When I received the self-titled debut EP by Alexandra and the Starlight Band, I opened the envelope with restrained glee. Having previously received a parcel from Ms. Lee, I expected nothing less than a cascade of tiny multicolored metallic stars to spill onto my lap and get wedged in my keyboard; I was not disappointed.
Sunglasses are a mandatory accessory in Alexandra Lee’s world. Not for UV protection or as a pretense of celebrity, but rather to diffuse the reflection that bounces off nearly everything within a 20-foot radius of her person. That is to say, she likes her shinies — and few things within her reach, it seems, escape the touch of her “glam rock magic elves.”
Lee’s penchant for glitter, which goes back to her childhood when she and her father would listen to Bowie records together, has reached a state that surpasses all logical application — a rainbow of color embedded in a limited number of 7-inch vinyl copies of her record, a feat that proved challenging to even the most seasoned vinyl press operator.
“I wanted to take it to an extreme,” she says. “I wanted to make something superpersonal, and I had this crazy dream [to make] a rainbow record.”
Finding a company that could bring her dream to fruition proved more difficult than she anticipated as most pressing plants are completely automated, and the process would have to be more hands-on. Enter Erika Records in Buena Park, Calif., which has remained semi-automated in order to preserve its employees’ jobs. Lee said that while most bands are not allowed inside the plant — including the Misfits, which recently had a glow-in-the-dark record pressed there — she was given access in order to participate in the trial-and-error process.
“I had to buy 50 kinds of glitter. I didn’t know that much glitter existed!” she recalls. “The first few were kind of ugly. . . . We mixed all the colors together and they came out pink. So we had to figure out how it would look and how it would play. I can’t complain about buying bulk quantities of glitter,” she laughs. “It was a crazy process, but superfun.”
As with glitter, rainbows are also ever-present in Lee’s galaxy. The petite pistol’s long tresses and fingernails are streaked with an array of pretty colors that recently caught the attention of a very young girl at a Ventura restaurant. The girl became so obsessed with Lee’s look that her father eventually brought her over to say hello. Obsessed fangirls are nothing new for Lee, though one would expect her to be more of a man magnet.
“I’ve gotten two-page letters from girls, telling me their lives and things they’ve been through,” she says. The EP created a bond between her and her fans. Even her close friends uncharacteristically shed a tear or two while listening. “The girls are so much more emotional about their fandom. They [seem] so stoked to see me on stage, a lot of them have said it’s kind of empowering that there’s someone they can get behind who ‘s larger than life, but real at the same time, and talking about stuff they totally understand.”
That “stuff” being love and heartbreak. Four out of the five songs on her EP — all written by Lee with help from her band — deal with themes of love gone wrong (and right), yet it’s difficult to imagine the lovely and charming glam diva ever suffering rejection.
“I went from a really disappointing relationship to an amazing one,” she says (the amazing one being with rocker Zachary James), which is evident on the opening song, “Without My Sunshine.” The blistering track “TTMF” (an acronym for two-timing mother fucker), on the other hand, is an example of unadulterated and unhinged female rage, which she expresses playfully during her live performance.
“I was just pissed… I basically said it all in that song, and got to rewrite my own history in a cathartic way,” she explains. Whether her melodic vitriol has found its way to the one it was intended for is unknown, but Lee says she hopes he’s heard it. On “I Gotta Thank You,” she journeys from sadness to gladness, coming full circle with the pain of it all. “I realized I can’t be the light without going through the dark.”
The therapeutic effect of the record — especially for females — isn’t just evidenced lyrically, but in her gritty soul vocal style and delivery, which immediately betray her idols — Tina Turner and Janis Joplin — while also bringing to mind Fiona Apple and Joss Stone. Obviously in regular communication with her inner black woman, Lee also cites a slew of white males as influences and even went through what she calls a tomboy period. (She only recently started getting into makeup and feather boas.)
“I loved the leather-clad badass chicks — Suzi Quatro, Joan Jett. They proved chicks could do it.”She played in a punk band called The Daggers and spent a lot of time “eating pizza in a garage with dudes.” When she’d had enough of the “dude dungeon” she started a raunchy girl band: The Hollywood Harlots. She was 18 years old. “I was definitely more like one of the boys, and my songs were about being tough and rock ’n’ roll,” she laughs. “Chewing ’em up and spitting ’em out. That was where my head was at. It was honest for the time, dirty sleazy rock ’n’ roll.” The irony of her style evolution is something she finds amusing and her ability to laugh at herself is particularly endearing. “I’m trying to emulate people like Marc Bolan and Ziggy Stardust-era Bowie,” she says, “which are dudes trying to look like girls. So I’m like a girl trying to look like a dude trying to look like a girl. I’ve come full circle!”
With the release of Alexandra and the Starlight Band’s first record (featuring the talent of local music mainstays Robin Ryder, Sam Bolle, Armand John Anthony and beau Zachary James), Lee may have found the pot of gold at the end of her rainbow glitter daydream. She had the pleasure of recording at the famed Henson Recording Studios (formerly A&M) where she worked with a crack engineer among the ghosts of music’s greats. Dave Grohl made an appearance at her L.A. record release party and the Miles Davis family has taken a liking to her, inviting her to South by Southwest this year as well as the dedication of the Miles Davis postage stamp recently at the Hollywood Bowl. “I’m standing by Robert Trujillo (Suicidal Tendencies, Metallica) chatting about long hair thinking, ‘What is going on?!’ ”
Sounds like a pretty charmed life, but Lee says mixed in with all the good luck is a lot of elbow grease. She visits the post office nearly every day to ship out her product. She also designs all her costumes and hand glues every individual piece of glitter that adorns her garments and accessories. “I’ve been doing this since I was a teenager, and it’s been so many ups and downs. I feel like I’m always striving for more and better, and improving my artistry.”
Alexandra and the Starlight Band will celebrate the release of its first record at Bombay Bar and Grill on Saturday, July 21. The rainbow glitter 7-inch record will be for sale at the show. It is also available at Buffalo Records in Ventura. The all-ages show will begin at 6 p.m. with Mikasa and Space Panther opening. Music ends at 9:30 p.m. For more information, visit www.alexandraband.com.