Sincere, exposed, and strangely serene, Alex Izenberg reminds me of his music. The Los Angelean wordsmith talks us through his new album, his paranoid schizophrenia diagnosis, and why it always has been, and always will be, music.
“I’ve sacrificed everything to make music,” says Alex Izenberg. “I’ve sacrificed my sanity and I’ve sacrificed my happiness.” He says it without a tinge of regret. It doesn’t exactly seem a point of pride, but more a path that Izenberg has made peace with being on, and even in hindsight, would walk down again.
Music is his life. He makes music because he enjoys it more than anything else. “I’d rather be in the studio than on a date with the most beautiful woman in the world.” It’s not a joke – he says it most matter-of-factly. Again, there’s a slight knowing that it’s neither the healthiest nor best choice, and he’s okay with that.
We’re speaking ahead of his new album, I’m Not Here. It’s not out until later this month – May 20 to be exact – but the third and final single, ‘Ivory’, is out today. The video can be found below, and follows the releases of ‘Sorrows Blue Tapestry’ and ‘Egyptian Cadillac’. ‘Sorrows Blue Tapestry’ has an air of Izenberg’s most well-known song to date, ‘To Move On’, while ‘Egyptian Cadillac’ is probably the most upbeat track on I’m Not Here. ‘Ivory’ is the album’s opener and sets the tone for the wonderful project that follows.
There is such evident care and attention behind all the music on I’m Not Here. You can tell each note has been pored over. It’s tender and moving, deliberate and thoughtful, and another step forward for Izenberg. He cites Alan Watts, the writer and theologian, as a key inspiration behind the album, and specifically Watts’ quote, “You’re under no obligation to be the same person you were five minutes ago.”
‘Breathless Darkness’ – a track that will be released on May 20 – is one of the best, most unique songs I’ve heard this year. Sung in a soft, almost breathless tone, it’s melancholic without despairing; one of those sad songs that ultimately washes you in an understated comfort. ‘Our Love Remains’ is another standout – it begins: “All my years of lunacy have taught me that, love remains.” ‘Juniper & Lamplight’ and ‘Sea of Wine’ are two lovely songs to round the album out.
Unflinching songwriting gives I’m Not Here its serenity, a result of being an album made for Izenberg and Izenberg alone.
“The more music I make, the more I make music just for myself.” It’s reassuring to hear from someone who has already explained how relentlessly they devote themselves to their craft. Reservations over his unwavering pursuit to music creation would be understandable if he were sacrificing health and happiness to make music for anyone else. But he’s not.
“I like the idea of making something I can listen to when I’m 90,” he says softly, between cigarette drags and while moving the hair out of his eyes.
I’m Not Here was recorded at Tropico Beauty Studios in Los Angeles. It was produced by Izenberg and his longtime collaborator, Greg Hartunian, who Izenberg has been playing guitar with since the age of ten or eleven, when Hartunian taught him a White Stripes rift. “It’s a lovely setting,” Izenberg explains of Tropico, “and it gives me complete control over the music.”
In 2012, Alex Izenberg was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia. “It can be scary, sharing that stuff with strangers on the internet,” he admits. Vulnerability in music is always difficult, but even that maintains a degree of separation – the possibility of a divergence between the artist and their art. Izenberg’s openness with his own personal struggle, and the role music plays in managing it, likely makes the scrutiny even more intense. And yet it doesn’t stop him exploring these difficult topics.
Harlequin was Izenberg’s debut album, arriving four years after his diagnosis. It featured ‘To Move On’ – a catchy, jagged song which rose in popularity after featuring in Netflix’s television show, Easy. Like most of Izenberg’s music, it seems to exist in a different era. The inspirations from the 70s are clear – most notable in a sample of Lou Reed – but even then it doesn’t fit quite there, either. The mysterious quality, both of Izenberg and his music, is a huge part of what makes both so enjoyable.
It’s readiness to chart its own course is again clear in today’s ‘Ivory’ video, starring the one, the only, “Sir Paul McCartney #4” singing along to Izenberg’s song. McCartney #4 claims to be the finest of New York City’s presumably countless impersonators, and based on the evidence below, it’s hard to doubt him.
I’m Not Here is out May 20 via Domino imprint via Weird World.