“PLAYING traditional music has always felt somehow healing to me, like reconnecting lost threads of connection to land and to generations past.”

Elias Alexander might call Ashland, Oregon his home but it’s clear that Scotland holds a special place in his heart.

The multi-instrumentalist musician recently went viral with his track Fiddle Disco – a unique combination of Scottish trad and pop which now has more than one million views. 

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Speaking to the Sunday National from his home in the US, Alexander discussed his love for Scottish music, playing Highland games in America and how he came up with his unique sound.

A love for Scotland

The musician explains that his interest in Scottish trad was first sparked through a trip he took here with his mum.

“She used to live in Scotland back in the day. She’s American but lived there for a while and so we went back for a reunion with her community,” he explains.

“That was when I was 13. She introduced me to Scottish music when we went because she wanted me to experience the place she lived.

“I just totally fell in love with it. I thought it was amazing and I just decided I wanted to play.”

It’s testament to how well travelled Scottish music is that Alexander was able to find a bagpipes teacher living in the Pacific Northwest.

Murray Huggins, the maker of Colin Kyo bagpipes, became his teacher and Alexander has never looked back since then.

“I was lucky enough to get back to Scotland a number of times. My godmother took me because she also lived over there,” he says.

“I met more and more people who were into Scottish trad and it became a big part of my life.”

The Ramblxr project

The songwriter’s latest project, Ramblxr, came out of the lockdowns of 2020 and offers a unique blend of various sounds.

At the time, Alexander (below) was living in Los Angeles and was doing a lot of work online given the restrictions in place as a result of the pandemic.

The National: Image credit: Anna Colliton

“Online ceilidhs were big at the time with musicians on one end and people dancing around at the other,” he says.

“My friend Summer had asked me to put together some music for one of these and I thought I might as well just play around.

“I was already writing and producing pop songs and I thought I’ll just do a fusion thing, just for fun, and Fiddle Disco was one of the first things I made. I’ve since brushed it up and redone it a little bit.”

One thing that Alexander is keen to stress is that people should write and produce the music they want to and not feel boxed in to working on a certain sound.

“I believe really strongly that people, no matter where they’re from, should be encouraged and uplifted to make music in a way that feels most natural to them and I think this piece of music, this fiddle disco work, feels very natural to me.

“It wasn’t something that I planned to do, it wasn’t a goal of mine, it just came out and these things that I love came together so easily.

“I would encourage people to make music with the tools that they have with whatever feels good.”

Scotland abroad

Alexander explains that Highland games culture is huge in the States, adding that a number of bands make a living by performing at them full-time.

Indeed, the musician himself is scheduled to play at the Hawaiian Highland Games at the beginning of April.

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They’re particularly special events for him given that they formed a key part of his childhood as he grew up competing in piping competitions.  

“It’s really amazing how many opportunities there are to participate in Scottish traditional music culture in the states," he explains.

“From the Highland Games to Burns nights, to numerous fiddle camps, once you start to look for it, you see it all over the place.”

He’s also had the opportunity to gig in Scotland as well, having previously played alongside Gaelic musician and Outlander language consultant Gillebrìde MacMillan.

If there’s one thing Alexander loves doing more than anything, it’s performing for a live audience.

“I love doing my shows. Most of the people that listen are not trad heads, they just want to hear good music," he says.

“They love the dance aspect and then I pull out the fiddle or the pipes and it’s satisfying to see people who aren’t into trad get into it and see that it’s beautiful music.”