Gregg Alexander Talks Switch From New Radicals to 'Begin Again' at Billboard/THR Conference

Arnold Turner
Gregg Alexander at the Billboard & The Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference 2014 on Nov. 5, 2014.

The Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference launched Wednesday with a question-and-answer session featuring composer Gregg Alexander, hosted by Billboard senior editor of film and TV, Phil Gallo.

Best known to mainstream culture as frontman of the New Radicals -- the short-lived late-1990s rock band behind the hit "You Get What You Give" -- the Grammy-winning songwriter made his film-composing debut this year by writing songs for and scoring the Weinstein Co. film Begin Again. Having shied away from the limelight for years, disillusioned with the notion of fame while writing under various pseudonyms, Alexander spoke about identifying with writer and director John Carney's script and characters and the collaborative aspect of building out the film's musical elements.

Alexander said there was "a lot of good pressure" that came with working in this medium, prompted by Carney to write the best songs he's ever written for the film's aspiring songwriter character played by Keira Knightley.

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"There were a lot of songs that I really connected with and then a lot of songs that I was really kind of on the fence about," he said about sending material and notes back and forth with Carney. "As a songwriter, it's always very kind of fun and bizarre to find out what things resonate with people, versus what means the most to you."

Alexander said Carney was very "black and white" about what worked and didn't, and as a songwriter he didn't have any ego about it. "I was just trying to serve the bigger cause," he added.

Gallo commented how in the film songwriting looks much easier than it likely is in real life. Alexander responded with the story behind the film's sonic centerpiece, "Lost Stars," which he explained -- thankfully -- actually did come pretty simply.

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For that song, Alexander recruited friend and collaborator Danielle Brisebois and wound up flying to Costa del Sol in Southern Spain and generally talking and enjoying each other's company but not writing music until they were hit with the realization they actually had to come back with something good. Fortunately the song came quickly, Alexander said, singing the lullaby-like verse melody that leads into a soaring chorus, which might have been somewhat key to its success.

"It happens that sometimes the songs that you labor over don't resonate," he said, explaining that a good song often only takes "as long as the song takes to happen."

He continued, "It comes from somewhere else and you're like this lightning rod and it's almost like you're irrelevant in the process."

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Alexander spoke to identifying with the record label A&R executive Mark Ruffalo plays in the film and how he simply has been unable to leave music behind. "Whatever our dreams are, there's this part of us where we just can't help ourselves," he said.

Closing the session, Alexander said this first experience with film was inspiring beyond the music he wrote, but also gave him a new passion for the medium as a whole and how it has filled a void he felt in the current music industry.

"I'd love to continue doing stuff in the medium of film because I think it's emotionally compelling and it actually seems to be one of the only mediums left where you can do a body of work," he said. "Unfortunately, as the record is becoming less important to people, it's creating an atmosphere where as an artist if you want to get a statement across, maybe music and film converging might be one of the new frontiers."

The Billboard and Hollywood Reporter Film & TV Music Conference goes through Thursday in Los Angeles.