Ian Axel to play April 30 concert at Frankie’sWritten by Sarah Ottney | Managing Editor | firstname.lastname@example.org
Described as whimsical, quirky, joyous and exuberant, Ian Axel will bare his heart to Toledo when he brings his piano-pop ballads to Frankie’s on April 30.
Axel, who has been compared to Ben Kweller, Ben Folds, Sufjan Stevens — even Elton John — said he’s never sure how to describe his shows.
“I get that question all the time and I never know how to answer,” Axel told Toledo Free Press Star from his home in New York City. “It’s theatrical, heartfelt, piano-based pop music. It’s honest. I’m trying to be as open as I can. I’m a very emotional human being. I’m a very open person so I don’t really hold anything back, which could be good or bad.”
Last year at this time, Axel was working at an Apple store and playing music on the side. When Apple added his music to its in-store playlist, it opened the door to bigger opportunities.
Since then, tracks from his debut album, “This Is The New Year,” have been heard on MTV’s “The Real World,” “Keeping up With the Kardashians,” “The Hills” and “I Used To Be Fat” as well as CW’s “One Tree Hill” and ABC’s “Private Practice” and “Good Morning America.”
“This Is The New Year,” which was released online in February and in stores earlier this month via tinyOGRE Entertainment, “celebrates relationships, personal transformation and fresh starts,” according to Axel’s website.
“It just encompasses a new beginning and having closure in areas of your life, and really remembering that the pains right now will get better,” Axel said. “Change is constant. I think about that every day. It’s a good reminder.”
The album features bassist Chris Kuffner (Regina Spektor, Ingrid Michelson) and drummer Adam Christgau (Sia, Joshua Radin) as well as a cast of friends, including vocals by Chad Vaccarino, who will accompany him to Toledo.
“We write all the songs together and he sings on a bunch,” Axel said. “He hates it when I say this, but I think of him as Robin [to my Batman]. But not in a bad way. He’s a superhero. When he comes up on stage, it brings it to a different place.”
The Fair Lawn, N.J., native grew up playing the piano and writing songs — a video of 3-year-old Axel at the piano can be found on YouTube — but didn’t sing until college, when Vaccarino overheard him humming while writing and insisted he sing.
“I wanted to sing, but didn’t think I ever could sing and never thought to try,” said Axel, who majored in music business at New York University. “It’s completely changed my life.”
Still, he said it took him years before singing felt natural.
“It didn’t feel like my voice was an extension of me like I felt with the piano, but it’s definitely more natural now,” Axel said. “I started playing piano when I started speaking. When I play I can kind of shut off my mind. I can’t really explain it. I just get the gears going and then leave it alone, take my brain and do something else with it. I just started doing that with my voice and I feel like I can do it a little.
“With music or with anything creative I just feel like it’s all there available to us, coming from another dimension, and if we can stop our minds, stop thinking and allow those things to flow through us, [we can access it.]”
Working with a voice coach has helped his confidence and technique and he also recently started studying the piano techniques of Randy Newman.
“I’m challenging myself again,” Axel said. “I felt like I hit a wall there for a while. I feel like I’m having a breakthrough for the first time in years.”
A painful breakup offered plenty of material to jumpstart his songwriting.
“I got heartbroken like crazy and started writing all this tormented soul, dark, dreamy stuff, like a dark, beautiful place I could escape to,” Axel said. “I only recorded a few of those, but I have a whole slew of ideas. I’m not sure what I’m going to do with them. It might become a musical in the future.”
His current favorite song is “Say Something,” in which he reluctantly accepts the end of a relationship with a girl he would have followed anywhere.
“Maybe it’s because it’s the most recent song off the album that I wrote. The wounds that inspired that song are fresher. It’s still something I’m very much going through,” Axel said. “But I believe people are mainly good at the core and in life you enter into relationships and you’re supposed to know these certain people because they help you grow.”
Axel said his greatest satisfaction is when people feel a connection with one of his songs.
“Honestly if anyone can connect to any part of it, that’s what it’s all about for me,” Axel said. “I don’t want to feel like I’m alone and no one does. Maybe that’s the reason why I’m writing in the first place. Maybe that’s the root of it. I think that’s close to it. Just the fact that I write these songs in my room, feeling like I’m separate from the world … just to be able to play that at a show and someone [connects to it], it blows my mind.”
Doors open at 5 p.m. April 30 at Frankie’s, 308 Main St. Cost is $8 in advance or $10 at the door. We Were Like Rockets and Jeff Bugert will open.
For more information, visit the website www.ianaxel.com.