angels Sigh is at once a musical affirmation of personal power and grace, and an acceptance of human weakness and fallibility. Cindy has written a songbook for the “sandwich generation,” with wisdom for millennials, and gratitude to the generations that came before her.
During the most stressful time of her adult life, Cindy Alexander wrote and recorded her new album. Through the most trying of conditions – her mother dying from dementia, navigating through the pandemic and civil protests, all while teaching her twin daughters from home during the “Safer at Home” order, Cindy’s strength and creativity came to the fore.
Cindy entered Sage & Sound Studio at the end of 2019 with a dream team of musicians, led by producer/bass player Sean Hurley (Vertical Horizon, John Mayer, Colbie Caillat) and producer/ drummer Victor Indrizzo (Alanis Morissette, Sara Bareilles, Lizzo). Other A-list players on the album include guitarist David Levita (Alanis Morissette, Lana Del Rey, Sheryl Crow) and piano from Michael Farrell (Alanis Morissette, Macy Gray).
The remaining tracks were recorded socially distanced during last year’s lockdown, transferred back and forth between home studios before finally finishing up in Cindy’s bedroom at her new home in Big Sur. Although the creative process was a challenge, the result is a triumph. While the Angels Sigh is an achingly personal album that speaks to and for all of us, and a musical tribute to a broken but beloved humanity.