The indie scene’s greatest mystery joins Document to speak on his latest album, ‘God Save the Animals,’ and set the record straight about that infamous pee meme
With an extensive discography, dreamy long hair, and a conspicuous lack of social media presence, it’s easy to manic-pixie-dream-girl Alex G (the moniker is simply the shortened version of his full name, Alexander Giannascoli). An aura of perfectly mysterious musical genius surrounds him. He’s created guitar arrangements for Frank Ocean’s Blonde and Endless albums, scored Jane Schoenbrun’s drama horror film We’re All Going to the World’s Fair; he almost always lands a spot on Pitchfork’s year-end best list, and played live on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon. Fans cling to anything Alex G they can find online, compiling hunted-down tracks from his Sandy Bandcamp, his YouTube, and from his teenage band, the Skin Cells. Yet, Giannascoli is only ever in the public eye when he’s releasing new music or getting mistaken for Beto O’Rourke pissing on himself.
I find him sitting at the bar at Sally’s, a small, laid-back restaurant in Bed-Stuy. He’s in New York for two days of promotional work for his ninth studio album, God Save the Animals, which releases today. At first glance, the album’s title and much of its tracklist suggest a Christian rock soundtrack for God-pilled times. But God Save the Animals isn’t a religious album—it’s one of Giannascoli’s most complex projects to date, blurring the line between his roles as singer-songwriter and producer, as his sound continues to mature. Throughout our talk, he comes across as humble, even shy: “I think interviews and stuff like this are probably the extent to which I’d like to be public with my thoughts,” he says. “I don’t have anything against it, but I don’t have the desire to share.” Despite this, Giannascoli possesses a storied history on social media apps, having been the subject of multiple memes. They linger in the back of my mind during our interview, as I try to get to the bottom of one, burning question: Who tf is Alex G?
Madison Bulnes: My editor really wants to know: When was the last time you peed your pants? She once did in front of eighth graders when––
Alex Giannascoli: Oh my god. That picture was probably the last time I peed my pants. I learned my lesson.
Madison: Wasn’t it beer?
Madison: I thought it was actually spilt beer in that picture?
Alex: Oh yeah. It was beer.
Madison: Was it actually pee?
Alex: Nah, it was beer [laughs].
“I think the only thread is that it’s just me pursuing all these different ideas. It’s like, the thread is that there is no thread. It’s just me fumbling my way through it.”
Sally’s ambience is perfect for our sweaty, summertime conversation, with its warm-toned lights and high-powered AC. Giannascoli needed a drink to cool down, and ordered something peach-colored on the rocks—a drink not even the slightest bit similar to the tall PBR I imagined him with. We initially sit down at a table away from the bar, and Giannascoli is quiet and reserved like an overly polite first date. He listens closely as his piercing brown eyes stare straight into mine, thinking for a while—usually looking off to the side, or placing a hand on his chin—before answering my questions. Most of his responses are along the lines of, “It’s hard to answer that. I just don’t have a good answer. And well, I don’t want to answer with, like, something that’s not true.” His pauses, hesitations, and nonanswer answers stem from a hyper-awareness of being perceived—something he never actively seeks out. However, with a cult following that has produced numerous Reddit threads dedicated to unlocking the Alex G mystery, Giannascoli can no longer avoid outsider attention. Careful statements, even when they aren’t perfectly crafted, become his only form of armor. “I stay away [from the internet], because for me—when I’m looking at myself and I’m not in charge of the image—it doesn’t feel great. Let people do whatever they want, I just won’t look. As long as they’re not like, I want to kill this guy. Then I’d be like, ‘Alright, I gotta figure this out.’”
Giannascoli only has total control when it comes to creative freedom. He prefers to work alone, without worrying about someone else not liking his ideas, which allows him to pursue every one to its fullest extent. The outcome is that signature Alex G: thick, down-tuned rhythm guitar, layer over layer over layer, and piano ballads mirroring screechy, childlike vocals. This familiar sound opens God Save the Animals, before the album fades into new territory—a shocking Alex G pop song. On “Runner,” Giannascoli follows a classic pop structure, creating a real chorus rather than his typical, unconventional repeating verses. The song sounds lighter and more wholesome than usual; the artist’s true voice shines, hiding morbid lyrics—it’s still Alex G, after all. The surprises keep coming: an almost hyper-pop closing break, SoundCloud-esque beats, eerie, undeciphered voices, peculiar GarageBand sound effects. “When I’m [composing], I’m trying to entertain myself. But the end goal is for other people. I’m using myself as the guinea pig for other people.” If he creates something expectable or boring, he tosses it, choosing to prioritize surprising, intriguing tracks. Upon first listen, God Save the Animals may catch longtime fans off guard. Over time, though, it becomes clear that the album is classic Alex G experimentation. He tells me, “I think the only thread is that it’s just me pursuing all these different ideas. It’s like, the thread is that there is no thread. It’s just me fumbling my way through it.”
Madison: How would you describe God Save the Animals?
Alex: How would I describe it? Maybe just like… Uhh…
Madison: You can take time to think about it.
Without taking time to think about it, Alex: Like a modern rock album [laughs].
Madison: Okay, but it needs a tagline.
Alex: Like a modern rock album for… [Laughs] I don’t know. A modern rock album… for today.
Madison: Anything can be a modern rock album for today.
Alex: No, that’s not true. [Referring to the pop station playing at Sally’s] This isn’t a modern rock album.
Madison: But there are so many others.
Alex: Maybe like—uhh—a rock album for the future?
Madison: It needs more description, more adjectives.
Alex: Okay, uhh… Uhh… An entertaining rock album for today [laughs].
It’s not that Giannascoli is socially awkward. He’s just better at communicating through music. “I can have a conversation like this, but I can’t sing a conversation. I can make something engaging with music. As far as other mediums, or even in speaking—I don’t know my way around it as well as I know music.” His greater confidence in his musical ability than in himself could be attributed to the fact that he’s been doing it for half his life. “Any message that it has would be communicated through the music. For me to say something would be reductive, or not even reductive. Just like anything I’m trying to say doesn’t, I can’t communicate it like this.” His discography is his only testament to the world, even when an objective meaning doesn’t exist. “When I started writing this record, one of the first songs had [‘God Save the Animals’] as a lyric,” he said about coming up with the album’s title. “I didn’t end up using that song, but when thinking of titles I remembered it and how I really liked it. I stuck with it because it’s kind of ambiguous, whatever it means is ambiguous. I don’t have a definite view on what it means, either. I like stuff where the meaning is malleable.” Giannascoli’s inclination toward enigmatic lyrics often results in eccentric characters and stories, with tracks named after a variety of mundane things; “House,” “Trash,” “Candy,” “Water,” “Whale,” “Clouds,” “Salt,” “Walk,” “Mud,” “Brick,” “Horse,” “Sugar,” and now “Immunity” and “Headroom Piano.”
The entirety of God Save the Animals is based on Giannascoli’s preference for open interpretation—especially the Jesus-core motif. Many of his close friends found God recently, turning religion into a subject he was constantly hearing about. “The theme doesn’t necessarily reflect my personal beliefs, but it seemed like a thought-provoking idea to mess with.” It wasn’t genuine nor satirical, just something to explore without dissecting what exactly it represents. A reading of Joy Williams’s Ninety-Nine Stories of God—story number 73, to be exact—was the final push he needed. Explaining why the story was uploaded to his website, Giannascoli says, “It made me feel like I could use these God tropes without having a concrete idea in mind. That story is playful, and personally, I didn’t know what to make of it—but I liked that. She tossed up these heavy themes and there wasn’t a clear message. It made me feel like I had the license to [do the same].”
“I can have a conversation like this, but I can’t sing a conversation. I can make something engaging with music. As far as other mediums, or even in speaking—I don’t know my way around it as well as I know music.”
Giannascoli’s mention of friends reminds me of the fully-packed backpack which rested on his lap while he waited for me at the bar. He’s set to board his train back to Philadelphia in a few hours. He never had the stardom-seeking urge to move to New York or Los Angeles, now living only 20 minutes away from the suburban neighborhood he grew up in—still preferring to hang out with friends who live close-by, rather than A-listers in the indie scene.
Madison: What was it like making this album?
Alex: Nothing special. I just write stuff at home. I started bringing stuff to studios around Philly. During the pandemic, I wanted to get out of the house a lot, too. So instead of recording stuff myself, I was going to the studio and having other people record it. But yeah, same as always—I just do the different instruments and then fuck with it on the computer.
Madison: Was this your first time going into the studio?
Alex: I’ve done it before here and there, but this was the first time doing it for songs that were gonna go on the record.
Madison: Was it mainly just to get out of the house?
Alex: Yeah. I guess. Both to get out of the house and also to try to make something that’s a level up from my last record. Maybe give it some better sound quality or something, so it was more… listenable, you know?
Madison: Were you trying to leave some bad sound quality before?
Alex: I’ve just done it myself for so long. I was curious about how it would go if I had professionals, like… getting something that was ‘good’ quality—if I just did what I always do, but have people who knew what they were doing mic everything up instead of me. I basically have the resources to do it in a studio now. So it’s like, Who am I? What am I trying to prove by not doing that?
Madison: Did you like how they did it? Did you notice a difference?
Alex: The main difference was that I didn’t have to set up all this stuff myself anymore. I really liked that. And that’s good enough for me. I’m all about it now.
Giannascoli is wearing a plain t-shirt, jeans, and dirty white sneakers. Tiny strands of gray frame his face—he’s clearly outgrowing the 2010s music blog’s baby-faced, heartthrob, singer-songwriter image. “I got into guitar when I was 13 or 14, but I didn’t get proficient enough to write music on it till I was a little older—when I started getting into Modest Mouse and Elliott Smith.” That indie phase led him to creating the lofi-bedroom-slowcore-folk-indie-rock music he makes now—but those words fall short in comprehensively describing his sound.
What makes Giannascoli so addicting is something that cannot be named; it cannot be classified by genre. He blends multiple styles together, subverting sounds on tracklists, and even in the middle of tracks. His expertise sends the hairs on your arm into the air while goosebumps form. It’s the defining trait that makes Alex G—well, Alex G. Even the man himself cannot adequately explain his music. “It’s just a feeling of intensity—like, intense emotions,” he says about his process of knowing when a song is right. “Not necessarily happy or sad, but just melancholy like that. Like, the feeling you get when you’re just, like… Geez, that’s a good question.” He stops mid-sentence, never finishing his thought. The waitress interrupts, offering us shots of, again, something in the orange color family. He says, “Oh wow,” before slowly tasting it. As our conversation nears its end, he continues to take small sips, opening up a bit more—even confessing to watching the latest season of The Bachelorette.
Madison: Your vocals often feature a lot of autotune, pitching up, and extreme straining. Is there a reason for that?
Alex: I guess just to keep it interesting, and sometimes certain lyrics feel suited to a different type of voice. I guess, mainly, it’s so you can visualize different types of characters.
Madison: Do you feel like you become different characters in your songs? Is that how you approach them?
Alex: I guess. I approach it as myself, and then I end up going from one tangent to another tangent, and then it becomes a character. Does that make sense?
Madison: Sort of.
Alex: It’s like, I just go from one idea to the next in trying to make it entertaining, and then it becomes a character. It always starts off from an earnest point, but then it kind of just goes one way or the other. You know?
Madison: So you have multiple personalities.
Alex: Noooo. I think that…
Alex: Nah, I don’t [laughs].
The entirety of God Save the Animals is based on Giannascoli’s preference for open interpretation—especially the Jesus-core motif.
Giannascoli may seem like a gift from the deity he’s contemplating on God Save the Animals. But he’s simply just another guy, who happens to be one of the most talented multi-instrumentalists and songwriters of this generation. He takes his music seriously, choosing to fuck around with listeners elsewhere. “Performing and touring is more fun. I don’t consider myself a serious performer.” And it’s true. I’ve seen him walk on stage to Rascal Flatts’ “Life is a Highway,” perform Coldplay covers, kiss bandmates, and actually take crowd suggestions. “All four of us [in the band]—when we’re practicing and stuff—toss ideas around. I think it was Sam [Accione]’s idea to do Coldplay, but we were all thinking about that stuff. You know, just like, What will be funny? Or not funny, but what would make people have fun?”
That same energy overflows to other places, as well. When talking about the music video he made for “Blessing,” Giannascoli tells me, “My friend Zev [Magasis], who directed the video, was like, ‘It would be so funny, so cool, if we got you guys to dress like a ’90s dark rock band or whatever.’ Everyone was really down, and it was just for the spectacle of it. I guess I thought it was cool. And it would be thought-provoking for people, like, not knowing if we meant it or not.” It’s similar to the tooth-gem situation in the “Runner” music video; the stylist mentioned adding one, and Giannascoli was just like, ‘Cool, yeah.’ I tell him that this is how I interact with and consume his work: debating if it’s sincere or not. If he’s corny, or if he just doesn’t give a fuck. His only response is a laugh.
Madison: Is there anything else you want to say?
Alex: Nothing. I hope you got some stuff.
Madison: I got the modern rock album for today.
Alex: Entertaining rock album for the future. No, it’s for today.