MUSIC VETERAN ROCKER ON GOOD TEAM
> Writing, production partnerships proving fruitful for Escovedo
Alejandro Escovedo is no stranger to the fine art of collaboration.
The 61-year- old Texas music legend is about to release his third consecutive album (following 2008’s and 2010’s
with songwriting partner Chuck Prophet and producer Tony Visconti, of T. Rex and David Bowie fame.
“When you find a team of people who can put together songs and music and production, it’s a rare kind of thing,” says Escovedo, who plays Minglewood Hall’s 1884 Lounge on Tuesday, along with New York singer-songwriter Jesse Malin.
“Having someone like Chuck, where we really spark together, that’s not an easy thing to find as a writer. And as a producer to have Tony, who is still very inspired and inspiring for us, it’s been a great combination of people.”
Escovedo’s current album trilogy kicked off with which served as a sonic autobiography of sorts, beginning with his childhood in San Antonio, followed by his musical coming of age as a teen in California and then his adventures with a series of colorful bands in the ’70s and ’80s.
Escovedo’s life has included runs with shambolic punk outfit The Nuns, who opened the Sex Pistols’ famed Winterland show in 1978, and a stint at New York City’s infamous Chelsea Hotel. (Escovedo was living there when punk icon Sid Vicious killed his girlfriend, Nancy Spungen.)
He eventually returned to Texas, where he joined cow-punk combo Rank and File and formed roots outfit The True Believers, before developing a critically acclaimed 20-year- old solo career.
“With we treated it like we were creating a storyboard for a film almost,” Escovedo says. “Basically, Chuck and I try and create a framework to work within. The same thing happened with (
We just look for a concept or context and fill in the blanks.”
particular texture and feel owe to the fact that much of the material was written using an Roland TR-808 rhythm machine, a favorite of old-school hip-hop producers.
“We were able to loop things and extend the grooves, to where it was a little more rhythmic, rather than just straight-ahead rock rhythms,” Escovedo says.
The sound of the LP was also marked by the records that Escovedo had on rotation. “We draw our inspiration from a lot of different things,” he says. “(Chuck, Tony and) I will talk a lot about different types of music and where we hear the album’s sound going.”
“This one was really influenced by the band Suicide, the Clash — they always seem to pop up — plus things like the Malian band Tinariwen, Algerian rhythms like Rachid Taha, LCD Soundsystem. Plus, we always listen to ’50s doo wop, ’cause we love the way the vocals are arranged.”
For Escovedo, those passions have come to define the manifold directions his solo work has moved in, from the Velvet Underground influence on early albums like 1992’s to the swaggering Stooges-meets-jimmie Rodgers roots of 2001’s
“I can still listen to all the Stooges and Mott the Hoople records I loved as a kid and feel as much fascination and joy as I did then. A lot of what I love about music is still the stuff at my core,” he says. “But as my (playing and writing) ability has developed, my musical appetite has changed. I understand things a little better, and it’s a little more refined, and that comes through in my own work.”
Escovedo will spend the balance of 2012 supporting on tour. But he’s already at work on new collaborations. He recently completed an EP with an all-star group called the Fauntleroys, which features ex-voidoid Ivan Julian, Chicago songsmith Nic Tremulis, and Zuzu’s Petals/ Miracle 3 drummer Linda Pitmon. He says he hopes to expand his writing collaboration with Prophet into a duets record and a “Storytellers”-type stage show.
Meantime, Escovedo says he is satisfied with his music and the direction his career has taken.
“I don’t have any thoughts of grandeur that I want to be a pop star. I never really got into it for those reasons,” he says. “I have a style of music I can honestly say is all mine. It’s something I’ve created, and I’m proud of the records I’ve made.
“Sure, I’m still restless as far as artistic expression is concerned, but I’m comfortable with where I’m at. The audience that I have and the people that come to listen to me — it’s a real music-loving audience. And that’s a cool thing; it’s all I ever really wanted.”
In January 2011, members of the best-selling African music ensemble Sierra Leone’s Refugee All Stars, a group that was formed in the midst of their namesake country’s bloody civil war, found themselves once again on inhospitable terrain.
“We cut the new record under severe weather in New York City winter,” says Reuben Koroma, the All Stars’ leader, songwriter, lead vocalist and drummer, recalling the conditions behind the making of
the group’s third album, released last month. “We are not accustomed to severe cold. We come from Africa. Africa is hot all the time. So that was a terrible experience. However, we made it.”
The All Stars are experiencing considerably better weather on their current U.S. tour, which includes an appearance Thursday at the Levitt Shell in Overton Park. For economic reasons, the tour features a stripped- down version of the group, which can number as many as eight. Accompanying Koroma will be guitarist Ashade Pearce, bassist Dennis Bakarr Sannoh, percussionist Christopher Wagbay Davies, keyboardist Jahson Gbassay Bull, and Alhadji Jeffrey Camara, the now-san Francisco-based rapper known as Black Nature who was only 15 years old when the All Stars catapulted to international fame in 2005.
The vehicle for their rise that year was a documentary by American filmmakers Zach Niles and Banker White — “Sierra Leone’s Refugee All