Only last year, I was given the opportunity to review Your Man Alex Smith‘s debut album ‘Slow Burn’. I didn’t quite know what I was getting into with the review, but was moved by it in a way I hadn’t experienced with an album for quite some time. Alex used the record to describe his experience with domestic abuse from start-to-finish; from the honeymoon stage at the beginning to then how quickly it devolved into something toxic and life-altering. Most importantly, the album outlines the cycle of violence, and how the relationship impacted his behaviour too, a rare perspective not often explored when addressing the topic. He also addresses head-on the complex emotions he felt after leaving, as well as reflecting on how these relationships aren’t all bad. The album does a fantastic job of answering the dreaded question; “why didn’t you just leave?”, providing an eye-opening outlook to those who haven’t experienced it, and acting as a comfort for those who have. Outside of the story content, the album is a standout from a musical perspective as well, using a mix of genre and styles to tell the tale.
For Fringe Brisbane, Alex took this incredible record and turned it into a stage show, breathing fresh air into an already fantastic piece of art, and adding new layers to the already moving story. I was lucky enough to catch the show and was so inspired by his incredible work, I just had to know more! Luckily, Alex found some time to talk us through his incredible stage show.
When you first released ‘Slow Burn’, did you always intend to transform the record into a live show?
I donâ€™t think that was the intention from the start, especially because I wrote some parts that were incredibly difficult to sing. I had thought to myself that no one would want to hear the tracks live because they are sad, much less hear them performed back-to-back! But, I realised in the middle of the process that the variety of genres and the theatricality of the music could lend itself to something really special on stage.
What inspired you to turn your abusive relationship into the album and, subsequently, the show?
Iâ€™ve always been someone who writes music to process my emotions and trauma. This relationship had such a massive impact on me and my life that I couldnâ€™t not talk about it. Thatâ€™s what art people do, you turn the pain into art. Iâ€™d released EPs in the past but never had any theme that had the longevity that requires an album. But this was definitely something that needed that much time. Arguably more. Iâ€™ve always loved theatre and musicals and itâ€™s always been a dream to write one myself. While I wouldnâ€™t say that this is a conventional musical, itâ€™s certainly one step closer to that dream. Theatre also affords a connection to the audience that cannot be achieved by an album.
What is the main takeaway you want viewers to have?
So many people who havenâ€™t been in a relationship like that donâ€™t seem to understand why youâ€™d let it get that bad. I think I wanted to help people on the outside understand how easy it is to slip into a really bad situation with the best of intentions. And I wanted people who have been through it to feel seen, validated and if theyâ€™re not far in their recovery process, to know that it can be ok again, even though it feels as though it never can be.
Re-living your traumatic experience in this context must be very difficult. How do you manage your own emotions in regards to both doing the show and performing the songs?
Director Louella Baldwin and the cast have been so kind and frequently check in with me and everyone to make sure that weâ€™re ok. The heavy themes have been a lot to deal with in rehearsal. But weâ€™ve all kept it very light with lots of jokes and support for each other.
Iâ€™m fortunately in a position where this situation was quite long ago. Iâ€™ve since had a lot of therapy and the actual album itself was where I did a lot of that healing. Doing this show is one more step removed and Iâ€™m able to focus on the story that Iâ€™m telling rather than the reality of the events it was based on. Certain moments in the show do have a visceral effect on me but the show is me telling a painful story so, in that sense, it works.
I was very impressed by the cast! How did you go about the casting process?
This show is incredibly vulnerable for me, so I made it a point that it didnâ€™t matter whether they were the most incredibly skilled performer alive, they had to be kind. Iâ€™m so happy to say that everyone in the cast is both. Originally the show was just gonna be a stand and sing so I went to some close friends that I knew had tremendous voices and, as the show evolved and we needed more people, Louella reached out to more performers and the cast as we know it was formed! I am absolutely blessed to be performing alongside this team.
I really loved not only seeing you act on top of your usual music performance, but also you dance and the general choreography of the show! Did you choreograph this? Or was this outsourced?
Thank you so much! Kristin Sparks (who plays the woman in white during Rescue Me) choreographed the show along with Louella. I was blown away by everything they made and it really elevated the show beyond what I could have done by myself. I really feel like the ,choreography is what makes this a show rather than just another gig.
You never know how someone may react to such a heavy topic, particularly when it is addressed head-on as your show does. What steps do you take to ensure the audience is comfortable in case they find the subject matter triggering?
This was a major concern of mine. Itâ€™s been tough to advertise the show because from a narrative point, I wanted the events to unfold unpredictably as they did when they happened. But I also have a duty of care to the audience. Weâ€™ve included some free resources for people effected by the themes in the show on the back of the program, and mention it in the show description online. However, in case an audience member hasnâ€™t seen that, we also have a content warning that plays at the beginning of the show.
What is your personal favourite song from the album?
Run Into the Night was my happy song for months when I was making the album. Itâ€™s just a damn bop and it always made me smile when I heard it. Then I heard it a million times when I edited the music video! I think It Was Good Once doesnâ€™t get as much love as it deserves though!
What element of the show are you the most proud of?
I think the choreography and staging of Run Into The Night is something really special. I wonâ€™t ruin it here for anyone who hasnâ€™t seen it, but I think Kristin and Lou made something magical. Iâ€™m so proud of how much of a collaborative effort this was and getting to work with so many artists and friends.
And finally, why should our Good Call Live readers grab a ticket to your next Fringe performance?
Itâ€™s a show with a heap of heart. The soundtrack is full of bangers and the cast give it everything they have. Lou is also outstanding as Julia Bryer and really breathes life into this incredibly complex character. It talks about an important topic in a way you may not have heard before and mostly weâ€™ve all just been working so hard on this for months! We would absolutely love to see you at the show!
Alex will be performing the show again this Friday 21 October at Arcana Brisbane as part of Fringe Brisbane Festival. GRAB A TICKET HERE.
Follow YOUR MAN ALEX SMITH
If you are in any way effected by the contents of this interview, please refer to the following helplines:
1800 Respect: 1800 737 732
Mensline Australia: 1300 789 978
Lifeline: 13 11 14
Beyond Blue: 1300 22 4636