As told to Josh Modell.
I somehow charmed Alexandra Sauser-Monnig into liking me by getting her to do my hair and/or facepaint in college. She didn’t like me for a long time, and I figured the best way to get her to like me was to get her to touch me, which worked—slowly, over time. We eventually started a band together, Mountain Man, after we discovered that we were good at harmonizing.
There’s another woman who went to our college named Maia Friedman, who’s actually in the latest iteration of Dirty Projectors. She and Alex used to sing together, and one day they invited me to come sing with them. We used to sing a bunch of Cat Power songs together. And then my last ditch effort to get Alexandra to like me is that I would go hang out in her studio. She’s a painter as well—an incredible painter, and printmaker. At the time she was doing these large landscapes of crowds of people and giant Japanese candies. I would go hang out with her and we would listen to Cyndi Lauper on this tiny tape player. Eventually we decided that we were going to do a show covering all of She’s So Unusual. I think we just ended up doing a cover of “Witness,” and that’s it.
There are so many incredibly special things about the way that Alex sings. She sings unlike anyone that I’ve ever met. And she writes songs in a way that almost feels like they spring out of the earth, they’re so well constructed. They’re all small, individual studies of loneliness and isolation, but written in this beautifully warm style that still acknowledges the goodness and light in humanity. She can just hit those two chords at the same time, and does so in every song that she writes. I’m constantly astounded by it.
I was so close to these new ASM songs while they were being made, because Nick [Sanborn], my musical partner, produced it, so I got to hear things every day after they were done. “Gem” grew very quickly, and to me it feels almost exactly like jumping off a cliff in Big Sur, which is what the whole song is about—falling in love, and looking back on having fallen in love. “Grasses” feels like an incredibly contemplative and small study of loneliness. I’ve watched Alexandra literally just stare at things, like grass, for a really long time. It’s the same thing as when she’s happy: When we’re walking with a big group of people sometimes she’ll just start running really fast. You’ll catch up to her in two or three blocks. It’s kind of like hanging out with a really cool wild animal.
It’s so funny, because Alex and Nick are both my best friends, and I had never made the connection that they’re both deeply Midwestern until they were hanging out together. It’s liking watching two fish in a pond. They’re so chill with each other, it’s amazing. You know what it’s like when you see two people that you love the most, and they’re seeing each other in the way that you see them? This music is exactly that.