“I feel like a lot of people take it for granted and don’t really think about it, but it’s really one of the most beautiful gifts that musicians — and humanity – have,” Alex Izenberg told American Songwriter.
The ‘gift’ Izenberg is talking about is the thing that he’s devoted the past four years of his life to: recording. First hitting the scene with his 2016 record Harlequin, Izenberg has been a recluse of sorts, working on his follow-up Caravan Château, which drops on July 31 via Weird World.
“I didn’t want to work on this record for four years,” Izenberg said, “part of the purpose of being on a label is to release records.” Yet, the years that he invested in Caravan Château were not spent in vain. Rather, he spent his time utilizing his resources and talent to make something that is truly an expression of his inimitable artistry… which starts to bring into focus why recording is such a gift in Izenberg’s eyes.
“Working in the studio can be very therapeutic,” he said. “The greatest joy of my life is being able to go into a really good studio and release these creations I’ve made into my ears, into the speakers. In 2018, I started working with my friend Greg Hartunian and he had just built a studio in Glendale called Tropico Beauty — which is super nice and has a bunch of cool stuff. We had been friends for about 15 years so we have that unspoken rapport. I said to him ‘hey, I’m making a record, I’d love to record together’ and he was like ‘yeah, let’s do it!’ So, we worked at the recording studio, and his girlfriend Nikki and her sister Julie have an art studio downstairs and they did all my music videos. They’re all really supportive of me and my songs and it’s always really nice going there. It feels like switching ‘on,’ to be able to make any crazy song and go there to birth it into the world. It’s really fun, and I’m really grateful for that experience.”
While Tropico Beauty was the place where Izenberg recorded most of Caravan Château, it wasn’t the only place where he recorded it… in fact, it wasn’t even where the record-making process began. No, Caravan Château began in Laurel Canyon four years ago after Izenberg got back from playing a few live shows in support of Harlequin.
“My first record, Harlequin, came out in the winter of 2016,” he said. “I wanted to play more live shows, but I was kinda broke and the album wasn’t going haywire or anything, so I only played a few. When I got back to Los Angeles, I thought ‘well, I gotta make a really good record to do what really I want to do.’ I knew I had to put 110% into it. I started recording with my friend Dashiell Le Francis, who did the two songs ‘Bouquets Falling In The Rain’ and ‘December 30th.’ We worked on a bunch of songs over the course of 2017, and we were working in Laurel Canyon a lot which was awesome. It has so much history, so many bands from the ‘60s and the ‘70s recorded there.”
Izenberg is a full-fledged music fan and has a great deal of reverence for his craft. His influences range from chamber pop artists like Grizzly Bear and Fleet Foxes, to 20th century classics like Crosby, Stills & Nash. Just to record in the same neighborhood as so many legends was a thrill for Izenberg. “I just felt really stoked,” he said. “I live about an hour away from Laurel Canyon, and every day we had a session I would ride the bus there. If our session was at 10 a.m. I would wake up at 6:30 a.m., which I didn’t need to do, I probably could’ve gotten away with waking up at like 8 a.m, but I was just so excited about it. I would put on the first Fleet Foxes record and walk really happily to the bus, just super stoked. Those days were filled with so much excitement.”
But the excitement didn’t end there — as the recording process for Caravan Château progressed, Izenberg got the opportunity to work with a few more of his heroes, one being Jonathan Rado from Foxygen.
“My label said ‘hey, why don’t you do a song with Jonathan Rado of Foxygen?’ I thought ‘okay, that could be cool,’” Izenberg said. “I was pretty confident with the record at that point, but I figured ‘why not?’ I wrote this poem, which ended up being the lyrics for the song ‘Caravan Château’ — ‘lady dancing on a daffodil/ let me be her next cigarette.’ Then, I went to my childhood-friend Jay and we co-write that one together. A week later we went to Rado’s studio and we did it. I remember not sleeping the night before because I was really nervous. I remember when Foxygen’s We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic came out, that was a really big deal to me. Even though I’m not like the biggest Foxygen fan, those impressions stick with you no matter what you go through or how much you grow.”
The session ended up being a success, meriting a moving song that serves as a beautiful and insightful conclusion to the record. Caravan Château as a whole feels like a very subtle, yet intentional journey. Izenberg’s writing marries clever chordal movements with charming melodies and nostalgic, whimsical lyrics, resulting in an ornate sound as rich and intricate as a late ‘60s tapestry jacket. Helping to bring this vision into fruition was another one of Izenberg’s heroes: Chris Taylor of Grizzly Bear.
“We were looking for someone to mix the record and I said ‘what if we got Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear to mix it?’” Izenberg said. “My label was like ‘oh, we actually know Chris’s manager’ so I was like ‘alright, let’s do it!’ Chris and I ended up meeting for coffee to talk it out and I was so nervous because I’m such a huge Grizzly Bear fan. When I went to shake his hand when we first met I was telling myself ‘keep a steady hand.’ I kept thinking ‘oh shit, this is Chris Taylor from Grizzly Bear.’ We sat down together with our coffee and my hands were shaking a lot and I was spilling coffee on my lap, but I don’t think he noticed. We mixed the record together over the course of a few months and there was a lot of back and forth. It was really cool.”
Considering all the time and talent that went into the creation of Caravan Château, it makes sense that the record feels so… innate. That is to say, Izenberg and the team he built put so much effort and love into the record that every piece of it feels as intentional as it is necessary. Every piece fits together so as to call to mind Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s definition of perfection: “[it] is attained, not when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing more to take away.” But Izenberg has a different quote on his mind.
“Picasso has a really good quote: ‘Art is never finished.’ I agree with that,” Izenberg said. “Yes, on one hand, I’m very proud of this record and I’m very proud of myself and I’m excited to share this with people. On the other hand, are there things I would change or add or do differently? Yeah, definitely. But, there comes a time when you have to move forward.”
While to Izenberg ‘moving forward’ means letting the record be what it’s going to be, to his fans it means getting a whole new world of chamber pop to dive into — what a wonderful thing.
Listen to Alex Izenberg’s new single “Sister Jade” below: