Alexandra Fisher had never sung in front of a crowd until her sophomore year at Illinois State University.
She got a guitar in kindergarten, but didn’t really pick it up until she was a teenager, and she loved to sing. She had been a percussion member of the marching band from fifth grade through her high school years at Minooka Community High School, where she graduated from in 2009, but that was it.
So when she stood in front of everyone at an open mic night at ISU, she was more than a bit worried. What crossed her mind were the many people who go on shows like American Idol and sound really bad, but think they are good.
“I didn’t know if I was actually really good at it,” she said.
But Fisher was a hit, and the excitement and exhilaration she felt gave her the confidence to keep going.
“It felt right for some reason,” she said.
Trying new things and figuring out ways to make them work seems to be a forte of Fisher’s. Take the creation of the band, “Alex and the XOs,” for instance.
Fisher’s open mic night success landed her some local shows. She performed solo at first, but knew she needed a band. She booked a show for “the band” before the members had even been chosen.
Guitarist Joe Holland and bassist Luke Hess had been playing together for some time. They came as a package deal, Fisher said.
Fisher watched drummer Dan Bretz perform, and before he was even off the stage during his last show, she booked him with the XOs.
“We got the band together in a few days,” Fisher said. “We didn’t know each other well, we all have different personalities, but it all clicked. It became an instant bond.”
Alex and the XOs have been playing the Champaign-Urbana area for the past year and have become hugely successful.
They were approached by Stu Records, an ISU record label, to record and produce a full-length CD, which became their first release “North to the Future.”
The CD debut and release show was Oct. 13.
“We were almost sold out of CDs, the show was packed,” Fisher said.
The songs are written by Fisher, who uses her past experiences for inspiration.
“The best way to cope through a situation is to write songs,” Fisher said. “Everything I write is something that has happened to me. It might not seem important (in the song), but I know what it means.”
Alex and the XOs’ music is a mix of genres. Fisher calls it ukulele fun pop, with Indie Folk and an alternative vibe.
They play a variety of instruments on their CD, including guitar, drums, ukulele, bells, mallet percussion and even a guest fiddle piece by friend Chelsey Carhouser.
“You feel like you are being hugged by your grandma, but it’s a little edgier than mainstream pop,” Fisher said.
The art designs on the CD cover were done by band members, from the song titles typed on an old manual typewriter to the homemade French toast, reminiscent of Fisher’s mom.
“It’s kind of a fun, goofy idea,” Fisher said.
Holland did the mixing and mastering of the CD music, much of it done in his parents’ basement.
“We are a do-it-yourself kind of band,” Fisher said.
The band played in Minooka this past summer, at the Three Rivers Arts Council’s Arts and Jams Fest in July.
“That was the first time I have played since high school in my hometown and it was really cool,” she said.
Fisher is excited to see the schools and the community supporting the arts. As an elementary education major, she sees a lot of places pulling away from art and music.
“It’s neat to see our community isn’t doing that,” she said.
With just two more years left at ISU, Fisher wants to spend her time making music and sharing it with others before she “gets a real job,” she said.
Alex and the XOs are about to record their second CD and will be playing in Chicago and Champaign over the next few months. This CD will be 100 times more professional, Fisher said.
Other shows are planned for the near future and they intend to hit the road over school breaks, heading south where Fisher’s grandmother lives.
“We will shove our stuff in my mom’s big SUV, go down to Alabama and make our way back doing shows in different states,” she said.
“I am finally letting my life happen,” she added, “instead of controlling it.”
You can listen to their music at alexandthexos.com, on Spotify, iTunes and other online media stores.