Though I have never met young Philadelphia musician, songwriter, and producer Alex Fichera, I feel as if I’ve watched him grow up, knowing – as I do – his arts-centric parents since the dawn of the 18th Century. I’ve been listening to Alex too, even if it didn’t always seem the case – checking into, and loving his exquisitely, romantically dour and elegantly effervescent Kinks-Beatles-esque solo records back in 2017 such as his “Hollow Streets” full-length LP.
A funny thing happened though in 2017: Fichera’s cover of “Location” by bourgeoning platinum-plated success, Khalid. I wouldn’t dare to assume that this acoustic take on Khalid’s brand of syrupy slow soul was Fichera’s first true taste of modern R&B. It did, however, make enough of an impact so that everything Fichera does now, under the name Psychic Agency, is gently touched by the blue-eyed soul bug.
So, along with Dexter Wansel-ish, electric piano-infused singles such as “Throwback / Meditate,” EPs such as “Trips to Nowhere,” and the full LP, “Blush” (all written and produced by Fichera with a crack jazzy ensemble beside him), there is his statuesque, spare, synthy, Sade-like new single coming out on July 17, “Film Grain” – just the start of new music to come in 2020.
I caught up with Fichera quarantined at home in the Philly suburbs.
A.D. Amorosi: Why do you think you write and produce as you do at this point in your career – and please feel free to discuss influence and education?
Alex Fichera: I have an album called “Blush” that was released in 2018, an EP titled “Trips to Nowhere” that was released in 2019, and now “Film Grain,” which will be the single off of an upcoming EP coming out now in 2020. The process for each release was very different. When I created “Blush,” it was really just to experiment with songwriting in a new genre and improving my production largely by trial and error. With “Trips to Nowhere,” I approached it more as a full band record. Although I wrote all the songs, the recording was made completely in Drexel University’s recording studios with each of my live bandmates in a room together. I think this kind of collaboration was able to diversify the sound genre-wise and allow each of my bandmates’ talent and musicality to shine through.
A.D. Amorosi: “Film Grain” is much different though, yet, in subtle ways from your other material… spare… I can’t put my finger on it.
Alex Fichera: With “Film Grain,” it is a bit stripped back, not so much in terms of sound, but in terms of the process. By taking on a lot more of the responsibilities myself, I was able to focus more on sound design such as synths and drum samples, as well as create a very direct, pop sound. Several of my bandmates contributed as well, but the process had to be more of a back-and-forth due to quarantine. Brandon Nelson provided backing vocals, Malek Blalock laid down the basslines, and Alex Parmet added additional guitar and talk-box vocals to “Film Grain.”
A.D. Amorosi: What did social distancing and C-19 quarantine-in-place restrictions do for your work?
Alex Fichera: I love the rush of spending a long 12 hour day in a recording studio and feeding off of a band’s energy when creating, but quarantine allowed us to take things at our own pace and settle down to make sure everything was perfect before we share the songs with the world. Bedroom production is where I feel my songwriting shines the best, so I’m grateful I got to take the time and hone in on exactly what I wanted to get out of this project. Ultimately my goal with every track I create is to build a solid groove layered with an interesting progression and a catchy melody. I love taking a DIY/indie approach to a jazzy foundation and filtering everything through a pop production. To me, that’s how I get the best of all of my influences and create a track that I’m proud of.
A.D. Amorosi: Hit me with some influences.
Alex Fichera: For me, a lot of my career influences come from people like Pharrel Williams and Jack Antonoff, two people who’ve managed to be jacks of all trades and keep a creative and positive energy with everything they do. The thought of sticking to one thing for too long scares me, so I always have the drive to try something new and push myself out of my comfort zone and gain new experiences and perspectives. In terms of education, being a music industry student at Drexel has been key. As much creativity as there is in recording/production, if you don’t know the science and techniques to justify which creative decisions to make, then you’re just going to be taking shots in the dark. Some people can get by like that, but for me, I want to gain as much knowledge about a topic as possible so I can be more educated when I experiment and try new things. With the incredible access the internet gives us to information, there’s really no excuse not to be continually learning.
A.D. Amorosi: How do you see yourself as a producer as opposed to a singer or songwriter?
Alex Fichera: When I first started producing, I was 17 with just a laptop, an interface, and a cheap mic, and that’s generally what I still use today. I know that I’ve nowhere near mastered my craft, and there’s no way to ever “finish learning” how to produce, but I also know that if I can master the process of learning, then I’ll never lose my passion for music. When it comes to songwriting, the biggest thing has been learning to play to my strengths. I’ve never been an exceptional storyteller, but I do know how to make a listener feel something. What was eye-opening for me was realizing that I shouldn’t be trying to convey stories in my songs, but instead I should be conveying emotions, which is sometimes even more personal and revealing.
A.D. Amorosi: Considering the sonic shifts throughout your last several works, what do you think could come next?
Alex Fichera: For me, it’s just been about writing whatever comes naturally to me and not forcing any particular sound or direction. With Film Grain, the idea was jump-started by playing around with a new synth and experimenting with sound design. Another upcoming single, Idle & Wild, was started by playing around with a jazzy guitar progression. While I definitely see my songs getting groovier and poppier as I continue to write, it’ll just be about letting my inspiration take me where it wants to go and not forcing myself into one box with what I do. Aside from writing/producing Psychic Agency songs, I also see myself working with other artists as a producer more often. I’ve gotten to work with some cool artists like Yeet, Dante Robinson, and the Polychromatics over the past year or so. And although quarantine has slowed down my ability to work with artists in person, I’m doing as much mixing and production from afar as I can. I’m lucky to exist in an environment like Philly that has so much talent. There’s nothing I love more than working with an artist to help them fully realize their potential and hopefully give them a perspective into their own music that they might’ve held too close to themselves to see. One of the ways I was able to connect with a lot of talented people in Philly was by starting a DIY venue in my basement called Jabba’s Palace. We were able to host successful shows with local and touring bands every couple weeks and since quarantine started we transitioned to live stream shows for a few weeks.