Singer-songwriter Alexa Wilding has beguiled audiences for years with her haunting voice, cutting-edge style and singular noir folk. Called “the neo-Stevie Nicks” by The New York Times, her two albums – 2009’s self-titled debut and 2012’s Coral Dust – feature “moody fables over a spray of watercolor sounds” (Time Out New York). Confessional, mystical and tinged in Americana, both efforts feature support from Wilding’s longtime collaborator, Tim Foljahn (Cat Power, Thurston Moore, Townes Van Zandt) and Television’s Fred Smith. She is currently at work on her third album with producer Tom Beaujour, who has worked with Julianna Hatfield, Guided By Voices and Nada Surf.
In 2013, following the birth of her twin sons, Wilding shared a cover of Chris Isaak’s “Wicked Game,” featuring Au Revoir Simone. The following year saw “Mirage,” a collaboration with Kevin Serra’s Cloud Seeding, a singles project on Brooklyn’s Bleek Records. She also continued to score fashion films and commercials for Scandinavian brand, Ivana Helsinki. Lastly, Tim Foljahn’s cover of “Bird” from her 2009 debut, was featured on Showtime’s “Shameless.”
Tagged as “one of music’s hippest chicks” alongside Florence + The Machine (New York Post), she has been featured as one to watch in Bust Magazine, Dossier Journal, Nylon, Urban Outfitters, Page Six and Harper’s Bazaar amongst others. Her music reached a national audience while on tours with Au Revoir Simone, Ben Lee and Jennifer O’Connor, and overseas via her video collaborations with Ivana Helsinki. A native New Yorker, Wilding cut her teeth as a side woman in Int’l Shades, an art-rock project with former Pussy Galore/Sonic Youth drummer, Bob Bert and Live Skull’s Mark C. She lives and works in Manhattan with her family.
Describe a time when you walked through the doors of passage? Becoming a mother, one inevitably walks through the doors of passage. But for me becoming a mother was a particularly complicated time. I lost my first pregnancy, and then shortly after I became pregnant with twins! Then right before West and Lou’s first birthday, Lou was diagnosed with a rare, cancerous brain tumor, and we spent almost a year seeing him, successfully, through chemotherapy. Needless to say, it was a horrific time, and there were, of course, moments when I wondered who had put the hooey on me! But now, four months out, I look back and realize that it was a magical time, too, despite all the suffering. I learned the greatest lesson of all, which is that you can’t control anything.
Control is an illusion, and once you are freed from it, it is actually quite liberating!
I still try to control my little world, of course, I’m human, but I can now check myself.
I know now that the secret to life is being 100% present and giving it all you got.
It’s not easy, but in the case of my son’s illness, for instance, I can honestly say I showed up every day and just did it. I don’t feel much residual upset from the whole thing, because I believe, like the chemo, the experience ran through me clean. Done.
How has being female affected your spiritual journey? Growing up, I learned, fast, that pretty girls got special attention. I was a super girly girl and I got a lot of attention for being pretty and well behaved. Unfortunately I carried this nonsense into my adult life and really hit a wall when I couldn’t reconcile my inside to my outside. I was a strong personality, but I was also soft and feminine. Could the two co-exist? Since becoming a mother, and putting everything on hold to see my family through our crisis, I have found a new femininity inside myself. The warrior mother, I guess. I have come to value my softness as much as I value my smarts. As a result, I have come to a very peaceful place after years of wrestling. In short, you can be a badass in a dress.
Who are you becoming?
I learned so much from my children. West was so brave during his brother’s illness, and Lou taught us all how to experience joy despite pain. I mean, goodness, they are only two years old! But this child-like showing up, with wonder and wide eyes, is something I have returned to. For many years I tried to protect myself from hurt, pain, disappointment, by backing out of things, running away, or pretending I didn’t care as much as I did. I hope I am becoming a braver person. I was scared out of my mind during Lou’s treatment, and of course I will always be afraid for his health, but I know now that every day is a gift and you have to meet it with open arms, as corny as that sounds, and catch yourself when you want to run away for good!
What is pulling you forward? What is your motivation?
Knowing that I have nothing to lose! Every day is such a gift, even when we were in isolation in the hospital we managed to have so much fun. I wrote a new album and began a book. Literally, while my child slept, while I went between children, it was nuts but something propelled me forward. I realized that I have something particular to give to the world and whether or not it is amazing is not the point. It is simply what I have to give. I try now to treat my thoughts, ideas, hopes and dreams as lovingly and with the same patience I treat my children.
What does being BRAVE look like these days? What does it feel like?
As an artist, it means following my ideas from beginning to end, not ditching them mid way because I’m worried my music isn’t cool, or my book – about my time in the hospital – will be too hard to handle. As a mother, it means loving my children. I mean really loving them, with a big bleeding soppy heart. As a woman, it means continuing my struggle to see my desires clearly and ask for what I want. It feels like riding a horse, fast, or like Alice waving her shiny sword at the Jabberwocky. Yes, I think about Alice and that sword a lot!
Tell me about what you crave? What are you saying a big Holy YES to these days?
I crave the big holy YES! I crave an open heart, the balance of giving and receiving. Our community and friends came together for us this past year. Until then, I myself had been guilty of not showing up for people. I was scared I wasn’t enough, that what little I could contribute of myself was so little it couldn’t possibly make a difference. Now its contagious, I crave giving, helping as much as I can, and giving my music and my words so that maybe I can make something of a difference, even if its just making someone feel something new or relating to a sound or image.
Because I have to ask whom are your heroes? What did they teach you?
Of course, my children, and my husband, Ian, we did it! We fought the good fight and came out laughing! Good grief!
But Marcia Tucker is as close as I will come to having a hero. She was a family friend and I was lucky enough to spend some time with her before she passed. Famously fired from the Whitney Museum in the 70s for being too radical, she founded the New Museum. She was the epitome of joyful bravery. Before my first show, I must have been 22 or 23, I was playing at a dive bar in the East Village, we barely knew each other, but she held my hand before I went on. I will never forget how she squeezed my hand and looked me in the eye with those big bulging eyes, on fire with excitement and encouragement. That’s how she met life, and its how I try to show up, too, for myself and for others. Marcia also introduced me to Buddhism and thus sent me on my spiritual path. She used to say, “Act first, think later. That way you will have something to think about!” Some times I look up at the sky and just say to her, “Can you believe this!” with a wink. She had a great sense of humor.
How will you honor the ordinary moments today?
I try to make every moment special by being present. Sometimes I will be walking to the subway with my headphones on and I’ll stop, take them out, and take a deep breath, just so I can really hear the day, the wind, the noise. At night I always end my day with a bath and I burn a smudge stick. It is my way of saying, the day is done, you did your best, and tomorrow is fresh!
What would you like everyone to know?
We are all so scared. When Lou came out of treatment, he was tiny and bald, and honestly, some people couldn’t help it, they would ignore us at the playground. I don’t think they meant to, I think they were scared, like the chaos we must have gone through was contagious. I couldn’t figure it out. I knew they couldn’t possibly fathom what we had gone through, and maybe they were ashamed at that? It was only when I’d look at their children, and try to imagine them going through what Lou, physically, went through, that I realized the horror of it. But honestly, they would have done the same for their child. I’d like people to know that being afraid, making efforts to avoid “the worst possible thing in the world” is pointless. Because “the worst possible thing in the world” happens eventually, and in the end, it grants your soul peace because you learn to never, ever again, fear that worst possible thing. And when you stop fearing it, your heart opens and my, how much more love you can give and receive!
Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild precious life?
I want to be able to say that I gave everything my all. I hope to leave a body of work behind that makes even the slightest mark, but honestly in the end, if I could affect people’s lives like Marcia did mine, with her huge kind eyes, that would enough for me.