Interview by: Kaylee Warren
Lexi Riesenberg (Gallatin 2019) and Gino Lee met during a chance Summer encounter at Pete’s Candy Store, the cozy Brooklyn food and music venue where they were both participating in an open mic event. What began as friendly conversation between singer-songwriters to ease the pre-performance jitters has blossomed into the formation of “strangers” the name of Riesenberg and Lee’s feel-good pop duo project. Embodied met up with Lexi one afternoon, celebratory bubble tea in hand after having just completed her colloquium, to talk the serendipitous formation of “strangers,” the cultural and political importance of pop music, Beyoncé, and the exciting things in store for this pop music pair.
Tell me about how you and Gino met and came to create “strangers”.
Gino and I met over last summer at an open mic, actually. We were at Pete’s Candy Store in Brooklyn.
That’s so nice! Were you both performing?
Yeah! We were both trying to perform. We both had the last two slots of the night, which was really stressful for us because we had both never been there. We were the last two people which basically meant that we had a lot of time to talk [laughs]. A lot of the people who go to Pete’s Candy Store are regulars, so we clearly stood out. I was like “Hey!”and he was like “Hey!” and we [eventually realized] we were on the same page. We met and his mom was actually there--she was staying with him while he was here [in New York] for a few months-- and she was kind of the one who was like “Oh, you guys should do something!”
Wow, so his mom played a pretty big role in you guys joining together!
Yeah, a little bit! We followed each other on Instagram, as millenials do. He DM’ed me a few weeks later saying that he wanted to form a music collective with the people he had met here. I think I was the only one who responded, like “Hey, yeah I would love to do this!” So we met up, and we just wrote a song. It went really well, and both of us were really excited about it. For me, it was my first “session”. I’d done a few co-writes with friends, but I’d never worked with a producer. We wrote a few more songs and then we were kind of like “Okay, this is working, maybe we should formalize it.” He suggested that we do a duo, and I thought about it for a little bit, and he thought about it for a little bit, and we agreed that we would do that because it just made sense for the music we were making.
What led you guys to call yourselves “strangers”? Did it have to do with how you met?
It was kind of like we were really, really indecisive about the name [laughs]. This is so dumb, but I was walking down the street with my friends as we were going to a party, and I was just saying names out loud. [At one point] I was just like “STRANGERS!” and then they would just scream it after me like “STRANGERS!” and that just felt good to me, you know? [laughs]. We were just thinking okay, if you were at a concert and you were cheering and you were saying a name, what would you yell. I think it’s one of those things where hopefully we’ve grown into it, moreso than we picked it for a certain reason. What Gino likes about it is the idea of music bringing people together.
Has music always been a big influence in your life?
Yes. It’s so cliche, but I’ve been singing since I can remember. I’ve always loved singing. Writing hasn’t always been a big part of my life. My senior year of high school is when I first wrote a song, so that’s been new. Performing has also been new because I was really shy growing up. I only sang for my sister in my parent’s bathroom [laughs] because the shower acoustics, you know, make you sound...
Truly! Bathroom acoustics make you sound so good.
Yeah! So that’s where I would hang out after school [laughs]. Honestly when I’m broke next year...
[Laughs] When I’m broke next year.
Post-grad..oh god [laughs]. But yeah, it’s so cliche, but music has always been a big part of my life. When I was little, I always knew I wanted to be a singer.
Can I ask what your concentration is?
So I called my concentration: “Critical Approaches to Pop Music”. It let me think critically about pop music and the significance it has in our culture. When I grew up loving pop music, my older sister would always give me a hard time. She would be like “Turn that off, that song is so annoying, we’ve hear it a million times.” She wanted to listen to cooler music. Growing up, pop music just always got a bad rep. Being here in Gallatin let me think about it more from a perspective of the value that it holds socially and culturally. A lot of my concentration had to to with race and gender and how pop music, as a subset of pop culture, can be a vessel for those ideologies regarding race and gender.
That’s fantastic. Because to be pop music, it has to be popular, so being able to bring those discussions of race and gender into a larger conversation is really important.
Absolutely, it’s on a mass scale.
Who or what influences your music the most? Who inspires you?
Growing up, a big one was Beyoncé.
Oh, you already know.
I’m a Virgo, and Beyoncé’s a Virgo…I’m just saying.
So you’re essentially cosmological family. You’re cosmo sisters.
I couldn’t have said it any better.
What’s next for “strangers”?
We’re going to release another song hopefully in the next few weeks. It’s called “Easy,” so I’m excited for that, and Gino is hopefully coming [to New York] in a few weeks. We’re going to play a show, do some gigs. I think we’re going to release an EP around the same time, as well.
I’m excited for you guys. What does this group mean for you?
I really love working with Gino, and I admire his production and songwriting skills. At the same time, we’re both pursuing our own artist projects. I think we’re both just trying to see what sticks and what people like. In this time in the music industry, I think just putting music out is the most important thing.
I’m imaging one of those T-Shirt launchers at sports games, but instead of T-shirts it’s your music.
Exactly! [laughs] Hopefully someone catches a T-shirt.