Interview with a prolific Americana folk rock song-writer Alec Gross of Our Wild America

1). It’s a great band name, how did you come up with that name? Is there a meaning behind it?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): I think at the time I came up with the name I was playing pretty regularly with my band and the sound, a heavy, dark blend of Americana and rock, was really coming from all five musicians and not just me. It just didn’t feel like the project should be called Alec Gross or “Alec Gross and The Band” or “Alec Gross and 4 other musicians that he pays to make his songs sound bigger/better/badder”.

I also always hated it when someone would ask what my band was called and I’d answer, “me. Alec Gross”. It got embarrassing. I guess I could’ve just said, “well, I’m the main artist, so the music is under my name”, but I didn’t have that level of maturity and clarity around what I was doing at the time.

This all happened almost 8yrs ago or so and the music I was writing was all rooted in an idealized folk America. I was writing about tall tale characters in Greek tragedies but taking place in rural, 19th and early 20th century American settings. “Our Wild America” was supposed to hint at what that imagined kind of American music would sound like, but now. It was supposed to hint at the lost wilderness, of the land and of the spirit. And since I was writing about supercharged characters, mainly, it was about all the weirdos and freaks who continue to make this a wild place. A shared wild place. Our wild place.

2). So those 6 singles are epic sounding, are those recent songs or older ideas?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): They’re all older ideas. It takes me forever to record and release my songs because I never have enough money to record and mix them the way I want to. I guess I should just accept that and put out my reel-to-reel demos as records, just get the songs out, because I write all the time, but I want all these tunes to be given the proper treatment and that means proper musicians and proper studios and proper engineers and proper money because I don’t like how the things I record and mix myself sound and I don’t have the time nor the motivation nor the aptitude to do it better in Logic or whatever.

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These are tunes that were written between 2014 and 2017, when the basic tracks were recorded. I ran out of money so I couldn’t record my vocals or get them properly mixed, I was just sitting on backing tracks for 3 years or something. In that time I had a son, changed jobs, moved out to LA. Life was happening.

3). Is there any connecting theme to them?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): They were mostly all written on a nylon string guitar I borrowed from my friend, Steven Capozzola. After my son was born, I’d reach for the nylon string first when it was time to play, trying to keep things more mellow in our small apartment. That, combined with my new headspace as a father, had a lot to do with the sort of chill, contemplative vibe in these songs. They were different from the rockers of the previous Our Wild America album.

4). How did the pandemic affect you and your music?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): I moved out to LA a year and a half before the pandemic hit and was really just starting to play shows again. I was playing solo in the new city and had gotten into experimenting with writing little plays and scene cycles as a new way to perform. I guess without the band I was feeling a bit limited by just performing the songs solo. I wanted to expand the stories a bit, give the tunes more context.

The first collection of scenes I wrote to go with the songs was called “The Outlaw Tales” and included “High Desert Wind” (one of the newer releases) along with a bunch of other tunes that I had at the time.  During the concert I would perform a little monologue in the character of the song’s narrator before singing. Folks seemed to put up with it okay.

The next one I did was a bit more of a coherent play called “Ghost In The Girl”. It included “Something Living In The Green”. The play was about a young woman who was possessed by the ghost of Genius, taken by the muse.

And then the pandemic hit and that all ended. I started performing these live stream concerts on Facebook in my backyard every Saturday at 5PM. I would build a fire in my firepit and pour a glass of whiskey and perform. It was fun and it gave me some kind of outlet, but then that faded away.

5). Fuel to burn is especially an outstanding track, can you tell me how did you come up with it?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): The feel was inspired directly by the theme song used for the first season of HBO’s True Detective (, by the Handsome Family Band… sounds of the old west, Ghost Riders In The Sky vibe. I was telling a different story of course, picturing an abandoned desert town, hunkered down, waiting for a sandstorm to roll through. A lone couple embracing in the town square, waiting to be consumed. It all came out in one go, very quickly, one of those songs where you get lucky and it writes itself. I like the bit about anthropomorphizing the moon and the sun in the bridge. There’s also a line about drinking the woman’s perfume which I got from Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s Love In The Time of Cholera. I always loved that idea.

6). Do you consider your style folk, Americana, or rock-n-roll?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): I guess I like making a dark and heavy brand of Americana Rock. I’ve called it Cinematic Americana… how’s that?

7). How does your songwriting happen? Is it on-the-go kind of thing, or it’s a more thorough process?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): As a family man with a job, etc., it’s definitely an on-the-go kind of thing.  I sometimes try to reserve 9:30-10PM to sit down and write something, anything, as long as it’s new. It’s not time for working through ideas or polishing, it’s just an opportunity to tap into the creative process and keep the muscle strong.

Are you the main songwriter? Or there are other people in this project? Do you collaborate with other musicians? I hear this amazing trumpet on Fuel to burn.

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): I write all the songs, but I’m more of a Lennon than a McCartney, a Dylan than a Springsteen, when it comes to writing. I have a sense of the feel and the weight of what I want, the basic instrumentation, but I don’t have all the arrangements orchestrated in my head. For a lot of these latest releases, I knew I wanted strings or trumpets like in Fuel to Burn, but I asked some very talented (and educated) folks (Ward Williams and Jeremy McDonnald) to help with the composition and arrangements of those parts. For Fuel To Burn, I just knew I wanted mariachi horns and to create a sandstorm in the intro, out of which the song emerges.

9). What are the motives in your songs? What moves you to sit down and to write a song?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America): I’ll get inspired by a character or a theme and file it away to use in the future, but  really the songs come from just singing to myself all the time. I’ve done it since I was a kid. Used to drive people crazy at home and at school. But still I find myself singing just under my breath and so the melodies all come from the ether which I think makes them natural. I’ll mumble words to go along with the melody, not really thinking about what it means or what it’s about and sometimes a line will stick. When that happens I’ll try to write a song to support it, a story that makes the inspired line true.

For example, with “Something Living In The Green”, that was the first lyric… “there’s something living in the green, this is how I fall in love with you”, then writing the rest of the song is like completing a puzzle. If that line is true, what else is true? Where must the song take place? Who must be thinking/saying these things? What happens next? That’s the fun part.

Who are your top artists that really helped you shape your sound?

Alec Gross (Our Wild America):
a.     Dylan was the force that blew me out of the water when I was 13. He translated all the music that came before him into something I could hear and then he twisted what pop music and rock n roll could be into something that was wild and challenging and literate and weird. And personal. Folks who haven’t listened to Dylan all that much might not realize how vulnerable and personal his voice and his songs are. That’s what hooks the die-hards.

b.     I’m also a devoted Beatles fan and worshipper as everyone should be. I’m a John guy but I love Paul more and more as I get wiser.

c.     Bob Marley blows me away with the economy of his lines. In “Turn Your Lights Down Low” he wrote one of the best lyrics of all time when he sings, “Oh, I, oh, I, oh, I”, because in two words he’s told you everything.

d.     Paul Simon can fit wild lyrics to meter and tell deep personal stories filled with mystery and musicality.

e.     Bruce Springsteen showed how the mundane is the richest source material for art, and how to work tirelessly for your craft and for your audience. He demonstrated what the power of a band can do better than anyone.

f.      Ryan Adams showed me how you could write timeless songs in our time.

g.     Jeff Tweedy and Wilco showed me what being a lifelong songwriter and musical experimentalist means.

11). Any last words to your listener?

     Alec Gross (Our Wild America): Nope. That’s plenty.

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