Alexander Charles has always been ambitious. The musician, who grew up right outside of the city and crafted the beginnings of his career in North Philly, has been working on his first solo album ‘Fortune Cookies’ for some time, and listeners will finally get the first taste of this musical treat when Charles’ single, ‘All I Know’ drops this Friday.
What went into making this project was extremely vulnerable and personal for Charles. The artist only just recently discovered a part of his life, family and culture that was before completely unknown to him, and that journey of self-discovery was what fueled the creation of ‘Fortune Cookies.’
Charles sat down with Metro to discuss more about what went into making his first solo album and to dive into why he hopes his music creates an escape for people, which has never felt quite so needed more than now.
You’ve spent a lot of your time and career in Philadelphia, what was the path that led you to where you are today?
I grew up in Bucks County right outside the city, and I moved to Philadelphia when I was 17—I always say that I grew up outside of Philly, but I became a man or came of age in North Philadelphia. Shortly after I moved to the city, we started this group called Ground Up, and we really just [promoted] through guerrilla marketing. We would literally print out thousands of CDs and hand them out to kids at Temple University, and shortly thereafter we started hosting live shows. What we thought would be really small gatherings turned into much bigger things, and we kind of started taking it a lot more seriously than anybody anticipated. I think it sparked a fire in all of us, something that we looked at as a hobby could now potentially be a career. I was in the group for eight years, it was a huge part of my life and my career. We toured with G-Eazy, did songs with Action Bronson—some big names. About two or three years ago, we decided that we should give it a shot and try our solo things, because we felt like we were sort of hitting the glass ceiling so to speak. Shortly after we disbanded Ground Up, I signed a deal with Warner Brothers, which was really reassuring to me as far as the decision to go solo. It didn’t go as well as we all thought it would, but it was a great learning experience and it was the first time I got to swim with the big sharks in the big boy pool so to speak. Last year, to build some buzz for this project we had an ambitious idea—we wanted to put out a music video for every week of the year. We put out a one minute song and a one-minute music video every Friday in 2018. The 52 weeks campaign really changed everything as far as my audience as a solo musician.
What went into making your first album, ‘Fortune Cookies?’
I started making some full-length songs and I felt they were really good, but I didn’t have a firm direction so to speak, but that’s when I got a call from my biological sister. I had no idea she existed and I was just completely enamored with her, when she reached out to me she kind of gave me this whole new perspective on who I am. Everything from my heritage to my music changed after that phone call. The project is titled ‘Fortune Cookies’ because my sister told me I’m half Chinese, and I had no idea my whole life. It’s kind of a social commentary—I realize Fortune Cookies are not traditionally Chinese, it’s an American creation, but so am I. To be honest with you, finding out about her and more about myself was the inspiration behind this upcoming project. It’s been a long journey but I wouldn’t take anything back.
Was there any aspect of recording solo for the first time that you didn’t anticipate?
Definitely, writing a full song without a partner or without a team there with me for the first time, it was a new experience. But it was also very liberating to be able to call my own shots and to make my own decisions in terms of the music and not have to make sure that everyone else agreed with me. In that way, it was really freeing. I think I was in an emotionally dark place when I was making some of the music—there was a lot of uncertainty on my end as far as like how are people going to receive this? It’s definitely my most personal work and it’s definitely very vulnerable. I talk about meeting this new family, I talk about some demons I’ve had to deal with, whether it be substance abuse or various other things. But when I make the music, I feel like I’m very immersed in it so whatever I’m writing about, I’m feeling it as well. I think the album has a melancholy tone, and I definitely fell into a melancholy mood as well. It’s a little bit of a darker project than what I’ve made in the past, but at the same time, I think there’s a light at the end of the tunnel as well.
Even though it was an emotional experience, was it cathartic for you as well?
Absolutely. There’s a lot of catharsis in writing about what I’m going through whether it’s bad or good. I’ve always used music as an outlet for myself more than anything else, and in that way it was cathartic and therapeutic. I don’t have any friends who have been adopted and then have met their biological family, so I don’t necessarily have a lot of people to talk too about what I’m going through or how I’m feeling about things—so I turn to the music. That’s always been my saving grace.
Can you tell me more about your single ‘All I Know?’
I actually wrote it on a really rainy day, it was just me and my producer, who is one of my best friends in the world. We were just trying to make a song that felt opposite of the rain and opposite of being confined inside, and I felt like it was appropriate to put out right now because everyone is confined inside. The song is just about leaving your inhibitions behind and leaving whatever anxieties or stresses that might be bothering you, and running away with your best friend or the person you love the most—it’s kind of an escape.
What do you hope people take away from your music, especially now?
Honestly, I hope people can walk away maybe a little happier than they were three minutes earlier or they can just smile a little bit. I’ve noticed with myself during this time, and it’s kind of why I’ve been so adamant about putting music out, I’ve been consuming just so much art in general. Whether it be movies, or music or television shows, this time if nothing else has proven how valuable creativity and artistry really is to people. I hope I can contribute to that feeling, and hopefully this will all be over soon and [people] can feel a bit of a vacation from all this while listening.
‘All I Know’ from Alexander Charles’ album ‘Fortune Cookies’ drops April 17.