"I’ve been grabbing all I could since day one. From people’s amp and pedal settings to their storytelling and stage moves." - Shane Alexander

Posted: May 31, 2024
"I was first drawn to the instrument by Kiss and Black Sabbath, although I had been totally enamored with folkies like Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens and Harry Chapin as a child."

Photo by: Shane Alexander

As a singer-songwriter and performing artist, I've always been intrigued by the captivating essence of live performances and the mesmerizing artistry displayed onstage. The allure of witnessing musicians effortlessly translate their emotive lyrics into a visual and auditory experience has never failed to captivate me. From the first time I went to a live concert, I knew it was on stage where I wanted to be. But how would I get up there, and once I was there, how could I do what I saw done onstage?

In this column, we delve into the intricacies of stagecraft and musical performance, posing questions such as: What makes a live show memorable? How do artists balance spontaneity and rehearsed elements? And what happens on stage when the lights go down, the first drumbeats come in, and the chords are strummed?

To truly understand the art of stagecraft and performance, what better way than to gain insider knowledge and learn from the best? This column will interview my favorite performers, songwriters, artists, and bands. As they say in the industry, 'amateurs borrow, professionals steal.' So, feel free to take and make your own all the advice and wisdom these modern-day shamans and shapeshifters, truth sayers, and poets offer.

For many starting out performing music, moving from the bedroom to the coffee house or open mic to the venue, performing can seem daunting and intimidating. So, what does that transition look like for the average beginner, and how can you, as a songwriter, do everything you can to best transmit and engage with the art you are creating? To delve more into this, I wanted to talk to my good friend and the producer of my latest record, “Between Two Worlds” (shameless plug), Shane Alexander.

Shane Alexander is a prolific Singer-Songwriter and artist renowned for his remarkable ability to intertwine poignant storytelling with melodic brilliance. I first heard of his music in 2009 through my vocal coach, Lis Lewis, who showed me a copy of his sophomore LP, “Stargazer,” which blew my mind with his smooth voice and poetic lyrics. With a discography of over two decades, Shane has established himself as a versatile musician, seamlessly weaving folk, rock, and Americana elements into his distinctive sound and as a killer stage performer. He’s the performer who captures you with his presence and musical ability and wins you over with his carefree, effortless stage banter. He played anywhere and everywhere, from small acoustic rooms to arenas, opened for acts like Seal, Jewel, and Styx, and toured the States and Europe frequently.

Shane knows how to win over the audience, so his music resonates with listeners profoundly, creating an intimate connection that transcends boundaries. Join me as we delve into the world of stagecraft and musical performance with this exceptional artist.


Gustavo: Shane, tell me about your development as a performer. What was it like going from your bedroom to the garage to the stage?

Shane: I got my first guitar for Christmas when I was 10 and spent much of my pre-teens feverishly playing after school till bedtime. I was first drawn to the instrument by Kiss and Black Sabbath, although I had been totally enamored with folkies like Simon and Garfunkel, Cat Stevens and Harry Chapin as a child. By my middle teens, I was starting to get it together and started lessons with an early hero of mine in Maryland. The first thing he taught was the solo to ‘Runnin’ with the Devil’ using tablature. I started my first real bands around 15 or 16 and then moved to Pennsylvania, where I kicked into turbo mode and quickly sought to play with the best guys I could find.

Gustavo: What was your first experience playing live like? When was the first time you felt stage high, and how did it change your life?

Shane: I believe the first time I played live onstage was a talent show in 9th grade - not the most shining moment, but a start. We did 'Rebel Yel'l by Billy Idol and I had shedded for weeks to get that Steve Stevens stuff together A few years later, after I had played in a few bands and done a bunch of smaller gigs, I played the talent show in 12th grade and we did ‘Die With Your Boots On’ by Iron Maiden and really rocked the place. I had a Marshall half stack and a tech - the whole bit. We were loud as hell but made an impression. I can still see my homeroom teacher, running out of the theater with her hands over her ears. All the girls (and boys) were talking about it afterwards - I was hooked.

Gustavo: Who were the performers you looked up to when you were coming up?

Shane: Kiss was the first band to cast a spell on me. Ace Frehley was the reason I desperately wanted a Les Paul. Once I got my first guitar, it was straight to Black Sabbath, Maiden, Priest and Ozzy w/ Randy Rhoads. Jumping ahead to my late teens, I’d moved to LA to attend Musician’s institute to study guitar. I saw Neil Young play solo acoustic at the Greek Theatre which turned out to be a hugely pivotal moment in my life.

Gustavo:What's one thing you've “stolen” from watching another artist you admire onstage?

Shane: I’ve been grabbing all I could since day one. From people’s amp and pedal settings to their storytelling and stage moves. I guess the first thing that comes to mind was when I saw an artist (who shall remain nameless) finish their show by coming downstage and performing completely unplugged. I incorporated that into my shows immediately.

Gustavo: How has your approach to stagecraft evolved throughout your career?

Shane: Like many from my era, I started my music career as a lead guitarist and just tried to always be on my game. Eventually, I began singing harmonies and ultimately became a frontman. I've always just done my utmost to study the greats, to be rehearsed and in the moment, and to give people an experience that keeps them coming back.

Gustavo: What's the worst thing that happened onstage?

Shane: I have been electrocuted multiple times. One time at the Troubadour, I was singing backup and I stepped up to the mic and the lights in the entire venue flickered. How I survived that I will never know. Another that comes to mind was in Bielefeld, Germany about six years ago. I had just wrapped up my set-in front of 900 people and was feeling great. I was being videoed as I was walking off stage and just then, they killed the lights completely, and I tripped over a monitor that was way upstage - cracking the top of my guitar and splitting my lip about 3/4 of an inch, it was not pretty. The next night, I had to perform an arena show for 3,000 people with a stitched-up face, but I would not have missed it for the world.

Gustavo: How can you prepare for the unexpected, and what's your way of rolling with tech-issue punches?

Shane: I always have my guitars serviced with juicy batteries, and always have extra batteries, capos, strings and cables. The main trick is to just roll with everything, and if things go completely sideways, somehow turn it into an endearing win. I just saw John Doe perform last night, and his guitar died in the middle of their last song, so he just jumped over on to Exene’s mic and played unplugged which got them huge cheers. It’s only rock ‘n’ roll after all.

Gustavo: How do you mentally and physically prepare for a live performance?

Shane: I practice a lot. Particularly before a major tour, I work on sets and segues and do my best to exercise and eat right. The main thing for me is to be rested and feel rehearsed.

Gustavo: What's your set list process like, and what notes will you leave yourself on there to mention or do?

Shane: It varies widely. Mostly I’m just shooting for a show that has some range in terms of tempo and emotion. I don’t usually use too many notes as far as what I’m going to say unless there’s a birthday, a loss or some news headline thing that I want to touch on. If I’m performing with my band, we usually rehearse a set that I have written, and do our best to stick with that - although I can sometimes pivot last second. We always like to have a few nice segues and features. If I am touring solo, I might just have a set list of 40 songs at my feet and just feel it in the moment. That’s always my favorite because it keeps me on my toes and I’m able to respond to the energy in the room.

Gustavo: What role do emotion and vulnerability play in your live shows, and how do you convey these elements to your audience?

Shane: I always do my best to get some emotional exchange happening. Over the years, I’ve become a decent storyteller. I have watched many of the best and learned a lot. When I first toured with Jewel, she was coming off tour with Bob Dylan, and had learned from the master himself. But in terms of vulnerability, I’m never afraid to share personal stuff onstage to add weight to the song that follows. I see the whole show as a form of group therapy where there can be both laughter and tears. Joy and introspection. I always have people in the audience that are going through heavy shit and have come to be moved. I take it very seriously. I want them to be so glad they came out.

Gustavo: What is your post-show “must do’s” for artists to build their fan base?

Shane: Obviously, it’s important to meet and spend time with the fans after the show to catch up. Many of them have been coming out for years, so I always want them to feel like they get enough facetime. The flip side is, if the lobby is too loud, you can put too much wear and tear on your voice, so it’s a balancing act. Additionally, it’s important to video your performances and share them. In the modern age, we are responsible for cranking out content all the time. It can all be overwhelming but it’s essential to keep the ball moving forward.

Gustavo: How do you utilize stage props, lighting, and other visual elements to enhance your live performances?

Shane: I’ve done it every which way. If I’m in a bigger room with an actual LD, I will always give them a set list with notes. I have had bands that had our own light rigs, which takes the production value up a lot. But if I’m performing solo, I just want the lighting to jive with the moods of the music.

Gustavo: Do you have any post-show rituals for the post-show highs and lows?

Shane: Yeah, I usually try to get back to the hotel as soon as possible. I might go out on off nights, but not usually on show nights. The main thing is to make sure that I’m rested. Usually after my show, I get back to a hotel room and take a sleeping pill before getting into the shower to do some vocal warm downs. I don’t take sleeping pills at home, but on the road, I find them to be essential, because you can get very overstimulated/jetlagged (particularly international touring) and if sleep eludes you, you can get into the weeds very fast. I’ve been practicing Buddhist for many years and make time every morning and evening for my practice, which also helps cool my jets, and keep me centered.

Gustavo: What are some memorable moments from your live performances that have resonated with you the most?

Shane: As a humble independent, I have been blessed to play some special venues, and open for several of my heroes. When I toured with Seal, I got to play the Ryman, which felt like a religious experience. And when I toured with Yes and Styx, I got to play a lot of bucketlist venues, including Red Rocks in Colorado and the Greek here in Los Angeles, which had been a dream for many years. During all those performances I really did my best to slow down and be in the moment. Those highs don’t come every day, but when they do, it’s important to really drink them in and celebrate the journey it’s taken to get there.

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