Like so many of her songwriting sisters and brothers in a year of lockdown, Xanthe Alexis has been awaiting the summer day she can give her second album, The Offering, to a revolutionizing world. The accomplished Colorado musician was just breaking into the national scene as the world shifted under our feet in early 2020. Her experience as both a trauma therapist and a single mother of two allowed her to weather the subsequent storm with unusual grace. Even from lockdown, Alexis has offered friends and fans daily affirmations of power and hope on social media – commodities that are rare in these times of vindictive language.
Alexis has noticed a distinct change in what her fans want from songwriters. In the almost four years since the 2016 election, she witnessed a need for a more authentic voice within the confounding politics and more passion in equal doses. Songs like “Siren” are meant to acknowledge anxiety while bringing a soothing hope for those living in fear. Alexis has found herself reflecting on her own newfound sobriety and writing about her journey towards healing. The songs are personally vulnerable and bring a broader context to living bravely, during fearful times. The recording sessions for The Offering began in 2019 under the tutelage of Conor Bourgal, founder of Colorado Springs group Changing Colors, and a proficient sound engineer. He worked closely with Alexis to accentuate what really mattered in these songs and to develop an indie-folk sound that draws as much from indie rock drum styles as from acoustic guitars, but always hangs back to let her stunning voice take the fore.
(Photo Credit: Luigi Scorcia)
Xanthe: You actually worked out the order of the songs in the end, Conor, because I think I actually wanted the title track to be somewhere in the middle. Then we decided to do an inverted Hero’s Journey wheel concept and are addressed by the narrator right out of the gates. I saw this voice as The Oracle, The Mother. This song is a message of what is to come. A presence of the mystical, the benevolent. I was also really bent on doing really warm, AM radio harmonies here and was listening to alot of Judds, and Joni Mitchell, For the Roses era, those super hairline close sweeping harmonies. I really wanted to conjure that sound here.
Conor: I love to make mixes and playlists when we’re working on an album. It creates a kind of shorthand or just a smaller set of references that I think can be helpful. It also helps me appreciate music I’m not familiar with. I really like The Judds now. I think I had Lucinda Williams’ Car Wheels on a Gravel Road on one mix and I can hear that influence here, too. When I am putting the songs in order, I always think about mystery shows like The X-Files, where some event happens even before the opening credits roll and that gets unpacked throughout the show, sort of working backwards… if that makes sense.
Xanthe: From the writing perspective this is where our humanness is directly addressed. It was written from my perspective as a Healer, my life-long experience of having a father who is mentally ill, lovers who wrestle with sadness. My own grief. The narrator, the voice of tenderness calls us out of the darkness. Production-wise pulling out the guitar and just having the piano in the middle of the song just gave it this heartbeat, a whole other depth that I really love.
Conor: I kept thinking about Adele when we did this song… all the open space. Ian added those big chorus guitars. I love the drums at the end, too. This is probably my favorite on the album.
“The Heart Needs Time”
Xanthe: I definitely wrote this song in my rawest voice. The voice of heartbreak, you know? I purposely wrote it without a resolution — no “silver lining,” just an honest telling of what rejection and separation from Source feels like in the moment. I remember us going through distortion for the guitar and you guys asking if I was sure because I just wanted it to be so grainy, gritty. But that’s what the song is, it’s grit, discomfort.
Conor: This song was more mellow at first but the beat kept reminding me of The Jesus and Mary Chain… so yeah, that distortion you mentioned… I think that worked out well. I like when you say, “Just let me lay here in the dark.” That’s a great line.
Xanthe: This is the pivot moment of the album. Where our Oracle hears the plea of our humanness. I see this as a conversation between myself and absolution. The willingness enters and the real journey inward begins. We recorded the vocals in your living room right at the very start of production and I just knew they were keepers.
Conor: Yeah, this was the scratch vocal — it just had the right vibe. This one makes me think of some great ‘80s songs like Cyndi Lauper’s “Time after Time” or George Michael’s “One More Try.” I even keep thinking of Steve Winwood’s “Don’t You know What The Night Can Do.” I can hear my brother’s Reggae and Mento influences in here, too.
Xanthe: This is the song where The Oracle reveals to us her Strange power. It’s a wrestling, tumbling dance into the unknown. We also begin to hear The Oracle tell a larger story of what happens when we lean into the void. When you brought me the track you had created it just felt like there was so much space for me to explore vocally. It suggests just enough strange that the mind really goes on a trip. You sang with me on the chorus too. That was one of my favorite moments in the studio.
Conor: This one really evolved from the demo. According to my phone, the album I’ve listened to the most for the last couple of years is David Bowie’s Blackstar, and I think this song makes sense with that in mind. At first the drums were more “rock” and then I combined two different ideas and got this really driving beat that still feels pretty mellow.
Xanthe: Now the Oracle is fully seen. She challenges us directly: “You can not be a delegate for peace when there is war in your home.” We are brave enough to hear the real call of our heart. If we are to be free, to be useful, we must address the war within. I feel like “Moon” sets the listener up for the defragmentation in “Siren.” It’s almost unrelenting, soundwise, and that is what I wanted. I remember thinking how dramatic it felt to write at the time and now here we are in all this chaos and it just feels like a direct commentary.
Conor: This one is its own little journey. I like how the lyrics come to life…it’s like “Peter and the Wolf” or Sgt. Pepper or something… especially when you say “beat the drum” and the toms come in. That part is fun.
“Watch Him Fall”
Xanthe: I wrote this as a conscious juxtaposition; the trumpets herald a new voice of resolution. Personally this song was written about someone I love while he was lost in alcoholism and untreated mental illness. “Don’t you worry about me, I’ll be fine. I’ve painted a picture of you in my brain. Come or go it hangs in an indigo frame.” The bittersweet acceptance of what is. You guys did such an amazing job bringing out this Motown feel here. I first listened to the final version on the rooftop of The Mothership in Greenpoint and thought, “Yep, Conor and Ian are definitely New Yorkers.” Something about it just feels like that city and I really love that.
Conor: Ian’s reggae vibe is all over this one for sure. He probably has a thousand references for this, but for me it definitely traces back to a band called Shockshine that we saw a lot growing up in New York in the ‘90s. An awesome punk/reggae mix. One of their albums was live from CBGB. They were so good! I love when the horns come back at the end.
Xanthe: When I wrote this it felt like the Oracle, the narrator, takes us by the hand. We look together over the landscape of chaos. She leaves us with this: “Who will hear the words that tumble us clean and polish us like stone?” How we go forward is left to us. But we cannot unhear the words of our guide. Even though this album was written before our world really spiralled into the scary place it is now, while I was writing I could feel this immediacy of what was coming. I wanted to say something honest but leave enough space for the listener to have their own experience and do what they will with it.
Conor: There are a few times on the album where we pretty much just let a loop play, and I like that. On this one, I think all of the development needed happens with the voices. That “swoosh” sound is a matchstick. I think we knew early on that this was the last song… It feels right.
(Photo Credit: left, Luigi Scorcia)