When musician Brian Alexander first arrived in Omaha, he decided on a big approach to introduce himself to the local music scene.
Alexander, who also goes by “the Acoustic Gangster,” plastered his image across three billboards in town, adorned with the phrase, “Having your own billboard is pretty gangster.”
“I knew I was fresh to the area,” Alexander says. “I wanted to put myself out there and blow up.”
Alexander says the gambit was pricey but ultimately worth it. And that’s not the only wild purchase Alexander has made to promote himself. He also has a life-size cardboard cutout of himself that he hauls around to gigs. Alexander says people try to buy it, steal it, drunk girls try to talk to it, and guys have even tried to pick fights with it. Everybody seems to take pictures with it, too. “That’s been one of the most interesting purchases I’ve ever made,” says Alexander, who enjoys being a bit eccentric.
But Alexander hasn’t relied solely on having his own cardboard doppleganger and putting his face on billboards to build his audience. He’s also spent time building tight relationships with local bars and clubs where he plays, especially Stiles Pub (1204 Howard St.) and Parliament Pub’s Shops of Legacy and Old Market locations.
“I’m really loyal to people that give you chances,” Alexander says.
During Alexander’s sets, he relies on a selection of covers that point toward the sort of music that he writes. There’s plenty of ‘90s-era material from acts like The Smashing Pumpkins, Live, Blind Melon, and the Presidents of the United States. Alexander says he seeks to give his audience a little bit of adolescent nostaglia. “I do stuff that brings them back to high school,” he says.
Alexander’s music takes those influences and combines them with a modern acoustic pop feel that brings to mind contemporary acts like Jason Mraz, Eric Hutchinson, and G. Love. His latest single, “Lemonade,” brings that light-hearted pop vibe together with a simple beat and acoustic guitar.
Omaha may have become Alexander’s musical home, but it was a long journey before he arrived in town. Alexander lived in Martha’s Vineyard, Mass., before attending Penn State University.
His first impulse for pursuing a music career was to pack up for Nashville, but soon an Omaha friend that Alexander had met while studying abroad in France convinced him to give Nebraska a try.
Before long, Alexander had settled down in Omaha and began playing regular gigs. Then one night at a gig, a fan called him over to the bar to buy him a drink, slung his arm around Alexander’s shoulder, and introduced him as “my man, the Acoustic Gangster, Brian Alexander.”
There was no shaking the name, Alexander says. “It kind of stuck in my head the rest of the night,” he recalls.
And it helped him with the dilemma of just how to stand out from the crowd of singer-songwriters out there. In looking up the number of Brian Alexanders on Facebook, he encountered hundreds. That number dropped dramatically for the newly minted nickname. “Sure enough, there were no ‘Acoustic Gangsters’ registered anywhere,” Alexander says.
Now, there’s one who’s eager to make fans any way he can.