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Singer/songwriter Cindy Alexander has that rarest of talents: the ability to write from a personal place that touches universal emotions in all of us.
On Deep Waters, her eighth studio album, Alexander explores love in all its forms— sacred, passionate, sexual, maternal, even remorseful and misguided—and always with an unrelenting truthfulness. In both her music and vocal delivery, there is a boldness that demands the listener lean in and surrender to her fearless take on life’s messy complications and rich joys.
When she started work on Deep Waters, Alexander was ready for a change. That meant taking a leap of faith. After working with producer and good friend Dave Darling (Boxing Gandhis, Meredith Brooks) for years, she partnered with acclaimed artist, writer and producer Colin Devlin, best known for his solo work and as half of leading Irish duo, The Devlins.
The move didn’t come without a heavy heap of trepidation. “When you’re scared to make a change you should do it anyway,” Alexander says, with the conviction of one who has faced her fear and come out the other side. “You’re not given gifts to hold them back.”
Set up by Blue Élan Records founder/president Kirk Pasich, Alexander and Devlin went on the musical equivalent of a blind date. “The first thing we were trying to do was see if these two strangers could create anything without having any rules or parameters about what we were going to say or how we were going to do it,” she says. “I usually write all my own lyrics. This time, there was someone else’s experiences and life coming in and adding more meaning and context into every song.”
The turbulent title track, about unreservedly abandoning oneself to another person, was the first song the two wrote together. “That’s the beautiful thing about art,” she says. “You can dive in and go to places that may be too scary to go to in real life.” After hearing their first batch of songs, the label recognized their creative chemistry and asked for a full album. Alexander ultimately wrote or co-wrote eight of the album’s 10 tracks (Deep Waters’ lone cover is a remake of Jann Arden’s “Good Mother”).
Alexander knew Devlin would demand much from her and she welcomed the task. “There were definitely times when we both clenched our teeth and said ‘OK.’ It pushed us both when you have to satisfy two people.”
She even got a song or two out of their travails. On the propulsive “Push,” “I was mad at every guy in my life, including Colin,” she says. “I was being challenged in every area of my life and I fought back. It turned into a weird love song and there’s definitely some innuendo and that’s not where my head was at when we started it. That’s what comes from sharing the writer’s hat.”
Out of their occasional conflict came inspiration. After Devlin threw her out of the studio one day while he massaged a track, she sat at the piano and in half an hour knocked out “Relentlessly,” a song about committing to life. “I hurt until I scream. I scream until I laugh. I laugh until I sing,” she wrote.
Though she prides herself on being able to disguise the real life references in her songs enough to protect others, she readily admits that her family directly inspired two of Deep Waters’ most emotionally charged tracks. In 2013, Alexander was diagnosed with breast cancer. Though she’s thankfully healthy now, “Hands,” which features All-4-One’s Delious Kennedy on backing vocals, links Alexander’s present to her past. The song, co-written by Alexander, Devlin, and Darling, came from a reassuring notion running through Alexander’s head on one of the most challenging days of her life: “I had to wait an extra couple of hours before my double mastectomy because my surgeon was running late with another patient,” she recalls. “My husband sat with me in the pre-op area as I waited for what seemed like an eternity, massaging my feet. All I could think was ‘This man will heal me. This love will be as important as any operation.’”
The tender lullaby, “Forever Bound,” on which Alexander’s voice liltingly caresses the notes, serves as a love song to her 7-year old twins and a reminder that even when she’s away on tour, there is a tether that will unite them eternally. “When I recovered from cancer, the dream that wouldn’t die was my music,” she says. “I realized it was time to honor my passion. I told my daughters there will come a time when they discover their passion and purpose. The day I recorded it was the day David Bowie died. This song is their legacy.”
That passion also manifests itself on the effervescent “Fireball,” about an unstoppable force who sheds her doubters and soars as she reclaims her independence and her spirit. “The people who didn’t believe in me don’t bother me anymore,” she says.
And nor should they. Alexander, who has shared stages with such luminaries as Suzanne Vega, America, Rick Springfield, Marc Cohn, The Bacon Brothers and many others, has all the confirmation she needs that she is on the right track. Alexander’s musical journey has earned her Los Angeles Music Awards for songwriter of the year and for independent pop album of the year, as well as Just Plain Folks’ song of the year and female artist of the year. She’s has her music licensed for more than a dozen films and television shows and heard her songs on adult alternative and Americana radio stations alongside musical heroes like John Hiatt and Bonnie Raitt. Fiercely independent, she turned down a record contract with David Foster after winning NBC’s StarTomorrow musical talent search. Her fans rallied around her to crowd fund her releases until she signed with Blue Élan in 2013.
For Alexander, her time has come with Deep Waters. “I feel like you can’t stop me now. I’ve got this,” she says. “When you’ve experienced any kind of brush with your mortality, you want to thrive, not just survive. The fact that I get to live my dream and make music for a living, I don’t take any of that for granted.” Jump in, the water’s fine.
\\\ON TOUR NOW///
June 16 // Redondo Beach, CA // Studio 519 (House Concert)
August 10 // Blue Hill, Maine // The Founder’s Hall
August 31 // Asheville, NC // Isis Lounge