Biography: Alexa Ray Joel
Her name is synonymous with great American music, and as those who have heard Alexa Ray Joel will tell you, she lives up to the expectations. Listening to Alexa Ray Joel's music, it's not difficult to imagine the young singer, songwriter, and pianist had parents who nurtured her love of music and encouraged her to follow her muse. You might not guess that one of them was pop star Billy Joel, given the jazz-influenced textures and deeply personal yet playfully insouciant lyrical perspective of her songs.
Alexa Ray Joel was born to Billy Joel and his wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley on January 1, 1986; she has said that her love of music began with her father singing nursery rhymes to her at his piano, and she began writing simple tunes as a youngster. At age 11, Alexa began taking classical piano lessons, which she continued for five years, aided in part by the perfect pitch she inherited from her dad. She later said that "piano playing was more of a skill that I had to hone,... not as easy for me as singing and songwriting." However, Joel expressed gratitude for her classical piano training, saying she considers classical music to be "the foundation of all music as well as the most 'musical' type of music."
Noting that her musical upbringing with her father gave her a "unique inside-peek into the songwriting process," in 2006 Joel remarked that "It's no wonder I write music in the same way my father does: melody first, and lyrics second." Joel said that by age 15 she was finishing complete songs and complementing those songs with piano accompaniment, describing her lyrics as taking on more depth during the ensuing two years because she was also writing poetry.
At 17, Alexa attended a five-week workshop for budding musicians at the Berklee College of Music, which she cites with "encouraging her to explore her gifts as a singer and performer" and "helping her gain confidence" as she had been a shy teenager. After completing high school, Alexa enrolled at New York University as a musical theater student, which she said was "great" and influenced her as a songwriter since "some of my songs in their structure are sort of like theater songs." However, Joel also reported feeling "disconnected" in the musical theater program at college, retreating to the piano to focus on writing and performing her own songs. Ultimately, in her freshman year she took a leave of absence and opted to focus on launching her career as a musician.
Assembling a band with Demian Sims on guitar, Jimmy Riot on bass, and Scottie Garapolo on drums, Alexa began working up material and played her first gigs at Maxwell's, a venerable indie rock venue in Hoboken, NJ, when she was 19.
While Alexa has cited her parents with offering great support to her career, both she and her famous folks insist she's followed her own musical path without interference and at her own pace.
In August 2006, Alexa put out her first musical release, a six-song EP called "Sketches," featuring five original tunes and a cover of Neil Young's "Don't Let It Bring You Down". The EP, a minimally-produced sampler of original music with her own piano accompaniment and band is available through iTunes and Target. Alexa is the first independent artist ever to have exclusive EP distribution through Target. Joel explained "It's called Sketches because it's like raw sketches, pretty much what we sound like live. About three of the songs, actually, were done in one take." "When I was recording Sketches, just going into a studio and working out songs with other musicians was new to me. I didn't have people around me making decisions; I really did it myself. So, Sketches is really the baby, the egg that hatched." Joel designed and illustrated the CD cover, packaging and inserts that included her handwritten lyrics. "I don't have a team of managers and assistants around me because it's very important to feel like I can do this on my own - especially considering who my father is."
Playing nearly 100 shows since leaving NYU's Musical Theatre Program just over a year back, Alexa has honed her skills as an eclectic singer, songwriter and performer. Jazz, pop, blues, country, funk and rock only begin to classify the diverse repertoire she has put together in her brief, yet blossoming, career.
Two extensive tours in 2006 sent Alexa cross-country, most notably putting her in headlining slots at Hard Rock Cafés and in front of thousand of fans she has acquired through the dedication and loyalty she gives to her MySpace page.
In 2007 Joel performed at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in April and at the Albany Riverfront Jazz Festival in September.
Joel performed onstage with her father Billy Joel during the 2008 Rainforest Foundation Fund Benefit Concert at Carnegie Hall on May 8, 2008. Other charity events at which Joel has performed include the "Save Sag Harbor" benefit concert (2008), the "Stage For The Cure" benefit for pediatric cancer (New York City, 2008), a benefit for The Art of Elysium (artists for seriously ill children; The Hamptons, 2009), a benefit for Habitat for Humanity (Long Beach, New York, 2010), the "Right To Play Day" benefit (Sag Harbor, New York, 2010), and the Eric Trump Foundation benefit for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital (New York City, 2010).
Joel and her father Billy Joel performed his song "Baby Grand" at a Barack Obama election fundraiser at the Hammerstein Ballroom on October 16, 2008.
Joel debuted her single "Invisible" on The Wendy Williams Show in October 2009, the song being described as a "piano-driven ballad... about a bad breakup."
On May 24, 2010, her single "Notice me" was released, being listed as a "Hit-Bound song" on the Sirius XM Hits 1 satellite radio channel in August 2010. Newsday described the single as having a "carefree braininess" and "bouncy guitar riffs and an instantly hummable chorus" that made Joel's work "sound like Regina Spektor crossed with Katy Perry." "Notice Me" is Joel's first collaboration with producer Tommy Byrnes and her first since signing with Long Beach, New York management company OCD Music Group/The Hang Productions.
Joel performed at Manhattan's "Fashion's Night Out" in 2009 (Elie Tahari) and 2010 (Bloomingdale's).
Joel's album All I Can Do, including her single "Notice Me," is announced for a September 2010 release. OCD Music Group/The Hang Productions Inc. lists artist manager Stefano DiBenedetto with producer Tommy Byrnes as partners, and Joel as artist.
Joel described her music while in the Musical Theater program at NYU as taking on a musical theater tone, and, because at age 18 she "didn't really have a boyfriend... or know as much," her music was "dreamy and idealistic," "not necessarily as edgy."
Joel characterized the genre of her debut 2006 EP Sketches as being "pop/soul/blues," its allmusic review describing Joel as "drawing on a lot of different styles" to create "instantly familiar pop." The following spring, Joel described this earlier work as having been "idealistic and maybe a little more poppy," explaining that her ensuing work "goes a little deeper" and focuses more on the lyrics, some of her newer songs being in the jazz and country genres. Her published works have been classified in the pop/rock, pop/adult contemporary, and jazz genres. Joel herself explained that it is a "mistake" for artists "to confine their music into one specific genre, ... because there are so many styles of music to be influenced by."
Joel has likened her creative approach to that of her father Billy Joel. In 2006 Joel explained that, like her father, she strives to write songs that are very melodic, with a unifying theme or hook being present throughout. However, her songs are distinct: Joel was described as writing "tight, melodic, catchy songs that are as classically constructed as her father's without sounding much like his work," Joel being said to have more in common with the "classicist coffeehouse pop" of Norah Jones than with her father. Asked about their respective musical styles, Joel responded: Mine is "a bit more soulful, more blues than my dad's. He's more pop rock."
Asked about her approach to songwriting, Joel explained that her "pattern is that songs are easiest for me when I'm really in the throes of things. I don't think I write as well when a lot of time has gone by and I look back and reflect.... I like to write when I'm feeling it in the moment. "I usually have the melody first, and then the lyrics," noting that her father "focuses on the melody first, and then, the lyrics are always very fitting, ... you never say 'oh, that sounds awkward.' Like the pieces of a puzzle, everything just fits together." "My favorite songs are simple songs." "I'm very, very old school,...I like songs that sound like…classics.... like they're timeless. I'm always trying to emulate that with my songs." In 2006 Joel said "I like slow-burning jazz songs," and in 2008 cited Ray Charles, Norah Jones, Billie Holiday and Etta James as influences."
In February 2010 Joel was chosen the new spokeswoman for Ultimark Products' Prell brand of shampoo, with Joel's songs to serve as background for commercials. New York Post sources said that Joel was persuaded to accept the commercial endorsement contract because of the opportunity to promote her music. Additionally, Joel was said to have liked the idea of succeeding her mother Christie Brinkley, who was the face of Prell in 1986.
On December 5, 2009 Joel ingested a quantity of Traumeel, a homeopathic alternative to ibuprofen. Joel is reported to have taken "several pills"; an NYU Medical Center toxicologist said the drug has "no active ingredient" and indicated that it was essentially impossible to overdose ("basically you'd be taking more of nothing"). Interviewed six months later by ABC News, Joel described herself as having been "distraught and in so much pain" after the end of a four-year romantic relationship but not wanting to bother anyone since it was the holiday season. "I wasn't trying to kill myself. I was panicked. I was not thinking clearly at all. ... I was in so much pain and I just wanted to numb it." "The intent was to calm me down because I was having a panic attack."
Within a month after her Traumeel incident, on December 31, 2009 Joel publicly posted that she wanted to help young girls deal with what she termed "heartbreak-related depression," which term, it was noted, "does not currently exist as a clinically diagnosable form of depression." Despite its not being a separately recognized form of depression, it was also noted that the American Psychological Association's fact sheet on depression states that "significant transitions and major life stressors ... can help bring about depression," and Joel's postings were "flooded with shout-outs commending her for going public with her condition." One psychiatrist noted that in drawing attention to "heartbreak-related depression," Joel had "coined a term."
Joel told People magazine that her April 2010 rhinoplasty (colloquially, "nose job") operation came after five years of consideration, and was to correct a deviated septum and to feel better about herself, Joel having been "self-conscious of pictures taken from the side." Joel explained that her surgery waited until she "was in a better place" than at the time of her Traumeel incident four months earlier, further stating that she's "done with plastic surgery."
In July 2010, ABC News' 20/20 interviewed Joel about "moving out of the shadows" of her "two megastar parents," and about recovery from her December 2009 crisis with depression. While Joel acknowledged it had been "scary" to be "compared to a rock and roll legend," her confidence was said to be "helped along by a wider acceptance" by others. Saying "I'm not a blond girl with blue eyes and that's fine," Joel added that Ultimark Products' approaching her to be the face of Prell shampoo in print and TV ads, was a "big confidence booster." Describing her overcoming the relationship dependence that triggered her December 2009 Traumeel incident, Joel said "I've got to get a new band, ... whole new songs, ...whole new career plan. Everything changed after that incident."
"You know, music, it's not going to the office every day. It's very personal", Joel said. "You're pouring, my dad likes to say, you're spilling your guts out on the table for everybody to hear."