Alexander Geist calls everyone “lover.” It’s not a very easy affectation to pull off, but he makes it work effortlessly. So much so, that the UK-native, Berlin-based singer/songwriter is selling his brand new single, “Malediction,” as a digital download code accompanying a handwritten love letter. For the kids out there, a handwritten love letter is the civilized, humanist ancestor of sexting.
Now, there are artists in the world about whom using the word “affectation” would be derisive. Alexander is not one. A proud and accomplished aesthete, his affectations feel like the only way he could naturally express what needs expressing. And he’s good at expression.
The video for “Malediction,” directed by Alexander’s “identical twin sister” La JohnJoseph, transfixes the viewer with a strong artistic point of view. Everything from the lyrics to the high-‘80s saxophone to the choreography to the costumes and makeup to the comically tiny deck of playing cards work together to make the 4-minute-long video, shot in a single take, a seductive aesthetic confection.
This is Alexander’s third major single/video release, following “Bad Language” from 2012 and “A Woman’s Right to Choose” from 2014. You can also watch a live performance of “Transparent” from 2011; someone in the audience ejaculates a heartfelt “wow” before the rest of the audience burst into applause. That’s the synthpop equivalent of the transported opera queen crying out “Bravo!” before the final chord completely fades.
His songs and videos have an arch, hyper-stylish shimmer, but below the candy surface Alexander demonstrates a smoldering intelligence and artistic commitment of great substance. His lyrics are also always good for a hopelessly clever turn of phrase:
- From “A Woman’s Right to Choose”: “You ask me what’s my gender / I say Katharine Hepburn.”
- From “Bad Language”: “Bad language / it won’t help / this fucking situation.”
- From “Malediction”: “Your body’s Apollonian / A night with you’s utopian.”
Alexander is a formidable live performer who has put on shows all across Europe. Most notably, he was invited to play the opening of the David Bowie is… exhibition at Berlin’s Martin-Gropius-Bau in 2014. He is frequently—and justly—compared to Bowie, both musically and personally.
Alexander Geist wants to call you lover across all manner of social media. Brush up on your mid-century film divas and drop by for some soul gazing on Twitter, Facebook and as AlexanderGeist on Instagram.
And now, 5 questions Alexander Geist has never been asked:
1) What’s the most perceptive question anyone has asked you about your work?
In Paris a year or so ago I did an interview with the most remarkably handsome Frenchie, there was also a whole table of eclairs just to, ahem, ice the cake. He asked me about the imagery of the Royal Family in the video for “Bad Language,” which was interesting because I think everybody else as read it as being “a Briddish thing.” But he picked up on the irony at play, because the footage is hardly used in a complimentary way, mixed as it is with clips of the union jack being set alight and social housing being knocked down. I think he picked up the statement I was making there, I thought it was an incisive question!
That footage actually caused us a lot of trouble when we performed at Martin-Gropius-Bau, because the curators didn’t want us to show the British flag being burned! It was amusing because at the time the museum was running an Ai Wei Wei exhibition, and obviously his whole thing is that artists need to be able to criticize their governments, people need to be able to criticize their governments. It was eye-opening because it really showed me what role artists have in culture wars, how Ai Wei Wei has been accepted so whole-heartedly in the West by institutions who want to show that, unlike China, they would never censor the arts. It’s a joke really, art is a huge joke, the biggest.
2) What’s the most idiotic question anyone has asked you about your work?
I’m sure I’m too discrete to say! I actually hate being asked, “What is this song about?” If I could express in a sentence what I was feeling, I wouldn’t have written the song to begin with now, would I? Even if I were to say, “Well it’s about the time me and Marge went fishing on a Tuesday, etc., etc.,” it wouldn’t bring anyone any closer to understanding the song. Because no one else can experience what I have, just as I can’t experience anybody else’s experiences. All I can do is take a feeling or an episode and paint it in broad expressionist strokes, and hope that by not explaining it in great detail, that people who hear it will feel it because it resonates with them or causes them a moment of clarity or empathy.
3) What’s the weirdest question anyone has asked you about your work?
That’s almost impossible to answer, there have really been some wacky ones. I suppose I’d say one of the questions from Star Secrets in France, it’s a magazine for 14-year-old girls, and they had a page with myself, Lady Gaga, and Keisha all giving our life advice! They asked me what was the most important thing that I could tell their audience. I had to get really California to handle that one.
4) The “Malediction” video comes off as an integrated, total art project—you’re based in Berlin; let’s call it a Gesamtkunstwerk!—more than just a simple music video, subordinate to the song. How much of the ultimate visual aesthetic did you have in mind while you were writing the song? Is the musical-visual dynamic the same for all of your videos? Or is the process different every time?
When I’m writing I don’t ever really know which songs will get as far as becoming finalized tracks, much less which will have a video. When we made the decision to release “Malediction” we knew we wanted to do something more thoughtful than just an iTunes release, so we decided to release it as a love-letter. We’re selling the single as an actual physical billet-doux, mailed out to lovers around the world, which is both very intimate, and I think an interesting way to play with time in our tweet-retweet age. The video is shot in one take, again it’s foregrounding time, it’s drawing on my background as a live artist. When you make performance and theatre you’re always aware of time and how it warps, so I wanted to bring that across into this medium too. Every video is a different exercise, and a different collaboration. I really find them exhausting and agonizing actually, which is why I only make one a year, it’s just such a demanding process.
5) There seems to be a religious subtext to some of your work, at least visually. For example, the pieta poster for “A Woman’s Right to Choose,” and especially the “Malediction” video, which feels like Caravaggio-meets-Leonardo-meets-Frankie Goes to Hollywood decorating the Chapel of Saints Joan Crawford and Katharine Hepburn. Is religion a theme that interests you? Or are you just borrowing the glamour of the imagery? What led you to cast yourself as androgynous Jesus in at least these two examples?
Oh yes lover, I am mad about Catholic art, I would say it is my biggest aesthetic inspiration. The subtle eroticism, the poetry of suffering, the mystery and the pageantry; I grew up with all of that and it has left an indelible print on my work. I think Roman Catholicism mixed with the glamour of classic actresses from the golden age of Hollywood, like Hepburn and Crawford, is what you might call my signature style.
6) Kylie Minogue asks you to open for her during her next arena tour. Would the show you put on be any different from how you currently perform for more specific audiences at smaller, more sophisticated clubs? How do you think your songs and your performance (and your videos) would transform the lives of a broad, mainstream audience?
I think Kylie would love it, don’t you? I imagine it wouldn’t be a very different show, no? Though maybe the dressing rooms would be better. I have no doubt that we’d go over very well with Kylie’s fans, as it is middle-aged women, gay men and tweenage girls, who all love us! In fact, I think we’d prove to be an absolutely transformative experience for each and every audience member.