Bret Alexander is a busy man. The renowned area songwriter, musician and producer, known best for his work with The Badlees, has just released his first solo album and has just helped launch a new record label. Plus, he's in the middle of recording the next Badlees CD and is putting the finishing touches a special project for MTV Books.
"Gentleman East," Alexander's stripped-down, intentionally-murky new album, was released on Tuesday and was self-produced along with the assistance Paul Smith. It was recorded at their own Saturation Acres Recording Studio in Danville.
Alexander, who serves as principal songwriter for the The Badlees and for his side project, The Cellarbirds, says the idea to release a solo album took root when he was asked to contribute songs to the "Everything's Jake" film soundtrack. The movie, centered on two homeless characters from New York City, was co-produced by Hazleton native and Badlees manager Chris Fetchko and will be released on DVD in September.
"I always said if I did a solo album, I wanted to do some sort of dark folk record, like Springsteen's 'Nebraska' or a solo Johnny Cash record, because I really don't have a project where I can do something like that," says Alexander. "It was more of less like killing two birds with one stone. That's what they were looking for, for the movie, and that coincided with a type or record I wanted to make, so I had a chance to go for it."
Though Alexander is known for writing catchy pop songs and Badlees favorites such as "Don't Let Me Hide," "Fear Of Falling" and "Renew" as well as jangly Cellarbirds tracks like "Perfect Smile" and "Uncommonly Blue," he does take a slight left turn with "Gentleman East." Still, the album is stamped with his trademark cinematic lyrics and memorable melodies, and, particularly on the title track, his haunting vocals.
"I like a lot of different kinds of music," says Alexander. "I kind of have that pop side to what to I like, and I have that songwriter's side. Sometimes, it's a combination of the two, and sometimes it's anywhere in between. I didn't look at like, 'Well, now I can do what I really like.' You've just got to look at the ingredients you have, and do something that works. This is was just another stop along the way. Who knows, maybe I'll do a jazz record next, or a blue grass album."
On May 1, Alexander, Smith, Fetchko, Pete Palladino and Ron Simasek officially launched S.A.M. Records (Saturation Acres Music), which is the label home of The Badlees, The Cellarbirds, Alexander's solo work, plus Jared Campbell, Joe Charles and the band Katsu. Though they've produced hundreds of songs and dozens of albums at the studio, Alexander says they'll be fairly selective with whom they add to the S.A.M. roster.
"Really, it just comes down to the music," he says. "It's not like there's a scorecard. If you look at these artists on the label, they're pretty different. It's pretty intuitive, and we want to make sure it's a situation from which we can grow. If it's somebody we can help, we'll certainly consider them."
Alexander says he sees the role of the label as one of mentorship and career development.
"You're part of a community," he says. "You help them from conception to production, and from manufacturing to distribution to promotion. You help them pull what they're doing, as an artist, into focus."
Eventually, Alexander hopes S.A.M. becomes a trusted and respected name for both musicians and music fans.
"I want the next Motown," he says with a laugh. "It's the same concept. I want to create a body of work, and bring back that old school model - the Stax, the Muscle Shoals - things like that."
In addition to the release of "Gentleman East," the launch of S.A.M. and working on the next Badlees album, due in September, Alexander is also helping put the finishing touches on "Lit Riffs," a soundtrack to accompany a collection of short stories written by famous rock writers and novelists based on classic rock songs.
The book is being published by MTV Books and the accompanying CD will feature tunes by The Badlees, who cover Rod Stewart's "Maggie May," plus tracks from several S.A.M. artists and acts that have recorded at Saturation Acres. It will be released on S.A.M. Records on June 22.
For Alexander, it's all part of expanding the radius of the eclectic sessions conducted at the studio.
"They always talk about the 'Seattle sound' and 'Philly soul,' so maybe they'll be talking about us someday," he says with a chuckle. "We've got enough music going on, that's for sure."