Singer-songwriter Alexa Ray Joel, daughter of Long Island music legend Billy Joel, on Friday releases the romantic ballad "Seven Years," her first original song since 2010.
The long interim, explains Joel, 35, a regular on the New York cabaret circuit, came about because "I'm such a perfectionist and so hard on myself as a writer, because my father, to me and I know to many others, is the ultimate, signature songwriter. … And the bar being set so high, I think in a way I set the bar for myself so high that it almost held me back."
Calling it "a double-edged sword when you have such a genius that you look up to," Alexa Ray Joel, speaking by phone from Sag Harbor, says she "made a promise to myself early on that unless I feel something's at my father's level of songwriting, I'm not going to put it out. But I'm learning to set my own bar, so it's been a really long process for me, learning to trust myself. And I feel like, a little late in the game, I'm finally there."
"Seven Years" is a paean to her long relationship with Ryan Gleason, 43, a restaurateur and real estate broker to whom, Joel announced on New Year's Day 2018, she is engaged. By now they have been together "nine years, but when I started writing the song we were at seven years." In her lyrics he is "steadfast with pure devotion / Even when he's pushed away," and Joel paints a melancholic image where "In the kitchen we're slow dancing / Rest my head upon his shoulder / We pretend we're still romancing / Even though we're getting older."
"We do slow dance," Joel says. "It's something we did when we first got together, and I always get a little choked up when we do it, because it reminds me of the beginning."
The daughter of Billy Joel and his second wife, supermodel Christie Brinkley, who divorced in 1994, Alexa Ray Joel was born in New York City and grew up on Central Park West and, later, in Sag Harbor. She initially attended The Nightingale-Bamford School on the Upper East Side, but her mom "was worried about it. She said, 'This is maybe too much, the way the girls grow up here.' She wanted me to have a more innocent childhood." On Long Island, Joel attended the Ross School in East Hampton, and went on to a stint at New York University before beginning her music career at age 19.
Now, after nine years and "Seven Years," Joel — who also keeps an apartment in Manhattan — is in no hurry to have a wedding. "I am the type of person who is only good at focusing on one thing at a time, so I'm focused on my music right now," she says. Aside from the pandemic affecting any planning, "We're not in any rush. I've learned from my parents' mistakes — and they know this: 'Well, you learn from our mistakes.' They have, in the past, rushed into marriages. I am a cautious girl and I like to take my time, not just with music but in my personal life as well. I just kind of go at my own pace."
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