Gregg Alexander: From "New Radicals" to "Begin Again"


As a teenager, Gregg Alexander came to Los Angeles from Michigan and recorded two solo records before forming the group New Radicals. In the wake of that band’s massive international hit, “You Get What You Give,” Alexander retreated from the rigors of the record machine, preferring to write songs for other artists, including “The Game of Love,” a Grammy-winning hit for Michelle Branch and Carlos Santana.

Alexander, who lives primarily in New York and London, is now back in the spotlight as the composer and songwriter for the John Carney-directed film Begin Again starring Keira Knightly as a singer/songwriter, Adam Levine of Maroon 5 as her ascending rock star boyfriend and Mark Ruffalo as the disgraced record producer who helms Knightly’s character’s solo recording debut.

Among the songs in the film is the luminous “Lost Stars,” performed onscreen by both Knightly and Levine, included as a bonus track on the current Maroon 5 release V and now in contention for an Oscar nomination. “[‘Lost Stars’] is one of those songs I heard and I was just thinking to myself, ‘Man, I’m really pissed I didn’t write that song,’” says Levine.

Growing up without formal musical training, Alexander obtained his education through records. “What we had at the house were the Everly Brothers, Jimmy Rodgers and Andy Williams,” he says. Among his influences, he recalls listening to “really old Motown, ‘Jimmy Mack’ and Little Anthony & the Imperials. And ‘70s soul and ‘80s pop records are comfort music to me.”

Alexander––who does not want to be considered some anachronistic “Luddite”––is not a fan of our current era of pop. “I worry about kids who are growing up listening to contemporary pop radio, because if that is going to influence their musicality, it is easy to be terrified of what music could sound like 20 years from now,” he laughs.

Songwriters and collaborators for Begin Again include director John Carney, Glen Hansard, Nick Lashley, Rick Nowels, Nick Southwood and Alexander’s former New Radicals bandmate Danielle Brisebois. Alexander says that he comes into co-writing situations with strong opinions on chordal structures. Similarly, his best-known hit with New Radicals, “You Get What You Give,” and “Lost Stars” reveal an evocative affinity for major 7th chords. “As a child I tended to love songs that had these uplifting major 7th chords, like ‘Rock Your Baby’ by George McCrea,” he explains. “I guess if the tritone is the devil’s chord, then maybe the major 7th is the angel’s chord.”

At the recent Hollywood Music in Media Awards, Alexander fronted a band to perform “Lost Stars,” and he says he enjoyed being back on stage. “I was always more enamored being in the studio and being able to craft the sound of a piece of music. However, I like playing live but I don’t realize it until I am actually on stage. If I had more of that extrovert gene, where I wanted to be the center of attention––which I think is an important characteristic to have as a frontman––I’d be more prone to wanting to perform. However, when I do it’s a lot of fun.”

Gregg Alexander cherishes his long relationship with hit songwriter and producer Rick Nowels. “When I got to California in 1986 one of the first people I met was Rick. As I like to joke, I met about five people in the music business and he was the least sleazy so we ended up working together and becoming good friends. And he’s incredibly talented and hard working, a unique survivor in an ageist business. It is an invaluable and irreplaceable unique musical and spiritual connection we’ve had over the years.”

Discussing the Academy Award possibilities, Alexander is most interested in how acknowledgment of the music could help to promote the film. “A lot of the awards tend to be studio driven, so its always a pleasant surprise when something a little different sneaks in. If the music gets recognized, it’ll draw more attention to the message of the film and get more people to see it,” he surmises. “But I never take anything for granted.”

Contact Ray Costa, Costa Communications, costacomm.com