Actor and singer-songwriter Alexa Swinton has recently released her debut single You, Me and My Purple Docs, which she recorded at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles, and filmed her music video at a beach in New Jersey which premiered on YouTube earlier this month. The proceeds of You, Me and My Purple Docs will be donated to Reach Out & Read https://reachoutandread.org. Alexa’s acting career has seen her work on numerous projects, most notably starring as Piper in ABC’s Sci-Fi series Emergence and having a recurring role as Eva Rhoades in Billions, and she also films with her family for their YouTube channel The Swinton Show. During quarantine, Alexa wrote a number of plays and is currently working on a new young adult novel. We caught up with Alexa about releasing her debut single You, Me and My Purple Docs, playing Piper in Emergence and being part of Billions.
You’ve recently released your debut single You, Me and My Purple Docs, what’s been the response so far?
People have really liked the song. When we filmed the video, we played it over and over and everyone who heard it was singing the chorus after a few times. It’s upbeat and fun and I think we all want a summer mood lift – so I hope that’s what the song gives fans.
Can you tell us about the single and recording it at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles?
I wrote this song with producer Dawn Elder who mentors young singer songwriters. When we were brainstorming ideas for a song, she asked me, what do you want to wear when you wake up? For me, my purple Docs were my favourite power shoe so we wrote about that.
But – it’s not shoes for everyone – the idea is that we all have something special inside – something that makes us feel good and like ourselves. So, it’s like a superpower. Put on your superpower, whatever it is, and then help the world be a better place – because that’s important to me. And I think we kids need to take action in small ways even to help our planet and to start doing that TODAY.
It was amazing to record the song at Sunset Sound in Los Angeles – I mean – Prince recorded Purple Rain there. That is crazy cool. And what’s funny is that my song also has purple in it – so that’s like a little fun fact. Sunset Sound is really historic and the wall has all these Gold and Platinum albums from so many famous bands. It’s awesome.
I love LA and have been there a few times with my family. My little brother, who is a stand-up comedian like my mom, was on Little Big Shots and we all stayed there and went to lunch on Melrose at Urth Caffé. Since then, we always make sure to go to Urth Caffé when we are in town. To me, it’s such an LA vibe, all these gorgeous hip dressed up people coming out of nice cars. It’s funny – like a movie.
How did the single come about and what was it like working with those involved with the release?
Dawn Elder runs a program in Los Angeles called the Ultimate Vocal Music Summit. We learned about the program from a New York friend of ours. My sister and brother – who also sing – and I all participated in this program. We had a fantastic time, met great artists, and had the chance to perform live with incredible musicians. Then, we started working with Dawn and we worked on creating original music. My parents decided to help me and support my working with Dawn on this original song. Music and acting – when it’s kids doing it – really involve a lot of work by parents!
Dawn put together an amazing group of musicians to work on the song. Dwight is really fun to work with. He has a deep knowledge of music and really knows how to make the most of your voice.
Lynne is a super talented singer and she is so warm and enthusiastic and has worked with EVERYONE! She has sung backup for so many great artists such as Stevie Wonder, Lou Rawls and Phil Collins. She has a jazz background and she helps with improvisation.
Natascha Corrigan really encourages me to make sure I sound like myself when I sing. I really enjoy working with her to iron out the details of the song and sing in a relaxed way. She also has an incredible voice!
There were other incredible musicians who recorded with me and the recording engineer Jeff Peters worked with THE BEACH BOYS for years. I mean THE BEACH BOYS! Hello.
Did you always know you wanted to release music?
Yeah – I have always loved singing and I love writing and it made sense to me. Plus, my mom encouraged me to write my own song since Dawn Elder is someone who can mentor songwriting.
In my family, we always love creating our own material – stories, comedy and songs. My mother is an actress, writer and comedian and my little brother is an actor, comedian and a singer and my older sister sings too. We are always performing together – it’s just how we are. When I was four, we were all playing around and I sang a line of a song I made up – just a line of melody and some words. My mom was like – that’s fantastic! You are a singer songwriter! Haha. She recorded the line and we worked on it and we wrote the song. Then my piano teacher put some chords on it. When we had our school talent show, I wanted to sing Tomorrow or some other Broadway song but my mom said – NO, you HAVE to sing your original song. So I did and I was like – OK… Well – I survived. Just barely. And as my mom tells it – a singer songwriter was born.
Oh yeah, the song was – “You won’t want to miss this party – We’re having Chicken with Chicken Sauce”.
How did you feel on release day?
Like every other day except I released a song!!! It was fun, it was like, I’m releasing a song! And yeah. So many people were involved so it was really a team effort.
On release day, it was a typical busy day in our house – there is always so much going on. I have been taking a lot of math classes online and a poetry class so I think it was, in a way, a regular day. I still had to put the dishes away and walk our dog etc.
What’s your process for songwriting and where do you get inspiration from?
I always keep journals and so there are lots of ideas there for plays, stories, comics and songs. We also always brainstorm at dinner – when we are not yelling – which is, of course, rare – but I feel like, living in a creative family, there are always shared ideas and projects. We love to work together. My mom and I are writing a book together and we made a short film called Kooky Spook. She also writes a comedy show and my brother and I improv it too for our YouTube channel The Swinton Show.
During the quarantine, I wrote many plays and paid my brother to act in them in our basement. I charged ticket prices and yeah, it was fun. He didn’t always like the leotards I made him wear. I mean, he never liked them but Cash is King.
We understand you’ve filmed a music video You, Me and My Purple Docs, how was this?
The music video was so much fun to make. My mom came up with the concept and directed it. We had a DP and an editor and some friends who are also professional actors and we collaborated. My friend Sway is a professional dancer and actress and she did the choreography and her mom, who is a producer, came up with the Jeep and the costumes. My dad also did filming and editing and a ton of everything that needed to be done.
We did a socially distant and safe shoot – this was after New Jersey opened up the beaches and we were allowed to be on the beach. The actors were allowed to be without masks and close to one another when filming (it was outside, of course) but the adults and crew all wore masks.
The video is a story about kids cleaning up the beach but it has some fun and surprising elements to it – so it’s also comedic. I hadn’t really seen any friends until the shoot so it was really exciting. Check it out on YouTube – https://youtu.be/AyKmpSFD90k!
You also have an acting career, what was it like filming as Piper in Emergence?
I was so happy to have the opportunity to work with the amazing creators – Michele Fazekas and Tara Butters and all the directors. It was a great story and I love Sci-Fi so it was extra special.
I also loved learning and working with Allison Tolman, who is a great actress and a super nice person. Clancy Brown is a super great mentor too and Donald Faison was so much fun and so talented and the whole cast was just a dream cast.
It was hard too because I had to be prepared every day. My mom and I always rehearsed the night before and also in the van on the way to set. I also had to be in school on set. Crafty was really cool – I mean, can we say unlimited lemonade?
How was it reading the script for the first time and what drew you to the role?
I LOVED the script. It was such a great story – Sci-Fi is a genre I love and I just really connected to Piper. She was so resourceful and had to really survive. She also had to listen and observe a lot and, as an actor, that is what we have to do too.
Can you talk about playing Eva Rhoades in Billions?
Billions has been a great show to be a part of. The Billions fans love the show so much. And even if they see me in an episode once in a while they are like OH MY GOD! We saw you on Billions! Paul Giamatti and Maggie Siff are great actors and I have now known them since I was five! I’m like twice as tall. Actually – Paul Giamatti went to Yale and he came to see a show there that my mom was acting in (she is also a Yalie). It’s definitely a small world.
How did your acting career come about and can you tell us about some other roles you’ve worked on?
My mother is an actress, comedian and writer. When I was three years old, she was pregnant with my brother and had some time. She noticed that I loved playing and pretending and also that I loved to sing and dance for strangers. Well – maybe she encouraged me a little bit – we were on the roof of the Metropolitan museum and she was like – Alexa, do you want to sing your song? And I would sing and dance to some funny made-up tune. And she would make a video and then she would be like – SEE! She has CHARISMA! It’s in her genes. She says that about all of us – my brother, sister and I. We are always encouraged to express ourselves.
Then, she submitted me for a few projects on Actors Access and coached me. The first audition we went to, we booked – it was Matthew Barney’s movie River of Fundament. I played a kid, of course, and a zombie crashed through our wall. Yes – it was a zombie movie – because every actor’s first movie is a zombie movie! Also – fun fact – Paul Giamatti was in that movie too!
We then had a meeting with a manager and we rehearsed How Much Is That Doggie in the Window for a month and that was the song I performed for the manager. So, that was the beginning. What followed were years of daily trips almost to New York for auditions and, like, hundreds of self-tapes and just SO MUCH WORK. I mean, the work is the auditions. And, of course, some projects too.
We understand you’re also a writer, can you tell us more about this?
Well, there are the plays I mentioned above, that I force – I mean invite – my brother to do! I also LOVE to read – I read all the time. Harry Potter, The Mysterious Benedict Society, tons of comics and graphic novels. And so I write stories and make sketches and lately I have been creating video stories in Gacha – an anime creator site.
And my mother and I are working together on a young adult novel based on our own family story. So, it’s this girl based on me who lives with her crazy family in the suburbs with lots of yelling done by Russian grandparents. My brother is also working on the book with us – the stand-up he and my mom create is going into the book.
What do you enjoy most about having a career in acting, music and writing?
That I get to have ideas and work with other creative people and that this work involves so much pretending and brainstorming and fun.
What upcoming plans do you have for your work?
Well, the YA novel and also I will release another song later this year that we also recorded at Sunset Sound. This song was written by other writers – and I also love it.
What music do you like listening to and what TV shows and films do you enjoy watching?
Honestly, I have been binging EVERYTHING!! From reality baking competitions like Sugar Rush to murder mystery movies to Bridesmaids! Friends is also my very favourite show EVER. I have seen every Friends episode three times.
My favourite music is pop and Broadway songs. Currently, I have been loving songs by Tones and I. I also love Panic! at the Disco – High Hopes. I love Learn to Fly by Surfaces and Elton John.
I also listen to a lot of Broadway – I have so many favourite shows – it’s hard to list them all. I love the soundtrack from Something Rotten, Never Grow Up from Matilda, the whole Mean Girls playlist – I love I’d Rather Be Me. I also LOVE the movie Sing.
I love Camila Cabello and her song Real Friends.
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