Ian Axel: Optimism, Heartbreak, And The Little Prince

Videos by American Songwriter

Sometimes New York-based singer-songwriter Ian Axel doesn’t feel like he’s actually writing his own songs. Rather, they’re filtering in through him.

“It’s like the songs are already created and they have a life of their own,”  says Axel, who uses the piano as his primary instrument. “I can get to a place where my mind shuts off and I feel like [the music] flows in, in waves, and I hear it so loud in my mind.”

He feels connected to something bigger than himself, something that connects everything together. “It’s like a universal pool,” he says.

Most recently, Axel’s been pulling material out of the ether and channeling it into his debut album, This is the New Year. According to Axel, the album represents the period in his life before he started writing it at 20 years old.

“It was my whole life before that of not saying the things that I wanted to say,” he says. Finding that he could express himself through music was what he described as a “rebirth.”

This is the New Year has a whimsical optimism stemming from multiple places. For one, Axel described the wide-eyed positivity of being young in New York City, and feeling as if anything was possible.

Another source is a book that continues to shape Axel’s music. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s The Little Prince is a short, sweet, innocent tale of a little prince who lives on an asteroid with a rose whom he loves. One day the rose lies to him and he leaves it to travel. Along the way he learns lessons, and for the first time meets adults with strange and narrow-minded ways.

“I feel like it’s filled with so many answers about life and it totally reconnected me to my childhood,” Axel says, which is something that resonated with his feelings of losing what he called a “child wonder mentality.” Producer Dan Romer made The Little Prince required reading and the album’s artwork was heavily influenced by the book’s illustrations.

At the same time, heartbreak during the recording process factors into the tone as well. “I was a mess,” Axel says.

“Cannonball,” the last song he recorded for the album, deals with yearning and unrequited love. “[It] was probably the most important track on the album while I was recording it because I was going through it,” he says. “I guess I was speaking directly to somebody in my life and I needed to get that off my chest.”

Axel co-wrote much of the album with songwriting partner, best friend and roommate Chad Vaccarino, who is also the person that pushed Axel to start singing in college. It’s a relationship that Axel sums up by saying “I stopped writing in a journal when I met Chad.”

These days, it seems Axel is committing to getting it all out there when he writes.

“I was never a super religious person growing up. I remember when I first started writing I had a moment where I felt like I was almost praying; it’s like it’s religious,” he says, “It’s sacred.”

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