There is something boldly refreshing about Alexa Ray Joel. Even if she describes herself as “an introvert by nature.”
Maybe it’s the way she wears her incurably romantic heart on her vintage sleeve.
Her new single “Seven Years,” a “very transparent love letter” to her fiancé Ryan Gleason, is getting a lot of attention. Released in April on all streaming platforms, the song already has over 600,000 downloads.
“I had never written a song that had quite encapsulated my relationship as deeply,” says Joel. “I wrote about the highs, lows, the beauty and pain of being with someone for that long … I wanted it to resonate with people who understand the struggle and success of making it over the long haul,” she adds.
Her meticulous commitment to craft and her artistic instincts run deep.
“There was something telling me, ‘You need to get this out to the world, you need to record this,’” says Joel, who created and produced both the artful music video and a cinematic lyric video meant as a “tribute to New York City with very iconic images.”
Active on her Instagram, where she shares her songs, clips, poetry and photographs all linked up to her bio, Joel has a strong relationship with her fans.
“I’m really glad the song is resonating with so many people,” she says. “I’m getting messages online from people saying they are playing it at their wedding—it’s very gratifying.”
And then there is her honesty.
“I know that my appearance will always be compared to my mother, and my talent will always be compared to my father,” says Joel.
An accomplished singer/songwriter with a lush, versatile, rangy voice and a talent for melodic, pop-theatrical compositions, she is, of course (to quote from the first paragraph in her bio), “the daughter of legendary musician Billy Joel and supermodel/actress Christie Brinkley”—an unavoidable fact that she has seemingly come to terms with.
“In a way it’s both a blessing and a curse because my parents are the most—and I’m not just saying this to be biased and because I’m their daughter–they are the most talented, brilliant people in and of themselves,” says Joel.
“Growing up with them … before I knew they were famous, I thought I was the star,” she says. Joel credits her parents with instilling her with “a really strong background in musical theater.”
“My dad was always playing The Sound of Music or My Fair Lady,” says Joel. “He always said, ‘the most beautiful music is from Carousel’ … my Mom is very musical … she would dress me up as Liesl in The Sound of Music.”
“I have so much to thank my parents for in terms of the fact that they always encouraged me creatively … my whole childhood, when I think of it, I was singing with my parents,” says Joel.
“I think the part where it gets tricky is overcoming certain labels when people say, ‘Oh, she’s a product of nepotism’ and all that … it’s almost made me more hard on myself as an artist because I’m such a control freak about my work. With this song I worked on it for months, wanting it to be perfect, knowing that it was going to be inevitably compared to my father’s material.”
Joel has had musical residences at iconic venues such as the Carlyle Hotel and the Oak Room at the Algonquin Hotel. She has performed locally at The Stephen Talkhouse. And has gotten on the stage at Madison Square Garden to sing a song with her father.
“My father, as a songwriter, set the bar pretty damn high,” she says, with a laugh. “It’s like, ‘Okay, am I there yet?’ And of course that’s the beauty of the struggle, too.”
We caught up with Alexa Ray Joel via phone from Out East, where she says she is “lucky to be out in Sag Harbor” summering with her Mom.
You live in New York City and eventually came out here to quarantine. How does it feel being back Out East?
I’m a local out here. This is where I grew up, so for me, it’s a lot of nostalgia and comfort in being home and being close to the water.
I love my town of Sag Harbor—I remember the “Save Sag Harbor” years ago. I was lucky enough to organize and raise funds with April Gornik. I’m all about keeping things local and not bringing in any big chain stores into our town.
What inspired you to write “Seven Years?”
Ryan proposed to me on the beach as the sun was setting in Parrot Cay (Turks and Caicos) on New Year’s Eve (in 2018). He said he had the ring in his pocket for a year (laughs) waiting for the right moment. A lot of little things that added up … those little thoughtful trinkets in time that weave a story together—that was the story I wanted to tell.
Did you (or Ryan) feel at all self-conscious about the song, and sharing it?
No. We had a discussion about it up front—I asked him, ‘Are you okay with some darker lines (in the verses)?’ He said, ‘I don’t want this to be a Hallmark card. I don’t think you should have to sugarcoat anything in this song.’
It actually felt very healing with everything I’ve been through in my relationship to be able to put it out there and to share that with so many other people who relate to the slow dancing in the kitchen …
When did you start singing and songwriting?
I remember my parents singing me goodnight with Beatles songs and I remember they used to take me to the carousel in Central Park and I would sing along to the songs—so I think that it is ingrained, and it is inevitable and I think that the key when you’re in a position like mine. I know I’m not the only daughter or child (of famous parents) who obviously struggles with this. you really can’t compare yourself too much and you just have to listen to yourself.
My father always says to me, ‘You have to treat your song like your baby.’ It’s precious and you can’t let anyone mess with your baby, you just have to care about the art and if you care about the art and you have a vision and you want to see that vision through, that’s really all that matters.
In terms of my image and my persona that all comes from me. It’s so important as an artist, you can never let anyone control or steal or try to exploit your vision … I try to be true to myself and my own vision and people can make of that what they like.
What was your parents’ reaction to “Seven Years?”
They are really proud and so supportive. My Dad called me—he is generally not an overly enthusiastic person as he has seen it all at this point—he called me up when he heard what I went through so many phases mastering the song—and he said, ‘This is f—ing great!’ He was really enthused. My mother, of course, is also such a pure romantic at heart. She was blasting it in the house.
What’s an Alexa Ray Joel show/set like?
Very eclectic. At the Carlyle I will sit at the piano and do more of an earthy Fiona Apple singer-songwriter style of my own compositions, then I’ll stand up and do a theater song (accompanied by her musical director, Carmine Giglio. ‘He is the most amazing pianist ever, besides my Dad.’) Then I’ll do a Stevie Wonder cover. I’ve even done a Randy Newman song … I like being free to play and romp from one category or one style to the next.
Would you want to be on Broadway?
I would love to be on Broadway (laughs). … I can’t tell you how many people have suggested it (a one-person show). I think there would be nothing I would love more than to do a one-woman Broadway show…
People say, “Well, she couldn’t possibly, you know, maybe have anything new to bring to the table” because my parents are such stars, and even to this day I still am like, “Will I ever write a song as good as ‘Summer, Highland Falls?’ You cannot compare.” … I do think that I have quite a story to tell, particularly my fairy tale childhood growing up here on Further Lane in East Hampton …
I guess you could say I never really felt like I belonged anywhere, but music is home to me and I do feel like a sense of belonging as long as I’m singing or creating.
Alexa Ray Joel’s new single “Seven Years” is available on all streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Music, Amazon, etc). The music video and lyric video are on YouTube. For all things Alexa Ray Joel, visit her Instagram @alexarayjoel. Her website is alexarayjoel.com.