Alexa Ray Joel talks 10-year recording hiatus: "I completely shut down. I was like, 'I'm never doing music again.'"
Alexa Ray Joel (Photo: AJR Music)
Singer-songwriter Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of the Rock & Roll Hall of famer Billy Joel and supermodel Christie Brinkley, has just released a new single, "Seven Years," inspired by her love story with fiancé Ryan Gleason. It's her first original single since 2011, "Beg You to Stay," and there was a time when she felt like she had to step out of the spotlight after being talked about by gossip reporters (like Perez Hilton at his height of vulgarity ) had been viciously trolled.
"I know that I will be compared to my mother's beauty and my father's talent, and it takes a lot of internal work - or at least for me - to get to a place where I can even be comfortable, again getting in the saddle with music and putting myself out there, ”she tells Yahoo Entertainment / SiriusXM Volume. “I think you could say that it bloomed very late in life. I'm 35 now, but somehow I'm where a lot of 25-year-olds would be in the industry. It just took me some time to find my own voice, figure out what to say, and muster up the courage. When you're out there as an artist, a lot of people don't like to talk about it, but it's scary. ... But in the end I just loved the song so much. As an artist, you have to act instinctively. And I just felt ready and wanted to erase it. "
Below, Joel speaks openly about dealing with brutal criticism and speculation regarding her looks, unfair beauty standards, the myth of nepotism, the struggle to grow up in public, and how she finally found the courage to use her voice .
Yahoo Entertainment: I didn't know it was a decade since you last released new music. Why the long break?
Alexa Ray Joel: I think there are some concerns because as an artist I am very perfectionist, I am my father’s daughter and I have a legend like my father. My dad sets the bar so high with his music - everything, the craftsmanship of the song, is so brilliant. He knows how to construct a verse in a preliminary course in a choir, in a bridge, and he paints such a memorable story. I hesitated just a little bit because I'm comparing my material to my father's, if I'm honest. I set the bar very high for myself, have grown up and hear that this is the example.
Have you ever thought about just pursuing another career? I've interviewed other second generation musicians like Louise Goffin, Sophie Simmons, Dhani Harrison, and Aimee Osbourne, and everyone said once that their parents sat them down and suggested maybe just become a doctor or something.
It was inevitable for me to go this route regardless of the difficulty of being in the shadows, possibly being marked with nepotism and all the things that come with it that are not always so pleasant. ... I think if you love music that much, it's not even something you choose. They just know that you have to do it. Some people would say that it might even be a little masochistic because especially when I was younger I was put through the mill of the media and all that. But when it calls you, it calls you and all you have to do is follow your own voice, do what you love and hope that others love what you do. My father was definitely always protective. He doesn't want people to have that idea that I'm riding from his coattails, which I certainly am not. I wrote the song. I produced it. I arranged it. I came up with the creative direction for the music video and the lyric video. Everything really comes from me. And i love it. There is nothing more fulfilling than being in art and being creative. Sometimes it's a bit frustrating because I feel like I have to repeat how busy I am with my own work.
You talk about being thrown through the mill by the tabloids at a young age. Can you talk about how this affected you?
I was a teenager when this all happened. Of course, some pictures were printed that I was out and about with my parents. I just felt like it wasn't fair. I wasn't ready to be looked at or looked at like that. I was still growing into myself and definitely having an uncomfortable period as the rest of us go through. I think it is unfortunate that society is expected to always be perfect at every stage of life. And I just wasn't there yet and felt ashamed. I've been criticized for how I look. This was when I was younger; I've definitely come a long way [dealing with trolls] but it was very difficult back then. I was targeted by the media and Perez Hilton ... and I actually stopped doing shows for a year. I was just hiding in my then boyfriend's house and completely shut down. I said, "I'll never make music again." It wasn't until six or seven years later that I started doing cabaret showcases again at Cafe Carlyle in New York City. So it sure was a process.
What happened to Perez Hilton?
I don't really like calling him personally because I feel like it just gets him more attention. That was just I had an open moment! [laughs] I tend to just say what's on my mind! I think [tabloid / blog media] has gotten better. But there are still the dark corners of the internet world. The Daily Mail has some of the most objectifying, unhappy articles and comments on women I've seen. But you will always have that. I mean, I hate to say that and it breaks my heart, but there are only bitterly frustrated, jealous, and unhappy people who will solve their problems with celebrities or people in public.
Alexa Ray Joel, aged 12, with her mother Christie Brinkley. (Photo: Robin Platzer / Zwillingsbilder / The LIFE Image Collection via Getty Images / Getty Images)
And now we have social media that can be even more cruel.
Well, I'll say the advantage of social media and having my own account is that I can be in control of your own voice. It's not skewed by the tabloid media, which I've definitely struggled with in the past. ... But I'm trying to be a voice for women and speak out against bullying and the exact kind of online cruelty that I see, this objectification of women. It's very disturbing to me and I always talk about it. Now I feel like I really can't complain. I have the nicest people in the world on my social media pages. But I've worked hard to develop the confidence to find my own voice and articulate what I want to say. I've had a very difficult time with it earlier in my life. I was deeply insecure. And I think if you are not sure you will become a target for others, like, “Oh, she's easy to find! Let's go after her! "You have to be really very strong and as narcissistic as that sounds, you really have to build yourself up and push yourself up as an artist to just put yourself there just to get on stage in front of people ... I think the media and with social media and all of that, it's a study in extremes. I think there's a lot of extreme anger and cruelty out there, and there's also a lot of extreme kindness and support and serious appreciation for craftsmanship and fresh voices. What just me hope is that more of that positivity prevails. Who said the quote, was it Taylor Swift? She said something like: Women who make movements and do things and be empowered in their own voices should inspire you. They should don't trigger you. They shouldn't make you feel like you have to hit them.
But people in general are nicer to you now?
When I was younger it was, “Oh, she's awkward. She's not attractive enough. "And now, yes, people are very nice to me in terms of how I look. But why is there so much emphasis on looks? For women, that's a question that we as a society really need to look at. Right now because we have the social media platforms and we all look at pictures and pictures, it's so picture based. I was absolutely on both sides of the coin, both extremes in terms of how people perceive me in public. But at the end of the day I have to you just do your own thing and be strong and proud of who you are and my mom is a really good example of that and she couldn't be more supportive.
People took your looks apart when they compared you to your mother.
Many people would just prefer to believe an exaggerated narrative. You know, I had an [operation]. I've always been transparent about it. I think women should be proud of themselves and live their truth. If they haven't done anything, great; If you've done something, great! I happened to have a nose job done over a decade ago - and people are still talking about it! They still say I have a full body and face transformation. And at this point I just say, "OK, I'll take it as a backhand compliment"! [laughs] ... I get very frustrated when people lie and spread these rumors, but at some point you have to let it go because if people prefer this exaggerated, sensational story they will say it and there is really nothing I can do about it can. I think it's damn if you do or damn if you don't, so you might as well do what makes you happy. And I think there are many good men and women out there who understand this and support women and their decisions to do what they want.
You know i'm in the entertainment industry. I think as a woman in the entertainment industry, we want to feel good. Personally, I don't like the trend when women are refreshed so often that they can't move their face. I don't think that's nice. But I guess whatever makes you feel good, do it! I made my nose for myself because it made me feel good and I wanted to be the best version of myself. And I felt good and it was the best decision for me. But it wasn't, "Oh, I'm doing this because I want to look just like that other woman I think is so beautiful." We need to encourage women more in their own beauty and not have this type of cloning. The basic idea is, “This is how you should look, let's hold this up on a silver platter and you can imitate this.” No! Imitate yourself you know
I think there is a double edged sword no matter what, and there is still a shame on women - either they are not attractive enough, or their beauty has been altered or compromised. I think that's still a thing. But I don't want to undercut how many great, supportive people are out there. I see this kind of wave of kindness in people who simply appreciate women for who they are and want to give to the world and only for the art, for the music. Personally, I've been on the receiving end of this abundance of support and encouragement, and it keeps me going. They say you shouldn't care about reactions, but a big part of sharing your art and work is hoping that it resonates with others and tries to connect with the human experience, you know?
Alexa Ray Joel (Photo: AJR Music)
Tell me more about how you regained your artistic foothold at Cafe Carlyle.
My parents are the biggest theater nerds. You love broadway. I grew up on that. ... My mother did Chicago on Broadway - a lot of people don't know that - so she's very creative and very theatrical and actually pretty musical too. I've grown up with musical theater for as long as I can remember; They dressed me up as Liesl from The Sound of Musica and we did a lot of little plays. ... So it just seemed natural to me to come full circle and play cabaret at the Carlyle again. I love everything vintage and old-world, and that's Cafe Carlyle. It's this iconic old world institution with all these beautiful vintage murals and I found it inspiring. I was lucky enough to be able to do a showcase there and it worked well. I think I've played eight or nine showcases there now, and it really is my musical home away from home. I have to thank Café Carlyle for somehow getting me back on my feet and reminding me that I'm an artist at heart and that I shouldn't run away.
Now that you're back, are we going to get more new music from you anytime soon? Hopefully we don't have to wait another 10 years!
I don't want to give too much away, but yeah, I already have the song; I just have to go to the studio. It's the exact opposite of "Seven Years". It's very sexy and grainy, like the bad girl for my good girl! [laughs] ... It's really just about being honest as I get older and with my artistry. When I was younger and even conducted interviews like this, I felt like, "Oh god, there are certain things I can't say because no matter what they're going to take me apart." And now I can only be myself. I think a lot of women are finally reaching a point where they are just over everything that has been thrown at them and they have worked it through and they realize the importance of just being honest and being yourself . I tried to do the same in my work. And that's really what it's about.
Read more from Yahoo Entertainment:
Ozzy's mysterious daughter Aimée Osbourne on finding her own voice and why she will never regret not doing reality TV
Sophie Simmons on finding her own voice: "I was just a normal kid and that wasn't enough for the industry I was born into."
Dhani Harrison remembers Tom Petty: "He was the first person I played my record in front of."
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The above interview was edited for length and clarity and is from Alexa Ray's appearance on the SiriusXM show "Volume West". The full audio of this conversation is available upon request via the SiriusXM app.
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