Unknown Caller is the project of singer-songwriter-producer Alex Lichtenstein. The NYC-based artist recently released his latest single, ‘See You Again’. Drenched in nostalgia and danceable beats, Unknown Caller takes you out for a night on the town where anything can happen.

The 405 caught up with Unknown Caller to discuss ‘See You Again’, the current state of writing and self-producing, and eclectic artistic influences.

Where did you grow up and what are some of your earliest memories of music? Do you find those early interactions with music influence you currently?

I was born in Shreveport, Louisiana, lived in rural East Texas until I was two years old and then spent most of my childhood in the DC suburb of McLean, Virginia. I have very early memories of my Texan grandparents playing George Jones and Hank Williams around the house. At the opposite end of the country, I remember my parents taking me to see my paternal grandmother perform standards with her Dixieland-jazz band in Queens. One of my clearest memories is actually of my dad blasting Third Eye Blind, Shania Twain, and Barenaked Ladies in our family’s car driving me to kindergarten. I think being exposed to lots of different music from an early age made me incorporate a pretty eclectic mix of influences into my music, but not so much from these specific genres.

What was the tipping point that got you from playing music to fully embedding in it and pursuing it as a career?

I always knew I wanted to be involved with music in some form or another. I studied music technology in college and went on to work in the industry; first at an indie label and then at a music tech app. It was really fun and gratifying working with artists I admire, and this pushed me to pursue the same path for myself. 2018 is when I really started focusing on my own music, and it’s been a really exciting journey so far.

About ‘See You Again’, you’ve discussed how refreshing certain spontaneous interactions are and the power they can affect you long after you would have thought they would. Do you find these types of interactions will increase as the world continues to grow more intertwined through social media?

I think social media has definitely made it easier to connect with people you wouldn’t otherwise meet in real life. However, since everything is curated and trackable on social media, I think it makes interactions with strangers more contrived, continuous and less spontaneous. In real life, you have no control or prediction of who you’ll cross paths with, and I personally find that makes things more interesting and memorable.

It’s stated you’re inspired by Japanese City Pop and the Memphis Design Movement. Which characteristics of these artistic expressions do you find most influences your writing and sound?

I’m taken to such a specific place whenever I listen to city pop. Both of the singles I released this year are partly inspired by this genre, mainly in the chord progressions and melodies. As for the Memphis design movement, I believe that visual art is deeply connected to music. I was always drawn to visuals from this movement and love how the art is both diverse and geometric. I think these details appear in my music in the form of eclectic style and pop structure. I was fortunate enough to have the artist, Air Geometry, visually represent my sound on this year’s two singles.

What currently has you most excited about being a musician and songwriter?

I think the shifting landscape of the industry is making it easier for artists to reach new listeners. Playlist culture and algorithms have essentially become the primary vehicle of discovery for a lot of people, and I think it’s allowed for greater visibility. I also think the accessibility for anyone to make music has made being a songwriter much more exciting today. There’s just so many ideas being put out into the world and lots of different stories being told. On a personal level, I’m really pumped to play my first show with a full live band. We’re supporting Computer Magic at The Knitting Factory in Brooklyn on January 12th!

‘See You Again’ not only tells a story through the lyrics, but the composition as well. It’s a city-lounge in an unassuming part of town. Do you find you write lyrics first, music first, together, or just depends on the song?

I always start with the music. I’ll typically begin with an idea for a melody and then build out an arrangement around it. Once the instrumental is in a place where I want it, I’ll record vocal melodies that pop into my head as syllabic sounds, a la Cocteau Twins. I’ll replace these sounds with actual words once I sit with the vibe of the song and spend some time reflecting. A lot of the time, there will be small phrases that just sort of come out, and I’ll try and dig deeper at what they mean. I think I project a lot of my subconscious when just viscerally experimenting with melody. For me, writing lyrics is retracing and translating.

With technology, we’re quickly finding new ways to make sounds, beats, etc. As an artist, do you find there’s now more of a risk of 'too much' when it comes to composing and producing a song? Is the emphasis on 'purposefulness' when it comes to art taken too literally?

Absolutely, and I think it’s one of the biggest struggles as an artist who produces their own music. The accessibility of music production today is an amazing thing; however, I think having too many options can sometimes stifle the creative process. There have been days where I’ve wasted hours cycling through different synth patches for the same chords. I’ve found that I tend to get the most creative when I only use a limited number of tools, and I believe trusting your gut and making strong creative decisions is the best way to move a track forward. I’ve been trying to become less of a maximalist and keep things more simple lately.

Lastly, if you were to create and host a 1-day music and arts festival, where would it be and why?

I think it’d be really cool to host a festival in a neighborhood as a series of house/backyard shows. There’s something really special about the personal interaction and I think the communal environment really brings the artist and the audience closer together. It would feature bands of all genres and sizes, though Tame Impala would need a pretty big backyard.