The newest single from Alexander Vincent, né Alex Tanas, features only seven words: “I know I’ve got to free myself.” Those lyrics, coupled with thunderous percussion, make it his mission statement. As a solo artist, he seeks liberation.
“Free Myself” is just a sample of the majesty of Alexander Vincent, embracing vulnerabilities within himself and connecting him to the rest of humanity. The few words it comprises prove to be the most straightforward examination of the song; the production leads you deeper. Both beg for emotional self-absolution.
Growing up around creatives, Tanas always had music as a part of his life. It was his family that taught him empathy and not to fear his emotions — around them he is most comfortable. His father was a touring songwriter and bassist; his stepdad was also a singer; and his mother embraced the arts as well, though she focused on dance and acting.
He remembers hearing Stevie Wonder and Michael Jackson frequently played around his childhood home in Toronto, and he still values memories of being introduced to classic pieces of art, from John Coltrane to Casablanca. He couldn’t relate to his peers over jazz and decades-old film, but they still formed a critical foundation for his experiences.
Tanas earned his primary education at an art school, where he was able to try out different media, from music to visual works. As an athletic kid, predictably, his only good subjects were gym and music. He had the chance to learn to play drums as early as the eighth grade and it was the perfect marriage of his strengths. Though he had several other dream vocations — like becoming a professional baseball player — music always proved to be his true calling.
As he got older, Tanas found plenty of opportunities to be the drummer in other people’s bands. Today he records and tours with MAGIC!; he also played with Justin Nozuka and others during years prior.
He thinks of his role at the kit as just that; after all, once he’s gotten the rhythm of a song down, he need only rely on muscle memory to hold the band together. While it remained his strongest and best-loved instrument to play, the drums were no longer a challenge.
He made a change when he began producing. The process has proven to be more collaborative and thoughtful than reproducing rhythms as a drummer. When he finds the right sound for the project he’s working on, that’s a proud moment. Still, those are fleeting.
Producing means working on someone else’s song, creating something that Tanas can’t entirely call his own. This vein of thinking leads him to compartmentalize his talents. He imagines a conversation with himself:
“'You’ve worked on a bunch of successful hits, but, Alex' — and I have to slap myself in the face — 'this is not what you’re trying to do here. You’re vulnerable and you’re open and you’re doing what you believe in.'”
Vulnerable is one of Tanas’ favorite words. He cites James Blake as a sonic influence, though the British artist also is steadfast about his sensitivities; he has been described as a “sad boy” so frequently that the term has become a blog subgenre. The media treats sadness as a novelty, and Blake chose to speak up about it. He recently posted a statement after he put out the poignant single “Don’t Miss It”:
“I’ve always felt that expression unhealthy and problematic when used to discuss men just openly talking about their feelings. To label it at all ... contributes to the ever disastrous historical stigmatization of men expressing themselves emotionally.”
As Alexander Vincent, Tanas tries to break down preconceptions about who he is. He writes and records his own material, handling vocals, production and a slew of other instruments. He finds that everyone has their own impression of him.
“In life, we build up this persona and people around us ascribe to that persona. I play drums and my identity gets wrapped up in that. But I know that I’m more than that. I have more to say, and I want people to see other sides of me, but the only way for me to open that channel up is to be vulnerable.”
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“Success in this business is hard to measure. The value of music varies depending on who’s listening and other factors that an artist can’t control. Tanas reflects on the conundrum: “It’s humbling and beautiful that music is so subjective. It is a personal expression, so you aren’t competing in the same way” as, say, in a game of basketball. His tangible goals as a musician are arbitrary projections, like dreaming of playing on the same stage as other popular acts or having as many hit singles. And then, again, he stops to slap himself — “but you’re doing what you believe in,” he repeats.
Historically, though, honest art doesn’t get rewarded. Technology makes it easier to pinpoint fans and their taste, but Tanas has some frustrations. He is determined to find his audience but refuses to hyper-analyze his music to get there, telling me an anecdote about Spotify: “Someone asked me if I had checked my skip rates, and I’m like, ‘I don’t give a fuck about skip rates!’ What, I’m gonna look at the skip rate and change my next song based on that? No way.”
By living closer to his multifaceted truth, Tanas finally reaches his potential, even if that means dwelling on the disappointments of human nature. “Free Myself” is a reaction to people’s rigid expectations. He wants to help on “I Won’t,” but promises silence because words are futile. Another unreleased track professes his guilt over failed relationships and asks forgiveness for becoming the villain. His self-awareness adds to his emotional intelligence. “Vulnerability also means getting out of your own way.”
His ultimate goal is to make music that moves people. “It’s empowering to make music that you believe in and have other people connect to that,” he told me. “If people connect with what you’re saying from a truthful place, then you feel less alone. That’s the beauty of writing a song that people like — you feel like everyone’s in this together.”