He’s never owned an iPod, Mp3 player or even ear buds. “My ears,” Ian Thomas Alexy says, “have had enough abuse.”
A slate-eyed Irish-Czech mixture whose beard is flecked with gray, Alexy started playing guitar at 12, channeling Neil Young and Guns ’N Roses in garage bands near his home in Somers Point, N.J. He’s been playing music in bars since he turned 21.
“I try to keep that childlike sense of exploration we had back then.”
He traded the Jersey shore for Lake Superior’s 10 years ago, following his brother, Teague, who was following his Duluthian wife home.
The brothers named their folk band “The Hobo Nephews of Uncle Frank,” a tribute to their mother’s brother, locksmith Frank Flanagan. He’d stayed with them when their folks split up and they’d later crash in his basement.
“The word ‘hobo’ was used as a joke.”
A joke with some truth behind it. His latest, haunting solo CD, “Born on the Day of the Dead,” includes these lyrics in its title track: “I travel the country, these stories I tell, I try to raise your spirits, I try to break the spell.”
Alexy moved to Minneapolis six years ago, slinging dough as a Pizza Lucé cook in Uptown.
“I stayed longer than I needed to because I liked the people and society ingrains in you that you have to have a day job. But I think it’s important for artists to let the paycheck go.”
He eventually quit to zero in on his musical passion and filmmaking. He’s written a screenplay about a guy struggling to get out of the restaurant business and be a full-time musician.
He’d cast himself as the star “but it would have to happen before I get too old to play me.”
In the meantime, he’s been working on documentary films, including a 15-minute short on the making of “Born on the Day of the Dead.”
He’s toying with a longer documentary on 75-year-old West Bank blues legend “Spider” John Koerner, who inspired Bob Dylan and others in the 1960s and still plays regularly.
“I’ve never verbalized that desire before, and I’ve never actually met him, but I have some really good footage of ‘Spider’ John I shot for fun at a blues festival.”
Until then, there are always gigs, such as the Hobo Nephews on May 1 at the Cabooze.
“If you like playing music for people, that’s the payoff. The rest is traveling, hurrying up and waiting,” rushing somewhere “that’s 300 miles away, then waiting for two hours because the sound guy is late.”
Then there’s singing over the clang of silverware, clinking bottles and people talking.
“As you become more confident, you get a little bit more of a command of what you’re doing and audiences start to take more notice.”