Face the Music: Interview with Alex Boye

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“Bend Not Break” has become Alex’s mantra and his hashtag. The song and accompanying music video are saving lives and encouraging listeners to bend with the wind without reaching the breaking point. (Photo by Dave Blackhurst/UVMag)

Alex Boye is the face of music in Utah. He’s the face of African members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. For eight years, he was the face of the Tabernacle Choir. Just this year, he became the face of anti-suicide. And for this Utah Valley Magazine article, he’s the face of Christmas. He’s our 48-year-old little drummer boy with a rhythmic following — even the students in the parking lot at the Rock Canyon photo shoot wanted to jam with the man who simultaneously takes calls from Hollywood and troubled high schoolers. #faceforward

Jeanette: When I think of you, I think of face makeup and colorful clothing.

Alex: Lions and kings are big for me. I want to show people who they are — they are kings and queens! I like to put those images out there. My new album focuses on a king coming to Amerika. I was a king back in Africa, which is my heritage, and then I grew up in London and came to America where I shed all my clothes and worked at McDonald’s. But inside I was still the same. I still had the same potential and dreams.

Jeanette: What do you remember from Christmastime as a child?

Alex: Not much. My wife, Julie, says I’m choosing to forget. That might be true. I always felt like something was missing every Christmas. My mom was back in Nigeria. I was in England with people I didn’t know. I would watch Christmas shows and think, “That’s not what my holiday looks like.”

Jeanette: That sounds difficult and opposite from the happiness you portray in music. What is your most memorable Christmas?

Alex: As a missionary in the England Bristol mission, I told my companion I wanted to do something for the homeless. I had been homeless during Christmas one year. I was good at cutting hair — the other missionaries would come to my apartment for me to give them haircuts. So my companion and I went to the food kitchen on Christmas Day. I brought my clippers, and I put a chair in the middle of the room. From 4 p.m. to 1 in the morning, I cut hair and people told me their stories. When I was done with them, they had gone through a transformation. Then my companion would give them a Book of Mormon. I cut a lot of hair and we gave away a lot of books! It’s still one of the best Christmases I’ve ever had. We always remember serving people who can’t pay us back.

Jeanette: What kind of “Christmas dad” are you now with your six children?

Alex: I can be a lazy Christmas dad because I want to sit and “veg” all day. But my wife keeps me on my toes with traditions passed on from her family. She is so creative! I also love watching “The Christmas Story.” And one of my kids loves what he calls “Home A-moan.” Last Christmas we watched “Home Alone” 17 times.

Alex Boye says his newly released “Coming to Amerika” is “my most exciting album to date” with 20 tracks. “My mom is Nigerian, and whenever she spells ‘America’ she spells it with a ‘K,’” Alex says. “This collection of songs is my whole story, from being in England and having a dream to come to the United States, along with all the struggles and blessings of my journey.”

Jeanette: You portrayed a wise man in the YouTube hit “Angels We Have Heard On High” with the Piano Guys. It has 18 million views! And the tear running down your cheek is one of the most memorable moments.

Alex: It was powerful for me because the wise men were seeking Jesus. I’m working on a music video right now, and that’s the basis of it — the wisest men and women are still seeking Jesus. Also, one of the wise men was a dark brother! He was Egyptian. And my wise man outfit was so dope. (See the music video here.)

Jeanette: Love it! Which Christmas songs are your favorites?

Alex: I love singing “Mary, Did You Know?” I also wrote an original Christmas song about my family, which is so dysfunctional it’s insane. Despite that, Christmas somehow brings out the good in all of us. We let bygones be bygones. My favorite part about Christmas music is performing on stage with a band and doing my part to bring Christmas cheer.

Jeanette: What tastes and smells are the essence of Christmas to you?

Alex: Wassail. Is that how you say that in America? I could drink that by the gallon. We have a fake tree, but we spray the pine tree fragrance because that smell is a must.

Jeanette: How have you balanced showcasing a happy attitude while not being fake about your struggles?

Alex: This morning I spoke at Providence Hall High School in Herriman. Some of them told me I seem like Mr. Happy — like Mr. Lemonade. And I was like, “Heck to the yeah!” There might be this perception that I’m telling people I’m perfect with no problems. The truth is that I grew up in a hard situation and I’ve been homeless. But I always feel hope. I believe in abundance. I believe nothing runs out. If I lose a job, I know I’ll get a better one! And that’s what keeps happening in my life. If my wife gets worried and our bank account is going down, I’m like, “Honey, we’ve got so much ahead of us, you have no idea! Your boy is going to be rich!” Maybe I should worry about it more, but I just don’t. I know we’re going to be fine.

Jeanette: And you help the rest of us know everything will be fine, too. The hashtag and song title “Bend Not Break” is your mantra right now. How did that come about?

Alex: Three months ago I was sitting in Burbank, California. I was working with Randy Jackson from “American Idol” to help me produce my album. He’s one of the busiest guys on the planet, and he had been recording with me for about three hours straight. My voice was so tired, to the point of painful. We were finished for the day, so I walked across the street to the hotel. And I was sitting on what we call “the Crapper” in England. And I kid you not, this hasn’t happened a lot in my life, but I literally heard a voice tell me to go back to the studio because there was one more song I needed to write.

Editor’s Note: After this magazine went to the printer’s, Alex won the Hollywood Music in Media award for Independent Music Video for his co-written song, “Bend Not Break.” 

Jeanette: Did you know why or what it would be about?

Alex: It was going to be about suicide. And I’m the lemonade guy! I had never written a song like this before, but I have lived long enough to know that following that voice never lets me down. I ran back into the studio, and all the producers and engineers were packing up and calling Ubers. I said, “We’re not done yet! We have one more song.” They asked what it was about. I told them to imagine the Golden Gate Bridge and seeing someone at the end of the bridge about to jump and you’re the only one there. What would you say to that person?

Jeanette: How did they react?

Alex: The Brazilian engineer burst out crying. And then he told us that today was the one-year anniversary of his best friend taking his life, and that all day he had been thinking about what he could have done to save him. We all looked at each other through our tears as we told more stories. We wrote “Bend Don’t Break” in an hour.

Jeanette: Amazing. How did the anti-suicide community find out about the song?

Alex: A month after we wrote the song, my manager put me on a conference call with the CEO of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention. He told me they had just listened to my song and they were all crying. They requested to use it in their upcoming campaign for suicide prevention in September, and then he asked if we had a music video. We didn’t. “Can you make one in the next two weeks?” I said, “Oh sure, we can do that.” And inside I was freaking out! I didn’t even know where to start.

Jeanette: What was your first step?

Alex: I was talking to my wife, and she reminded me of what had happened in Herriman with seven suicides in one year. I started reading news articles and bawling my eyes out as I learned the names and the families. I had a strong impression to shoot the video in Herriman. I spent all day driving around looking for places to shoot. Everything felt right.

Jeanette: How did you get Herriman on board? Did they know what you had in mind?

Alex: I did the first thing that came to mind. I got on Facebook and wrote a message. “Dear Herriman City …” (laughing). I said that I wanted to shoot a music video in Herriman on a very sensitive subject. I got 600 messages in the first hour. I was blown away. We had 1,200 people turn up for the video shoot! People told stories of the healing they felt. It was incredible.

Alex married his wife, Julie, at age 36 and they’ve had six children in 12 years. They share their lives with humor and vulnerability on numerous social media channels. (Photo courtesy of Alex Boye)

Jeanette: And the song is helping people way beyond Herriman.

Alex: I had one lady from the U.S. tell me a story of her sister in Scotland who called to say she was taking her life — it would be better if she wasn’t around. The sister was praying to know what to say, and she had the thought to have her sister get on YouTube and together they would watch the “Bend Don’t Break” video. They were in tears all the way through it, and afterwards her sister changed her mind because of the song. What??? I’ve heard so many stories like this.

Jeanette: Did you see this coming?

Alex: Even two months ago, I wouldn’t have told you I would become so passionate about this message. But what I’m noticing is that everything I’ve written all along the way somehow addresses the topic, and I didn’t realize it. I look back on all my songs, and I’m thinking, “Oh my gosh! It’s right there!”

Jeanette: Where does this song fit as far as important moments in your life?

Alex: I know how powerful music is, but I’ve never been able to harness it in the way I wanted until now. It’s the most powerful song I’ve ever been a part of. It has taken on a life of its own. I’m getting calls from all over the world wanting me to be part of their events, their walks, their efforts to help people work their way through problems. All of a sudden, this has become my mission. What’s cool is that I don’t have to drop everything to do it. I’m going to be performing at a school anyway, and I share this as part of my message. I’m going to be doing a fireside anyway, so I fit this in.

Jeanette: I love watching you lift all of our spirits on stage as well as social media.

Alex: Thank you. You’ll never hear me rant or complain online. It doesn’t help my spirit! If I need to vent, I’ll talk to someone privately. But I don’t believe in sending out that negative energy to so many people. They don’t need it! They already have enough going on in their lives. I never respond to haters because as soon as you do, they pull you back in. I can’t pick up that hate and energy. It’s a really big thing for me. So I try to send out things that are of good worth or praiseworthy. And people don’t have to press “like” to be inspired by it.

Jeanette: How do you keep up with your multiple social channels without letting it take over your life?

Alex: I never pick up my phone first thing in the morning and look at social media. I don’t want that to set my energy for the rest of the day. I do something spiritual first — even if it’s read scriptures on my phone. It resets me and then I can do all the other stuff. We used to go to school and fish for compliments. Now we’re trying to fish for a million people to like our posts. We can’t keep up with that! The key is to post things of substance and to try to focus on how I can help people and perhaps change their perceptions of something.

Jeanette: How do you feel about your eight years with the Tabernacle Choir?

Alex: I didn’t always go with the most peaceful spirit because my life was stressful and hectic. Sometimes it felt like home teaching to me — I was so busy and didn’t want to go, but then it was always so incredible that I’m so glad I were there. I got to sing praises to Elohim with 360 other people and the orchestra. Nothing is going to beat that! I miss those times.

Jeanette: What role do you see the choir playing in the community and beyond?

Alex: I heard motivational speaker Joel Osteen say once that the choir is like John the Baptist — they prepare the way for the real thing. And if you notice, the prophet never speaks until the choir has sung. They bring the spirit, and it was such an honor to add my voice. That’s how I saw myself as a choir member — as someone who prepares people to hear from the prophet and feel the spirit. I still believe I am a preparer for the real thing — for the big thing! And at this time of year, music leads people to Christmas as well.

Jeanette: What stands out to you from making your Christmas album?

Alex: I called up members of the Tabernacle Choir and got as many as possible to sing on my album. They sang “What Child Is This?” and it was an amazing experience.

As a teenager, Alex Boye joined The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints after his co-worker at McDonald’s told him about some American girls who could share a message with him. A few years later, he served a mission in England where he experienced his most memorable Christmas. He and a companion set up a chair in the food kitchen. Alex gave haircuts while his companion handed out copies of the Book of Mormon. (Photo courtesy of Alex Boye)

Jeanette: How are you using what you’ve learned to help other artists?

Alex: We’re getting funding right now to get my entertainment company off the ground, and I’ve signed a deal with Sony for worldwide distribution of products. We have so much talent in Utah and I want to be part of getting all of our messages to the world! Unfortunately, sometimes when people get famous, they lose themselves. We believe it strengthens careers and stage performances by living an honor code. I feel like when we follow rules, the Lord blesses us. He needs something by which to bless us. I truly believe this and share it as I travel the world performing and talking to other artists.

Jeanette: With all of your traveling, what is your airplane routine like?

Alex: I see a flight as “three movies, breakfast and a trip to the bathroom.” I also like to have gratitude thoughts over and over. Those thoughts lead to big things. I focus on gratitude when I’m heading into a show, or a concert or a fireside. People feel it when I take that with me.

Jeanette: What is your ultimate goal?

Alex: My ultimate goal is to spread music all over the world. Good music. Healing music. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Christian music. And now with my record deal in place, I told my wife, “You thought we were on a train ride before? Put a seatbelt on for this one!”

Jeanette: Buckle up! I’m excited to watch you on this exciting ride.

Alex: Thank you! And happy birthday! (The interview took place on October 5th, which happens to be both Jeanette and Alex’s birthday.)


Live In-Person: 3 of Alex Boye’s holiday gifts

Carnegie Hall
November 30

“This is my second time being part of this concert run by Kate Winslet. She invites celebrities and we sing Christmas songs and work with local choirs. It’s a great excuse for Julie and me to be in New York!”

Olympus High School
December 13

“My wife went to Olympus. I love doing my Christmas shows in familiar settings!”

Get tickets at ticketor.com/alexboye.

Rose Parade
January 1, 2019

“I’m honored to be performing in the Rose Bowl Parade!”

 

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