It all started with chickens. When Portland, OR-based singer and songwriter Tommy Alexander was living in Vermont, he found himself watching a brood of chickens scratching around his driveway after a snowfall, looking for food. “That idea of us being the chickens, scratching in the dirt, looking for a bite,” says Alexander. [There’s] something in the message. If we can see the similarities, the differences aren’t as disproportionate.”
That moment watching the flock of birds inspired Alexander to pen “Whatever You Say,” the latest single off his upcoming album, Waves, out June 5.
Recorded live over three days at Oregon’s The OK Theatre in December 2019 with producer and engineer Bart Budwig, Waves follows Alexander’s 2016 debut Old News and follow up, Baby, You’re Blue (2019), and features guitarist Taylor Kingman of TK & The Holy Know-Nothings, guitarist Adam Witkowski, bassist Ian Wade, and drummer Buddy Weeks.
Prior to recording, most of the material was played live with the band extensively over the past year and were fine-tuned for the live session. Kingman had already worked with Budwig at the OK Theatre for several album, and after a quick barter—Alexander, who founded the booking agency Pilot Light Booking, agreed to book Budwig’s record release and upcoming tours, and in return Budwig would record Waves.
“Bart is an inspiring songwriter and having him in the room to engineer and help produce was dreamy,” says Alexander. “I’ve found that comfort is key in recording and when it comes to facilitating a chill vibe, Bart is king.”
Writing Waves was a very intimate experience for Alexander.
“I thrive in quiet aloneness,” he says. “It throws me off if I feel that anyone can hear me stumbling through the birth of a song. After a song is written, if I am lucky enough, I take it to the band, and they lift it up and make it something I could never achieve alone.”
“Whatever You Say” is dedicated to the art of balance, says Alexander, and balancing the strength in our opinions, and leaning into the idea of an embodied knowing versus full blown righteousness.
“[It’s] the act of holding space for others, especially those that you disagree with, those on the opposite side of the line,” says Alexander. “Our opinions can serve us as guides, as protection, but they are traps nonetheless. We live in a time where standing up for what you know is very important, yet often we are so certain of what we know that there is short sightedness and a shut down in empathy and listening.”
Moving in its delicate instrumentation, poignant lyrics pierce through the song’s fibers in You’re on the left and I’m on the right / I’m on a wire, I’ve been up all night / Chickens in the dirt we’re all just scratching for food / There’s one for me and there’s one for you. The message is clear and echoed in chorus Whatever you say now / Whatever you like / I’m all wrong and you’re alright.
“This is a song about change, rebirth, the letting down of your guard,” says Alexander. “[It’s] trusting in each other, calling out our own bullshit, contentment, compromise, following our truth, and our attempt to balance it all.”