"I was not even three, I don't think". This young age marks the beginning of Ian Axel's dual love and talent for music, an introduction that has now brought the world a loveable one-man band who operates with an optimistic heart and unaffected gift. The building blocks were basic, but a classical foundation in music appears to have resulted in a strength that clearly detects the knowledge and innate enthusiasm expressed in his debut album, This Is The New Year. Even though this album is only his first, Axel excels with the confidence and delivery of a fully formed artist, carrying the charisma of Jason Mraz and delightful quirks of Ben Folds. The unpretentious honesty and piano-pop mastery that the music radiates translates into an effective connection thanks to the budding musician's heartfelt approach.
There are no barriers between Ian Axel and his music. He simply pursues what drives him and has no bone to pick or point to prove. He does not cite a legendary music icon or underground talent as his first inspiration to give himself any street cred. Rather, he reveals that his first connection to music came from the cinematic masterpiece, Pee Wee's Big Adventure, joking that "Yes, Pee Wee was the catalyst and is the reason I write my songs today". Probably a more impactful experience would have been the visits to his grandmothers house. "She had this old piano that I used to tamper on". More than banging on keys, however, Axel states that "It was like I already had some innate understanding of the thing".
Despite this natural ability, it took time for the songwriter to expose his creations to the world, having spent the past five years or so "getting comfortable with letting go a bit in front of an audience". But the lesson has been quick, as his character and undeniable talent takes barely a song or two to become evident. For Ian himself, "It's been an intense period of inner exploration". He began with "a classical background on piano" and had "always been writing, but nothing with lyrics". The transition into lyrical additions definitely did not provide much of hurdle, however, as the soulful expressions in This Is The New Year provide one of the highlighting elements behind Ian's appeal.
Other alluring factors to round out these unique compilations are the classical fusions that center his sound. "The first concert I've ever gone to was Yanni, believe it or not. I was really drawn to his whole dramatic element as a kid. I love studying Brahms, and I watched movies for the scores. So I guess that's where the whole orchestral aspect came from". The more modern pop-rock twist within his songs then came about in high school when he discovered Ben Folds. "Seeing how that guy performs with the piano really hit me. And I started studying Elton John, Billy Joel, Randy Newman ... all the guys who did it before him. I always dreamed about being the guy behind the piano singing, but never thought that it would actually happen". This humbling excitement perfects the endearing charm of Ian Axel, as he adds "I don't want to ever forget that. It really puts things in an awesome perspective for me".
Alongside this trait, there is a very subtle "silly factor" to Axel that sits very comfortably within his aura of authenticity. He recently had an online chat with his fans for his birthday, telling us, "everyone just keeps complimenting me and I'm like, 'Really?!' So that's always nice". Though joking, it's these kinds of statements that really make you fall in love with the guy, finding yourself amused by his surprise that people are truly impressed with his ability. He also feels a deep loyalty to those who assisted his goals. When speaking about the beginning of his album, he credits "Dan Romer, my producer" who "was a huge inspiration to me. I was familiar with his work and forced my friendship onto him", adding with a quip, "That's how I usually make friends". The move clearly paid off, as Axel explains that Romer "really pushed me outside my comfort zone, and I discovered that outside boundaries is exactly where I want to be at most times. It's growth".
The album that resulted is one that focuses on "resolving the unresolved". For him personally, this meant "being 20-something and living in New York City". To accompany this life experience, the debut also draws upon deep reflections that we all undergo but rarely can express so succinctly. This certainly happens within This Is The New Year, whether in the title track or others such as the striking piano ballad "Say Something", which Axel describes as "pure heartache" over the "feeling that a part of the child in me was/is lost forever".
Even though the album was recently released in early 2011, Axel is a musician to the core; so when asked about plans for future work, he tells us, "I think about it every day". In terms of his sophomore album, "I've already written about half of it with Chad" (Axel's writing partner). "Releasing This Is The New Year was such a relief because it was such a long time in the making, and I wasn't fully able to dive into writing again until I got that album off my chest. He's "awfully proud/excited/nervous about the songs", the final product of which he hopes to put out the next new year.
In terms of the immediate future, Ian will be "touring more than ever". It is at the shows he seems to be truly capturing ears and hearts, operating with the attitude that "The more of myself I share, the stronger the connection". It is clear that this is an important experience for Ian, as he elaborates that "Life is about that connection ... We are not alone. There is nothing to hide, and nothing to be afraid of".
This kind of genuine belief and unassuming confidence in, not only himself, but in others as well, is definitely a quality that we could all stand to gain a little more of. This Is The New Year is available now, and provides a refreshing examination of these kinds of soulful reflections via true and rare talent.