“Incredibly earnest… honest purity” – CBC Hamilton
A grand piano has 88 keys: singer-songwriter Alex Whorms intends to play all of them throughout her career. The 2019 recipient of the Hamilton Arts Award for Emerging Artist in Music is quickly gaining recognition for her dramatic musical arrangements, which combine aspects of indie, pop and orchestral music.
“My favourite songs don’t fit neatly into any single genre,” she says, referencing influences like Regina Spektor, Sara Bareilles, Tori Amos, Ingrid Michaelson and Sarah Slean. “I like it when I am able to notice something new about a song every time I listen to it.”
Whorms’ appreciation for nuance and intricacy began in Ajax, Ontario, where she was born. As a child, she devoted herself to the study of classical piano and voice, with a particular interest in the works of Romantic-era composers like Chopin, Beethoven and Rachmaninoff. She holds a Grade 10 Piano Certificate from the Royal Conservatory of Music. In high school, she played lead characters in several community theatre productions, where she found a second home onstage.
“I love the way Broadway music is used to communicate the characters' feelings and experiences”, explains Whorms. “While I was doing theatre, I realized that I could create songs to document my life in the same way.”
Everything changed for Alex Whorms in 2013, when she moved to Hamilton to study science at McMaster University. Feeling unfulfilled by her studies, she discovered the city’s vibrant music scene and a burning desire to perform again. “I think I realized that I had made the wrong career choice when I started skipping chemistry class to write more music,” she laughs.
Whorms began to perform her music on campus and throughout Hamilton, where her “organic” and “earnest” approach to pop songwriting immediately turned heads. Since the 2017 release of her debut EP Our Lives, Whorms has performed over 100 concerts in Canada and New York City, both as a soloist and with her band. Some of her career highlights so far include performances at Hamilton’s 2018 Festival of Friends and Canadian Music Week 2019. Whorms’ 2019 single “Sunset” debuted on CBC Radio One’s “In The Key of C”, and tracks from Our Lives charted on several regional radio stations.
Following the 2019 release of her sophomore EP, Burgundy, Whorms performed live on CHCH TV, and was featured on music publications including Tinnitist and Canadian Beats. Early reviews of Burgundy have been overwhelmingly positive: Andrew Powell of The Gate describes her music as “deeply autobiographical, very honest, and clearly shows an artist who has reached a new stage in her career.”
“Alex’s organic approach to music…is hugely refreshing” – Amy King, Recording Engineer at Grant Avenue Studio
Burgundy is a five-track collection of Whorms’ most recent work. The album opens with "Sunset", an emotionally-charged ballad that instantly draws attention to Whorms’ skill as a composer. "Sunset" starts off quietly and builds over time, layering reflective lyrics on top of piano, strings, and driving guitars. “I wrote this song as I was coming to terms with the loss of my first serious relationship. It’s a lament, but also an anthem of sorts: I was determined not to let this stop me from continuing to live my life.”
The second track, "Too Many Love Songs", continues the crescendo with a lighthearted protest against media depictions of love and popularity. “It bothers me that the media celebrates partying too hard, binge drinking and flaunting relationships. People in university would imitate those trends to look cool. But in those situations, I always felt like I was pretending to be someone else.” On this indie-rock tune, Whorms trades orchestral strings for guitars and drums. The track features “a bass line and groove reminiscent of Dusty Springfield’s ‘Son Of A Preacher Man’,” says Zach Cropper of TheSceneRemedy.
Whorms’ love for the orchestra resurfaces in "I’ll Be Gone", a string-heavy song that juxtaposes dreamy lyrics about wanderlust and mortality against a serene arrangement. “I was living a really safe life at the time, just going with the flow,” says Whorms of this song: “I wanted some more adventure, I wanted to take a risk and pursue my musical dreams. I started to realize that it wasn’t just going to happen by chance; I needed to chase it. This song is about that sense of urgency.”
"Birds" is the darkest and most ethereal track on the album, opening with a lonely viola solo and ending with a dramatic soundscape of strings, piano and electric guitar. “Written the day before the release of my first EP, Birds represents my hopes and my fears about being an artist, and they intermingle in this song… there’s my insistence that music is important, but there’s also this fear of being undervalued, of having to move away.”
The album slowly fades to "Burgundy", the title track of the album and an instrumental postlude to Birds.