Bar Cathedral’s patrons were in for a treat the night of Wednesday, August 3rd. Local Toronto artist Holly Clausius was billed to headline, with an opener who traveled overseas from the U.K. to make his North American debut.
Fresh-faced Alekxandr hops onstage, pink shirt parted and curly locks flowing freely across his face. Accompanying him onstage is cellist Will Smythe, drummer David Xanders, and Danielle Sum (from local band Tiger Balme) on piano and glockenspiel. Bar Cathedral’s wooden interior and ornate stained glass windows set the scene beautifully for the night’s performers.
Alekxandr opens his set with the 2020 single “Disney Love” and takes us through the bliss of a fairytale romance and the crushing realization that this perfection is not always possible in reality. His voice is smooth and clear, just as good as it sounds on the record. He thanks us for coming out and introduces the band, then sings his latest release, “Sunflowers”. The instruments accompany this song perfectly, as it captures the song’s more impassioned and dramatic sound. As Alex sways along to the music, smoke slowly blankets the stage and the pink stage lights behind them create a lush glow that fits his sound perfectly.
Maybe it was the video of him covering Charli XCX’s “Boys” in St Pancras Old Church in London or the bar’s churchly aesthetic that planted this thought in my mind, but I felt that an Alekxandr performance inside a church backed by classical instruments would be absolutely divine. He tells me that for his School Night show back in July he performed with just a backing track and drums but was urged to switch it up by artist manager and marketer Patch Twaddle.
“It’s just a different vibe. People are going to be sat down, it won’t feel right,” Alex recounts. “… I always, always wanted to do a show with a cellist. So, I just reached out to a few people and, luckily, Will… is at that point where he’s still studying cello at university and he’s eager for the experience. It was good timing. He was really up for it and it was such a joy to have those sounds [since it] makes such a difference.”
Between each song, we get some insight into his inspiration and use of metaphors to convey his feelings. “Tell Jackson” is a song directed toward his ex’s new lover, but Alex also mentions that he simply thinks Jackson is a “cool name”. Later in the set, the most surprising song fact he dropped on us was that he was hit by a bus at 13. “That was so long ago, I was totally fine,” he would later clarify during our interview. “It was partly that memory, and partly watching this TV show that was on at Christmas… It was on BBC [with] Jamie Dornan and, basically, he lost his memory.” He took the themes of loss and being haunted by memories from this experience and created a song, but also thought that story from his childhood would be a funny anecdote.
For his cover of Charli XCX’s “Boys” Danielle Sum’s glockenspiel stands out as it adds a sweet starry sound, similar to what the instrument does for the atmosphere in “No Surprises” by Radiohead. Alekxandr also dropped a new song on us for his finale, called “Heartbreak on Antidepressants”. It’s a song about saying goodbye and the deep reflection that comes with getting to that point of letting go. Although the lyrics are doleful, Alex mentions that he still wanted to make a danceable pop song out of misery.
I had the pleasure of speaking to Alekxandr the morning after to get more insight into his performance, aspirations, and the importance of community for creators. We broke the ice by talking about what music we were playing on repeat at the moment.
“I’m usually always listening to Lana Del Rey in some capacity,” he says. The apartment in which he’s staying has an extensive record collection that I get a sneak peek of through the Zoom screen. “One of the things that’s so nice is to just play Lana on vinyl.” Alex also mentions that he did a writing camp with some Canadian artists and he’s been listening to Winnipeg singer-songwriter Boy Golden. “He’s got this really catchy song called ‘KD and Lunch Meat’. I have no idea what that means.” I explain the significance of Kraft Dinner Mac & Cheese in Canada, but Alex instantly gets the gist of it: “It’s about, basically, having no money but making the most of it,” he says.
Read our exclusive interview with Alekxandr here and learn more about his origins, love of pop music, and career aspirations!