Three summers ago, senior Alex Abnos went on tour through the Midwest with The White Foliage, a two-person band he met through an online forum. In Iowa, they landed a show at a nice venue, but just one person showed up to hear them. Hoping to avoid this situation in the future, Abnos said he would go to malls and “serenade random people with the ukulele” to get them to come to that night’s show. It worked. Ten to 15 people showed up that night.
Abnos, who started playing the ukulele intending to use it as “training wheels” for the guitar, now cannot help but draw attention when he busts out his unique instrument.
In 2005, he made 200 CDs of his debut work, “Sell Your Ideas, They Are Totally Acceptable,” a name he said he found in a fortune cookie. Last year he started Ironpaw Records and released “Sell Your Ideas” with the label. In January, NPR featured him as an up-and-coming musician. His second CD, “The Heart Goes Nine” came out last month, and features his vocals with ukulele accompaniment.
Though Abnos, who works in The Hatchet’s production department, is set to graduate in a few months, five years ago he experienced every high school senior’s worst nightmare – none of the colleges he applied to accepted him. With nowhere to go, he applied and got accepted to a college in London where he studied infrequently and spent most of his time composing “Sell Your Ideas.”
Tired of London, he returned to the States after one year abroad, determined to attend college in the U.S. Abnos applied to about 20 colleges, and to ensure he did not experience a repeat of his senior year, he said he called GW everyday until the admissions office got sick of hearing from him and accepted him. Although he said he “hates being a pain in the ass to get what he wants,” he was happy with the end result of his labors.
Abnos is as persistent with the people working in college admission as he is with the media. He sent about 100 promotional copies of his latest CD to various media outlets, including NPR. He was expecting to follow up with many of the companies, but NPR actually called him before he called them.
He writes all his own lyrics and he said he “tends to make things pretty abstract” so he can find “more creative ways to say what he wants to say.”
The title of Abnos’ CD is actually part poetry. “The Heart Goes Nine” is half of a line from E.E. Cummings: “For every mile the feet go, the heart goes nine.” Abnos is not particularly a fan of Cummings; he just happened to read the quote somewhere and thought it “sounded right.”
Many of Abnos’ songs focus on the sound of words rather than meaningful lyrics. He said when he listens to a song, he cares more about how the words meld with the music than what the actual lyrics mean. For example, his song “Pins on you Purse” only has one verse. The song’s lyrics become secondary to the ukulele, cell, and trumpet in the background.
The Elephant Six and John Vanderslice are his two main influences, but Abnos said he is “constantly on the look out for new things,” and will “listen to everything.” He is especially interested in the creation of new genres that build off of what has already been done. Abnos said people always respond differently when they hear he plays the ukulele, but that his friends and family are pretty much over it. “People generally think its weird or cool or both.”