Alixandra Macmillan-Fiedel’s evocative songwriting fuels Ghost Tiger
The daugher of film music composer Brad Fiedel, who scored dozens of films including The Terminator and True Lies, Alixandra Macmillan-Fiedel grew up surrounded by music. There were always instruments around the house and in Fiedel’s studio. She would also go with him to hear orchestras perform his scores—an experience she calls “fascinating.”
But Macmillan-Fiedel didn’t pick up music herself until high school. In her freshman year, her dad sent her on a scavenger hunt around the house, and the prize, waiting for her in the guest room, was her own guitar. She started writing songs, and eventually began performing and recording as Alixandra and the Tailor Sea. A lukewarm recording experience laying down what was going to be her second solo album, however, left her wanting more.
“I wasn’t incredibly happy with [the recording],” she says, “but through the process, I learned that I was hearing all these things that I couldn’t create myself.”
Macmillan-Fiedel moved from New York, where she was attending Sarah Lawrence College, back to her home turf of Southern California and put together a band of some friends: Kevin Evans on bass, Christopher Norlinger on guitar, and Emma Huston on keyboards and vocals. They spent months playing together before they found drummer Chris Stansell.
Ghost Tiger, as the outfit came to be known, is an indie folk rock outfit that pulls together a lot of different influences, stirs them all together and creates a musical stew of pop, goth, indie-rock driven by African-inspired rhythms.
“We come from many different backgrounds,” says Macmillan-Fiedel, explaining that she and Norlinger are self-taught. Evans used to play in an African group; Huston is classically-trained and had never been in a band before; and Stansell has a jazz background. The thing that ties it all together is the vocals, which feature tight harmonies, layered hooks, and a spooky, mysterious quality.
“I would say,” she says, “that the common thread through all the songs is the songwriting and vocals. The songs are very vocally driven and full of harmony. Whether it’s ‘I Want You Out,’ which is a folk song, or ‘Science Camp,’ which is a more rocking song, the chorus is around our voices.”
The topics of the songs—the majority of which Macmillan-Fiedel writes—vary, but a recurring theme is her trying to figure out where her roots are and what it means to be in one place. When Macmillan-Fiedel was seven years old, her mother moved to Europe, so as a child Macmillan-Fiedel spent a lot of time traveling between her two homes.
“I grew up between Santa Barbara and Europe,” she says. “And a feeling of going back and forth is something that I feel. It translates into my writing, even if it’s not apparent.” She adds, “I definitely have questions [around that] that I work through in my writing.”
The band has a handful of tracks and a seven-inch single under its belt, and has been named one of Santa Barbara’s best new bands by the Santa Barbara Independent. A new EP titled Some Friends Feel Like Family, which was released earlier this month, is full of radio-friendly, sing-along grooves. It’s what Macmillan-Fiedel describes as a “driving EP.”
“You can put it on and drive up the coast,” she says. “It has a West Coast vibe.”
The EP was recorded in San Francisco at the Panoramic House; a “crazy, beautiful old house” looking out on the ocean. As Macmillan-Fiedel tells it, the band brought a bunch of food up to the house and just bunkered down and recorded the EP in five days.
It’s been a year since they recorded Some Friends Feel Like Family and since then, Macmillan-Fiedel and Norlinger, who used to live in Santa Cruz, have been collaborating on a new batch of songs. The band is looking forward to showcasing the EP and introducing the Ghost Tiger sound to a wider audience. Following a release party in Santa Barbara, the band headed out on a West Coast tour, which includes a stop in Santa Cruz.
“We’re really excited about being able to get on the road and share these songs out of town,” she says. “It will be good to start the new year that way.”
Ghost Tiger will perform at 9 p.m. on Wednesday, Jan. 21 at the Crepe Place, 1134 Soquel Ave., Santa Cruz. $8. 429-6994.