Bret Alexander, 50, is one of NEPA’s most successful rock musicians ever, playing with the Badlees, the Cellarbirds and Gentleman East. He is also a songwriter, sound engineer and producer with his own studio, Saturation Acres, in Dupont where he lives with his wife Kelly Kuckla Alexander and their two teenaged daughters, Harlow and Scarlet.
Alexander grew up in North Canton and went to Canton Area High School, where he learned his first guitar chords in seventh grade music class. He got serious about guitar playing as a teenager and started a band with some high school buddies.
“My high school band was called Masque,” he said. “We were all childhood friends. We played classic rock mostly. I still play a few songs from the Masque set list. Those were really fun years. I miss those guys.”
He played football at Canton and Bucknell University. It was through an internship at Bucknell that he got introduced to sound engineering.
“I interned at a studio called Susquehanna Sound. The guys there were studio designers as well as recording engineers. After I got out of college, I needed a job. I stopped by the studio on my way to an interview for a sales position in Harrisburg. The day I stopped by they got the gig building a studio for Whitney Houston. The staff was all leaving to do that gig and they needed someone to run the place. And there I stood. That’s how I got my first music business job. Lucky.”
Jack Smiles: Who were some your early influences?
Bret Alexander: The Beatles were probably the biggest influence early on. The usual classic stuff. The Stones, CCR, Johnny Cash.
JS: How were the Badlees formed?
BA: All the Badlees guys were coming into Susquehanna Sound doing various projects. I engineered their demos. Eventually the band came together.
JS: The Badlees played a festival in China. What was that like?
BA: It was fun for sure. Different. There are some funny stories from the shows in China. One night we got pelted with barbecued chicken feet. I had them bouncing off of the strings of my guitar. But the crowd wasn’t booing us, they were just having fun. The Chinese know how to party, that’s for sure.
JS: Asked where his songs come from, Bob Dylan said from “that great wellspring of creativity.” Keith Richards said we “receive and we transmit.” Seems like they get the feeling the songs come from somewhere other than their minds. Do you ever feel that?
BA: Yeah, I do. Some songs are crafted. You work them into existence. Others you just have given to you. They just come to you all at once. The ones that come to you are usually the best. But the thing about songwriting is you have to work at it to get the freebies. You can’t just sit around and wait for a song to wander by. That’s not how it works.
JS: You were the major songwriter for the Badlees and wrote “Fear of Flying” which was a hit in 1995 and was used in the 1996 Olympics TV broadcast. Do you still write songs?
BA: I used to write every day. Willie Nelson said he writes on two occasions. One, when he needs a song, or two, when a song won’t leave him alone. That’s my way now, too.
JS: You are a musician, singer, writer, producer, engineer. Is it hard finding the time for everything?
BA: Yeah, it’s tough to juggle everything. Lots of scheduling. That’s the toughest part. The gigs are fun.
JS: How did you and Saturation wind up in Dupont?
BA: My wife Kelly and I bought an old storefront in town. She’s from here. I eventually came up with the idea of working in the basement of that building. It’s my laboratory.
JS: How long have you been in Dupont? How familiar with the Pittston area were you before you moved here and how do like the Pittston area?
BA: I have been here 11 years. I love it here. I fit right in with this crew. Great folks. The kind I am used to. My wife was from the area, so I already knew her family, and they are great people.
JS: Eddie Appnel is a good friend. You and he host an open mic at Victor’s Wine Cellar in Pittston. How did you get to know Eddie?
BA: The first time the Badlees played the area we opened for Eddie’s band Mere Mortals. So I’ve known Eddie for over 20 years. We did his solo record together a few years ago. That was the first real collaboration we did. Now we play together constantly. I’m not sure why we waited so long. It’s a great fit. Eddie’s a great guy and a talented musician.
JS: Other than the open mics do you still play out?
BA: I play about 200 plus gigs a year.
JS: Do you miss being in a band?
BA: I still play in a band called Gentleman East, but it’s very occasionally. Playing in a great band is the best. But it has it’s liabilities. I miss the music, not the politics.
For more on Bret Alexander and Saturation Acres go to www.bretalexanderonline.com or search Bret Alexander on Facebook.