BY BRIAN VANOCHTEN
PHOTOGRAPHER TERRY JOHNSTON
GRAND RAPIDS – In the constantly evolving world of pop music, all things are possible – even an unprecedented interpretation of Lady Gaga and all her fabulousness from a male perspective.
Enter local synth-pop act Alexis.
The duo of singer Matthew Forbush, a 35-year-old rural-route mail carrier, and keyboard maestro Dan Hurst, 27, a music director at a Catholic church in Big Rapids, has turned the Gaga genre inside-out while making a name for itself playing club dates throughout Michigan during the past year.
Alexis makes a triumphant homecoming Saturday night as the headliner for its “Return to Founders” performance at Founders Brewing Co., 235 Grandville Ave. SW, for an ages 21-and-older concert at 9 p.m.
“We’re thrilled to be going back to Founders,” Forbush said. “There’s been a lot of attention surrounding this show. We’re looking forward to returning home to a place where we first gained a lot of fans.”
Alexis got its start performing on open mic nights at Founders and other local clubs.
The combination of Forbush, who channels his inner Gaga as part of his theatrical stage presence, and Hurst, who plays the infectious electronica beats that propel the band’s unique sound, has gained a loyal following since the duo formed in 2009 to explore a different side of the synth-pop experience.
“We’ve lovingly described it as male Lady Gaga,” Hurst said during a groundbreaking appearance on WOOD-TV 8 mid-day program “eightWest” in January of 2011 that made everyone take notice of the band.
The “eightWest” performance featured Forbush singing, dancing and glamming it up with playful co-hosts Terri DeBoer and Rachel Ruiz to the rhythms of “Goldstar” from the group’s second CD release.
The response to the local television appearance helped launch a tour that brought Alexis to audiences in Ann Arbor, Detroit, Holland, Kalamazoo, Lansing and other Lake Michigan shoreline communities. It also included club dates in Chicago and an opening slot for post-punk rock outfit The B-52s at the Frederik Meijer Gardens & Sculpture Park amphitheater last summer that further exposed the duo.
“We didn’t know how people were going to receive us in Grand Rapids,” Forbush said of Alexis. “We sort of conquered GR in 2011, and then last year we focussed on getting our name out there around the state and making connections. You get what you put into it. We accomplished a lot in 2012.
“We’ve come a long way in a pretty short amount of time.”
Alexis is nearing completion of its forthcoming third album.
Forbush and Hurst, who previously released “The Night” in 2010 and “Goldstar” in 2011, recently signed with Synth Records. They’ll perform a couple of new songs from its upcoming album, due later this year.
The special “Return to Founders” performance, which includes Tunde Olaniran, Phantasmagoria and DJ Adrian Butler, is Alexis’ first appearance at the local brewery since Halloween of 2011.
“We’ve put together a great lineup of all-electronica dance acts, including some of the biggest acts in Detroit,” Forbush said. “DJ Adrian Butler will play between sets, so the party will never really slow down.”
Forbush is pleasantly surprised by Alexis’ spreading popularity.
He and Hurst had no expectations other than performing at Festival of the Arts in downtown Grand Rapids after being inspired to form an electronica project while attending a synth-pop concert in Chicago.
“Dan and I were both in other bands,” Forbush recalled. “Both of our musical projects were fizzling out. I had always wanted to do a project like this, and I’ve dabbled in electronica music on and off for several years. I always wanted to do something more straight-up synth-pop.
“Dan and I went to see this concert in Chicago and we got a lot of inspiration from it,” he added. “We just had an amazing time. We thought, ‘We’re two dudes, we’ve got the songs, we could do this!’ We came home and pretty much started working on the first album. Our goal had been to perform at Festival.”
The flirtatious Forbush goes Gaga on stage to the surprise of live audiences.
“I was down on the floor, off the stage, humping the floor, in front of the crowd for a New Year’s show recently in Ann Arbor. I just feel liberated,” he said. “I feel like I can do what I want when I’m on stage. If somebody wants to perceive it as funny, that’s fine. If they want to be aroused, that’s fine.
“Their reaction is their reaction. I can’t help how I feel about it.”
In the meantime, Alexis keeps evolving and attracting a larger audience that has a fascination with seeing Forbush’s interpretation of a female pop icon and dancing to Hurst’s irresistible electronica beats.
“I think when we first did ‘eightWest,’ we were definitely going for a reaction on that,” Forbush said. “Some people had a really hard time differentiating if we were a band or if we were a comedy act. It was a little frustrating. I’m a fairly serious musician. The songs are well written, I’m a good singer, Dan’s a good keyboardist. It shouldn’t undermine that, although we have done some pretty wild stuff on stage.
“We create a party atmosphere, but we’re a serious band.”
The cost is $5 for the “Return to Founders” performance.