Describing his own music as, “music for people who like words / words for people who like music”, Alex Dupree is both a musician and a poet. His break came in the mid-noughties when he formed the improvisational folk band, The Trapdoor Project, and his music has gone through various guises since, releasing as Idyl, before uprooting to Los Angeles and performing in the band Mister Paradise as well as the duet project, Dawn & Dupree. Back in 2017, after returning to Austin, he settled into releasing under his own name, with the debut Alex Dupree record, You Winsome, You Lonesome. Teaming up with producer Michael Krassner, Alex’s latest offering Thieves saw him return to Los Angeles, gathering a crack team of collaborators to bring the characters that walk the album’s ten tracks to life.
While some songwriters invite you to see a part of yourself in their own lives, on Thieves Alex joins us in being a viewer, showcasing the stories of a string of characters, plucked from history or fantasy. By looking at the stories of others, Alex seeks to find a greater understanding of himself, treating us to a series of tales of people, “unable to rise to the occasion of their life”. There’s Fortunado, the story of a small-time hustler, wracked with guilt by his inability to be brave when the police opened fire on his partner in crime, or The Seer, the true story of Miss Annie Jackson, a psychic who found fame predicting where Oil companies could drill for oil, but never found happiness in her own life with a string of failed marriages and family members ripping her off.
Musically, Alex’s collaboration with Michael Krassner really lifts his songwriting to a higher plain. Michael has a background in arranging for films, and whether it’s through a rich crescendo of Old Hollywood strings or a stripped acoustic moment, he always finds a way to compliment Alex’s penchant for storytelling. There are highlights throughout, whether it’s the gently crushing folk sounds of I’m Gonna Make You Mine, featuring the unmistakable guitar tones of Big Thief’s Buck Meek, or the bar-room strut of The Cave. Ultimately Thieves is a record of new beginnings, picking up the pieces and starting again, sliding into a lineage from Willy Nelson to Bill Callahan to Andy Shauf, Alex Dupree’s music has never sounded more vital, exciting or uniquely his own.
I recently chatted to Alex, discussing how he doesn’t remember his first show, why so many people feel poetry isn’t for them and why if you see him live, “you should be ready for a lot of words”.
FTR: For those who don’t know who is Alex Dupree?
I got this question once during a job interview to be a self-storage desk clerk. I think I answered “That’s what I’m trying to figure out,” which is what I’ll say again now! I grew up in Texas and started making music in Austin around 2004. Since then, I’ve bounced around the southwest—Albuquerque, Houston, Los Angeles, Alpine, TX—doing a mix of odd writing or teaching jobs. Now I’m back in Austin with my girlfriend and her two dogs. A few years ago I began reading NBA news whenever I felt a compulsive urge to do something on my phone, so basketball has become a surprisingly big part of my life. I’ve also studied poetry, and I try to write it whenever I’m not writing songs. James Merrill and Arda Collins are some current favorites.
FTR: What can you remember about your first show?
Very little! Wow, I honestly don’t remember the first time I performed a set of original songs. Back in high school, I played guitar in a band that accompanied our school’s pop choir at small gigs around the neighborhood. Did you ever see the TV show Glee? It was like that, but with a live band. We all wore black satin vests and sequined bowties and played mostly jazz standards or corny medleys. Maybe this wasn’t my first show, but it’s a distinct early memory: I remember loading into a Denny’s at 5am for a gig at a parent-teacher breakfast, playing “Copacabana” or something similar by the waffle bar. It was…incongruous. But actually really fun!
FTR: Why do you make music? Does it offer something different to other art forms?
I love poetry and music both, but I find that a lot of people are afraid of poetry. Or they feel like it isn’t meant for them, which of course isn’t true! But that’s a hurdle that (most) music doesn’t have to clear. Music is so accessible. It’s cheap to make. Everybody knows how to experience it. It’s also incredibly powerful.
Poetry feels like a lifelong project. But working on songs…I don’t know, there’s just an immediacy and an energy to it. Not to mention an incredible community that’s been built through years of recording, touring, mutual respect. I truly don’t know how I’d make friends if I wasn’t making music. That’s not a bad reason to keep at it.
FTR: What can people expect from the Alex Dupree live show?
You should be ready for a lot of words. Sometimes I play solo, but I always prefer to have a band if possible. Right now that means: Max Knouse on guitar, Eamon Fogarty on bass, Tiffanie Lanmon on drums, and Bill McCullough on pedal steel. It’s really a dream crew, and we’re starting to lock into something cool the more we play. I love hearing how the songs change a little each night, depending on the room, the band, the crowd, the weather… I’m always learning something new about them, which is part of the fun.
FTR: What’s next for Alex Dupree?
Well, I just put out a new record, Thieves, with Keeled Scales, and I’ve got some more tours coming up to promote it. There’s one in September with Annie Blackman and S. Raekwon through the northeast that I’m really looking forward to.
Keeled Scales is also interested in re-issuing an older record of mine called “You Winsome, You Lonesome.” And I just finished making some demos for a brand new LP with the same crew who worked on Thieves. We’re talking about tracking that within the year, so hopefully there will be more new music on the way