Alex Rhoads knew she wanted to become a rock musician by the age of seven. A strange ambition, she knows, but as an only child she knew her parents would probably not take no for an answer.
The George Mason sophomore, who majors in Music by day and plays Alexandria coffeehouses and King Street music joints by night, saw on January 28 the culmination of a long-held dream, the release of her first solo CD, “Room to Breathe.”
Alex, who recently turned 20, still lives in the same house in Burke where she grew up, the same house where she mastered her piano lessons by the age of seven and took up orchestra and dance in the second grade. By the fourth grade, she was playing the violin at Fairview Elementary School well enough that neighbors dropped by just to hear her play. She picked up the guitar when she was 14, and two years later was headlining the Burke Center Festival.
“My parents have always been my biggest supporters,” said Alex softly. “A solo artistic career is what they know I want.”
By her senior year at Robinson High School, she was headlining Fairfax County’s renowned Battle of the Bands competition, the one concessionary time she sang vocals and played her instruments for a back-up band. At the competition, she played the piano, guitar, bass and harmonica — something perhaps the Boys of the Band might have found, well, intimidating from a 17-year-old female.
In a world of manufactured music, one critic writes about the rising solo musician that it’s “truly refreshing to come across a young artist with genuine talent.” In addition to writing songs that are both “melodious and meaningful, Alex shows promise with her outstanding guitar work and vocal ability.”
Last year, Alex’s song, Recognized, won Honorable Mention in the Rock Category of the Mid-Atlantic Song Contest, sponsored by the Songwriter’s Association of Washington.
While striving for success in the music business, Alex said she has never been one to follow the latest trend. Thus, her songs have variety, and no two sound alike. Some of her tunes boast a classic rock or blues influence, while others capture the best of today’s modern rock.
“A lot of them are from personal experience,” Alex said. “The song ‘I Found My Way’ is about a time in my life when I was having a really hard time. ‘Throw it Away’ is about liking somebody who doesn’t reciprocate their feelings. As in, they had the opportunity and they just threw it away. ‘All I Can Do’ is definitely a break-up song. It’s about being on the other side of breaking up.”
At a recent performance at Cameron Station, some of the attendees remarked that her live performances are truly enjoyable as Alex pairs her original music with a large array of cover songs that please her audience.
Alex works diligently at her craft, recording songs at home with her digital piano several hours a day, when not studying, working at a music store and giving music lessons to other aspiring muscians.
“I don’t want to be a pop princess,” she said. “I want to be taken seriously as a musician. You just can’t give up. If you take a break, someone else will take your place.”
After hearing some of Alex’s songs in the studio, Rob Hyman, the Grammy-nominated lead vocalist of The Hooters and co-author of Cyndi Lauper’s hit, “Time After Time,” offered up some advice. “Alex should now it’s all about dedication and perserverence. There’s always going to be competition. But if you’re cut out for it, success is often about the one who pushes the hardest. It sounds like she has those traits.”