In her new video, the Nashville-based singer-songwriter tackles relationships with the help of a Duke metaphor.
When she’s not making music, Nashville-based singer-songwriter Alex Stern loves basking in the camaraderie of a shared meal. In normal times, the New Mexico native typically loves going over to friends’ houses or having them over for potluck dinners in Music City.
“In Nashville, there is such an amazing sense of community, and being able to get together with my close friends for dinner or a bonfire in the backyard is my favorite,” she says.
When she’s able to go home to New Mexico, the theme’s the same: good times and good food. “When I get to visit Albuquerque, I love going to eat at Sadie’s — they have the world’s best chicken enchiladas. I love being able to walk along the Bosque area in ABQ and of course going to the Balloon Fiesta in the Fall.”
We talked with Stern about her roots, her songwriting, and her new video.
Cowboys & Indians: What’s the story behind the song “John Wayne” and the video?
Alex Stern: “John Wayne” was inspired by a relationship I was in at the time and a universal feeling I think everyone has felt at some point. This song and video are both about realizing that who I am isn’t defined by any expectations I try to fulfill or achieve in order to be loved. This project felt empowering to create because it symbolizes my own journey of understanding that my worthiness as both a person and an artist is never the sum of having to pretend to be anything I’m not.
C&I: Talk about the line “I’m just another John Wayne.”
Stern: I never intended for the song to be about a role reversal because I believe the pressures of having to fulfill roles or expectations within our lives isn’t exclusive to gender; it’s something everyone feels at some point. That specific line was meant to capture the parallel of how I felt as a performer with how I imagined John Wayne would’ve felt portraying all of the various roles he played during his iconic film career. He had been adored for so many legendary characters, and it made me wonder if he ever questioned his worthiness when he wasn’t playing a part or being praised for his performance.
C&I: Tell us about your Wild West roots and growing up in New Mexico.
Stern: My family originally settled in Santa Fe, New Mexico, in the 1700s. Being able to honor the New Mexican traditions handed down to me has always meant a lot to me. Wearing my grandparents’ turquoise, the smell of pinyon wood burning in fireplaces, making red chile posole in the winter — growing up in Albuquerque truly shaped who I am. New Mexico inspires me in so many ways: the celebration of its diverse cultures, the breathtaking landscapes, and the way each place feels so rich with history.
C&I: Your songwriting has been described as “brazen.” Do you agree? Do you take that as a compliment?
Stern: I’d agree, my songwriting may be brazen in a lot of ways but not in the way that I want to shock or offend anyone. To me, it’s about the pursuit of creating something that’s unrestrained by convention, and an expression that in its honesty empowers and invites others to also embrace their stories boldly.
C&I: “Unapologetic honesty” is a great, but sometimes hard, place to live your life from and there’s often hell to pay, especially for a woman. Talk about that, especially as it pertains to making music and a career in music.
Stern: Being a woman in a male-dominated industry isn’t easy of course, but I think that even when the odds are against us, we still have a choice that nobody has the power to take away. Do we let it push us down or push us harder? If all the seats at the table are taken, instead of begging for a seat, compromising my truth, integrity, or heart, I’d rather stand.
C&I: Who are your classic country influences?
Stern: I’d definitely say the classic country artists that have influenced me the most are Dolly Parton, John Denver, and Loretta Lynn.
C&I: What else would you like people to know about you and your music?
Stern: My main hope as an artist and songwriter is to bring goodness to the world. I want to amplify words that I feel tell the truth and authentically come from my heart. Some of the main questions I’ve asked myself this year are “Who am I without a stage? How do I want to use my voice when I’m not singing? What really matters?” I’ve truly realized that what really matters in all of this for me the most is getting to connect with people in a genuine way no matter what.
C&I: What’s something people might be surprised to find out about you?
Stern: I love painting Southwest landscapes, old churches, and buildings in New Mexico. The last painting I finished was of St. Joseph Catholic Church my great grandparents were married in, in Los Cerrillos, New Mexico.
C&I: What’s next for you?
Stern: I’m really excited to release my upcoming EP, titled Witness, early next year. The project will have two unreleased songs on it that I can’t wait to share with my listeners.