Fernando – Viciconte, not Valenzuela
It’s not unusual for artists to feel the need to reinvent themselves. Throw in some personal hardships, and you have a story that has been told many times, but still rings true on occasion. For Portland singer-songwriter Fernando Viciconte, the personal hardships that led to his artistic reinvention not only tell his story but also provide the theme for his first solo album, Season In Hell, released on Cravedog Records earlier this year (under the first-name-only tag Fernando).
As frontman for Los Angeles psychedelic band Monkey Paw, Fernando earned a development deal with A&M Records, but the deal fell through when the A&R rep who signed them left the label after the band had recorded 20 songs. This experience left Fernando skeptical about the motivations behind those in the record industry. But it was drug addiction, an impending divorce and a desire to leave Los Angeles that brought him to Portland in 1994.
In his first year and a half in Portland, Fernando wrote songs that reflected on this period and the pain he put those around him through. Although he had no plans to release the four-track recordings he’d been making, a fateful camping trip produced an offer from Cravedog Records owner Todd Crosby to re-record this material in a eight-track studio.
The result is a stark collection of dire songs set against a folksy background of acoustic guitars, complemented by the occasional lap steel of Dan Eccles and cello of Jillian Wieseneck. Upon first listen, the rough-hewn quality of the recording draws attention to itself. Even this relates back to the record’s theme: “The jumping-around in quality also reflects that period of my life,” Fernando says.
Fernando keeps busy playing around Portland — whether that means playing solo on the street during the day or playing in dingy nightclubs with his band. Since the recording of the disc, he has gradually added new band members, including bassist Joe Chiusano, drummer Clayton Jones and violinist Merilee Horde. The additions have added new dimension to the songs and have made Fernando a favorite in Portland clubs. In particular, Horde’s fiery violin playing has added new spark to the upbeat songs.
Fernando hopes to embark on a tour of the West Coast and Southern states this fall, but that means booking shows with little or no support, as “Cravedog is basically a do-it-yourself label,” he explains. The label will soon release a cassette of new songs by Fernando as part of its “stripped down” series, featuring bare bones recordings cut live in the studio. After the tour, Fernando plans to record a new album that will use the full band.