Alejandro Escovedo is a musician's musician. Highly respected in the music community for hiw raw musical passion and eclectic creativity. The man's poetry speaks from the likes of Leonard Cohen and Lou Reed. Stardom is the farthest thing from his mind and he's been doing this for over thirty years. Escovedo's talent shines brightly on his recent release The Boxing Mirror a album choke full of chilling grace, redemption and hard fought wisdom. So close to death in 2003, ravaged by Hepatitis C, Alejandro was given a second chance. A special opportunity for redemption and rebirth. A chance that the man will never take lightly.
Livewire's Phil Bonyata recently sat down with Alejandro to talk about life, death and the meaning of family and friends.
Livewire: Your music on the whole is lauded by critics. What happens when you see an especially negative review?
Alejandro: I usually try to gather something positive from it, you know. Not everyone is going to dig what you do. I've had negative reviews based more on personal things, you know. Then that's the reviewer's problem and not mine. As long as it's about the music it doesn't really bother me. After 55 years I hope I have some maturity.
Livewire: Is your new album The Boxing Mirror a catharsis of your life?
Alejandro: It's like a movie about the last 4 years I would say especially dealing with the illness and the outcome of that illness and surviving that illness and being able to come back and play again and perform again and write songs again and make an album. It's all about that period of time. In a sense it's kind of a love letter to my wife. Because she was so amazing and supportive through that whole affair. I think a normal person would have left a long time ago. And also to all of the people who supported me - the fans, the musicians and all of the people who took part in the tribute record. I mean all of that was the inspiration that led me back to recovery.
Livewire: So you nearly died of Hepatitis C in April, 2003 - how do you think your music would have been different if you were never ill?
Alejandro: If I hadn't gone through that I think I would be a completely different person now. In some strange way it was a real blessing to have gone through that. It made me really focus on my music. To appreciate my music and my musicians and all of the things that make that up. It was a real eye opener and it was almost like my life went into sharp focus. Because of it a lot of things got left behind - I don't drink anymore - I eat well and take care of myself - I understand that finally. It's really part of the outcome of all of that.
Livewire: How is the disease now?
Alejandro: I still have it and I'm maintaining it. I see a Tibetan doctor out of Los Angeles. I'm feeling really, really good right now and am very happy.
Livewire: When friends and artists made Por Vida, (a two disc set featuring artists performing 31 of Escovedo's songs as a fundraiser to help Escovedo pay his medical bills during his illness) what did you feel the first time you heard the record?
Alejandro: Oh God, I'll be quite honest with you - I sobbed like a little baby, man. I was so overcome with emotion. It wasn't anything I could control - I mean it was just so powerful. Not only did it make me extremely happy and extremely sad - at a certain point I didn't want to be known as the guy with Hepatitis C. But, it was just such a beautiful gesture on the part of all of these wonderful musicians and also it was helping other people because it made them feel good to be able to do that for me.
Livewire: John Cale produced your latest record. What did he bring to the table and what did you learn from him?
Alejandro: Well Cale brought an incredible amount of experience and these amazing ears that heard things that I certainly have never heard before. He brought this presence of intensity. I had to really elevate myself to sit at the same table basically. The experience has brought a new confidence to our music and how we think as a band. We've tried so hard in the past to get organic tones but now we're starting to mess with the sound a little bit. And I think that is all a result of the way John arranges and produces. He goes for the sound of things - not necessarily the kind of virtuosity of any kind of plane or anything. It's all about texture and colors you know. It was a wonderful experience.
Livewire: What song off of the new album grabs your heart the most?
Alejandro: I'd have to say "The Ladder" because I wrote it for my wife. It's just a special one for me that I wrote in the studio.
Livewire: What songwriters have influenced you the most?
Alejandro: Oh, I'd have to say Leonard Cohen, Ian Hunter, John Cale, Lou Reed, James Osterberg (Iggy Pop)...those are my favorites.
Livewire: How do you see the evolution of your music?
Alejandro: I think that we're really coming into our own now. We're getting a real handle on it. I don't want to say but I really believe we have a command on what we're doing now. I've got the best musicians I've ever had and the band is really jelling on every level. We're a group of friends that really love to play with each other.
Livewire: What do you do when you're not doing music?
Alejandro: I raise chickens. I have a little farm in the hill country outside of Austin, Texas. I spend a lot of time with my daughter and my children and my wife. And I just try to hangout and play guitar - I have a little studio there. I really try to relax - I live out in the country in a very beautiful setting. I slow it way down. They say that 90% of songwriting is thinking about it - so I think about songs a lot.
Livewire: Coming from a large Mexican-American family - what are your views on American immigration reform?
Alejandro: Well I think the type of policies being drummed up by this administration are ridiculous. I think it's very racist - pointing the finger at the Mexicans who come here and really want to work and work hard. I know that where I live - they are quite welcome and they're not trying to take anything. They are definitely hard working people and my father's story is the same story. There's no way that I will ever understand why they're building walls along the Mexican border. It's just part of the fear tactics that this government is trying to induce in all of us. The play that we wrote "By the Hand of the Father" is very much about the immigration story. So we are addressing it in song.
Livewire: Living in Texas have you ever voted for Bush either as governor or President?
Alejandro: Never! Never will. Never will!
Livewire: Your family is full of talented musicians. Was music a prevading culture when you were growing up?
Alejandro: Yeah, we always had music. Music was always there - whether my dad was singing or my mom and dad were dancing or just listening to their records. My brothers' friends would come over and my mother would start cooking and my brothers' friends would start playing and singing. It was always, always there. My parents always encouraged us to enjoy music and bought me my first records.
Livewire: Do you remember the first record that they bought you?
Alejandro: The bought me an Everly Brothers record or it might've been the Big Bopper, but I think it was the Everly Brothers. I love the Everly Brothers and I love the Big Bopper. Fats Domino was my favorite. Then my parents would always play Mexican music and cowboy music and my mother loved swing music. So we had big band records around as well.
Livewire: Now I know where your eclectic tastes came from.
Alejandro: Yes, any great record collection is about variety.
Livewire: Tell me something that has happened to that was really strange.
Alejandro: Well there's been so much - I mean you're talking about thirty years of touring. There are some really cool things like I remember our record just came out and we were very excited and just played a gig in Los Angeles. The tour was going to start somewhere in the Midwest - probably Chicago. So we're playing the night before our tour starts in L.A. and we're playing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" and Iggy Pop is in the audience dancing to his song played by us. We were so ecstatic and the place was rockin' and totally sold out and then we're all getting into a taxi to go to the airport to take off that night to meet the bands in Chicago to start the tour. And as we take off the cab driver turns on the radio and our song is playing on the radio. It was like WOW.
Livewire: Singing a Stooges song to Iggy - doesn't get much better than that!
Alejandro: You know I saw the Stooges play a lot in L.A. when I lived there in the late 60s and early 70s. I saw the Raw Power Stooges a lot. I saw them then the original band with Dave Alexander but I saw them with James Williamson on guitar. They used to rehearse on Sunset and I used to listen to them rehearse and Ron Ashton lived up in this apartment close by.
Livewire: What legacy would you like to leave behind?
Alejandro: Just a legacy of songs. Really that's it- that's all I really care about. My songs represent a story about a life that was spent trying to sing about the truth. Something that my children will be proud of I hope and they'll be able to learn a lot about me when I'm gone through the songs. Because the songs will always be there.
More Alejandro Escovedo
CD review - The Boxing Mirror