Alejandro Escovedo – A seeker of the song, and of the truth in a song
In the best possible way, you never know what you’ll get out of Alejandro Escovedo from one performance to the next. He might show up in your town leading an elaborately arranged orchestra, or with a screaming stripped-down rock band — or some hybrid brilliantly combining elements of both. I saw him a half-dozen times during the year 2000, and he played everything from raw garage rock to delicate chamber music.
Musically as well as lyrically, Escovedo is a restless, questing soul, unafraid to radically recast any song in his repertoire. As a result, his body of work is constantly evolving, with old songs taking on new shades and accents over time. One song on Escovedo’s new album, A Man Under The Influence, begins, “She plays castanets, she works without a net.” Escovedo plays guitar, but he works without a net, too. Fearlessly.
A Man Under The Influence, his sixth solo album, is due out April 17 on Bloodshot Records and was recorded in North Carolina with an array of sidemen, ranging from recently recruited multi-instrumentalists Eric Heywood and Mike Daly to longtime compadres Hector Munoz (drums), Joe Eddy Hines (guitar) and Brian Standefer (cello). Guests from producer Chris Stamey’s orbit were also enlisted, including Mitch Easter, Ryan Adams, Chip Robinson, Tres Chicas and Superchunk’s Jon Wurster.
Escovedo also has been working on a theatrical production, By The Hand Of The Father, which opened last June in Los Angeles and will hit the road this year. Escovedo co-wrote and scored the play, which traces the lives of a generation of Mexican-American men as remembered by their children. Partly inspired by the play, Escovedo is also working on reconnecting with his own children — he has six, ranging in age from 30 to 2 — while going through a separation from his wife of six years, Dana Smith (whose artwork graces the cover of the new album).
I. THE FAMILY TIES BECOME EVEN STRONGER, EVEN THOUGH SOME OF THEM ARE STRAINED
NO DEPRESSION: “Wave” is an important song right now — it’s the first song on A Man Under The Influence, and also figures prominently in By The Hand Of The Father.
ALEJANDRO ESCOVEDO: That was the song that initially inspired the rest of the play. I had an idea for a song cycle based on my father’s life, and his journey from Mexico into Texas and beyond, and it all started with “Wave”. That’s about him going across the border looking for his parents at the age of 12, hopping on a train. Eventually he found them in Texas.
The play was a complete collaboration between myself and the company, About Productions. To flesh it out, [director] Theresa Chavez had the idea to make it broader in scope — to involve the lives of not only five different men, but to ask questions other than just chronicling their lives. I think it’s much more interesting now, in that it asks questions I never would have asked of my father.
ND: For a 12-year-old kid to hop on a train to go looking for his parents in another country seems unbelievably nervy.
AE: Well, he was with his 16-year-old cousin. But you’ve got to understand, in those days a boy of 12 was considered capable of doing anything a man could do. He’d already been working for years, since he was a little boy. From what he tells me, it was quite different from what it’s like now. Children are pretty pampered now, unless they grow up on farms or ranches.
ND: What does your father think of the play?
AE: He hasn’t seen it yet, because he doesn’t travel well, quite honestly. He’s 93 and lives in Chula Vista, California. When we do the play in San Diego this year, he’ll get to see it then, hopefully. I think he’d be very proud of it. His voice is actually in it. I interviewed him for the play, and there’s a section that’s a kind of soundscape of voices, the men who inspired this play. They each tell stories with bits and pieces about their life, what they did to get across the border and what they did once they were here.