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Duncan Alex

In the beginning...
Always an avid listener of music, I first felt the itch to write my own music during my college years. I started when one summer holiday break, I was ready to hit the road home, but on the way I made a stop in a music shop and bought a keyboard synthesiser.

Using my Aiwa walkman I recorded tapes and tapes of ideas. I ‘borrowed’ a microcassette tape recorder so I could double-up tracks, even though the quality was fairly poor.

I was bursting with ideas that couldn’t be contained on a mere two tracks, so as soon as possible I upgraded to a four-track recorder and a microphone. I was so pumped I couldn’t wait to get started, so much so that one New Years’ I missed an entire family holiday away to lay down some song ideas. I had started layering tracks in earnest, with multiple vocals and harmonies. However, the more tracks, the poorer the sound quality.

Soon, I discovered music software and taught myself how to use it, driven by the desire to combine more and more musical layers to feed into the four-track before adding vocals and live instruments.

First ever national radio airplay
I made many demos of songs and instrumentals in this way, and as more affordable computing and music software developed, so could my compositions. Eventually, I decided to invest in myself and produce an EP. I completed and sequenced a selection of songs to demo standard at home, and I booked into a local studio. I sought distribution, and under the alias Stun Gun (and soon after, Imaginary Band), self-released the EP The Fable in 1997. I sent it to Richard Kingsmill on Triple J, Australia’s national youth radio station. To my utter shock he played it and wrote me up in Rolling Stone magazine as a “classy and promising" debut.

Spurred on to continue writing, mixing, singing and producing, I formed a band of two, known as The Cradle Mountain Yetis, and my song Lady of the Highlands, co-performed by a brilliant guitarist, named George Brown, won runner up in the 1997 Tasmanian Folk Federation songwriting competition. I also sang with a covers band that remained a bedroom covers band almost to the last. We did one gig, but I had a balaclava on. To be honest I think I was so scared that I think that’s why I have no recollection of whether the rest of the band also wore balaclavas, but if they did it was probably more for moral support.

Beyond the Gift album
I was also incredibly excited about making original music, getting my ideas heard, so I self-produced two more EPs. The time was approaching, though, to begin my most ambitious project yet, an eleven-track long play debut album, complete with a secret unlisted twelfth track (all the rage back then). Some time in late 1999 or early 2000, I gathered together a group of musician friends to help. They were Adam Frazer on rhythm guitar, Dave Furlani on drums, Craig Squires on bass and Tara Maloney on flute. We rehearsed a handful of my most complete songs and we recorded five or six tracks in a very nice church basement in town, for free. We had professional help (we hadn’t a clue how to do record drums, for a start) and as a result there was nothing wrong with most of the material recorded over that weekend in the ‘studio’ -on the contrary- most of the final products were excellent, to my excited ears anyway.

However, I wanted to work on the album’s sound a lot more to fill it out with all the things I imagined. I spent weeks and weeks of my spare time working at home on post-studio production, adding various vocal melodies and harmonies, recording and sequencing additional instruments and samples, and mixing and re-mixing tracks. Once it got to mastering stage, I discovered there was a surprising amount of work still to be done, as my chosen mastering studio in Sydney patiently put up with my lack of experience and never ending tweaking. Of course all of this had to be done over the phone and by post. However, in the end the band and I were all pretty pleased with the result. For the album single, I’ll Have What He Had, we sat for the drummer Dave, also a talented photographer. He created some pretty different band photos using long exposure and torch lights in a darkened room, and the best of these went on the CD sleeve.

Beyond the Gift was praised as " of the most impressive releases perhaps made in 2000 thus far...This is one very good album that should get a lot more exposure than it probably will" by hEARd Online Magazine. The Hobart Mercury newspaper said, "[he] has developed his talent through three EPs before his debut album Beyond the Gift. A mix of guitar-driven band performances and moody programmed solo tracks, the album is melodic, personal and diverse. Beyond the Gift is a work of a burgeoning talent."

The album‘s first track, I’ll Have What He Had, received airplay on Triple J (I remember being stoked that it was played straight after a Madonna song).

TV documentaries, comp’s, and film music
I was understandably buoyed by this warm reception, less understandably I was also somewhat at a loss about how to proceed without management or promotion or a desire to perform live. So I sought other avenues for spreading my music - film. It started with a theme tune for a promotional video and incidentals for a TV documentary on a company I was then working for. However, what really caught my interest were more creative enterprises, so when I spotted on a local noticeboard that a young indie film director was after soundtrack music, I immediately met with him and together we started up what would become a fruitful creative pairing. I would go on to create incidental and soundtrack music for several of Scott Lawson’s films including a commissioned soundtrack for an award-winning Screen Tasmania short film - Dark Decisions, in 2005.

But back in 2001, I concentrated on writing and recording material whilst quietly releasing further singles from the album to community radio stations in Melbourne and Sydney, RRR and 2MCE. DJs loved the tracks A.I. and U Xd da Line. I garnered regular top five pop chart hits and the occasional nod from reviewers and competitions including a top five place in the Kreator Unsigned Airplay Competition.

From Tasmania to UK
In 2002 I provided some of the music, including the title tune and incidentals, for the first of my collaborations with Scott Lawson for his indie film debut Life Goes On. In mid-2002 I moved to the UK and after a hiatus of recording, began again on the cusp of 2003, also working on incidental material for the second Scott Lawson film with the working title Forced Impressions. I bought a steel string guitar and, possessing nearly zero clue, I started learning how to use it.

The Devon years, films and collaborations
2003 and 2004 proved productive musical years. I continued writing, singing and producing, and with the world becoming more and more connected, found ways to hook up with varied local and international musicians. Locally I worked with singers, guitarists and saxophonists, as I sought to expand and develop my own sound.

I answered a notice seeking a lead vocalist in a mid-Devon grunge covers band Bone Idol, and another for a darker east-Devon grunge originals band Culm - a recording project looking to provide vocals for a new album. I lent the vocals for a Pink Floyd'ish track Going Home by Schmange, a Canadian-based guitarist/songwriter of notoriety, from his latest album PhaseIV Chronicles. This whole surge in productivity extended to my writing and recording, with many new songs emerging and importantly, being completed to at least demo standard.

In 2005 I lent my vocals to the work of Leeds writer/producer/remix duo Kicksorter, whilst back at home, I hooked up with a local busking guitarist/songwriter Keith Woolstenholme. Together we formed an acoustic original and covers duo to be called Freewheelin’; later we became a trio with a bassist. In 2005 I also received keen interest from Exeter-based digital satellite radio station Apple FM, who used my song South by West which was also picked as mp3 of the week and described by Lemonrock as ‘heartfelt and authentic’ for the title theme for a new show. In their support for new local artists they also promised to follow my career as it developed, then about two months later, they went under. However, the song was also picked as mp3 of the week and described by Lemonrock as ‘heartfelt and authentic’.

Dark Decisions award-winning short film
Meanwhile, I continued working with filmmaker Scott Lawson, and completed the entire soundtrack for his award-winning short film Dark Decisions.
"People have offered high praise many times on [Duncan's] soundtracks to my films. Through his wide-ranged abilities as a composer, he has helped make my films the best they can be" - Scott Lawson (Director)

In 2006, while Scott’s film screened throughout the world, I started developing more as a solo player, venturing to small musical gatherings around Devon, and I sought to expand my web presence with a new myspace site and solo website. I also enjoyed trying to crack the charts of the Lemonrock gig guide with my demos. That year I also began work on the soundtrack for Scott Lawson's next film project, already shooting in Banff, Canada.

In 2007, I provided vocals for several tracks for DJ Ben Wijay, a South West Best Night Out winner. And I also made my fourth EP - the six-track NSPCC fundraiser EP Glitch, and I featured in the debut edition of the magazine Music in Devon. My track That Kind of Love received airplay on BBC Radio Devon. Newly armed with a mobile phone with in-built camera, I got busy making extremely low-budget (i.e. free) music videos so that some of staple favourites from my gigs could also received an airing on YouTube. These songs were That Kind of Love, War for the Innocent and the feel-good country rock tune Leave the Day Behind that was a staple favourite at my gigs.

UK release of Beyond the Gift album
In 2008 I digitally re-released my debut album Beyond the Gift, and produced a video for the album’s track Faerytale Lessons, filmed around the beautiful Devon and Dorset countryside.

Around this time I met local Exmouth guitar hero Ian Davey, and began jamming, performing and recording solos and incidental parts against some of my complete songs. I also sang for Ian’s covers band on occasion, whilst we formed a duo that regularly performed originals at a local Exeter cinema and popular acoustic gig venue, The Picturehouse.

Early Days album
In 2009 I had finally performed, recorded, mixed and produced my second album, Early Days, a handpicked selection of varied songs from my catalogue which I felt gelled together as journey through some personal, and some fantasy, highs and lows. The album was self-made, with the exception of two guest tracks: for the first time on any of my releases it featured a duet, the song Love is a Science - with lovely vocalist Lara Glasspool. The track Didn’t Mean to Make You Blue features the some of the great musicians who played on my debut album.
In 2010 I released a US-only cover of one of my favourite classics, The House of the Rising Sun (which can also be heard on Soundcloud).

Paradise album
In April 2012, I was extremely pleased to complete my third album Paradise, which pays homage to some great 80's pop influences. The album featured Ian Davey’s guitar on three of its tracks, including the Bond-themed Devil May Care. The track garnered the interest of, and airplay on, BBC Radio Devon, and we were invited to visit the studio and play live. A few months later Ian and I embarked on co-writing our first track together from scratch – with the working title Lucky Charm, the song is based on a riff Ian played which caught my ear. After many months turning into years of ‘on and off’ work on the song, I finally had it mixed, arranged and produced to a reasonable standard and a couple of months later I released it as a single.

Zombie short film
In 2013, some of my incidental music, as well as my track The Kill, comprised part of the soundtrack to Alone, an indie Czech Republic zombie movie.

In 2014-16 Duncan Alex has been played on BBC Radio Devon and BBC Radio 6, and made it to Radio 6's Tom Robinson's fav's of 2015 show.

2015/16 will bring album number 4, so watch this space!