After reviewing Galexi’s latest single, a poignant rendition of Pink Floyd’s 1974 hit “Us and Them,” I decided to glean further insight into their craft by following up with an interview. The Portland, Oregon-based electronic duo consists of singer Jo Alexis and keyboardist/producer Alexander Johnson or, per their concept, The Priestess and The Scientist from the planet Issia. Currently, the band is focusing on building their brand, which, much like their music, emphasizes fittingly space-esque color palettes, captivating atmosphere, and a sense of genuine interactivity. As both members were available to chat, we discussed their formative influences, the unique circumstance in which they met, the challenges in doing “Us and Them” justice, as well as how Galexi continues to implement music and branding successfully.
How’s quarantine going for both of you?
Jo: We were just talking about that, funny you should ask (laughs).
Alex: Fortunately, being electronic musicians, it’s given us time to work on music and other things. At the same time, we haven’t been able to work together in person for a while; just through Zoom meetings and everything.
It may seem like a bit of a hindrance on the surface, but ultimately, you just keep going.
Jo: Yeah. We’re doing a tiny bit less on the music, and a tiny bit more on the promotional side of things. We thought, “Hey, let’s consolidate our gains, and really focus on the website, our fans, our email list, and our Instagram!” But like Alex said, we’re doing a little less than we were before (laughs).
Alex: Well, you know how it goes. Since there’s no record label and things like that, you have to work out every little part on your own.
Before Galexi, which bands really influenced your musicianship as you were growing up?
Jo: I listened to a lot of ELO, because I played the violin growing up, and I wanted to be an electric violinist. As a singer, I was really shaped by Joni Mitchell, but there were always tons of other records playing around the house, including Pink Floyd – big, big influence! I’d say that those guys, Talking Heads, Joni Mitchell, and Bonnie Raitt are at the top. You know, music was everything. I listened to it every night. That was my reward for doing my homework; I could listen to a record in my room (laughs).
Alex: For me, I listened to a lot of classical music at first, and enjoyed the storytelling involved. Then, as I got into rock and roll, I started with The Beatles, like everybody. That took me to Abbey Road, and then I got into Moody Blues for their bringing in the classical elements, and a lot of prog rock as well – Pink Floyd, Yes, and stuff like that.
Bringing that all together, how did you guys meet, and eventually start Galexi?
Jo: I met Alex when I was referred to him for massage therapy. So, he was my massage therapist, and I was six months pregnant. At that time, I became his piano teacher, so we had this cool trade going long before then. I was also releasing a single with another band I was in, and he did a couple remixes for me, so that was the beginning of our musical relationship.
Given your previous involvement with other projects, how was your transition into this band?
Alex: Back then, I worked on music just for myself. I know that when I’m working on my own music, I’m in control of everything, and in a collaboration, you’re working with someone else. Coming into this project, I was a bit leery of that at first, but it’s so interesting having someone to riff ideas off of, and have your own ideas reflected back at you in a different way. I find the process really fascinating. It’s very organic.
Jo: I have another band in Portland that’s still active, called Happy for No Reason, and until the pandemic, I was able to manage both bands since my kid would go to school. So, I just added the project with Alex into my schedule, and we used to do rehearsals once a week, and did more and more stuff. It was pretty seamless since Alex is super easy to work with. There might have been a little bit of jealousy between bandmates, but they were willing to share me, so it was okay (laughs).
What happened during that early period – debuting your brand, and marking it initially with the “Galaxy” single?
Alex: That came about because we started working with one of our friends, and it was before we thought of combining our names for our band name.
Jo: Yeah, we almost got signed to a label. They were going to pick us up, and wanted us to combine our names. So, we figured since my middle name is Alexis, and Alexander’s nickname is Alex, they both fit within “Galexi,” and that was really it. We just kind of landed on that, because we feel like our music has an epic, galactic feel, in addition to the sci-fi element in our origin story of being from another planet.
It’s a clever concept.
Jo: Thanks, man; thanks for noticing!
When it came to the “Us and Them” cover, was it a timely occurrence of your putting it out during the pandemic, or had you planned to release it anyway?
Alex: It was kind of serendipitous that we released it at this time, but we actually started working on the cover long before it happened.
Jo: Yeah, we were working on it for a long time, and it took us a while before we could get it to a place that we were happy with, since it’s a great song, and we’re so in awe over Pink Floyd. We did many, many versions of it – I think 16 versions altogether – and really wanted to get it right, especially the bridge, you know, “Haven’t you heard…”
Jo: Yeah, it was originally loud, with a choir, and when we tried that, it just wasn’t working, so we had to find our way into it.
I thought it was interesting how you went with the calm approach. Even though it’s normally such a recognizable part, you showed that you don’t necessarily need to make it triumphant on purpose, with loads of orchestration. It was unique, and a nice contrast.
Jo: Thank you!
Alex: Honestly, I find that after a while, if you work on a song, and you strip out the stuff that isn’t working, but keep the stuff that is, usually that’s what needs to happen.
In terms of your writing in general, do you implement a similar perfectionist approach to your other songs?
Alex: I think we approach every song differently. A couple of songs came together in one or two weeks, but we still have plenty of other songs in the backlogs waiting to get tweaked (laughs).
Jo: Yeah, and we trust each other in making these songs as good as they can possibly be. There is a back-and-forth exchange in whether the structure and emotional content reach their goals, and we give each other constructive notes, like, “Hey, can we try this again,” or, “Can we make this part shorter?” Sometimes, we’d be wrong; we’ll try something and it just wouldn’t sound right. Always keep previous versions of your songs as a reference.
Alex: We actually didn’t know whether “Us and Them” was going to come out right, and were pretty sure that we might screw it up, so to get your wonderful review about it is really heartwarming, man. We are Pink Floyd fans, and we don’t want to insult the band, right?
Jo: Yeah. We’ve had a few negative comments – some funny ones, even – but we can understand how fans can get attached to those bands, especially ones that are so iconic.
I think your implementation was really solid though. Not only did you expand on the theme in the video, but you also made it in line with the original song’s length, which is over seven minutes long.
Jo: Thank you! Alex did this amazing thing with the video. The first cut of it actually had no effects at all, and he took it and made it Galexi, with all the psychedelic colors and effects. It was magical! Yay, Alex!
You mentioned having to deal with some negativity in the comments section. Usually, do you feel that these people are expressing themselves in the heat of the moment, and then simply forgetting all about what they had written shortly after that?
Jo: Well, in any case, everyone is entitled to a passionately negative response, especially to a cover of a song by a popular band. It does hurt, for maybe a couple of seconds, but then you realize, “Yeah, I also feel that way about a lot of covers.” When I hear some of them, I’m like, “This sounds like ass; it’s terrible!” For the most part, though, the response has been positive. A lot of people find the cover to be uplifting and dancey, and that’s definitely what we were going for.
How did you go about giving a rock song like “Us and Them” the electronic treatment?
Alex: I work with Ableton, and I like the flexibility of that program. First, I looked up the chords and then played around with them, and once I got the basic chord structure down, I decided to go with my strength of sticking with a keyboard sound, rather than synthetic guitar. Then, I mapped out the lyrics and we worked back and forth with it from there. The cool thing about this track is that it’s one that we mixed and mastered ourselves.
Jo: We did seek advice, though. We gave it to a mixer and were like, “Hey, is there anything you could do with this that hasn’t already been done,” and he was like, “Look, I’m not gonna charge you for this advice; just sidechain the bass, and you’re good.” Then, we were like, “Okay, yay!”
Having gone about this yourselves, has working on this track, especially with its many permutations, given you more confidence in your abilities?
Alex: Totally! This track has given me a ton of confidence. The fact that the song has received good feedback, and has held up through various streaming services, it’s awesome.
Jo: To be fair, we also worked with Sean Flora, who’s a Grammy Award-winning engineer for his work with The Shins. He’s a local in our town, and we learned a lot from him just by watching him work and by asking him questions. He did everything else, basically – all the stuff we didn’t release yet, and that we’re about to release.
On the 21st, you’re going to release a video for your song “Safe,” which you worked on with the dancers Saffire Bouchelion and Dwight Stone. How was it working with them?
Jo: I’m not sure how familiar you are with the ecstatic dance community in Portland, but it’s a big community of people who get together once a week or so and listen to world music. Saffire is a well-known DJ and dancer in town, and Dwight is an amazing dancer, too. Both are really solid in their craft. I’d asked them to do this because of our ongoing relationship with the dance community, and I wanted to document this moment in time. The video is slow, sexy, and a bit hard to explain, but you’ll see!
Alex: I just wanted to add that on the planet Issia, where we’re from, dance is a large part of our lives and ceremonies, so we try to incorporate dancers as much as we can.
In this app I was just checking out, Transcendent Sound, your musical pads, “Angel Glow” and “Space,” are included. That’s really cool!
Jo: Yeah! The CEO of that app contacted me to see if we’d like to be one of its representative artists. It’s a type of technology that randomizes sound, and we had to fit within their parameters. It was tricky because we had to follow their rules in order for the randomizer to work properly, but it ended up being a really good fit. We’ll probably add some more sounds to it eventually, and they’re open to it any time. For now, we’ll add “Android Shopping” and “Spaceship Journey.” We want to add that sound when the doors on a spaceship open, so people could experience what it’s like to be on a spaceship, and they won’t have to spend a million dollars (laughs).
Nice! You’ve also worked on a comic book with Spenser Turner, is that right?
Alex: That’s correct. I’ve always enjoyed comic books, and it was a good way for me to explain our history. When you try to do it normally, people just think you’re weird and they won’t get it. But by storyboarding it out with a comic book, they can enjoy our adventures as a band, and read it while listening to our music. We actually just got an email from the publishing company, saying that the first 100 books are being sent to me now. We’ll definitely mail you a copy!
Awesome, looking forward to it! Putting your experiences as Galexi in perspective, what do you take away from it?
Jo: Being The Priestess from Issia, I feel that it has become a wonderful space for me; it’s powerful, it’s strong, and it’s loving. Galexi is a hugely positive thing in my life. I couldn’t be happier!
Alex: Basically, we’re trying to create this space for ourselves, but also we’re also taking everyone on that journey with us.
Lastly, anything you’d like to say to your fans?
Alex: Thank you, and remember to stay positive.
Jo: Thanks for listening to us; become a Galexian; it’s a wonderful world!