This was originally published in AdHoc Issue 9. Order a copy of the issue here. Rachel Giannascoli painted the cover (pictured above).
Rachel Giannascoli’s paintings have graced the cover of Alex G’s various Bandcamp releases for a few years now. A photograph of her painting of a nude, winged figure accompanies an early record, entitled Paint. The photo, Alex admits, was taken furtively. It was only after he had posted the record online that Rachel, his sister, discovered it. Her artwork, like his music, is macabre and little obscure, all while remaining accessible and resonant. In anticipation of Alex G’s upcoming record, Beach Music, due out in October via Domino, we interviewed Alex and Rachel over the phone. The two talked at length about the creative process, Vincent Van Gogh, and the validation that comes from having someone respond to your work the same way you do.
AdHoc: Rachel, how long have you been doing artwork for Alex?
Rachel: Well, as long as he’s been putting it out there, he’s been kind of just using what is around and things that I’ll send him.
Alex: I would take pictures of stuff before I would ask Rachel’s permission—I would take a picture of her painting or something.
Rachel: I think I would see them on the Bandcamp, and I was happy to see it. I wouldn’t be aware of it.
AdHoc: What was it like watching each other develop as artists?
Alex: I don’t really think about it, I guess. I guess we’ve both been growing. I’ve always felt like I was making the best shit, and I always thought that she was making the best shit. I didn’t really realize we were growing.
Rachel: It was nice to have someone to create around and to encourage each other. And, I don’t know, fantasize with.
Alex: I probably wouldn’t be making as much, because I wouldn’t have thought it was cool if Rachel didn’t think it was cool.
Rachel: And I was always definitely really into what he was making. Even when he was seven. Whenever he started creating, I was always genuinely interested and excited about it.
Alex: Vise versa, I guess.
AdHoc: Was DSU the first record that you made art specifically for?
Rachel: Kind of. I had mentioned a painting that I had an idea for and Alex said “I want to use that as an album cover.” So he actually encouraged me to paint it faster than I would have gotten it done. But I never actually painted something for an album. It just works. Because we’re similar, in ways.
AdHoc: What was the idea behind that painting?
Rachel: It’s a feeling, basically. I was trying to paint a feeling, but that feeling is open to the viewer.
Alex: Didn’t you have a dream about it? When you were looking at an art gallery.
Rachel: [laughs] Yeah, I had a dream about it. I was looking at that painting already painted, and it was something I just thought was so awesome. I thought, “This is it.”
AdHoc: Alex, what was your thought process when you heard about the idea? How did you decide it should be the cover?
Alex: I thought it was awesome. I thought it was a great idea. I’m kind of biased, I guess. I think whatever Rachel tells me is a great idea. I stand by it. I think it’s a sick painting and it looks amazing.
AdHoc: What’s the story behind the artwork for the upcoming record?
Rachel: I guess the overall theme is compassion. But that’s basically is what the album is about. I hate to put too many words to it, because I think it takes away from it.
AdHoc: What was your reaction when you saw it, Alex?
Alex: I just thought it looked like a beautiful painting. I wanted to use it because I was so impressed by it.
Rachel: He had sent me the new album and had asked if I would do a cover for it, and that was the painting I was working on, so it seemed appropriate.
AdHoc: So creating things has always been a big thing in your family, right?
Alex: I think we were exposed to a lot of music and art and stuff.
Rachel: Like fine art. My mom went to school for painting. So she did art in the classroom actually, when I was younger. And she would bring in a poster of a painting by a master artist and then talk about it and teach the class about it. And then had a contest we would do. She was very helpful in that way.
AdHoc: Can you think of any art that has been really generative for you?
Rachel: A pretty popular one: Van Gogh. I could feel his work. Personally, it just has a lot of spirit that jumps out, like you know him. It’s a lot of himself. And that was always something that I appreciated over anything else.
AdHoc: That expressiveness.
Rachel: Yeah. It feels very transcendent. You live through it, as far as the painting goes.
Alex: I was drawn to Van Gogh too. I got a biography on him. I thought he was so cool.
AdHoc: Was there anything in that biography that really stuck out to you?
Alex: I think he was an extremely passionate person. He lived to make the best art, according to his biographer. I didn’t know him. The picture he painted in his book is that Van Gogh was throwing himself in different cities and different situations for his art. It was almost like his religion. I thought that was cool. I think, he kind of sacrificed himself a little to make his art. And it didn’t bring him any status, but what mattered was that he was making the art that he was most moved by.
Rachel: It’s a devotion.
AdHoc: Is that devotion something that y’all try to tap into in your art?
Rachel: I think that it is something I try to tap into, yes. I’m not claiming to have! But I try to.
Alex: I think I [make art] because I don’t know what else to do. It’s just what I do.
Rachel: It gives back to you. It feeds you, in a way. It gives back. There’s a nice relationship you have with it.
Alex: Yeah, exactly. I do it because I think I kind of identify myself with it. If I didn’t do it I would be confused or something. Does that make sense?
Rachel: Creating helps you get to know yourself too. And I think that's important. It’s not necessarily creating for all people, but it's good to have something that you do that you like to engage yourself.
Alex: I agree… In creating this piece of yourself for other people. You make the coolest most presentable thing and someone else can see it like that. I’m kind of making stuff up, but that seems right.
AdHoc: You make things for the love of making them, but where does showing it others fit in?
Rachel: It’s exciting if people resonate with it. Very exciting.
Alex: I think when making a song, it's not at the forefront of my brain. I’m not like, “Okay, i’m gonna show this to someone else.” But I think that must be why I do it. The same way when people dress really well, or something. That must be why I want to make stuff. I think that’s my method of getting my way across to other people. Because I feel really comfortable making music. It doesn’t make sense to express yourself if no one’s going to hear what you’re doing or see what you’re doing.
AdHoc: What draws you to some of the themes and imagery that you use in your art, Rachel?
Rachel: It’s probably my personality. [Laughs] I love what color can do visually for people. How it affects us. Color is the primary thing I pay attention to. And the imagery? I’m interested in symbols. There’s a lot of symbolism in it.
AdHoc: Colors can evoke feelings without putting pressure on you to name them.
Rachel: Yes, absolutely. Color can instantly do things to you.
Alex: I agree with Rachel. I think, it's something that affects me but I’m not conscious of it in the same way she is. Because, I don’t really stop to think about that. I think it definitely has an effect on me.
AdHoc: Do you think you have a similar approach of evoking feelings in how you make your music?
Alex: I think I have the same approach, but not with colors, but with sound and music. I know a certain thing affects me when I’m making it, and a lot of times I can’t put a finger on it, but I know what I’m trying to get across. But I know that I can’t exactly put a name on this feeling.
AdHoc: So it feels validating when people feel something similar?
Rachel: Absolutely! Connecting! To stay true to your feelings and have others connect is a beautiful thing.
AdHoc: I guess that comes back to the transcendence. Communicating that without words.
Rachel: Some people are really good with words.
Alex: [laughs] That’s not us one bit.
Rachel: It’s a language that everybody understands. Hopefully in that way [art] unites. That’s one aspect of what’s cool about it.
AdHoc: Did the title of the new record, Beach Music, come up with relation to the artwork?
Alex: No, I came up with the title before the artwork came out. I thought it because it sounded cool. It’s funny because I told people about that title, and they were like “oh, that’s funny.” But I didn’t think it was a joke. I just thought it sounded it cool. I found a book or movie called “Beach Music” and I really liked the way it sounded. So it’s just a meaningless thing that I found.