Friday, August 31, 2018

EXCLUSIVE Q&A with ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO



IN SEARCH OF AMERICA:

An EXCLUSIVE Q&A 
with 
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO

DAVE RAYBURN: Late 2017 found you joining the esteemed Yep Roc family of artists. How did this shift come about and what’s your impression of the label that has now entered its third decade of service to quality artists?
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO: I have many fellow travelers who have been part of the Yep Roc family. I feel very comfortable with the people who make up the Yep Roc staff, they are all music lovers and aficionados of rock and roll.

DAVE: For your latest effort, you approached record-making in a decidedly different way. What can you share about the collective that backs you, how you met, and where the album was ultimately made?
ALEJANDRO: The very talented musicians who played on THE CROSSING are all Italians. I first met the group Don Antonio a year and half ago when I was about to tour Europe and I was given the choice of playing with an English band or Don Antonio who were from a commune called Modigliana in the region of Emil-Romagna. Don Antonio is led by Antonio Gramentieri who plays guitar and composes their material. I chose Don Antonio, we rehearsed a day and a half and then set out on a 35 shows in 45 days tour, ten different countries. Immediately I felt very comfortable with the way Antonio had arranged the songs and the players were very versatile and willing to improvise, which is always a bonus. The band line up was Matteo Monti, Denis Valentini, Franz Valtieri, Antonio Gramentieri. When we made the record we augmented the group with Nicola Peruch, and Gianni Perinelli. The record was produced by Brian Deck. Antonio wrote the album in Modigliana and Texas. It was recorded in a studio called Cosabeat outside the village of Villa Franca in the province Forli~Cesena.

DAVE: THE CROSSING could be considered your most cinematic piece to date. In true Technicolor fashion, the album details facets of a journey by two immigrants. How would you describe Diego and Salvo and who they may have been inspired by?
ALEJANDRO: Salvo and Diego are young men who have an intense love for rock n roll, literature and cinema. They set off in search of the America they heard on records by the Stooges, the Ramones, the MC5, the New York Dolls, the Zeros, the Plugs, Chuck Berry, Jerry Lee Lewis, the America that they read in the poetry and novels of the beat era, the movies from the 70’s. They are in search of an America that is free in expression, in style and philosophy. They find a very different America. If the record has a cinematic quality, much of the credit should go to Antonio Gramentieri whose music has always had that quality. When I was younger my interest was cinema, I wanted to be a filmmaker so, when first began to write songs I always thought of them as movies wrapped in music.

DAVE: The Escovedo family is no stranger to bringing attention to inequality and social injustices. Just last year your niece, Sheila E., released ICONIC: MESSAGE FOR AMERICA. Do you see THE CROSSING as another kind of message for America?
ALEJANDRO: Definitely.


DAVE: With tracks like “Outlaw For You” and the rousing “Sonica USA” painting the American musical landscape that Diego and Salvo anxiously want to integrate themselves into, names like the MC5, the Stooges, and other familiar cultural icons of the day are laid on the table as Hollywood-esque royalty. These must have also reflected on your own early aspirations, but how mind-blowing is it today to have folks like Wayne Kramer and James Williamson make guest appearances?
ALEJANDRO: Both of these artists were extremely influential in shaping my musical quest. When I was living in Hollywood, California in the early 70’s I had a friend who lived across from where the Ashton brothers lived, so I would stand out on the sidewalk and listen to them rehearse. I think that having played with both James and Wayne has been a surreal dream come true. They were both very gracious and delivered strong performances. They gave the album a lot of weight.

DAVE: “Silver City” was originally released by Joe Ely on his 1987 record, LORD OF THE HIGHWAY. How did his composition fall into the mix of songs considered for the album as well as the decision to include its author on the track?
ALEJANDRO: Joe Ely has always been an inspiration. I think he is one of the greatest songwriters Texas has ever produced and he is held in the highest respect. I’ve always loved the song “Silver City,” and last year when Joe was honored with Townes Van Zandt award at the Austin Music Awards I was asked to present the award. I then performed “Silver City.” The song fits in perfectly with the narrative of the album and Joe was gracious enough to sing with me and he also performed a spoken word piece at the end of “The Crossing” as the album closes.

DAVE: The frank detail of migrant worries in “Texas Is My Mother” brings to mind imagery conjured up in the relative tales of songs like Woody Guthrie’s “Deportee” or “Sinaloa Cowboys” by Bruce Springsteen. What or who did you look to for resonant inspiration when writing for this album?
ALEJANDRO: My father was born in Saltillo, in the state of Coahuila in northern Mexico. He crossed the border when he was twelve years old in search of his parents. I am a first generation American, so my information came from the stories my father passed on to me and the experiences that shaped me as a youngster growing up in Texas and southern California. Antonio and I also spoke with young people who live in the Dallas area, but had crossed the border as children.


DAVE: The critical exchange between Diego and a retired Texas Ranger, revealed in the spoken word piece “Rio Navidad,” underscores an ongoing existence of racial intolerance interwoven with cultural ignorance. Although this scene takes place in the 80s, it seems that the rhetoric mirrors things being said even today. Do you personally feel that things have changed much in the last thirty-plus years?
ALEJANDRO: Many of the sentiments that are expressed in that piece have not changed. What seems to have changed is that these ideas about race and culture are more accessible because of social media. The dialogue in the beginning of that piece is based on an actual exchange I had with a man in south Texas.

DAVE: As the record comes to a close, the title track leaves us with a sweeping, transcendent accounting of the dreams and people lost along the way, and the realization that “this story has no ending.” With elements of regret, purpose and hope in the narrative, what is the final deliberation you want the listener to draw from the conceptual presentation of THE CROSSING?
ALEJANDRO: It was important to Antonio and I that the listener understand that this story is genetically coded in all of us. We all come from the same place. It’s the story of generations of dreamers, of all races, religions and cultures. We only become more enlightened when we embrace all cultures, all sentient beings. This album is for all seekers.

DAVE: As you head out on the road in support of THE CROSSING, who will be joining you and what can fans expect to see and hear?
ALEJANDRO: I want to play most of the songs on the crossing, along with some older tunes. Don Antonio will play a set of their own and then join me for the final set. We plan on playing shows in the Northeast in September and then returning in January for a longer tour across the USA. We will kick off the January tour in Austin at the Moody theater where we will perform the album in its entirety with film footage and guest artists.

DAVE: Recent years have seen a growing interest in punk rock autobiographies penned by some of the genre’s early heroes here in the States (John Doe, Keith Morris, etc.) Having been a member of The Nuns, and once being an opener for the Sex Pistols back in 1978, what would you say was the greatest lesson learned from your experience coming up through the San Francisco punk scene?
ALEJANDRO: Punk rock gave me the opportunity to express myself, travel and experience people from all over the world. I feel it's always in my music and I wouldn't want it any other way.

DAVE: Your own eclectic musical journey has covered a lot of territory since the mid-70s. What are you most grateful for in all those years?
ALEJANDRO: After all these years of making records, touring and writing, I feel most grateful for the love of family, friends, fellow travelers in the rock n roll circus and my health. It’s been a beautiful ride, and I’m not ready to give up my seat yet.

Special thanks to Alejandro Escovedo and Steve Dixon

ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO
THE CROSSING

9.14.18

No comments: