Alex McArtor is spending her current downtime due to the coronavirus pandemic with family in Texas. While countless artists have been forced to postpone and cancel tours, McArtor is thriving in quarantine with profound creativity. The 17-year-old singer-songwriter has retreated to a hay farm quite literally in the middle of nowhere where she has spent her days reading and writing songs while fully embracing the country life.
“It’s been peaceful if I’m being positive about it,” she tells Mundane over the phone. “It’s given me time to reflect. I’ve been reading a lot and I’ve been writing a lot. I’m thankful that I’m in nature right now and not stuck in the big city.”
This country living will be reflected in McArtor’s new music, which she says has taken on an Americana and country influence thanks to her surroundings. A slight departure from her latest release, the atmospheric and captivating indie-fused “Biggest Fan,” McArtor is returning to her roots.
The singer-songwriter grew up surrounded by country music. Her family could often be found singing classic country songs around the fire each night. An early favorite was Willie Nelson, the first concert McArtor attended with her parents. She estimates that she’s seen the Red Headed Stranger at least 30 times.
“I appreciate country music, especially the classics. I love storytelling, Americana,” she explains. “If I have roots, those are my roots. So I think [the pandemic] has brought me back to that in a way, especially because my family is all around playing guitar. I started writing in that realm again. I’ve gone back to storytelling.”
A lover of all genres of music, McArtor knew as a child she wanted to be a musician and studied the profession from a young age. “If you’re from Texas, you love music, you really do. It’s part of the culture,” she adds. She laughs as she recalls wanting to be David Bowie when she was younger. She tried to mimic her heroes, often channeling and writings songs aimed for them on guitar and piano before establishing her own sound as an artist.
“I look at creating music as painting a picture: it’s abstract. I think an artist should try to put their hands in different boxes to figure out their sound,” she says.
At 17, it is clear that McArtor is wise beyond her years. One spin of “Biggest Fan” and the listener is transported back to a simpler time with McArtor’s haunting vocals and captivating storyline. A song that brings to mind equal parts Lana Del Ray and Patsy Cline, “Biggest Fan” has critics buzzing and it’s easy to see why. A dramatic account of fandom, McArtor’s smoky vocals draw the listener in while delicate strums of the guitar and her vivid storytelling enthrall.
Written when she was 15, “Biggest Fan” was one of the first songs she’s recorded and was inspired after McArtor attended Austin City Limits. As McArtor explains, she was in the audience watching a band perform at the Texas music festival as she recalled her musical roots.
“In some families, people grow up looking up to sports stars. My father and my mom are super into musicians and artists. So, I grew up with my parents being a world of knowledge,” she says. “I grew up looking at musicians and artists as if they were almost not human in a way, especially when I was younger.”
McArtor vividly recalls attending ACL with some friends. While at the festival, they were watching one band play when she realized the lead singer was “so not worldly” — much like the way she perceived Bowie.
“I created him in my mind as this person who is not human,” she explains of Bowie. “I think that’s how a lot of people see rock stars sometimes, and that’s what ‘Biggest Fan’ was about. [I thought], ‘How can this person be human when they’re expressing themselves like this?’
“I remember being [at ACL] with all my friends jumping around partying and being like, ‘Holy shit, I know if I met that person that’d they be human,’” she continues. “So that’s what almost made it special: where you can see someone from far away and they can be whatever you want them to be, but it’s when you meet them and it kind of kills the magic.”
McArtor went home that night and wrote “Biggest Fan” from this realization. She says the song marks a departure of her youthful and naive way of thinking where she often perceived an artist as if they were something greater than human.
“Biggest Fan” highlights McArtor’s love of storytelling and is a hint of what’s to come from the young wordsmith. “I’m all for storytelling: That’s why I think music is so important. That’s why I want to do this,” she stresses. “I want to write songs I can look back at as the blueprints for my life.”
The Texan’s goal is to be revered for her storytelling. And the longer she stays in quarantine on her family’s farm, the more time she has to work on her songwriting and to mold herself into the type of artist she wants to become much like her heroes before her.
“I usually get inspired by feelings. I’m a teenager [and] I’m going through relationships now. I’ve been writing more [about] heartbreak and falling in love,” she says. “I was just sitting in this beautiful hayfield and felt a spark of, ‘This is so beautiful. This is something I want to write about. I’m inspired to write about this.’ I’m just having fun with it. Art is not supposed to be perfect.”
Photos courtesy of Ava McArtor