June 17, 2010 -- She has a rapturously moody way with the piano.
Alexa Ray Joel is back in her recording studio, seated at a baby grand as her fingers begin to play. Muscle memory in her hands from years of classical training freely summons her emotions from the instrument. Joel, 24, leans into the music as she sings. The piano-driven ballad booms with a vocal intensity that fills the room. She has also learned by heart the personal lyrics of love, and its dangerous ruin.
"There's so many different sides to me on this album," she said. "My first single, 'Notice Me,' is just like a very bright, happy, flirty song. It's very reflective of the place that I'm in now. And then there's the song that does go into my past relationship, and it's sort of like a reflection on masochistic love. When you're just like, 'Love me, I don't care, I just wanna be with you.' I really poured my heart and soul into this album, and I wasn't afraid to kind of go there, and I just went into some very dark places and some very inspiring, light, happy places."
For Joel, it has been a journey out of heartbreak. She said she didn't understand the extent of her pain until she put pen to music sheet. Her new album became a kind of lifeline -- connecting her emotions to the healing power of music.
"You know, music, it's not going to the office every day. It's very personal," Joel said. "You're pouring, my dad likes to say, you're spilling your guts out on the table for everybody to hear."
Her father should know. Joel was, after all, the child of a celebrity marriage of nearly supernova scale.
The 1985 union of one of the world's greatest living musicians with one of its most celebrated beauties created a sense of shock and awe throughout Hollywood. Months later it also spawned a public fascination with Billy Joel and Christie Brinkley's only child. Fans were curious about which remarkable family traits she would inherit.
But if you think Alexa Ray Joel is merely the daughter of two pop culture icons, safely trailing in their stardust -- think again.
"I love my parents, and I'm proud of where I come from, and I'm fortunate and privileged," Joel said. "But at the same time I don't want to ride on their coattails and I want to be defined by me."
Alexa Ray Joel: Great Expectations
Alexa has long been physically defined by her father's soulful eyes and dark hair. But it's their shared passion for songwriting and performing that helped shape her artistic identity.
She began as a child, singing in costumes at home and learning the piano from "The Piano Man" himself. But with great opportunities come great expectations. Alexa decided to emerge from the golden shadow of Billy Joel's success.
"I was always comparing myself to my parents, and my father in particular because he's an artist," said Joel. "How can I live up to this, how can I compare? And what I've realized this year is, I don't have to compare myself to him, I'm my own artist. I'm a female first of all, I have a totally different voice, I have a different sound, I have something different to offer."
Billy Joel's sound, thunderous and lyrically confidant, has made him a global phenomenon with more than 100 million albums sold. In 1999 he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
Alexa's voice is softer, more earnest. Her album is a young woman's ode to the turmoil of her first love, as well as its addictive thrills.
"And then here was this older, talented musician, you know, all over me, and I was like 'Oh, guys like me, they find me attractive,'" Joel said. "Oh my God, I really was that naïve. And so, love is, love is addictive, I mean love, love ... love can be a crazy thing."
She was a teenager when she fell in love with her band's bass player, Jimmy Riot.
"I met him when I was 19, he was 34. I started to feel like a woman through him," she said. "It was my first big romance. My career, my sexuality, as a woman, I associated with him."
After four years together, Alexa was devastated when their relationship ended.
"He wanted me out of the apartment. He basically kicked me out, You never get over that experience, being kicked out of your home," Joel said. "I was crying every day for two years straight after that and, I was in denial, I was like, 'No, he didn't do that. This didn't happen.' It's, it's like a form of... you're not well."
She wasn't. On the morning of Dec. 5, 2009, Alexa woke up with a sense of dread, anticipating the holidays without her boyfriend. She made a decision which she would very soon come to regret.
Alexa Ray Joel: 'So Much Pain'
"I was genuinely, so distraught, and in so much pain," Joel said. "It was near the holidays. I was upset. I don't want to like call and bother anyone with this anymore, 'cause I'm so sick of this pain, let me just, go to sleep."Joel took nearly a dozen homeopathic aspirin pills, ones she thought might help calm her down. Ones she never thought would hurt her.
"It ended up making me feel kind of sick, and then I panicked and I was just not thinking clearly," she said. "It kind of bothers me, that the press calls this an overdose. And I take full responsibility for what I've done. But at the same time, I wasn't trying to kill myself. I have a flair for the dramatic, OK, I'm an artist. I'm a performer. Did I actually want to die? Absolutely not. I was not suicidal."
But her parents weren't taking any chances. Brinkley encouraged Alexa to admit herself to a psychiatric hospital for intensive therapy.
"I knew with my mom that she was feeling the pain I was going through," Joel said. "I mean she's just such a compassionate, empathetic woman. And she's so emotional, like me. Overly emotional. And so she was feeling the trauma as I was feeling it, and then as I was feeling better she was feeling it, so she was living it with me. And my father, he has such perspective, he was like, 'You got to see outside of this. You're an intelligent, talented, beautiful woman.' He just would build me up so high, so, I -- I have a really good mix with the two."
Joel credits her parents with pulling her out of the emotional abyss of depression. And now, she wants to be front and center, as someone willing to talk to young fans about what she calls "Heartbreak-Related Depression."
"I think every woman, when she's going through this immense heartbreak and, really, depression and isolation, feels totally alone," Joel said. "So many women are writing in on Facebook and MySpace on my page and sending me long letters and they said, 'Thank you for admitting to it' and 'This issue needs to be brought to light more.'"
Equally upfront about her physical appearance as she is about her emotional vulnerabilities, Alexa made headlines recently when she admitted to rhinoplasty to correct a deviated septum, and to change her looks.
"I got a lot of people writing in, 'That's cool, you're so honest,'" Joel said. "And, so people were asking about it. I wasn't going to lie, it was clearly a different nose. I didn't want to play anybody for a fool. So I just said, 'Yeah, and I'm really happy with it.'"
Alexa Ray Joel: Supermodel Mom
It may be said that beauty is only skin deep, but as a young girl Alexa had to navigate the usual teenage insecurities with the unique intimidation of having one of the world's great supermodels as a mother.
"I was so insecure about it when I was a teenager," Joel said. "I was like, 'I'm just the weird brunette girl, don't look at me, you'll look at Mom anyways.' I was a really late bloomer. And so I didn't feel pretty or anything until, maybe like 20. Until my first love and all that. It took me a long time to kind of come to terms with that. And to realize, 'OK, I can have my own look and I can be hot in my own right.'"
The family legacy of physical beauty carries on with Joel, who is starring in a new ad campaign for Prell shampoo -- a brand her mother famously endorsed decades ago.
"That was a big confidence-booster to me," Joel said. "Really? My mother's the big supermodel, you want me to model for you? It was like, 'Oh, she's glamorous, now I'm being considered glamorous.' You know, this is all a work in progress for me, and people are still getting to know me and I'm still getting comfortable with my role and my place."
Alexa Ray Joel is finding her place with a new album, a blossoming identity, and a voice matured by emotional resilience. She is now a woman ready to embrace a future that is both fated in the stars and shaped by talents that allow her to shine in her own right.
"I'm a romantic, and when you're young and you're a musician, your life is living in your emotions. In order to write a song you have to be inspired," Joel said. "Whether it's by romantic love or any form of love. You live for that. But I, I, love makes the world go round and, and I didn't understand, that I had so much love around me without him. I didn't see it. And I see that now, and I'm incredibly grateful and fulfilled."