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Alex Nicol Skips Past the Mainstream with “Hollywood”

The dark underbelly of Niagara Falls hides in plain sight on the folk singer’s new anti-pop serenade.

by Stephan Boissonneault 

Photo by Hamza Abouelouafaa

For anyone who has never visited, the town of Niagara Falls sounds like a magical place, home of the majestic waterfalls that tourists flock to in droves, year round. But the new video single from rising folk artist Alex Nicol, “Hollywood,” reveals it to be the run-down shit-hole that it is.

Nicol’s atmospheric, tender folk ebbs and flows as he weaves through the seedy underbelly of the broken town, wistfully singing about how he “will never go to Hollywood to make it as a star.” The song’s theme lies in coming to terms with never making it as a musician, which is complementary to the bleak, often satirical footage of Nicol wandering around the midway of a creepy carnival and a discount celebrity wax museum that will haunt your dreams. 

Filming “Hollywood” was far from glamorous, as Nicol and his good friend Alex Seltzer went in guerilla style, dodging security and waves of starry-eyed tourists. We chatted with Nicol about his musical upbringings and the poopy towel that got him upgraded to an executive suite, giving him a front-row view of Niagara Falls during his stay. 

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Alex Nicol, who are you? 

An emotionally crippled adult man. For a long time I didn’t know who I was, or actively ignored it. I used to introduce myself as a cook, a grocery store worker, or whatever my job was at the time, only to avoid embracing who I really was. So yeah, that’s actually the toughest question for me. For the sake of transparency, I’m a singer songwriter from Montreal, active in the music community here for more than 10 years. I spent many years in the Montreal underground scene, even at one point living in an after-hours jam space that I helped run in Mile-ex. 

I’ve been in post-punk bands as the front-person, sang and played bass in synth-pop projects, and had stints in experimental electronic groups and an alt-country project. I grew up in a musical family, my dad has a PHD in musical composition and wrote operas. 

How would you describe the kind of music you play to someone like your neighbour if they asked?  

I came up in a scene where being in bands, especially post-punk, math-rock, or slacker rock bands, were the expected, so it’s hard for me, even today, to embrace the fact that I’m a solo artist and that I do folk music. I used to think folk music was so lame – there was tons of social pressure to be in whatever was cool at the time, and so that’s what I did. All while I would secretly play my acoustic guitar at home, away from what I imagined the judgment would be. Only when all my band projects fell apart did I embrace my inner folk rock singer-songwriter identity.  

Long story short, I’d say my music is a mix of Neil Young and Lana Del Ray. I say that because I want my music to be emotional and atmospheric. Hello neighbour, I make moody folk music. 

Your new video was shot in Niagara Falls. For anyone who has never been there before, can you tell us a bit about what it is like?  

Niagara Falls is a strange, sad place. It’s funny because I lived in Toronto for 10 years as a kid and we never went there. Now I know why. Imagine a beautiful natural wonder (the waterfall) beside a depressing carnival fair that is surrounded by terrible fast food. I’ve never seen so many IHOPs all in one place. Put it this way: when I told my Dad we were going to shoot a music video there, first he asked “why?” Then he told me this kind of crass joke—On her wedding night, Niagara Falls is the new bride’s second great disappointment. Apparently Oscar Wilde said this—I couldn’t say it better myself. 

What was your experience there? Did you have any precarious run-ins with the locals or other tourists? 

Initially we were worried about filming there, as we didn’t get permission per se. So we were stressed on the drive down. Which in the end was no problem, because everyone that worked in the carnival area is a pimply self-conscious teenager, and they weren’t about to yell at a bunch of 30 something city-slickers like us. Another thing I would not recommend is spending five hours within a dilapidated wax figure museum at night. Especially, if you’re interested in having restful sleep. My publicist Paul [Brooks] said the video looked like “nightmare fuel,” which is quite accurate. The last thing I’ll say is that we got an upgrade at our hotel because we found a fresh poop-stained towel waiting for us in the bathroom. We got the Executive Falls view because of that. Do please enjoy those scenes, as they would not be possible without a surprise poop towel.

The themes in your new single could be interpreted as someone (a musician) managing expectations around the concept of “making it.” Can you tell us a little bit about where your head was at when you were writing this one?  

I have crushing anxiety, and I had convinced myself that I’d failed to make it as a musician. I wallowed in that feeling for years. I’m 34 now, and I’m never going to be a young successful pop star who gets to move to LA and have everything they want. Only by writing this song, and, in part, accepting where I’m at, have I started to move through what is essentially crippling self-doubt. In contrast, this is my biggest, most anthemic song to date, which I think is funny. Now more than ever I’m ready for success, in whatever form it takes. Is there an audience out there who enjoys this kind of honesty from a weathered and weary man?

Do you have aspirations of actually going to Hollywood?

I’m down to go to the place but I don’t plan on selling out. I’m happier in the trees anyways.

Your forthcoming album is being released in two parts. Are two EPs better than one LP in the current musical climate? 

Yes. Not only does it tell more of a story, which is helpful creatively, it also allows me some time to build an audience digitally. It took me so long to accept the new digital reality of being a musician, but now I’m all in. I come from the DIY world of putting out records on tape, vinyl, self-funding everything, and kinda just hoping it will work out somehow. Now, I think I gotta go where the people are, be it TikTok or streaming platforms. It’s almost like my DIY mentality sabotaged my efforts at building an audience. Some of the nicest fans I have ever had have come from TikTok—which before, I would have never used. DIY or DIE right? Maybe not. 

Can you tell us a bit about the album and your intentions that you’ve set around these upcoming releases? 

These songs came out of a really sad period for me. I had a number of family members and friends die suddenly, in quick succession. Then, a couple of days before starting to record, I lost my job, and my anxiety took over. I’m not a sad or depressive person, in fact I’ve always presented myself as optimistic, stiff upper lip kinda stuff. But I got smacked around by the world several times and I never had time to properly process what was going on. My intention with Been A Long Year Vol. 1 is to bring listeners into my world and share something honest. 

Anything else you would like us to know?

Been A Long Year Vol. 2 is coming to a screen near you soon.