When Alexandra Savior relocated from Portland to the showbiz mecca of Hollywood a few years ago, her proverbial champagne wishes and caviar dreams quickly turned to Top Ramen. This despite the fact that her ethereal voice had already won such prestigious champions as Courtney Love and Linda Perry; both had heard something special and predicted big things for the naïf, who was then fresh out of high school.
"I think I was just a little too young to be thrown into the music business," says the now 21-year-old Savior, who dropped her last name McDermott along the way. "It's a very complicated industry, and I just couldn't understand it, or what it was."
Those first years in California, she adds, were the loneliest of her life.
Living a largely solitary existence in L.A., she watched a lot of horror movies and saw few visitors. But gradually, Savior drew industry attention and found herself taking meetings with major labels.
It was then that the true Hollywood stereotypes came into play. Savior has a very specific view of her music — one that matched the dark-hued atmosphere of her oil paintings and charcoal sketches. Both her music and art are peopled with the kind of characters she'd see every day in her newly adopted hometown. Those inspirations would eventually find their way onto her forthcoming debut album, through its portrayals of eccentric SoCal personalities in songs like "Girlie," "Frankie," "Audeline," and "Mystery Girl."
But the record industry, not unpredictably, had other ideas. At one label meeting, she recalls, a label exec politely listened to her sing her heart out — with her mother present, no less — then asked who she preferred to become: The next Pink or the next Katy Perry?
"I just got up and walked out," she recalls. "And my mom was like, 'Uhhh ... I don't think that's gonna be our guy.'"
Mom was right. The artist eventually signed with the more open-minded Columbia Records, but was still in search of her sound, and being pulled in a variety of sonic directions by various outside forces, some well-meaning, some not.
"I just think that nobody was listening to me," she recalls of that confusing period. "And people would tell me things, and I thought that — since I didn't know anything about it — I should just do what they say, because they'd been in the business for 25 years or whatever."
Savior found her unlikely savior in the form of Arctic Monkeys main man Alex Turner, who bumped into her in a café and — after hearing her sing — was as impressed as Love and Perry. With Turner and co-producer James Ford at the helm, Savior finished the Mod-tinged, Roy Orbison-spooky Belladonna of Sadness, which is arguably the first truly great record of 2017.
In addition to contributing vibrato-laden, Artic Monkeys-style guitar, Turner also helped Savior make her lyrics less about herself and more about her characters. "And that was nice," she says, "because it helped me develop a wall, to have a mask, and to keep things more metaphorical."