By Christopher A. Pape | Photography by Andrew H. Walker/Getty Images
Styling by Caitlin Monahan
Location: Bolton & Watt
Hair by Angelo David Pisacreta for Angelo David Salon
Makeup by Laura Mitchell for Angelo David Salon | DIOR Beauty
Jewelery by Margo Manhattan, Virgins, Saints & Angels, Brooklyn Heavy Metal & SCHO Jewelry
The daughter of two legendary New Yorkers, she’s fast becoming a musical icon for her generation. Gracious, well-spoken and not to mention, extraordinarily beautiful, Alexa Ray Joel is the new IT girl of the city’s music scene.
The only child of award-winning musician Billy Joel and supermodel, Christie Brinkley, Alexa Ray is thriving as both a musician and as an arbitrator of taste. And it isn’t luck that has propelled her this far – it’s hard work, talent and perseverance. It shouldn’t be surprising then that her career is destined to explode and turns her into a household name – one as big as her parents.
I could tell from our first meeting that she was diminutive in anything but personality. Our second meeting only reinforced this. Insisting that we conduct the interview at her apartment, she welcomed me with a warm smile and a soothing voice. Here, in her gorgeous two-bedroom apartment in Nolita, she creates her catchy tunes, gleans inspiration from the city and finds solace in her own private sanctuary.
Knowing she had other plans, I tried – in vain – to hurry through the interview; she’d have none of that and instead we spend our time luxuriating over her past, present and future. The whole time she was thoughtful, vivacious and erudite on all the subjects we covered.
Delving right into the heart of the mater, I asked her about “living in the shadow” of her parents. With frankness, she replied: “It’s a great deal of pressure, but doing this Gap song – which I thought, if anything, was going to put more pressure on me – of course, I am self-conscious – my father is an iconic, legendary musical genius, but the experience was cathartic and helped to relieve the pressure about singing one of dad’s songs. I can appreciate his music even more, because I know the back story; a lot of the material is about me or my mother. I always wanted to touch upon his music, but was always scared – this was a relief.”
Having a father who was a lyricist, I can well understand the struggle that Alexa Ray has gone through. Yet, she has wrestled that demon and come to terms with it, “Yes, I want to be me my own person and convey my own identity, but at the same time, I don’t want to deny or not pay homage to my father’s incredible body of work. Before taking on the Gap commercial, I was reticent to touch his work, but once I started playing the chords for Just the Way You Are, it was therapeutic – I was able not to be so hard on myself; in fact, I was proud.”
The process of her getting The Gap commercial and it coming together in such an extraordinary manner, was an intoxicating one: “They came to me – I have always been a huge fan of The Gap commercials – remember Mellow Yellow? – I was very flattered; I didn’t know initially what they wanted from me and when I found out they wanted me to do one of dad’s songs, I was nervous. They ended up giving me three options to sing – New York State of Mind, Piano Man and Just the Way You Are. I thought – I can’t do Piano Man, because I’d be piano girl; New York State of Mind is masculine – only dad or Tony Bennett could pull it off – so that left Just the Way You Are. I felt passionately that I had to put my own spin on it – I was glad The Gap gave me the creative freedom to do it.”
Moving beyond The Gap, we talked of her earlier success with Notice Me, which I still throughly enjoy. With catchy lyrics and a melodic, hummable line, the song was her first success: “That did really well on Sirius radio. One of the offshoots of being the child of someone famous is that I’m a perfectionist. I’ll do a lot of recordings and I’m very reluctant to release a song. But, Notice Me, came together very quickly. I actually wrote it while I was taking a shower.” She then turns to the meaning of the song, “I never found my way romantically, until very recently. I was very naïve and I would come on too strongly; I didn’t know how to act around guys. I wrote the song because I had a crush on this guy and I didn’t feel I was getting the right reaction from him; a lot of girls feel like that – an unrequited crush and I think not enough artists are writing about it.”
When asked about her future plans, Alexa Ray is just as forthcoming. “I’m working on new material; looking for a new New York spot. I’ve played a lot of great rooms in the city. I was doing a showcase, monthly, at The Living Room, which I loved. Another favorite was playing at the Oak Room at The Plaza; it’s a New York institution. Another development is that I’m in talks to host my own radio show on Sirius. I have a live audition – it’s very exciting – it’s nerve racking!”
Being that this is Resident Magazine we had to ask about her relationship with New York. “I can’t remember the last time I’ve written a song outside of the city. This is where I write – at home; it’s where I’m rooted; it’s where I grew up. And I love the eclectic energy of this place – you walk outside – especially in a place like Nolita – you never know what you’re going to find.”
Her love of all things New York, is so deeply rooted that she couldn’t possibly live anywhere else: “I was just in London a few weeks ago – I loved it – it’s elegant, clean and everyone’s so put together. But, everybody looks the same; all the guys wore suits. It’s a very monotonous visual. In New York, you can’t possible imagine all these different types coexisting. You never get bored; it’s so dynamic. I’ve traveled all over the world and I don’t see characters as interesting as in New York.”
When asked about what she wishes to accomplish with her career, she reflects and answers: “My dream is to be able to promote a message of honesty whether with music or in anything that I’m doing. I don’t think to be a role model you have to be perfect. I’ve been very honest with the press, even when I had my nose done. A lot of people would cover that up. I want to be a voice for young women. I want to empower them – I’ve been through a lot – and I want to send them a relatable message. Regardless of who your parents are, where you come from or what you look like – you can embrace your flaws and be honest with yourself. We’re not living in a time where that’s really possible – there’s a lot of pressure on young women. We need more honest women who are willing to talk about their struggles.”
And with that, Alexa Ray and I conclude the interview. Clearly, here is a woman with passion and zeal for life. But, beyond that, here is a woman who is strong, well spoken and most evidently on the road to major success. We wish her luck on her journey and we’re glad she chose us as her frist magazine cover. •