“You should write about what you love, and what scares you. Music is an internal critique; people listen and ask ‘Is he super American or does he have a problem with the American Dream?’ or ‘Is he a Christian or is he opposed to all things religion?’ or ‘Is he in love with someone or is his heart completely broken?’ and I’m like, ‘Yes. All those things.’ I’m dealing with the losses of my past and the hopes for my future. I’m dealing with my hopes for society and I fear the path we’re on,” explains Ryan Alexander, frontman of Nashville-by-way-of-south-Florida pop-rock outfit Civilian, who puts a high priority on telling compelling musical stories born from challenging himself and others.
“When it comes to what I write, I do my best not to consult what others are writing about or what’s popular at the time. I try really hard to look inward to find the story,” he continues. “I feel like the world is dying to have conversations about losing what it is that they grew up with, like religion or politics—and Civilian is a place where that can happen, to talk about things that you’ve gained and to mourn the things that you’ve lost. That’s a huge part of my story, every single day, trying to figure out what’s in me that’s worth holding onto or saving.”
At the end of October, the band released an album, You Wouldn’t Believe What Privilege Costs, via Tooth & Nail Records, home of Anberlin, Copeland, and Underoath. The record is chock full of hard-hitting, lyrically challenging compositions delivered in Alexander’s clear and unblemished tenor, set against the backdrop of lushly-produced rock n’ roll. One such song, “Michael,” a story of a male prostitute who is raped, is one that is somewhat difficult to digest. “I don’t care if you like what I’m saying, just listen to it. ‘Michael’ was a hard story to face for myself,” he admits. “I don’t know what it’s like to be in his position. It’s a real story. It’s brash, which I don’t have a problem with in conversation or art, it’s just not the best way for me. I’m sure people who listen to the music I make could think I have a terribly foul mouth, that I smoke cigarettes, and sell kids beer,” he adds with a laugh. “It’s purposeful, to write about things that, deep down, really move me. I wanted to write about things I think, things I hear, and the hopes that I have. Civilian is like a shield for me—I can say whatever I want. I almost wanted the label to tell me I couldn’t put ‘Michael’ on the album, because it scares the shit out of me, but creatively, I needed to talk about that story. I recognize some of the story in me, in the way I used to treat people I didn’t understand, that’s why I’m sensitive to it. The worst case scenario is that people identify with it and want me to play it again. It’s not therapy for me yet, it’s a very heavy song. I’ve only played it live a couple of times.”
Alexander makes a valid point—when it comes to our growth as a society, it’s the push and pull, the conversations, and the friction of our interactions with each other that moves us forward towards growth. “We might not like all the people that speak at our colleges, we don’t always agree with the way others are talking, but it’s free speech that allows that friction to take place,” he declares. “Imagine if only those with the popular opinion could speak, there would be no friction. We’d only turn inward and believe we couldn’t do anything about the way things are. I’ve caught myself censoring in an attempt to protect myself or my music, but that’s not always a good thing,” he continues, but what he has to say applies to us all. “Change only the name,” he adds, “and the story’s about you.”
Tour dates: http://civiliansounds.squarespace.com/tour/