On his layered recording process, and learning how to scale back
Adam Alexander has a favorite pew at the Antioch Baptist Church North.
It’s the one in the balcony that overlooks the choir stand. From up there, he can see it all: his dad leading the band as the congregation’s musical director, his grandfather leading those in attendance in prayer, and his centuries-old community engaged in soulful self exploration.
As he told National Public Radio earlier this year, “You can see how everything’s moving, how a black church operates. It’s a very beautiful thing.”
It’s also how Alexander, known in musical circles as Demo Taped, grew up: learning soul and connection through spoken word and song, in a community whose history is rife with musical legends. He was indoctrinated, early and often, about the power of music and art.
“Growing up, [my parents] both encouraged me to be who I am no matter what. And to be as creative as possible,” he said. “I really started off — when I was really young — I wanted to be an animator. And I remember we had TiVo, and I would pause the TV when Spongebob came on, and I would kind of go frame-by-frame, and kind of emulate what was going on. That’s when I got my first computer. They were very supportive of that. They got me a little drawing tablet, and I used to animate and do things. But they’ve always been very, very supportive of my art, whichever medium it is.”
It’s been an evolution for Demo. What started as a fascination with images, colors, and movement, became a vision for storytelling through picture and an interest in filmmaking.
“My first trip to LA was to go and tour — me and my parents were actually going to look at different colleges out there. I was trying to figure out which school I wanted to go to. I had it all planned out. I wanted to be a director.”
But after experiencing the heartbreak, and hurt feelings of a high school breakup, he turned instead to audio to channel his emotions. And at the request of his close friends and family, he released the EP Heart on Valentine’s Day, 2015. He was 17.
“I wasn’t going to put it out there. I was really just going to have it be something that I said I finished. Up to that point, I hadn’t really done or finished any of my artistic projects. I was always starting new things. Even as a filmmaker — an aspiring filmmaker — I was always writing scripts but never finishing them. You know? Doing things like that.”
Looking at a finished product was satisfying, and the feedback he got from friends and family was really positive. But what Alexander found in music was something even greater.
“It’s something that I use to get emotion out. It’s something that I really enjoy doing every day, and it’s also something that helps me mentally, and I think that’s really great.”
He’s not the only one. Listeners noticed, collecting in hordes on his social media channels. He has over 11,000 followers on Soundcloud alone. Other musicians also took notice, and he was quickly asked to start producing remixes for artists like Sylvan Esso and Wet. Before long, record executives started calling. Demo Taped signed with 300 Entertainment — home to fellow artists like Young Thug, Migos, and Fetty Wap — in 2016.
But in the midst of a label churning out trap, rap, and straight hip-hop, Demo Taped is offering up a sound that is earnest, colorful, and soul-enriching. The single off his forthcoming EP — Insecure — is a departure from the electronic, synth-infused sound he became known for.
“I used to start off — and i still do — start off with production, and then write over the production,” Demo says of his creative process. “I create melodies. Now…i’m just kind of letting it flow. If a melody comes first, or a lyrical idea comes first, I’m trying to get it down and record it. I used to just put it in my voice memos, and put it aside for later until the track is done. But now, I try to record. If an idea comes into my head, I have to execute it. But it’s an ever-changing process. Writing definitely comes last. There’s a lot of building and building and building in terms of production, creating a lot of layers and having to scale back.”
That’s the new part of his workflow, he says. The dialing back of ideas in production.
“I used to be stubborn about getting notes, and having to go back and edit. I always thought I was right in a way, in defending I guess my art. But I guess you always need someone else to help you. There’s always an editor. I think it’s important to have. Everyone is going towards the same goal, which is to create great songs, so why not listen?”
The result is his latest project: a 5 track EP that melds the hip-hop vibes of his geography, with the spirited, lyrical, self-actualization of a pastor’s grandson. It looks like Atlanta, and it feels like gospel, but it is something totally new and exciting.
“For this next EP that’s coming out, I went to LA for that flushing out process and getting every idea, you know, solidified,” he said. “When I went to LA, I sort of wrote down ideas and questions that I had personally, from my own life. And I kind of made a sort of pact with myself, that I wanted to be as open and as honest as possible. I had to share as many feelings as I could — even if it was doubt. I don’t know if there’s really anything — to me — such a thing as oversharing.”
As for production, Alexander is exploring new techniques — and in line with what seems to be a theme in his musical journey — finding ways to mix the old with the new. His “studio” is stationed in his bedroom at his parent’s house. Every morning, he wakes up, and gets right to it.
“I just turn everything on in my little studio,” he said. “Now I have a reel to reel tape machine. I’ve been using that to record, which is really a new song process. It’s a new thing, so it’s really enjoyable. Learning this new thing, which is old technology.”
Even though his process has changed, Demo Taped is still creating and discovering for the same reasons he liked drawing and filmmaking as a kid.
“It’s really fun. I kind of take it for granted sometimes. Explaining it to you right now, I’ve got a little bit of a greater appreciation for it.”
He’s putting the work in now, in the hopes of hitting the road early next year to tour this EP.
“I’m really excited to play the new songs for everybody. I created them, really, with performing them in mind. I’m really excited,” he said. “I feel good about the future right now.”
And he has no reason not to. While hearing him talk about making a name for himself in music, establishing his place with the label, and soul searching for his new material, it’s easy to forget that Alexander is only 19-years-old. He’s only just begun.
**A version of this story was published in the December/January Issue of Performer Magazine.