alexalone and Ringo Deathstarr are Austin Lifers

Alex Peterson and Elliott Frazier catch up about the city post-pandemic, making music videos, and more.

Alex Peterson is the multi-instrumentalist at the helm of the Austin, TX-based band alexalone; Elliott Frazier is the singer, guitarist, and producer for the Austin-based shoegaze band Ringo Deathstarr. alexalone just released their latest record, ALEXALONE TECHNICAL RESEARCH, earlier this fall via Polyvinyl, so Alex called Elliott from the road to catch up about it, and more.  
— Annie Fell, Editor-in-chief, Talkhouse Music

Alex Peterson: alexalone is on tour right now, so we’re kind of in Redding, California on our way up to Portland.

Elliott Frazier: Way the heck out there, huh?

Alex: Yeah, we’re just driving today.

Elliott: I hope your reception stays around then.

Alex: Yeah, I got full bars right now, so we’ll see. Thanks for doing this — I guess we’re just going to ask each other questions and see how it goes.

Elliott: Yeah, I didn’t prepare the questions, but I always like to start at the beginning. How did it all begin? [Laughs.] What led to you playing music? 

Alex: I feel like I always wanted to make comics when I was a kid, or video games or something. Then in eighth grade, my friend Daniel started learning how to play guitar, and when I got into high school he was heckling me to learn how to play guitar so we could start a band. I had a free period and I ended up taking a guitar class, and it just took over my brain from there. Then after high school, I went to Texas State for a bit, and then dropped out because I was depressed. I ended up just coming back to Austin and seeing a lot of bands — and Ringo was actually one of the first bands that I got to go see that I was like, Wow, y’all are doing something that I am really interested in, and I can just go see you locally. So it was cool. I started seeing different people and trying to expand my world, and just trying to play guitar like Sonic Youth or the Smashing Pumpkins or something. [Laughs.] 

Elliott: I also had it in my mind that I was going to make comic books. I started playing music at 13, so probably for a good three or four years before I started playing music, I was super into comic books. X-Men was my favorite and I’d just practice drawing them, and then me and my cousins made up our own characters that were total X-Men rip-offs. My mom was an art teacher, but she wasn’t really a successful artist, so she would say empty things like, “you should be an artist when you grow up,” not really knowing what that entails. [Laughs.] So by the time I started playing drums — I started playing guitar and drums at the same time, and bass at 13 — I kind of just gave up any idea of comic books. Where did you grow up?

Alex: I grew up in Austin.

Elliott: Lucky you.

Alex: Yeah. I’ve kind of just lived up and down I-35 my whole life. It’s been pretty interesting.

Elliott: Yeah, I decided I was going to move here probably my junior year of high school. At that time, I was really into photography, and I found out ACC had a good photography program. Anything to move out of Beaumont, Texas, where I grew up. So I decided I was going to do photography at ACC and move here. It was pretty exciting moving here right out of high school, but my parents were very overprotective when I was a kid — I lived an hour from Houston, but they never really let me go to Houston by myself — so I went from zero to being completely without them around. [Laughs.] Do you remember that arcade that was underneath the Scientology church on the drag, called Le Fun?

Alex: Yeah, yeah.

Elliott: And then there was Einstein’s on the drag. Those places were open ‘til, like, 3 AM, so it was like, “I can stay out till 3!”

Alex: Yeah, things don’t close early. It’s kind of a different world.

Elliott: I mean, that world is gone for Austin now. There’s less good, clean fun for teenagers these days. I mean, I’m obviously not connected to the scene, but all those places closed and I don’t think… I mean, there’s Pinballz, but you have to drive way the heck out of town.

Alex: Yeah.

Elliott: There’s all those other places that involve alcohol, like Cidercade and Punch Bowl… Austin’s changed a lot. There was a year-and-a-half where I moved back to Beaumont, but pretty much ever since 2001, I’ve been here. And you’ve been here your whole life, huh?

Alex: Yeah, I have.

Elliott: Well, what do you think? People ask me this all the time, what I think of Austin and playing music here. It seems like so many things have gotten better while other things have gotten worse. What do you think?

Alex: The thing that I think is really interesting is we have so many really nice venues, and even when some places have closed because of the pandemic — like Barracuda, and then Joe Rogan’s comedy club, which is kind of terrifying — new places have still sprung up and taken the place. My roommate was from Houston, and he just moved in because I think Houston got pretty gutted during the pandemic. I feel like Austin’s music scene kind of recovered, as far as places to play. But there’s also just so many bands and everyone wants to play, and I feel like it’s kind of a weird, insular rat race. Then sometimes people leave and [other cities] not what they expect, because they’re used to having pretty good sound [at venues in Austin] or other things… It’s not all sunshine and roses, but I feel like we have a lot of things that are pretty good, so it kind of gets in your head a little bit.

Elliott: Yeah. Y’all are on the road now — do you find that it’s just better out there on the road?

Alex: It’s cool, because I love getting to see different perspectives, and just seeing things. But I definitely miss the communal aspect of going to the show and seeing all my friends, and just meeting new people that I’ll be able to actually see too. It’s cool to get that around the country, but it’s just a little more disconnected, to a degree.

Elliott: Yeah. I have two kids and I never go out anymore, in Austin anyway, so I don’t really have that sort of connection anymore. Everything going on in Austin feels just as disconnected as everything in New York City. You know what I mean? I’ll pick up shifts working sound at Hotel Vegas or something like that, just so I can see bands, because otherwise I probably wouldn’t see anything anymore. [Laughs.] 

Alex: I do find, playing more and more shows, I have to make an effort to get out of my house and see some of my friends’ bands. Because it’s like, OK, I’m at another show, and it feels like work sometimes. It’s an interesting switch. 

Elliott: Well, it seems like there’s just so many places to play now, like more places than ever before, and they’re all scattered across town instead of just downtown. I’ve never even gone out to Far Out Lounge — I’m waiting for the North Austin equivalent to open up. But back when Ringo Deathstarr was first starting, there was nowhere. There were no other bands like what we were doing. Or, there was one band called For Those Who Know, but other than that, people thought we were insane. But at the same time, Black Angels were first starting, and to me they completely changed everything. It’s crazy to think about pre-Black Angels versus after they blew up. They became like the magnet for a certain type of music, and people wanting to be a part of that started moving here and starting their bands. It reminds me of, I guess, Seattle in the ‘90s. There’s a movie called Hype! — have you seen that movie?

Alex: I haven’t.

Elliott: You should check that movie out, it’s a grunge documentary. But I mean, maybe because of the internet or whatever, the whole psychedelic thing has outlasted grunge. It wasn’t a huge explosion that died out and became watered down — it’s still pretty underground and therefore sustaining itself, I guess, even though Tame Impala has kind of become the watered down thing that mainstream people can latch on to. Austin seems to still have this magnetism of that kind of music moving here.

Alex: Yeah. I know a lot of folks that I’ve met in the last year especially who are from Dallas or or from Houston. Some of these folks are 20 or 21, and they’re playing shows and it’s like, “Holy shit, y’all really good.”

Elliott: Well, that’s the thing though, too — the closer you are to that high school age, I feel like that’s when people really have the time. They don’t have the pressures of being an adult and they have time to rehearse and hone their skills. If you start playing music in high school and you really are serious about it, that time of your life can be really insane for getting good at your instrument. Because then you’ve got to move out here and pay rent, and people call the cops when you play drums.

Alex: How did Ringo Deathstarr start?

Elliott: Oh, my first band, Mayday, had broken up, and I had to move back to Beaumont due to financial reasons. I started a new band in Beaumont called Very Ultra and we were really going for it. I was the drummer, but I was also writing songs, trying to flex as a songwriter. But you know the old joke, “What’s the last thing a drummer ever said to the band? ‘Hey, let’s try one of my songs.’”

Alex: [Laughs.] 

Elliott: I had many songs, though, and one of the songs got played on the radio in Beaumont, so that got to my head. I was like, OK, out of everyone I’ve ever played with, this is the first time any of the music’s been played on the main rock radio station. And my other songs I wrote were fan favorites of that band. We started trying to get signed — I guess in those days, you still cared about being signed — and it just didn’t work out. After some lineup changes, the singer and I moved back to Austin, and we were all living together and it just didn’t work out. And there were some other ridiculous happenings — we came to Austin to record with this British producer, and he took the tapes back to England and we never heard from him again. We spent, like, 900 bucks, and he was a big coke head… Anyway, all this stuff was fizzling out. But also, that movie Lost in Translation came out. I was already a fan of My Bloody Valentine and Jesus and Mary Chain, but in those days I was super into Fugazi and Rage Against the Machine and that kind of shit. I wanted to rock hard. [Laughs.] But when I saw Lost in Translation, and at the end when “Just Like Honey” came on, I’d never heard that song. I had only heard the Darklands album, and that song just changed my life immediately. I was like, I want to play this kind of music and I want to sing like this. I already knew at that time my voice was that kind of singing voice. I could never be Ian MacKaye or Kurt Cobain. And it was like, I’m going to do this because I want to make people feel this feeling — that’s when I discovered music making feelings in such a strong way other than anger. You know, at the time of the Iraq War and the Bush administration, things were pretty bleak. And that was also 2003, so you didn’t have Slowdive, Jesus and Mary Chain, or My Bloody Valentine playing music live anymore, so I was like, OK, I’m going to start a band and play this music live so I can experience this sound in person. So that was pretty much it. 

A couple people from Beaumont that were living in Austin, and we started the band. One of them left and I got another person from Beaumont — I was just trying to keep people that I already knew in the band. No one took it seriously, and people came and went. It just took forever. It was 2005 when we played the first Ringo Deathstarr show, and it was 2007 when I recorded the first five songs that are on the Sparkler record. 

I met Alex [Gehring] the summer of ‘07. I used to work on South Congress at a clothing store, and so did she. She was 17 at the time, I think I was 23, so just small talk — the bass player in my other band I was in worked at the same shop she did, so I was in there. I was like, “I need a bass player,” and she was like, “I play bass!” “OK, you wanna come try out?” And she was like, “I’m going out of town for two weeks, I’ll call you when I get back.” I didn’t expect her to call me, but she did. It’s just weird because she was so young. She was probably the 10th person that had been in the band; it was just a revolving door back then. She’d never really been in a proper band before, so she had no expectations and she had no qualms about like, “You can’t play this kind of music, no one’s going to take this seriously. Your name sucks,” you know? So it turned out to be good. And then a year later, Daniel Coborn moved to Austin from Beaumont — we went to high school together — and he happened to move here right when the other drummer was quitting. Surprisingly, Ringo Deathstarr was way more successful within one year, and [the other drummer] was more concerned about his job. So Daniel came in right at the right time, and we just started touring relentlessly and recording, and yada yada yada…

Alex: Hell yeah.

Elliott: The internet really helped us out in those days, I think. Myspace was very much a part of the touring that we did. There was never, ever a tour where it was a loss of money. We weren’t making tons of money, but people were at the shows knowing who we were because of Myspace, which was insane at the time. Everything was changing so quickly.

Alex: I remember for me, I would look through the Chronicle and I would just see y’all’s name and I was like, What is this band name? And then it was probably six months later, I saw Ringo Deathstarr again, and I was like, OK, I gotta see what this is. I went to YouTube and saw the video for “Kaleidoscope,” and I was like, Woah. The next day, I went to Waterloo and bought Sparkler, and then I think Colour Trip had just come out. So that was kind of my in to seeing y’all.

Elliott: Yeah, we were pretty busy back then. That “Kaleidoscope” video, I filmed it on a Nikon Coolpix video camera, and I spent one hour editing it on the clock at American Apparel. I was the stock person, so I was just sitting there in the back editing the video. The whole approach was like, Fuck all this. YouTube was fairly new at the time, so it was like, “We’re making YouTube now, we’re not fucking trying to be on MTV.” [Laughs.] What about y’all? Do you guys have any music videos coming out?

Alex: We just did one that was really fun. It was cool because Drewsky [Hulett] co-directed it with our friend Ivy [Chiu], and I was kind of hands off with it. It was a collaborative process where Drewsky and Ivy were planning this other part that was more dance-focused and kind of improv, and that’s not really my world. I do freelance graphic design stuff and — I feel like I’m coming full circle back to comics and video game stuff — I’d been using Unreal Engine to make a 3D model of our record cover, and we filmed some shots of that. And then I was just trying to figure out how to make our budget work for us. Because we have a label, Polyvinyl — they’re amazing and we have a great time. But it’s interesting, because we had less of a budget for the videos for this one. I think we’re really proud of what we ended up with; I think it looks really good. But we may try to do a live video too, because I feel like that’s my favorite way to experience bands. 

Elliott: Maybe y’all could come to ACC, because I teach Live Sound and Audio 1 there — y’all could come by there and set up in one of the studios.

Alex: That’d be amazing. Also, how did the ACC thing start for you?

Elliott: Well, because of the pandemic, I had to figure out something to do. But that band Blushing — Christina Carmona was already working there. She was a voice instructor and she was encouraging me to apply, because Tim Dittmar was the head of the department at that time, and he was my Audio 1 teacher. I don’t know if you know Tim Dittmar, but he used to be in this band called bo bud greene, and they were signed to a major label in the ‘90s.

Alex: Yeah, I’ve started to take the audio classes, but then I haven’t finished them. So I’ve met him before.

Elliott: Over the last 10 years, he has a radio show that he’s been doing with his wife, and he would always play Ringo Deathstarr songs. We hadn’t really been in touch, but Christina was like, “You should work there, Tim loves you.” I guess they’d been talking about me or something. So finally, during the pandemic, I was like, Alright. I emailed him and he was like, “Yeah, we’d love to have you here, except you have to finish the degree.” So I did, and I applied for the job and got it. And I love it. I get to be around those studios all day, and I’m learning so much. In audio engineering, you can never stop learning, obviously.

Alex: Yeah.

Elliott: But yeah, I’ve tried to get the [Radio-Television-Film] department to have some of the kids that want to film stuff involved with filming a band, but I only have tried once, and it was too late. So next semester, I’m going to try at the beginning to snag some camera people. 

Alex: Bring the real world inside a little bit.

Elliott: Yeah, yeah. Because you don’t really get bands coming in for the time of my classes — it’s at 10 AM and 12:30, so it would have to be a weekend. It would be a bonus for the students, and I would be there overseeing the thing, making sure it was done properly. But yeah, just a good band that knows how to play their own songs. I think you guys fit that bill. [Laughs.]

Alex: Thanks. We’re trying to play our own songs. [Laughs.] I think we’re doing alright.

Alex Peterson is the multi-instrumentalist at the helm of the Austin, TX-based band alexalone. Their new record, ALEXALONE TECHNICAL RESEARCH, is out now on Polyvinyl.