Checking In: Michael Ramos Signs the Tiarra Girls

“I’m an A&R guy for Lucky Hound Music [and] a staff producer”

“Michael Ramos grew up mostly around San Antonio. He’s a multi-instrumentalist specializing in keyboards and accordion, but also singing and playing trumpet, organ, and a little percussion,” wrote critic emeritus Dave Marsh for the Chronicle in 2006. “[In Charanga Cakewalk], what he wants to do is make sounds that reflect himself and his concerns.”

Austin Chronicle: Where are you sheltering and under what circumstances? Who else is there and how’s that going?

Michael Ramos: I am sheltering in place at home with my wife, Quen, and my son, Jesse, along with our two dogs. When the pandemic hit, we went into serious lockdown. We have a compound, so to speak. There is a wall and a security gate we built around our property when we first moved in back in 2011.

Up until school started, my wife and son rarely left the property and we didn’t let anyone in except for maintenance guys and a couple of Jesse’s friends that were part of our family pods and taking the pandemic seriously.

“Producing projects at Brown Recluse Studio came to a screeching halt. I postponed one until I had a better idea how to proceed with the proper protocols. We had to postpone again when the artist came down with COVID. About the time we were to begin rescheduling, [he] called to tell me the guitarist had just died from the virus.”

AC: At what point did C-19 shut down operations for you, and what went down with the ship, so to speak, both personally & professionally?

MR: Operations as I knew them shut down the day after the Austin Music Awards. I was the musical director this year and I remember talking to Mayor Adler behind the stage during the show. He was telling me how tough the decision was to cancel SXSW.

Little did we know life as we knew it would change the very next day.

The Austin Music Awards were the last hurrah, so personally, it was tough. My family and I had big spring break plans for NYC... a Nicks game at Madison Square Garden, the museums, the Bronx Zoo, etc. We had to cancel and my son was crushed.

So were we, honestly.

I was fortunate to already have two cool projects in the works. One was a score for an indie film being produced here in Austin, and the other was a score for a podcast based out of Mexico City. I've been working on my next Charanga Cakewalk record, so I have that too.

However, my producing projects at Brown Recluse Studio came to a screeching halt. I postponed one project for a few months until I had a better idea on how to proceed with work while following the proper protocols. We had to postpone once again when the artist came down with COVID. Right about the time we were to begin rescheduling, the artist called to tell me the guitarist in his band had just died from the virus.

We just kind of let it go at that point.

Fortunately, things slowly started climbing back. I am an A&R guy for Lucky Hound Music, as well as a staff producer for them. One of the acts I brought to the label, the Tiarra Girls, was just signing with us when the pandemic hit.

We’ve been working at Studios At Fischer and at my place, Brown Recluse Studio. At both studios, we’ve adhered to the strictest of protocols: social distancing, masks, sanitizing, and allowing only essential personnel on site. So far so good.

Fortunately, between Studios At Fischer and Brown Recluse, I’ve never truly been out of work. It hasn’t been as much work, but I am blessed, for sure.

AC: As a global culture, people employ music for every purpose imaginable, obviously spanning religion to entertainment and everything in between. What happens to communities like ours when people can no longer access it in person?

MR: That is a tough question for me. It hurts to think about it because it’s on my mind 24/7. Austin relies so much on its music scene for entertainment, for comfort, for our sense of belonging, and for who we are. With all that is happening, with the pandemic and all the division we are seeing in our city, our state, the country, and the world... well, for me it feels like our music is one of the few things we have that can still unite us and on which we can still agree.

“With all that is happening, with the pandemic and all the division we are seeing in our city, our state, the country, and the world... well, for me it feels like our music is one of the few things we have that can still unite us and that we can agree on.”

That pales in comparison to the devastation and havoc wreaked on the lives and careers of my sisters and brothers who rely on music for their livelihood. It’s not just the fans. The musicians I know define themselves by their art. When they can’t express themselves and share that with others, life just turns sort of gray.

When this is all over. I think live music will come back stronger than ever because we will realize what we may have taken for granted.

AC: Everyone’s had to shift or drastically alter their work situation. What does that look like for you?

MR: Honestly, my work situation hasn’t shifted all that much. The only difference is that I have fewer projects to focus on. The upside is that those projects get much more attention from me now. It's the same amount of work, just less money.

I am so grateful for my position and work at Lucky Hound Music. I doubt I could survive without it. I’m also on the board of Black Fret. I focus on helping those artists take the next step during these tough times. It gets my mind off of my own challenges for a while.

AC: What’s your soundtrack for the apocalypse and what role does music play for you as a fan and scholar of it in times of hardship?

“However, when I’m down or in a pensive mood, I’ll listen to my downhome sh*t.”

MR: I’m always absorbing and searching for my new favorite artist, just like any true music lover. I love the new stuff I hear from artists like Jay Wile, binki, Childish Gambino, Yola. It makes me proud to listen to new stuff by local artists like Sir Woman and David Ramirez, Black Pumas, and Tiarra Girls. When I hear a song that hits the sweet spot, I have this mini deja vu that transports me someplace.

However, when I’m down or in a pensive mood, I’ll listen to my downhome sh*t: Bill Withers, Shuggie Otis, Dusty In Memphis, Los Lobos’ Kiko, Little Joe y La Familia, Burt Bacharach, Elvis Costello, the Beatles, and Rumours, or the song “Albatross” by Fleetwood Mac.

That's a broad spectrum, I know, but I don’t like to stay in any one place for too long.


Check out the entire Checking In series.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

Michael Ramos, Austin Music Awards, Charanga Cakewalk, Studios at Fischer, Brown Recluse Studio, Lucky Hound Music, Black Fret, Jay Wile, David Ramirez, Tiarra Girls, Dusty Springfield, Los Lobos, Little Joe y La Familia, Beatles, Checking In 2020

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