The first thing you need to know about Famous Exchange is that they are more than a band. Sure, they are a trio of musicians who play shows, produce songs and release them into the world. Sometimes those songs get a serious lift from the Spotify algorithm. Sometimes they get played at weddings in Colombia. And sometimes those songs save lives. But to limit Famous Exchange to the strict label of “band” feels, well, limiting. As for what the group really is?
“It’s an idea,” says bassist Marcus Alexander, aka MJ the Smooth.
“It’s a spirit,” adds guitarist Oladipo “Ladi” Oyediran.
“It’s a collective,” says singer Sallie Mood.
All three statements are true. Famous Exchange is the result of Alexander, Mood and Ladi reaching into Dallas — and often beyond — to create and collaborate alongside musicians, printers, photographers and poets.
Technically, it started in 2008. Ladi and Alexander jammed together with people they met via church, and for a while, they had a band. Then life happened. Some people moved, including Ladi, who lived in Nepal until 2018. Alexander kept jamming, picking up gigs — and instruments — whenever he could.
“One day a friend handed me a bass and said, ‘Learn this. We have a gig,’” he says. “So I did.”
Meanwhile, a young artist who started going by the name Sallie Mood was studying at The Savannah College of Art and Design, subsisting on meager pay, minimal resources and dreams of one day starting a band.
“Every day, I would walk by this street called Sallie Mood Drive,” she says. “I remember thinking, ‘That would be the coolest name for a band. ‘Sallie Mood and the Famous Exchange.’ Just like Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons.”
She was dreaming up a new life, and it didn’t involve college. Mood dropped out of school and moved to Dallas, where she designed band posters, gigged as a jazz musician and continued to dream about her band. When Mood met a math teacher and a bassist with California ties, the Famous Exchange became more than a dream.
Ladi had recently returned from Nepal and reconnected with Alexander. The pair met Mood through mutual friends and developed a natural kinship that extends beyond any stage or studio. As the trio sip lattes and munch on sandwiches in a Dallas coffee shop, they trade barbs like old friends.
“What’s with you and the sunglasses?” Ladi asks Alexander, who has walked into the coffee shop sporting a pair of dark shades.
“It’s called fashion,” Alexander says. “Look it up.”
Mood is, in fact, looking up fashion, although she is searching for boots, not shades.
“She wants to get those boots she’s wearing in every color,” Alexander says wryly.
“He’s not wrong,” admits Mood.
The singer knew she had found her Famous Exchange after only a couple of jam sessions. The trio shared a love for art, anime and collaboration. The name came naturally, too, partly because Mood had been willing it into existence for years.
“She said, ‘The Famous Exchange,’ and the clouds parted,” Alexander recalls. “A beam of light shone down. We knew that was the one.”
Ladi had one comment.
“It was like ‘The Facebook,’” he says, referencing a line from The Social Network. “I said, ‘Drop the “the.” ’”
With that issue resolved, it was time to make music. Famous Exchange has only released one song, but it’s indicative of the kind of dreamy rock that you might expect from a trio of anime-loving music heads with a penchant for poetry.
The song, “Emocean,” is powered by Mood’s ethereal vocals and a chill guitar evocative of a moonlit beach party at midnight. The lyrics draw on everything from Dr. Strangelove to a friend’s poetry, and while Mood’s voice often shifts toward melancholy, the song is ultimately hopeful. That may be why, in early December, a fan tweeted that “Emocean” helped her stave off thoughts of suicide.
“To hear that, and to know that it has helped even just one person, makes everything worth it,” Mood says.
Even with just one song to their name, Famous Exchange has tapped into an audience that extends far outside Dallas. Thanks to Spotify’s algorithm and the genre fluidity of “Emocean,” Famous Exchange has landed on many mixes and playlists, and been played in 69 countries.
“Someone sent us a video of ‘Emocean’ being played at a wedding in Colombia,” Alexander says. “And we’re sitting here like, ‘Who do we know in Colombia?’”
While the group is appreciative of the algorithm, they are relying on something organic to elevate Famous Exchange past the “idea” stage.
“We have connections with all of these other artists, and we’re always trying to make more,” Alexander says. “So we’ll drop a song, then have someone design some T-shirts, or some merch or a poster. All of that creativity happens at the same time, and Famous Exchange becomes a means for all of these artists to get where they’re going.”
Those same connections helped Famous Exchange land their first big gig: a show at the House of Blues in December 2018. In return, the artists are always looking to pay it forward, helping other acts with their music or designing posters for their shows.
The artists have individual projects, too. Mood is working on solo music. Ladi produces a podcast and curates art programming for a theater in Haltom City. Alexander creates tunes with a producer in Los Angeles, the same guy who helped the band cut the original version of “Emocean.” They each have aspirations outside of Famous Exchange, but the band grounds them. It gives them another creative outlet, and helps them pay some bills, too.
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“We have a gig coming up at The Mitchell, and that’ll pay for a website subscription for a whole year,” Ladi notes.
And despite their early success and the lofty goals that come with being an “idea” and a “spirit,” the group is not exempt from the typical woes and growing pains that come with being a band on a budget. The first time they tried to record “Emocean,” the studio had problems with the cables. They waited around for six hours, then rescheduled. Eventually, it got done.
“It’s never straightforward,” Ladi says, smiling at his bandmates.
“No,” Alexander agrees, returning a grin. “It never is.”