Breaking Big: 10 new artists to hear now
Get to know (Sandy) Alex G, Olivia Holt, Charlie Worsham, and more.
Who’s topping the charts, going viral, and ruling our earbuds? Each month, EW introduces the freshest music talent you have to hear now. Below, get to know (Sandy) Alex G, Olivia Holt, Charlie Worsham, and more.
(Sandy) Alex G
Listen If You Like: Elliott Smith, Animal Collective, Car Seat Headrest
The Backstory: When the credits rolled on Frank Ocean’s 2016 album Endless, (Sandy) Alex G was listed as the guitarist on four of its tracks. Hours later, Ocean dropped Blonde, which features the rising 24-year-old musician on standouts “Self Control” and “White Ferrari.” (At the time, he performed as just Alex G.) The collaboration significantly raised the profile of Alex Giannascoli, who had released a few albums on Bandcamp and a full-length on Domino in 2015, but the achievement of teaming with one of the era’s defining pop auteurs hasn’t gone to his head. “To be honest, my career as far as I know hasn’t changed very much, which is cool,” Giannascoli tells EW. “I don’t wanna have something special built on a project that isn’t mine. I was just really happy to do it and it was a really awesome experience.” The sessions paid dividends for Giannascoli’s music, though. He says Ocean’s “willingness to collaborate with people and use other people’s skills” was a revelation “because I never liked to do that.”
Why He Rules: Rocket, Giannascoli’s second album for Domino, runs through genres at a breakneck pace, from lilting Americana (“Proud”) to abrasive noise experimentation (“Brick”) to warped piano balladry (“Sportstar”). “That’s just my habit when I’m making stuff,” he says. “To keep doing things to keep my own interest up.” Giannascoli used GarageBand to sporadically record much of Rocket himself, but he also brought in outside collaborators, including his old high school friend Molly Germer, who plays fiddle, and his older brother, who contributed some keyboard and guitar work. Ocean’s knack for sifting through the output of his collaborators directly influenced this aspect of the process. “I saw the way he’d use my stuff; he’d just take chunks,” Giannascoli says. “I started doing stuff like that. I had my brother play keyboards on one song, ‘Proud,’ and then I just took out the chunks I liked and sort of Frankenstein-ed it.”
Next Up: Out May 19, Rocket is one of the year’s most idiosyncratic — and phenomenal — indie-rock records yet. Giannascoli will tour the States in June and July in support of the record. —Eric Renner Brown
The Backstory: You might recognize the 19-year-old’s single “History” from the Today’s Top Hits playlist on Spotify, where the song racked up more than 60 million streams without the support of Top 40 radio. There’s a lot to love about the track, from its tropical house-flavored beat to its gummy hook, but Holt thinks the message has resonated most. “It comes from a real life experience of mine, and to put that out in the world for people to listen to is a little terrifying,” she says. “The reaction I’ve been getting since the song has come out is insane. People are really connecting with it and are telling me how they’ve been through a similar situation. It was comforting, knowing I wasn’t alone and that people are being moved by my music.”
Why She Rules: Transitioning from child star to a grown-up artist isn’t easy, but Holt — who starred for years on the Disney Channel series Kickin’ It — is refreshingly candid about how she plans to navigate that minefield of change. “It definitely has been a challenge for me, but I feel like it’s all in baby steps,” she says. “Just like how I may not be ready for something and need to ease my way into it, my fans are the same away, so it’s all a process. I’ve decided I’m just going to take one day and a time and not make any rash decisions and be mindful of who I am. I don’t want to just shock people with something crazy to let them know I’m now mature and ready.”
Next Up: She’s been in the studio working on new music and hopes to have a single out by the end of the year. “I’ve been experimenting with new sounds every day,” she says. Holt also continues to juggle acting projects: She’ll share a screen with Renée Zellweger in the upcoming movie Same Kind of Different as Me, and next year she’ll star in the Marvel television series Cloak & Dagger on Freeform. —Nolan Feeney
Listen If You Like: Kip Moore, Brandy Clark
The Backstory: Worsham has toured with Nashville heavyweights including Taylor Swift, Miranda Lambert, and Kenny Rogers since debuting in 2013 — but the 31-year-old singer-songwriter’s second full-length will be his big break. Beginning Of Things dropped last month to rave reviews, which wasn’t lost on Worsham. “Affirmation is fuel in the tank for any creative person,” he says, “especially when the art comes from a vulnerable place. I practice a lot of gratitude these days, and I’m as grateful for the folks who carried me through the interim time between these two albums as I am for the positive reaction the music’s getting.”
Why He Rules: Humor and blunt honesty have deep roots in country music, and it’s refreshing to see a male artist emerge who uses both. Worsham, who counts Kanye West, Roger Miller, and Jerry Reed as influences, says he started making Beginning with a very simple goal. “I picked up this pack of three notebooks and wrote, ‘Tell the truth’ on the first cover,” he recalls. “Four notebooks and two years later, I had the songs for this record. At first it was emotional bloodletting, trying to make sense of my frustrations. The deeper I dug into my truth, the more it became about claiming my musical geography, owning my talent, reclaiming my confidence, and falling back in love with music. The common threads of the process were the importance of speaking one’s truth and whatever’s in the water down in Mississippi.”
Next Up: Worsham is currently touring with powerhouse country-rocker Brandy Clark and in June he’ll join Tim McGraw and Faith Hill’s massive Soul2Soul world tour as an opener. —Madison Vain
Rogue + Jaye
Listen If You Like: Fleetwood Mac, Dolly Parton, your parents’ collection of ’70s-era AM Gold
The Backstory: A little over a decade ago, Courtney Jaye was an up-and-coming songwriter who had a major label deal with Island Records. She’d recorded a debut album, Traveling Light, and was feted by label titans like LA Reid. “I went through the major label wringer — I got to see everything,” she says. But when the label tried to push a more commercial image to the public — “They were trying to sex it up and get airplay on the same station as 50 Cent,” she says with a laugh — it turned her off and she opted to pursue a career as an independent musician, releasing a handful of indie records and collaborating with rockers like Ben Bridwell of Band of Horses and Butch Walker.
But now, she’s teamed with Zach Rogue of the indie-pop band Rogue Wave for the country-roots duo Rogue and Jaye; the duo are releasing their first effort, Pent Up, on Friday. The pair were introduced through their publishing company and partnered to write a song. The experience was cathartic for Jaye, who was recovering from the fallout of what she calls a toxic relationship. When Rogue called upon her to write more songs, she was game. “And it was on that day, when we finished a second song, that we thought, ‘We have to make a record,'” Jaye recalls.
Why They Rule: Rogue and Jaye pair breezy country- and roots-inspired grooves underneath Jaye’s sumptuous vocals, which echo Nashville greats like Loretta Lynn and Patsy Cline. Other tracks, like “Golden Lady,” conjure the laid-back California pop vibe of Fleetwood Mac. “Zach has almost gotten to be like a big brother to me,” says Jaye. “I really respect him and look up to him — I’ve never had that with other male musicians before.”
Next Up: The pair will hit the road this summer, opening for Jack Johnson. And their setlist will feature tunes from Pent Up as well as some choice covers, such as Paul Simon and Linda Ronstadt’s Graceland duet “Under African Skies.” They’re also plotting a second album together. “I have a vision for the album,” says Jaye. “I want to experiment with some beats and work with a producer. I’m also listening to a lot of Sade. The songs we have been making are incredibly intimate.” —Kevin O’Donnell
Listen If You Like: Jack Garratt, Petit Biscuit, Oh Wonder
The Backstory: Dillon Francis and Kygo teamed-up for a remix of the Austrian singer-songwriter’s whimsical single “Coming Over” in 2015 — but now it’s his own handiwork that’s poised to take off. His tune “Miss You” has earned more than 76 million streams since dropping last fall and his new jam “Everyone’s Talking” is infectious, summer-ready electro-pop — though its origins aren’t quite as sunny as its twinkling production. “I was in a tough spot with a beautiful girl,” Hersey, 28, recalls. “There was a lot of judgement from the outside, mostly her friends telling her I couldn’t be the one because [of how] I interact with fans online, photos of me… I didn’t think it was fair or right for her to have to go through that, so the song became a reminder that we all should make decisions based on our own real-life experiences, not what we’re told on the internet.”
Why He Rules: Hersey’s music comes in a 360-degree package: from album artwork to music videos, the singer has a significant role. And in the clip for “Everyone’s Talking,” he decided to tackle love in the internet age. “I feel like we’re a different species now than when I was a kid,” he says. “It’s exciting to be constantly connected with one another across the world, but I miss the intimacy and authenticity of phone-less life.”
Next Up: Hersey will drop his debut EP, Pages, on May 5 via Glassnote Records, the home of Mumford & Sons, Phoenix, and Childish Gambino. And he promises another batch of songs before the end of the year. —M.V.
Listen If You Like: Death Grips, Dead Prez, Danny Brown
The Backstory: MCs Eaddy and the O.G.M. grew up in Newark, N.J., absorbing music from Wu-Tang Clan and DMX to Iggy Pop and Prince — or as the O.G.M. puts it, “real musicians that have paved the way and have set a tone for music to come in 100 years.” But immersing themselves in Brooklyn’s hardcore scene helped them arrive at their concussive brand of hip-hop and raucous live performances. “That’s how our music transcended,” Eaddy says of frequenting venues including The Acheron and Death by Audio to see bands such as Anasazi and Hank Wood and the Hammerheads. “Seeing this energy of how they perform and how the crowds react to that s—.”
Why They Rule: “We’re not a political band and we’re not trying to be politicians,” Eaddy cautions. So even if their cacophonous debut album, United States of Horror, confronts all sorts of looming sociopolitical issues — “Whether they be politics or religion or race or capitalism or whatever,” the O.G.M. says — it isn’t exactly a reaction to President Trump and the 2016 election. “Some people are like, ‘Punk’s back,'” Eaddy says. “I’m like, ‘I don’t know about that.’ It doesn’t take some f—in’ f—head… we’ve always had f—heads as president. But with the exception of a couple, I’d pretty much say we’ve had our hands full with that. It’s no different 20 or 50 years ago than now.” Ho99o9’s music fuses that broader worldview — where Trump is a symptom and not a cause of longstanding problems — with a mind-bending assortment of sounds, from hip-hop to industrial to punk.
Next Up: Ho99o9’s debut, The United States of Horror, drops Friday. “Because this is our first LP, it gave us a little more time to put it together,” Eaddy says. And they’re taking their visceral live act on the road. “It’s our lives,” the O.G.M. says. “It’s our blood, our body, our soul. We put it all on stage at once.” —E.R.B.
Listen If You Like: Simon and Garfunkel, Låpsley, Elliott Smith
The Backstory: When Hana Elion and JJ Mitchell entered their freshman year at the liberal arts college of Wesleyan in Connecticut, it wasn’t the easiest transition. “We were put in the jock dorm, with all the lax bros,” says Mitchell. But their unfortunate dorm assignment was made easier when the two became fast friends, bonding over a shared love of Amy Winehouse. “We would leave parties so drunk together and go find echoey bathrooms so we could sing the same favorite song: Amy Winehouse’s ‘You Know I’m No Good,'” says Elion. “Music has always been apart of our friendship.”
So it makes sense that the two took their camraderie to the next level by writing their own music together, much of it featured on their stunning debut album, Young. Over a dozen tracks, the duo weave close harmonies that recall the most delicate of hymns with pulsing electro-pop grooves. Lyrically, they’re just as intimate, with diaristic confessionals about how family-life has, according to Mitchell, “informed how we go into romantic relationships and friendships.” Perhaps not surprisingly, this intimacy was captured during many late-night writing sessions at college. “We’d be in the library from midnight until 3 a.m. and then make music from 3 a.m. to 6 a.m.,” says Elion. “It was kind of a secretive, small thing that we kept private and for ourselves. It’s good that it started that way, too, because our music writing has only retained [that sensibility] now that we’re doing this as a career.”
Why They Rule: Young might be one of the coziest albums you’ll hear all year — but it still packs enough oomph to ignite a late-night dance party, especially on “Leave the Light On,” which mixes layers of vocal loops with a fat sax hook and a gentle boom-bap. The duo credits working with producer Nicolas Vernhes (Animal Collective, Dirty Projectors) and the artist Autre Ne Veut for helping to add a modern sensibility to their homespun, intimate sound. “They pushed us to explore new sonic terrain,” says Elion.”With Nicolas, it felt like we were in a laboratory with a mad scientist—it was super fun.”
Next Up: After recently opening for the up-and-coming pop artist Maggie Rogers, the duo are continuing to tirelessly tour the country this summer. They’re already discovering they’ve got devoted fans. Says Mitchell, “At our show in D.C., I was gobsmacked because I could see everyone in the crowd singing the words — and it wasn’t even one of our singles. It means they listened to the album. And that just sent me over the edge.” —K.O.
The Backstory: The 20-year-old singer (full name: Astrid Smeplass) became a star in her home country of Norway after placing fifth on their version of American Idol in 2013. Back then, you’d often find her with an acoustic guitar singing country-pop tunes. But after returning to high school and taking some time to collaborate with different writers and producers, Astrid eventually found herself drawn to electro-pop. “I’ve always been really proud of my time on Idol, so for me I never really had the need to break free from the associations,” she says. “Getting time to write more, to figure out who I was as an artist, and to get a feeling of what I liked and didn’t like was very important to me. I’m very happy we didn’t rush anything.”
Why She Rules: Astrid’s brand of electro-pop is viscerally thrilling — while listening, expect to feel the same sparks and rushes she sings about on infatuation jams like “Breathe” and “Bloodstream.” “It has to come naturally,” she says of capturing that energy. “Both [were] songs where I’ve thought the least about the lyrics while writing them. I just let it happen and went with the flow during the process.” She’s also incredibly hands-on during that process, writing with the producers in the studio as they’re building the track. “Sometimes you can tell when a song has been written and produced afterwards, or if a producer made a track and someone wrote on top of it,” she says. “I hope that when people listen [to my music], they can hear that everything has been made together, step by step.”
Next Up: She’ll release her Party’s Over EP on June 30. After that, she says, “an album is definitely on my wish-list,” though she’s not sure exactly when that will happen. For now, Astrid says she’s actively writing new material and is looking forward to a crop of shows in May in both the U.S. and Europe. “I have a lot of friends and fans I’m looking forward to seeing again,” she says. —N.F.
Listen If You Like: Real Estate, DIIV, Woods
The Backstory: Drew Auscherman, Kevin Krauter, and Keegan Beresford were buddies as teenagers growing up in Bloomington, Ind. and played active roles in the town’s music scene. They remained friends in college and when Auscherman began experimenting with a new project, he asked Krauter and Beresford to help him flesh out the tracks. “There’s so much great music coming out of the Midwest,” Auscherman tells EW. “I think there always has been, just people don’t really pay attention.” Adds Krauter: “It’s the easiest context to start a band. If you know people that play music, they’ll put you on a house show instantly.”
Why They Rule: Woods bassist Jarvis Taveniere engineered much of Hoops’ debut full-length, Routines, at his studio in Greenpoint, Brooklyn. But while the band’s sound superficially resembles those of Woods, DIIV, or Real Estate, there’s more to it; Auscherman’s initial demos drew heavily on experimental electronic producer Oneohtrix Point Never and strains of that rhythmic quirkiness remain. Plus, they’ve got some punk cred: Hoops was going to record a recent music video at a local church, until they were barred at the last moment. “The church didn’t agree with our values as a band,” Krauter says with a laugh. “Their exact phrasing was, ‘We looked the band up and we don’t think God is at the center of their message,'” Beresford recalls.
Next Up: Routines drops Friday and the band hits the road stateside later this month. —E.R.B.
Listen If You Like: Dwight Yoakam, Ray LaMontagne, Jason Isbell
The Backstory: Outlaw grew up in Southern California listening to Western swing outfit Asleep At The Wheel, but says he fell in love with classic country when he entered his twenties. “Emmylou Harris’ first album, Pieces of the Sky, blew my mind,” he recalls, “so I started diving in and found songs written by California country singers like Merle Haggard and Gram Parsons.” It would be another decade, though, before he’d kick off his own musical career. “I kept music at arm’s length for a long time,” he admits. “I didn’t want to be a poor, struggling artist.” Following his 30th birthday, however, he realized he “only felt truly gratified from songwriting.”
Why He Rules: Aside from the last name — which is real, by the way; Outlaw is his mother’s maiden name — the 34-year-old carries on the long tradition of California country beautifully. Tenderheart, out now, is one the year’s most appropriately titled albums — and one of the easiest to listen to. Cue it up before settling into a comfy chair.
Next Up: Outlaw will take Tenderheart on the road, with dates stretching through August. Then, he says, it’ll be time to start planning for another album and another child: “Hopefully I get famous soon so we can afford it!” —M.V.
For more emerging artists, revisit EW’s April slate of Breaking Bigs.