Coffee and Conversation: A Sit Down With Nashville’s Indie Pop Songwriter Alexander Wren

It was another frosty day in Nashville as I drove towards the Green Hills Starbucks to meet local indie songwriter Alexander Wren. Walking in, my eyes were drawn towards the tortoise-shell glasses, black polished nails, and the unique glimpse of a gold hoop earring; the friendly disposition and grungy style had to belong to Wren.

After putting in our orders, Wren joked how he was “living on the wild side,” with his choice: a deep red infused concoction of herbal tea. My Matcha latte was perfect for the cold weather, but in hindsight, left me with the same caffeine jitters that Wren had mentioned disliking. I made a mental note to work on my caffeine-dependence issue…someday.  

After shaking hands and finding a quaint spot in the corner, Wren told me, “Please, call me Alex. All my friends do.” We exchanged the shared pastime of auditioning for Belmont’s School of Music and how his experiences have been as a young artist in his now-home in Nashville. The American Idol veteran-turned-indie multi-instrumentalist artist spent little time talking about himself, and instead asked me about my perspective as a Nashville native and my taste in music.

Pushing past my awe-struck reactions as he rattled off some of his friends (widely known in the Belmont community and beyond), like fellow pop Jake Wesley Rogers, I got to hear more from Wren about his musical journey.

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How did you get into music? Um (laughs.) I don’t know. I think it was just always a thing. This answer is going to sound like everybody else’s…I wasn’t good at baseball, and I was like “Well, this is kind of what I’m okay at,” so I decided, let’s do that. 

Top-three artists going into 2020: Randy Newman, Conor Oberst – I’m a huge Oberst fan. (Pauses). Let me check my Spotify. Yikes! (Laughs.) Right now, I’ve been listening to a lot of Elliot Smith. I can usually tell how depressed I am by how much Elliot Smith I listen to.

Describe yourself in three words: I like to think of myself as ecclesiastical. I would describe my music as contemplative; I’m obviously not the loudest guy at the party. I would like to think that what I do is timeless. I think we like trends, we like fast (as in ‘fast fashion’), and we like instant gratification. But I think what I’m trying to do isn’t fast; it’s trying to build something. I guess the other thing is, the not-really-loud guy. Less smoke and mirrors. 

Favorite thing about Fort Wayne, Indiana (other than perhaps family): What I love about Fort Wayne, and the Midwest I would say in general, is that it’s dingy and angsty and I think maybe as melodramatic as my stuff has historically been. I am also starting to come to peace with that. I’m just a midwestern kid who likes dark, gross [music], like Elliot Smith. It’s just always so D.I.Y. and there’s a lot of passion. 

What does your songwriting routine look like? Painful. It is like pulling teeth. My writing process is: get up every morning (I’m a morning person), big cup of tea, sit down, put a timer on my phone, and write for 5 hours. I used to do that 6-7 times a week and then I just started to hate everything because it was so methodical. Now, I don’t do a timer, which is great. But I write at least five days a week. I like to subscribe to very methodical, non-inspirational things because I feel like the best songs have been written out of discipline.

On your Instagram page, I saw that you write songs with a typewriter. Is that something that moves your music along faster? What do you do when you make mistakes, and do you write beginning to end? No, so that’s probably (laughs) more of a to-look-cool kind of thing. In reality, I’m doing this (pantomimes writing text in his iPhone), because the typewriter – it’s cool – but it’s super slow. If you mess up, you screw up the whole thing. So usually, when the typewriter comes in is when I am desperate for inspiration to strike or when I have a song basically done and I’m just revising it. I’ll put on the jacket and break out the typewriter. And it looks cool. (laughs.)

What are your favorite coffee spots or bars in Nashville? (Without hesitation). Oh man, there’s only one in Nashville to go to. In a world with white-tile and sterile doctor’s office-looking coffee shops, you have Bongo Belmont. That’s the only one. You just sit in the back right by the bathrooms; the vibe is nice. Bongo basic, all the way. As far as bars, the only place to go is Brown’s [Diner]. The bar is in a double-end trailer, and it’s also the oldest tap-beer in Nashville. It’s the place to go on a Tuesday night and the house band is this group of 70-80 year old’s, and it’s so good!  

How would you describe your aesthetic/style? Um, college professor? Anything that makes me look smarter than I actually am, is probably what I’m down for. Anything that makes me look more like a poet than I am, I’m cool with. Hence, typewriter. 

Something people don’t know about you? I paint old men. That’s like a weird thing- is that weird? Yeah, it’s kind of weird. It’s a bit more abstract. 

Favorite tour memory so far? Whenever I talk with people that travel a bunch, especially in music, they always have the wildest stories! And I don’t have anything super wild yet, but one time I was in middle of nowhere, Oklahoma, and my friend said I could stay with his parents and his siblings, and they were nursing a family of goats. But they were inside the house, so I was just on this bunkbed of this person’s room that I didn’t really know. It was just wild.

What’s the last movie you saw, and would you recommend it? The last movie I saw was that Adam Sandler movie, Uncut Gems. You have to see it! It is just the wildest, most stressful experience you’ll ever have in a movie. Adam Sandler – so good. He’s more than just the 50 First Dates guy.

What’s the last book you read, and did you like it? Oh my gosh. My book recommendation is even higher. It’s called The Five People You Meet in Heaven. Because I’m super into existential crises and I feel like I’m on the verge of a panic attack every day, I was just weeping at the end of it. And I’m okay to admit it. (laughs).

If you could open for any artist, alive or dead: I’m going to give you alive and dead. Dead would be Ray Charles. He’s my favorite artist of all time. Alive would be Randy Newman.

Any accessories or current outfit obsessions? Pants. Everyone has cool shirts; not everyone has cool pants. (Ponders.) Turtlenecks! It is harder than hell to find men’s turtlenecks.

I noticed you’re a big fan of SpongeBob SquarePants. Which character do you identify with most? (Stops to ask me which episode is my favorite and promptly names the episode I was describing). If SpongeBob was kind of depressed, kind of disgruntled all the time, but he still got out sometimes and liked people, that would be me.  

Do you cook while on tour? If so, do you have any on-the-road cooking hacks? Not at all. My go-to, really all I do, is anything that doesn’t need to be refrigerated. PB and J three times a day, sometimes 4 times a day. I hate it.

Any musical pet peeves? My qualm is, I feel like I have actively tried to be the cool guy for part of my time in Nashville. And because of that, I’m trying to be more accepting, and my eyes have been opened to the good in everything. Justin Bieber? Fucking love Justin Bieber. His voice – butter. I’m super into anything that people love. Now I’ll answer your question. “Woah’s,” like anthemic Woah stuff. Also, four on the floor. I have made a vow to myself: I will never rhyme “girl” with “world.” It’s not my thing. (Jokes.) I’m not a hater though.

Top-three albums on a desert island: My favorite record of all time is Clapton’s Unplugged [1992]. If I’m just being honest with myself, probably one of the records would be Conor Oberst’s Ruminations. And then, Jeff Buckley’s record, Grace is definitely up there.  

What’s one skill you wish you had? One thing I wish I was good at, that I’m just not good at, is baseball. Not practical at all, but I love baseball.

What do you want your listeners to take away from Assorted Love Songs and your music in general? When it comes to live shows, I couldn’t care less if people remember the guitar playing, or the singing. But what I do want people to take away is how that song moved them. Remember the feeling, remember how it moved you. For the recordings, what I want people to take away is the timelessness – and I’m not saying that my music is timeless yet – but what I am saying is that I’m always actively striving for that. I want people to listen to my music, Assorted Love Songs, and my first record and think there’s something about it that is more than just someone trying to get popular. It’s trying to conjure something, to contribute to culture. 

Lastly, what do the upcoming months have in store for Alexander Wren? I’ll be traveling a bunch. My goal is to do at least 7 travel dates a month. I’ll be putting out at least four new singles, maybe five. I’ll also be releasing some video content and alternate versions of those songs in correlation. There’s a bunch of content that’s going to be out. I know that artists, musicians, creatives, we tend to think that “This next season is going to be the best yet.” I have quantifiable reasons to think [the songs] are the most well-crafted out of everything I’ve done. 

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