An Honest Savior – SXSW 2017 In Retrospect

by Daniel Ramirez on April 3, 2017 in Entertainment, Music, Living Texas, Austin,
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She’s sitting there, with an ocean of enthusiasm in her eyes. It might all be new to her, but the only place the novelty shows is when she’s off the stage, resting with a glass of wine and being as patient as one can be with the avalanche of press questions flung in her direction. There’s limitless potential here, and it hums, electric, within her – raw and barely contained.

She’s not dolled up for the glam squad, nor does she seem concerned that she should be. Honesty is her only gear, whether in song or speech; and it is as raw as her talent and as elegant as her smile. This is Alexandra Savior, straight, no chaser.

“I’m really bad at lying and sugar-coating,” she kindly and graciously proclaims, “and it’s been really interesting for this press stuff, because I sometimes think I’m getting sarcastic, but then it’s like texting somebody something sarcastic and there’s no intonation.”

Call it a by-product of her influences and their ethos. When asked about what music inspired her evolution, she empathizes with artists that mirror that same unvarnished expression. “Billie Holliday has always been a big one,” Savior is quick to mention. “Nina Simone – just really powerful women who have no filter. I like music that doesn’t sugarcoat itself, and I feel like there’s a lot of jazz music that gets more freedom. “

Alexandra Savior casts her spell over the Barracuda crowd at SXSW.
Alexandra Savior casts her spell over the Barracuda crowd at SXSW.

Her musical style certainly delivers echoes of those influences, but she’d rather her audience connect with the power of the song and the novel expression, than to get lost in comparisons.

“It’s hard to be compared,” she says. “I think being put into a genre, like ‘you sound just like this person, except you’re a – this twist – to them,’ that’s kind of hard, but if people are filtering the emotional aspect of it, then I’ll be happy for that.”

SXSW is an ideal showcase for precisely the kind of connection her music elicits from within audiences. She takes stages and makes people connect, makes the mood and the lyric drive an emotional response. And, despite the spotlight shining on her SXSW debut, it is a far cry from the casual performance that took her from YouTube sensation to compliments from well-established artists and then to working with producers Alex Turner, of Arctic Monkeys and James Fork, who is a vital part of Florence and the Machine’s inner workings.

Along the way, there were hints of where the road would lead. Her haunting vocals from the work with Alex Turner found their way to Showtime’s True Detective and began to linger in the minds of trend makers and critics alike, drawing comparisons to everyone from her musical influence, Nina Simone, to Lana Del Rey to Dusty Springfield. Despite the attempt to pigeonhole her talent, it is clear that her voice is beyond simple characterization, and the attention is much-deserved. Listen to the cat and mouse game her voice plays throughout her latest single, “Vanishing Point,” or watch her “Mirage” video and it becomes nearly impossible to disagree.

Still, the emotional connection – a strength of her vocals – is not one she says is readily available from the first instant of her performances. Brazenly honest, Savior suggests that people take their time to access her stage presence and thus connect to the melancholy.
“Take a little nap,” she prescribes. “Maybe wake up and have a glass of wine. Maybe don’t go to the first ten minutes. The first three songs have a lack of passion at the moment, coming from me. So, maybe just wait for those to be over and then come in.”

When pressed for a reason that people might wade into a performance, she leans on honesty once more. “I’ve definitely struggled a lot with a lot of things that cause melancholy,” she says, “but I’ve actually had a really good few months and it’s really difficult to make music when I’m happy, because. I’m emotionally stable. Things are going great in my relationship. I really like the people around me. Everything’s going pretty good. I’m relaxing and hanging out and then I just get on stage and I have these songs from my angsty dark period in my life.”

In answering one of music’s oldest questions, she confesses that she needs to access the foundational elements that inspired the music, before expecting others to do the same. “ Obviously, I try to channel something,” she explains.
And it is this brazen honesty, of emotion, expression and music, which has brought her to the forefront of music’s darling factory, where critics and consumers alike are desperate to find the next big thing. She has sold out shows in the Pacific Northwest, from where she hails and her next stops, post-SXSW madness, are overseas, followed by an appearance at Boston Calling.

When she takes the stage, all that potential is channeled. That energy is converted and those connections are forged within each of her audience members. Her set at Barracuda had the audience held within a spell, and it didn’t take more than a song for that mood to be established, and all of the praise for her forthcoming album, Belladonna of Sadness, to be justified. Soon, it seems, it will be synonymous with deepest introspection and vital expression, to audiences beyond the critics and conference-goers at SXSW.

But, if one expects Alexandra Savior’s arrival to define her for years to come, they should reconsider just how much potential energy she has humming at her disposal. While audiences are just beginning to access her album’s naked honesty, she admits that she’s already move on to newer depths. “For me,” she explains, “I’ve already released it from the emotional attachment I have to it. So, for me it’s already gone and I’m moving on from that creative time and growing. I guess I kind of think, ‘You guys are way behind.’”

With a voice and a presence like hers, we can’t wait to catch up.

Alexandra Savior’s album, “Belladonna of Sadness” arrives on April 7 on Columbia Records, and her single is available here.

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