Alexandra "Alex" Fisher is the founder and leader of the Bloomington-Normal indie-pop band "Alex and the XO's." Since forming five years ago, the band has toured the U.S. and has recorded three albums, with the 2015 self-titled being their latest. Though not a household name outside the Twin Cities, they're having moderate success, which Fisher said seemed unlikely just over five years ago.
“My ambition at the time was to teach third grade, settle down, and have a family.”
But she said fate called during her senior year as an Elementary Education student at Illinois State University. The calling came in a third grade classroom at Heyworth (IL) Elementary School.
“I started integrating all my lesson plans as a song. So for example, in math we were learning about triangles and I made this song about cute, obtuse triangles. And all the kids loved it. And I sat there and thought ‘what am I doing?’”
Many would argue she was “doing” a great job teaching, but Fisher’s intuition was telling her she was going down the wrong path, at least at that time. And though it may not be fair to the instrument, an unassuming ukulele was to blame. The self-described “high school band-nerd” said she was introduced to the uke during her sophomore year at ISU.
“It’s a very easy instrument to pick up. I feel like anyone can just grab it and write any song. I never wrote songs before, I never sang. But I did afterwards. And the ukulele was the facilitator.”
It wasn’t long before Fisher and her friends were on the ISU Quad jamming between classes.
“People were starting to enjoy it and I was having fun. So I decided to try some open mic’s and do some shows here and there at some of the introductory places around town.”
Once she got a taste of performing her own music, Fisher said she was hooked, and with uke in tow, she recruited her best friends to form a band.
“I had no idea what I was doing, but they did. They kind of helped me progress and help me learn how to work with other people in a rock band, instead of a marching band. So we wrote a full length album and an EP with that lineup.”
At the end of that school year, those friends graduated and moved on to other towns and jobs. Fisher, still a sophomore and now “all in” on writing and performing her music, said she wanted to keep the band going.
“This is when Trenton Perry, our mandolin player, came along. And I thought it would be interesting to add mandolin in an indie-pop-rock alternative sense. Then we had our friend Joe Brandenburger on drums and Storm Angone on bass. And we kind of decided we were going to do this as our ‘thing’ in life.”
“Patience” is a song she wrote for the bands 2015 self-titled release. It’s the first album “Alex and the XO’s” released after she left ISU. Fisher said the song came out of her decision to put teaching on hold and pursue music professionally.
“One thing I’m really bad at is being patient. I’m starting to learn to be patient, because good things come in time. And I’m starting to realize that.”
Fisher is the bands principle lyric writer, but the band works collaboratively to turn her musings into music, with each member writing their own musical part. The songs have a " jangly", catchy alt-pop sound, but trying to decipher Fisher’s lyrics can be challenging. Fisher called it intentional.
“I like to be a little vague so that when someone else listens, they can see themselves in that situation. I’m a very indecisive person, so writing these songs is like me putting out all these choices on a table, and going back and forth. Usually when the album is done is the first time I actually listen to the song, and I’ll be like ‘oh so now I know what I should do about this.’”
“Honestly” is another song Fisher wrote for the album. She said it’s a reminder to not over-think things.
“That song is kind of me telling myself to calm down and do what I love … and not think too much about it.”
“Alex and the XO’s” have done three “mini-tours” across various regions of the U.S. Fisher said the long nights and days traveling together that can fray even the best of friendships has actually helped the band come together.
“You learn so much about one another, you learn what makes them tick, their lives and families. And it kind of brings you together on-stage. Having that private time together makes you lock in more when you’re on-stage. You’re able to progress so fast as a band when you tour, because you play better, and you ‘get’ each other more.”
The band has also learned no detail is too small when planning a tour. Fisher said hotels, distance between gas stations, and whether or not phones will have cell service are just some of the variables that must be considered. Keeping traveling expenses to a minimum is also important, and to that end, Fisher said the “couch surfing industry” has been invaluable.
“We have bands that stay with us when they’re in town, and they return the favor when we’re on the road.”
She admits at first she was dubious of staying in the homes of complete strangers.
“Because the idea to me of a website where there’s people out there willing to have you stay at their house for free is kind of mind-boggling. Automatically you think they must be weird. But we actually like couch-surfing now because we total six people when we tour. On the road, that’s at least two hotel rooms or trying to beg someone at a show to stay at their house. That’s a lot to ask.”
She says a popular couch-surfing website allows them to get prior approval to stay with other bands or fans when on tour. She says it’s not unlike staying at a bed and breakfast.
“Actually, everyone has made us breakfast in the morning, which blew my mind. There is so much hospitality … they just didn’t have to do it. It makes you think there is hope in the world that people are wonderful beings. And that there are people that care and want to support musicians.”
It’s been a whirlwind for Fisher and her band mates since she decided five years ago to make music her professional priority. Though conceding it was scary at the time, she said she made the right decision, and is enjoying her life leading “Alex and the XO’s.”
“I’m happy right now. I’m unhappy not making a ton of money, but I’m super happy at what I’m doing. So at the end of the day, I’m fulfilled. And that’s all you can ask for life. To be fulfilled.”