By Brent Thompson
Immigrant’s son, husband, father, tireless rock & roller, survivor – all of these descriptions define Alejandro Escovedo. Born into a musically-rich family, the 67-year-old singer/songwriter has woven his life experiences into a catalog of songs that is fresh and timeless at once. In September, Escovedo released The Crossing [Yep Roc Records], an album that documents the immigrant experience over its 17 tracks. Centered around two fictional characters, Salvo and Diego, The Crossing addresses the current state of our nation while touching on Escovedo’s own family heritage. On Tuesday, January 8, Escovedo will perform at Saturn. Cured of the Hepatitis C that plagued his life and career for many years – and now living in Dallas after a long stint in Austin – the stalwart musician recently spoke with us by phone.
Birmingham Stages: Alejandro, thanks for your time. I can only imagine the number of phone interviews you’ve done over the years.
Alejandro Escovedo: Believe me, when they stop I’ll be complaining [laughs].
Birmingham Stages: If you will, talk about your adopted hometown of Dallas.
Escovedo: I love it, man. I’m really having a great time. I live in a wonderful place surrounded by great people and a lot of musicians. Change was good for us – we’re happy.
Birmingham Stages: What prompted your move from Austin to Dallas?
Escovedo: There were a lot of things involved. We had been in that hurricane and we were dealing with PTSD and I was just about to start medication to get rid of the Hep C. Austin had become very expensive, very different. My wife had a job here working on a movie – a TV series called Queen of the South – and it was only supposed to be for four to six months. But when we first got here, I began taking that medicine which was a six-month program and I got rid of it here in Dallas. Things started to brighten up for us and it became a good place to be. We’re very happy.
Birmingham Stages: I assume the present state of our nation fueled the subject matter of The Crossing. With that said, had documenting the immigration experience been in your plans long before the writing and recording of this album?
Escovedo: I’ve always written about my family and my father was from Mexico, so he was an immigrant. I wrote a play called By the Hand of the Father that we took on the road. It’s always been part of my writing process – it’s where I go. Family’s always been important – the journey of my family to America and everything my dad did in order to provide us with the things he did. The things we experienced as a result of growing up in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s has always been part of my story.
I think that on this record we really narrowed it down and focused on these two young men who were looking for a different America than what my father was looking for when he crossed. These young boys are coming across the border to look for an aesthetically-open America. The story is different but the journey is much the same. It’s not just about crossing the border – it’s about these young boys’ transformation from young men to men. Salvo is killed in America and Diego contemplates if the trip was even worth it at a certain point. So, The Crossing really represents different types of transformations in their lives.
Birmingham Stages: Were the songs on The Crossing newer compositions, older songs or a mixture of both?
Escovedo: I wrote this with [Italian musician] Don Antonio and Antonio Gramentieri is his name – we wrote it together. We talked about it when we were touring Southern Italy. He came over maybe six months later and we spent almost a month driving around Texas – the backroads – talking to a lot of Dreamers in this area around Dallas. We came up with 17 pieces of music by the time he had left. We had an outline of the story and it wasn’t until I went to Italy – I was there for about a month – that I wrote all the lyrics to the songs. So, it really kind of came quick but it was a story that was embedded in our psyche, too. A lot of what these songs represent is what Antonio and I have gone through in our lives.
Birmingham Stages: You mentioned in an interview with Rolling Stone that The Crossing also serves as a letter of sorts to your children.
Escovedo: I think all of my albums and songs have been like bread crumbs for my kids to discover a little bit about myself that they’re not aware of. I’ve been a hard traveler for many years – 45 years – and we’ve always been on the road. That’s the way artists like myself make their living. So, you’re gone a lot. I missed a lot of little league games and school events and things like that. The only method I have of communicating with them are these songs. My father was a storyteller and the stories that he told me helped me understand who he was as a boy and how that led to him becoming a man and my father. Hopefully, these songs will bear the same kind of gift.
Alejandro Escovedo will perform with Don Antonio at Saturn on Tuesday, January 8. Showtime is 8 p.m. Tickets to the 18+ show are $25 – $40 and can be purchased at www.saturnbirmingham.com.