Exclusive - Alex Cornell Interview

If you don't know of Alex Cornell yet, I can only imagine you don't use Youtube that often.  The San Francisco based musician/designer has been wowing fans with his brilliant covers for the last few years.  I got a hold of him for this exclusive interview on Cool on Purpose.

You have quite a following on Youtube; over 4,000 subscribers.  All of your videos are usually rated a perfect five stars.  Did you foresee your cover songs getting this kind of response?

Well I obviously hope they get this kind of response, but I never consider it a sure thing. I pick songs that I love and always hope people will enjoy them as much as I do. Recently, I've been more strategic with my choices; picking current, popular songs rather than songs that are a few years old. When the goal is to reach as many people as possible, sometimes you have to make choices like this to maximize your exposure. That said, you can still have fun with these kind of choices -- the recent KOL hit "Sex on Fire", for example, is my favorite cover I have done.

The other thing regarding the ratings is the overall quality of the video. When I first started doing these, two years ago, the cover scene on Youtube was very different. The big thing was the overall quality (both audio and video) was completely awful. Most people were using the onboard mic on their camera and it appeared to be a very unprofessional endeavor. A lot of this had to do with the upload restrictions from Youtube etc (which has since been eliminated as an issue). I thought an easy way to distinguish myself would be to do what I saw the more successful artists doing: recording with a home studio DAW and then syncing the audio to the video after the fact. Sound quality makes a big difference and I think this has a lot to do with the perceived quality of my videos and overall high ratings most have received.

You recently covered Jay Z's  "Young Forever" for a project with Aeolas International.  Were you concerned about doing a cover of a hip hop song from someone so popular?

Definitely not concerned. Especially given that the main portion of the song I was covering is actually by Alphaville. My favorite version has always been Youth Group's. So it is listed as a Jay Z cover, to give it a contemporary context, but in the end it is actually an Alphaville cover.

Regardless, there is never a concern of covering something popular or outside of my genre. In fact, this usually leads to the most interesting results. For example, my recent cover of John Mayer's new single is fairly straight ahead - nothing too different about it other than the fact that it's me singing instead of him. Whereas my cover of "No One" by Alicia Keys is quite different from the original version and therefore, I think, a more interesting cover.

Were there any songs you decided to cover that you found particularly difficult?  Do you think dealing with that process is helping you with the debut album you're working on?

Some songs take longer than others. I usually try to practice the song a fair amount before recording, but sometimes this doesn't help as much as I would like. What causes a recording to take a long time is when I start off a song really well, and have a few verses just nailed, and then mess up at the end. Then, in subsequent recordings, I am always thinking back to how good I got the beginning on that earlier take. This causes me to obsess about regaining the quality from the earlier version and I end up starting and stopping endlessly until I get version I want with every good part included. If I mess up at all, I tend to stop and start over. This is a recent development -- I used to not care as much about little errors and you can notice a fair amount of lyrical or musical flubs in my earlier videos.

It always helps to play, so yes, dealing with the process absolutely helps with my overall recording skill development.

What can we expect from the album?

I'm glad you didn't ask 'when', because I have absolutely no idea. As far as 'what' goes -- something like if you mixed a John Mayer, Alexi Murdoch, and Postal Service album into one -- that's the sound I'm going for. With piano. Maybe throw in some Thomas Dybdahl. Basically it won't be a rock and roll record. Much more of a 'night time' album if that makes any sense.

What's not to like about the night?  Last question.  If you knew it was coming, what would you like your last words to be -- ideally?

Even if I knew it was coming I wouldn't plan my last words. Something weird about that to me. Whatever they are when they happen, that's what they will be.

Check out Alex at his website through the title link or on his Youtube channel for more amazing performances.

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