The music world is full of singer-songwriters trying to figure out who they are and who they want to be. Alex Whorms already knows exactly who she is — and she’s never been happier just to be herself. And to be by herself.
“This is the most at home I’ve ever felt as a musician and an artist,” the award-winning Hamilton singer-pianist says. “I’ve never felt more free. And I’ve never felt more comfortable with myself or my music. I’m in a more confident and happier place.”
Even better: It’s a world of her own inspiration and creation. While some artists work to master their chosen genre and others may even manage to define one, Whorms crafts music that is essentially a genre unto itself. Seated by herself at her beloved keyboard, the young vocalist and composer flows freely and flawlessly between styles and sounds, gracefully blending classic singer-songwriter pop, jazz, soul, rock, classical, folk and almost anything else that strikes her fancy — while investing everything with honest tales and authentic emotions drawn from her own life and experiences. Even she has trouble assigning it a name. “I’ve struggled to explain my sound to people for a long time,” she admits. “The ideas I have are all over the place. But what can I say? I like a lot of different styles.”
Not bad for someone who didn’t — and wouldn’t — listen to the radio until a few years ago. A self-described “classical music kid” who became a “musical theatre nerd” in high school, Whorms went from practising piano five hours a day to reading charts in pit bands and conducting choirs while still in her teens. She loved the dramatic melodies, the lyrics that told stories. She could handle Chopin, Rachmaninoff, Beethoven, Rodgers and Hammerstein. What she couldn’t handle was the Top 40. “I hated it,” she admits. “I used to have an old iPod that I would listen to in my parents’ car so I didn’t have to hear the radio. I used to go to the library and grab whatever CDs looked interesting, load them in and put them on shuffle.”
One day, the wheel landed on a Sarah Slean song, and Whorms’ world widened. “I found her music incredible because it was dramatic, and her lyrics are poetry. It was sensitive and beautiful. I could relate.” Slean led her to Regina Spektor and Tori Amos, Fiona Apple and Sarah Bareilles, Julia Michaels and Laila Biali — and before long, Whorms had found a new passion. A new obsession. And a new calling. She began studying the craft of songwriting, honing her skills as a performer and bandleader, sharpening her pen as a lyricist. From the beginning, her goal has been the same: To deliver honesty. Authenticity. Passion.
“When I started writing songs, what moved me was processing real-life feelings,” she says. “I want to share an honest experience with people. I want it to be moving. I’m not trying to overpolish anything. I just want to talk about human experiences in a realistic way. But at the same time, I don’t want to oversimplify things either, because life isn’t simple.”
She should know. Since releasing her 2017 EP Our Lives and 2019’s Burgundy, Whorms’ world has become much busier. She won the 2019 Hamilton Arts Award for Emerging Artist in Music, earning praise for her “beautifully crafted pop songs” from Graham Rockingham of The Hamilton Spectator. She toured across Ontario, hitting Canadian Music Week in Toronto (2019), Hamilton’s Festival of Friends (2018) and New York City’s Sidewalk Cafe (2017). She performed on CHCH TV’s Morning Live, and the Cable 14 programs Ensemble! and Marz Garage. Tracks from Burgundy were played on CBC Radio’s Fresh Air and In the Key of C, with host Adam Carter praising the track Sunset for its “real, honest purity.” Her Burgundy release concert at Hamilton’s beloved Jillard Guitars sold out.
Most recently, during the COVID-19 pandemic, Whorms visited Toronto’s Noble Street Studios with a medical mask and three solo arrangements for piano and voice. The first single from this set, a rendition of I’ll Be Home For Christmas, will be released Nov. 12, 2020. “I’ve always loved this song but it hits harder this year. Many people won’t be able to go home to see their families for the holidays due to health concerns, social distancing, and travel restrictions.”
On top of that, Whorms co-writes songs with other artists, composes film scores, is working toward licensing her work to TV, movies and advertising, livestreams regularly from her home and can’t wait to hit the road again. But for her, one crucial piece of her musical puzzle could not be simpler: In the end, it all comes down to her and the piano.
“I have enjoyed playing with a band, but I love playing solo,” she says. “When I’m up there alone, I’m totally free. I can change the set list in the moment. I can slow down or speed up. I can get the audience singing along. Or I can talk to them — or with them. It’s like having an intimate conversation in real time. The show can basically go anywhere and be anything.”
So can her new material, she’s realized. “Performing solo has definitely changed the way I write,” she confirms. “Instead of having to write for a band, I’m just writing for me, and thinking, ‘How can I have the most fun on the piano with this song?’ I’ll be releasing some of them soon, and I’m working toward my next album. Now that I know who am I and what I want to do, I’m more excited every day than I was the day before.”
Sounds like somebody’s got it all figured out.