Northwestern Grad Alex Banin on “About April,” creative whims and writing in quarantine

BY YASMEEN ALTAJI

PHOTO BY MICHAEL DEL ROSARIO

From humble beginnings attending a songwriting workshop on campus as a sophomore to charming audiences in the basements of DIY house shows as a senior, New York-native, Chicago-based singer-songwriter Alex Banin has managed to round up a rapidly growing fan base as she breaks into Chicago’s music scene.

Banin’s music, well-balanced both in terms of technical production and natural delivery, is familiar and relatable, her voice focused and filled with warmth and purpose. Her latest track, “About April,” released late June, flaunts her best features; lyrical and sonic imagery breathe life into a lonely lament of troubling months past and present. Here, Banin explains it for herself. 

This conversation has been edited and condensed for clarity. 

WNUR: So, tell me about “About April.” I know it was written during quarantine; what was that like? 

I was alone during quarantine. I stayed [in Evanston] and my roommates left. It was probably a little over two months. I didn’t see anyone. So, I tried to write every single day, just on my guitar, and a lot of it’s not great. A lot of it is stuff I can use for the future. But I would send memos back and forth to vlush, who produced the track. We were both isolated for a while, so he picked me up and then we worked on it with him and [producer] dannytvswim. That was kind of the process.

WNUR: Was this the first time that you worked with other producers, or is this a group of people you work with all the time?

I also did “Nightmare” on the first day I actually met [vlush]. We definitely have good energy; I do like writing with him, too. He understands where I want the song to go and he helps me guide it there. He definitely had a vision for [“About April”], and it was pretty aligned with what I was thinking. So, when I got [to the studio], it just came together really easily. I would say it was a few hours, then I came back, like, a week later just to finish recording it. It literally took a week, front to back. It was the craziest process.

WNUR: That’s not a lot of time, is it?

No. Usually, I can get most of it done in a week. The fact that…it took, like, two sessions from concept to final master in a week was kind of crazy, but it just felt like a really organic process. I’ve been wanting to put something out for sure, and I feel like I’ve been iffy about the things I have right now, so it felt good to get something out that I was really, really confident about. 

WNUR: When you work with your producers, is it mostly on instrumentation?

Yeah, I don’t produce, really. I prefer letting someone else have it as long as I have a vision for it. I do, probably, all the writing and the melodies, and I sing, obviously. But all that stuff in the back is all of [the producers’ work]. They literally do, like, half a song.

WNUR: So, the lyrics are pretty much all you, then.

Yeah. I mean, vlush was so helpful, especially with the second verse. We didn’t have it fully fleshed out; we sat down for, like, an hour and just bounced lyrics back and forth. That was pretty collaborative.

WNUR: Your lyrics are pretty poetic. What was going on in your head when you came up with the words for “About April”?

I definitely like to pull from my own experiences. I would say all my lyrics are pretty personal. And in quarantine, I hadn’t had any experiences. I was just sitting alone trying to draw back old memories, or old things that had happened, and go through my emotional archives, because I didn’t know what I was feeling at the time. It was hard for me to process quarantine. But there was one moment when I was sitting there; it was, like, 4 or 5 a.m. and I’d been up all night for no reason, and I had just thought of this one specific moment from exactly a year ago. And I was just like, “I kind of feel the same.” [They were] such different situations, but there are such parallels between how isolated I felt. 

WNUR: Why “About April”?

I didn’t think of a title until I had to submit it. I was sending it to people like, “What do you think of a title? Let me know.” But at the end of the day, it was a song I wrote in April about a different April. It was about last April, but it was also about this April. I don’t know why, but April is always a weird month for me. So, it’s that unexplained feeling that happens to me in April.

WNUR: What do you think your next project will be?

I’m doing some acoustic stuff, then I’m probably going to record. It’s like I don’t really know what’s going on with my life right now. I’m going to keep writing every day and recording things as they come up. I’m just enjoying the process right now.