Brooklyn-based, Alter has worked for over a decade and a half as a songwriter and composer in theater, film and TV. His credits include songs and soundtracks for PBS, NPR and independent films. One of his compositions appeared in the animated Disney feature Tinkerbell and the Pirate Fairy voiced by actor Tom Hiddleston (Loki in The Avengers). His musicals have been produced over fifty times; “Nobody Loves You”, written with 2018 Tony Award winner Itamar Moses, was a Critics’ Pick in New York Times and Timeout New York when it premiered Off-Broadway. He is the recipient of a Jonathan Larsen grant, both the San Francisco and San Diego Theater Critics’ Circle Awards for Best Original Score, and an ASCAP Plus Award in musical theater.
Yes Gabriel’s music is in an indie folk vein, a big break from Alter’s past work. Why switch gears? Alter decided to record and perform his own songs for the first time after a bad breakup and a near miss with Broadway success. “I’d always liked the idea of doing my own album,” he said, “but now there were things I had to express directly and urgently, and not as a part of someone else’s project or through other singers. I had to be the one singing, and as it turned out, playing most of the instruments. It was almost the opposite of what I’d been doing my whole professional life.”
Alter began making demo recordings in his and friends’ living rooms, planning to go into a studio once he’d worked out the arrangements. After playing them for his brother, however, he realized that the recordings served the intimate nature of the songs perfectly.
The album accumulated slowly, cut in the breaks between other projects while he painstakingly revised the arrangements and taught himself to produce. “Sometimes a song would go from upbeat synth-pop to slow acoustic, or acoustic to more electronic,” he explains. “I had to do whatever served the song and the album. I couldn’t pre-determine it.”
The result, recorded over five years, preserves Alter’s instinct for storytelling through the specificity of its lyrics (an ex-lover’s shirt is “the one with faded letters that didn’t quite fit”) with a folk sound that includes elements of chamber pop and electronica, and understated vocals that call to mind Nick Drake, The Shins, The Postal Service and the quieter side of Beck. “It’s an album about losing love, but it’s also about losing a false sense of your importance in the world. I think that’s what a song like ‘Rains of April’ is about, especially. There’s sadness and fear in that, but also comfort, knowing that there are larger things out there that you’re a part of.”