Musician Alex Wong admits he’s a late bloomer. He didn’t start writing songs until he was 25, and only now, at 37, has he released his first solo project, “A City On A Lake.”
“I wanted to do something that felt more like me; I was waiting until there was something to say,” says the Palo Alto native, who plays a CD release show, opening for Megan Slankard, at Café Du Nord on Saturday.
But music has always been part of his life. From age 3, he says, there is “photo evidence of me banging on kitchenware.”
At 5, he started piano at his parents’ insistence. But after striking a compromise not too much later, he got one snare drum and lessons on it.
In college at Cal Poly University San Luis Obispo, he studied classical music with an emphasis on mallet instruments.
He also played in a rock band and took a lot of flak from musicians from both worlds. It was the mid-1990s, a time when, he says, there was less “cross-pollination” than there is now among academics and self-taught musicians.
Describing his music as “chamber pop” if he feels pretentious, or “cinematic, atmospheric and layered” on any day, Wong has a clear reason for giving his one-man band and its first recording the same name.
“A City On A Lake” refers to the thriving Aztec city Tenochtitlán in Mexico, which was leveled by Spanish conquerors in the 16th century: “They built this city on top of the Aztecs, as a sign of their strength, but for the next few hundreds of years, it affected their daily lives in tons of ways.”
Themes in his songs reflect such issues, and ask questions, Wong says, about “before and after life, above and below, root causes — we can’t escape those, they always affect us.”
Wong is especially proud of the video for the song “Oceanside” from “A City On A Lake,” which features his friend and collaborator, Mexican actress and singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana.
It was shot very resourcefully, guerilla-style, in Brooklyn, N.Y., where Wong lived for many years, always earning his livelihood as a touring musician or producer (working with Vienna Teng, among other artists).
Just last month, he moved to Los Angeles, where he can get more involved in the music industry.
Yet he’s always glad to come back to his home base in Northern California to see his family and friends. He says, “I love the familiar stuff, the calmness that blends with intellect. I’d live there if I could.”