Alejandro Escovedo is what you might call a musical curmudgeon. Lean and lanky at 61, the trailblazer in roots rock has been a working musician for nearly 40 years, and his career has spanned and managed to survive what we can properly call The Great Upheaval in popular music — the collapse of the recording industry as fans moved from vinyl records to compact discs and now to digital music that is easy to copy and share with friends. At the same time, record labels consolidated, collapsed and consolidated again, chewing up a lot of promising careers in the process as radio stations did the same thing.
If Escovedo, who is performing here in Lafayette at the Vermilionville Performance Center on Tuesday night, had his way, we’d go back to the good old days when you went in to the studio, cut a record, worked your ass off to get signed to a label and then worked your ass off even harder to tour and play gigs to sell the record while the label schmoozed the radio stations and provided marketing support.
“I’m having a hard time with it quite honestly,” he says over the phone one recent afternoon from Ashville, NC. “You know, I’m not into it. They wanted me to blog and have Facebook and all that stuff. Personally, I’d like to shut it all down and go back to just playing live and if people want something they send in their money order or their check and you send it to them.”
Seriously. Snail mail and money orders. That’s as old school as the 1962 Silvertone hollow body guitar and ’53 Gibson G40 amp he says he’d bring along if he were banished to a desert island that had electricity and he could only bring one guitar and amp.
“I find it kind of repulsive; it’s a weird way to sell music,” he says of the Internet and websites and all that digital crap. “Nobody goes into a record store any more and puts on a record and listens to it and says, ‘I never heard this guy before but I want to buy it.’ Everybody’s pushing me in that direction and I’m fighting it — maybe to my detriment.”
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO & THE SENSITIVE BOYS with special guest Chuck Prophet Tuesday, Oct. 30 Vermilionville Performance Center Doors open at 6:30 p.m. Tickets are $20-$35 For ticket info go to BayouVermilion.org.
We think he’s doing pretty well. His new record, which he’s touring in support of, is called Big Station. It’s full of fat, flat rock’n’roll songs that growl and moan with echoes of Escovedo’s punk rock past. In the mid to late 1970s he was a member of the seminal San Francisco punk band The Nuns and later shot to semi-fame in the weird, wonderful cowboy pop-rock unit Rank & File.
But it’s in punk rock, that fiercely urgent cry of youth, that had a profound influence on what became a deeply self-confident roots rocker now based in his native Texas, Austin to be specific.
So how did punk rock influence Alejandro Escovedo, the Chicano from a family of musicians who is, notably, the uncle of Shiela E? “In every way, from the way I play guitar in a minimal style, very rhythmic, to sense that the songs are more important than guitar solos and in wanting to communicate very directly with the audience — breaking down that barrier between the audience and the performer,” he says. “And I think just kind of having the attitude that there’s always more to do, always more to learn, always more to experience.”
He came to punk rock, he notes, as much out of antipathy toward the popular music of the day: “We were playing punk rock in a very primitive way because the music that we were hearing on radio was complete shite [that’s his polite pronunciation of shit] — we didn’t want to hear Journey, we didn’t want to hear all those bands, right? And so we were trying to create music that sounded like all the records that we loved. And that record collection was pretty vast and broad, everything from Marvin Gaye to Hank Williams to Funkadelic — it was all over the place. And when we used to get together and get stoned and listen to records, one minute we’re listening to Burning Spear and the next Martie Robbins.”
Big Station is the third record Escovedo has co-written with Chuck Prophet. It’s also the third record produced by Tony Visconti, whose deft touch in the studio creates a sound that is at once lush without being overproduced.
Escovedo calls it “a loosely based concept record,” if it can be called a concept record at all. And the concept, like Escovedo’s lingering resistance to the digital age, inform the record’s central theme: “In writing the record,” he recalls, “Chuck and I were really thinking about how this character is a person who is really looking more outwards than inwards and kind of coming to terms with all the changes in the world.”
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