They collaborate through their computer screens while sitting 7,000 miles apart. But Gallatin senior Alexa Riesenberg, based in Manhattan, and bandmate Gino Lee, who lives in South Africa — better known by their production name, strangers — overcome this distance, delivering their own unique take on lush pop arrangements and upbeat grooves.
With Riesenberg serving as the primary vocalist for the duo, Lee lends his talents on the production side. The production team released their first single “I Like” last month, garnering over 10,000 streams on Spotify alone.
“It became a story that we wrote about the feeling of being in a relationship and seeing your ex with somebody new and that feeling of jealousy and spite,” Risenberg said of the bouncy single, which features poignant dynamics between male and female vocal harmonies. “We really do want to bring strangers together with our music. That’s what it’s about.”
Both members are in charge of writing the songs – a challenge when operating in different continents. (The two first met at an open mic in Brooklyn last year while Lee was visiting the U.S.)They aim to illustrate the human connection through smart, accessible pop music.
“It’s definitely hard,” Riesenberg said. “Sometimes both of us will be on mute for like two hours [on Skype] until we wave [at each other] when we come up with a good part. Definitely for me, [Gino] brings something new to the table because he listens to a lot more U.K. pop, which is definitely different than here.”
The duo, reminiscent of pop giants Shawn Mendes, Cheat Codes and Bebe Rexha, already has several unreleased songs under their belt, with plans to release another single in the near future.
“We have a lot of [songs] started,” Riesenberg said. “Hopefully we’ll finish this semester.”
Riesenberg formulated her own concentration titled Critical Approaches to Pop Music, which incorporates a blend of songwriting, music production and music anthropology. With the intention of breaking into the music industry as either a songwriter or an artist, the Manhattanite knows the exact direction she wants to take her music.
“We want to be a pop-writing-production team duo,” Riesenberg said. “We want to write and produce pop music […] I’ve always gravitated naturally toward pop music. A lot of the time it’s trivialized and it comes down to a taste war.”
Riesenberg is unafraid of any stigma against the pop genre as well, believing the genre to have more weight than some would like to admit.
“If you say you don’t like Taylor Swift, sometimes it comes off as you trying to show off your better taste,” Riesenberg said with a laugh. “I think pop music has a lot more to say than we usually let it. The fact that everyone is listening to it is a statement in itself.”
A version of this article appeared in the Monday, Feb. 11, 2019, print edition. Email Nicole Rosenthal at [email protected]