Lounge Talk: Alexander Ludwig
“It’s very empowering when you realize that the only thing that you have that no one else does is who you are within yourself. The second you lean into that and stop crying about what anyone else thinks, magic happens,” says actor and singer Alexander Ludwig. Known for his exquisite portrayals of multi-layered characters in movies and series as The Hunger Games, Vikings, Lone Survivor, Bad Boys for Life, Heels, Alexander is also using his creativity to branch into the music industry with his debut album out today Highway 99 turning into a record-so-good-you-will-be-hooked material. With open arms (and ears) we welcome Alexander Ludwig to The Laterals: Lounge Talk session.
Congratulations on the release of your debut album – Highway 99. I had a chance to listen to it last week, and it’s absolutely wonderful. It has a soul, an infatuating rhythm, and melodies that did actually make my morning brighter (Faded On Me and How It Rolls – are my new jams) as it was marked with a terrible toothache before pressing ‘play’ on your album. When it comes to country music, I also love the storytelling side of the genre. It also feels that you’re taking your listeners on quite a literal road trip. Can you tell us more about the source of inspiration behind this record?
Wow, I don’t even know where to begin. I’m so moved that you loved it. I think what drew me to country music my whole life was exactly that, the storytelling. This album is a culmination of all the artists, songs, and stories that have inspired me to this point. Inevitably, things will change as I will as an artist, but I wanted the listener to feel that they were on the road with me up my favorite drive into the mountains – Highway 99.
I love that country music, probably more than any other genre, has this innate feature – focus on storytelling. Did it become easier to open up to people and express yourself through songwriting over the years or vice versa – it becoming harder? You started writing songs when you were 12, right?
Yes, I started writing and playing when I was 12. I have a binder of hundreds of bad songs. You are more than welcome to check those out. (laughing) But I’ve experienced a vulnerability like none other through writing because at the end of the day, we write about what we know. Sometimes the hardest thing I find is allowing the song to find itself in the room. Sometimes other people have better ideas, and you have to be open to them. What’s cool is that in those writer rooms you can find a song that you never knew you had in you. And everyone helps to pull it out of each other.
What did you learn about yourself when working on your album?
That I can always grow as a writer and artist and that above everything, I have to be true to who I am. It’s not about chasing trends. I have to do me, and I hope that people will like it as I do.
You’re recognized for your acting work, but when you’ve decided to use your artistic and creative skills in the music industry, what were the biggest challenges you had to face when transferring to a slightly different side of the arts?
Bursting through a wall of perception. I think people have an idea of actors and Hollywood in general. It ain’t totally wrong, but it’s also not me. I never came to Nashville expecting any of this. I just wanted to write music because I loved it. Once people knew I was for real, it got easier. The country community can smell bullshit from a mile away, so authenticity and staying humble are the most important things.
How do you think musical storytelling differs from the storytelling that you’re sharing with your audience on the silver screen? Does one of them feel more innate to you?
There are a ton of similarities. The main difference I experienced is the immediate response you get from a live audience. You don’t get that in film or TV as it takes months to finish a project, then you’ll only hear if people loved it months after. When you’re playing live, you get to vibe off of your audience immediately. And that experience will only ever live in that moment between me and the fans. That’s pretty special.
If you had to choose a set of lyrics from your album, which ones would best describe your outtake to life?
‘Find a place where I belong, stare up the stars just glad to be living, long as this big world keeps on spinning that’s the life I want and you’re the girl I want in it’ – it’s from my new single That’s The Life I Want.
We’ve got this Desert Island Disc radio show here in the UK. And the castaways or in other words – the guests, are asked what records, a book, and a luxury item they’d take with them if they’d be stranded on a desert island. What would you take to a desert island if you’d need to choose four records, a book, and a luxury item?
A book – Stillness Is the Key by Ryan Holliday
Record – Sam Cooke, James Taylor, George Strait, Kat Stevens
Luxury item – a Gucci Satellite Radio
One thing about you that surprises others?
I skydive quite often.
Is there an item on your adventure bucket list that you’d like to tick off next?
I’d love to climb up Mont Blanc and ski down.
I know that we’re here to celebrate your album but let’s talk acting as well. I’m always fascinated by the stories of why creatives chose their craft – so what made an impact in your life to choose acting? Tell us more about the pivotal role that gave you the confidence needed to pursue this craft.
I’ve always been a performer. But I’ll never forget watching Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and just knowing that that’s what I was going to do. The TV show Vikings helped me hone my craft and I realized preparation is confidence. It’s very empowering when you realize that the only thing that you have that no one else does is who you are within yourself. The second you lean into that and stop crying about what anyone else thinks, magic happens. That was my experience with Vikings and that has been my experience with music.
Season two of Heels. I must ask about it. Can you share any updates with the fans of the series? In one of your interviews, you also mentioned that it’s the most painful and rewarding experience – which side are you leaning towards in the second season?
More rewarding, not without my bumps, however. (laughing) We get very deep into my character and begin to understand him more. There isn’t an official release date for the second series, but I will keep you posted.
Your favorite story that’s been told on the small or silver screen?
I’m a massive Breaking Bad fan so I’ll go with that for now.
Have you ever experienced stage fright and if so, what’s the best medicine to cure it? Do share some words of wisdom.
Every show. Every single show, I’m terrified. The more you do it, the easier it gets but I think you have to accept it for what it is and know that you’ve prepared and earned your right to be there. Take a deep breath before you start – slow is better – and let it out.
What’s something you say you’ll do, but haven’t done yet?
Finish my pilot’s license.
Is there a question that no one has ever asked you in interviews? If so – what’s the question and what would be your response to it?
Why do any of this? And my answer is because it’s what I got. If you have a dream, it’s your moral obligation to live your life through that. No matter how big or small.
Where will we see or hear Alexander Ludwig next?
I have a film called The Interpreter coming out soon with Jake Gyllenhaal and Guy Ritchie directing as well as Heels season two. And if you’re in Canada, we will be on country radio, hopefully, heading to the States next, but you can find my music everywhere now.
Alexander Ludwig’s debut album Highway 99 is out now.