Playback: David Ramirez’s Lost Art
David Ramirez’s America, HAAM Benefit Day, and the reverend of Austin music
First time I crossed paths with David Ramirez, he saved my night with a $10 bill.
Fall 2015 found me one night standing in front of Lamberts, the door guy having just checked one more time and confirming that my name was definitely not on the guest list. Broke and shit-out-of-luck, a nearby stranger – who didn't know me from Adam – overheard and handed me a 10-spot unprompted. It took me two years to balance our ledger.
What I didn't know at our earliest meeting was that the 34-year-old Houston native may be the finest lyricist in Austin when it comes to conveying the desperate heaviness of life in all its shades of gray, darker gray, and black. New fourth album We're Not Going Anywhere finds the dynamically dour singer meditating on the way things linger: doomed relationships, the vanity of stage lights, the song of an unknown Oklahoma piano player, and the vestiges of our existences after death.
"It documents the last year-and-a-half of my life," reveals Ramirez, who processes the American experience on "Stone Age":
"Give a man freedom and he'll sit in a cage.
Give him oppression and he'll write about it on an internet page.
Our fathers were drinkers 'cause we shipped them off to war.
And I'm drunk on Tuesday 'cause I'm just so fuckin' bored."
"I didn't want to write about 'Fuck Trump!' because I don't think that's creative, or helpful," he explains about another latent political tune, album opener "Twins" asking, "Where were you when we lost the twins?"
"Like most of us, I felt a little unsafe in the last year, so I was trying to write about that feeling of purity gone missing," he says. "The first time I remember feeling unsafe was when I was 18 and it was 9/11. My mom busted into my bedroom afraid I was gonna have to go to war, so I wrote about it in that way."
If it wasn't obvious from the cotton-candy pink artwork of the new LP, available locally on Friday when he plays a 5pm in-store at Waterloo Records, Ramirez is currently defecting from the Americana milieu. As such, his whisper-to-soar vocals now build upon an Eighties pop bedrock of synths, phased guitars, and driving beats instead of steel guitar. Not that he'll escape the singer-songwriter tag with prose so personal.
After eight years of relentless touring, toting modern melancholy, Ramirez – now $10 richer after "Playback" repaid its outstanding debt with a winning scratch-off ticket – reaches ever deep inside himself.
"If there's no personal conviction to a song, why would anyone give a shit?" he asks. "I've learned that it's important, contributing in that capacity, because people really need it. I'm not saying they need my records, but they need conviction and I need it too."
Always Room for HAAM
The wake of an in-state natural disaster isn't an ideal moment for a local nonprofit to fundraise, but truth is there's never a bad time to help your community. Health Alliance for Austin Musicians, the organization that connects local players with affordable health care, holds its annual benefit day on Tuesday.
Donations collected next week account for a quarter of HAAM's annual operating budget. Last year, their super Tuesday raked in a cool half million dollars. To put that in context, an average musician costs HAAM about $1,000 a year, an incredible value considering their partners cover vision, hearing, medical, dental, and mental health.
Given America's uncertain health care landscape, now's no time to take HAAM for granted. In covering 2,200 local musicians – and always rushing to the aid of those with catastrophic ailments – their reserves can drop alarmingly low. That's why every dollar helps, from the tens of thousands collected in cardboard coffers at local businesses where artists perform Tuesday to the larger HBD donations HAAM gets from businesses like C3 Presents, South by Southwest, and All ATX.
HAAM Executive Director Reenie Collins lost some sleep in June when HBD's primary sponsor Whole Foods was bought by Amazon, but the healthy grocer remains a key partner, donating 5% of the day's local sales to HAAM. Make a note to buy kale chips and organic dog food there on Tuesday. There are over 200 HBD performances happening in stores, hotels, and bars beginning at 6am.
Full list at www.myhaam.org.
Nobody respects the lyrical depth of Austin musicians more than Rev. Merrill Wade. The St. Matthew's Episcopal rector believes songwriters convey modern truths in a way that's valuable to the soul. The latest season of his weekly Soul of a Musician series, established in 2013, kicks off Sunday at the Northside Iron Cactus with a third appearance from alt-folk enchanters the Deer.
Far from an uptight church function, the free "Soul Series" finds parishioners and unaffiliated music fans drinking beer and eating Mexican food to live music. Between songs, Wade probes for depth in the artists' work.
"We value playing the series because the spirituality-imbued mysticism we put in our lyrics can be appreciated from all different kinds of perspectives," says Deer bassist/co-songwriter Jesse Dalton, who considers the band mostly nature worshippers. "It's weird we're writing about transcendental, almost drug-like experiences and this preacher appreciates it. We kind of consider him our spiritual adviser."
Joe Eddy Hines, a brash, gritty rock guitarist, succumbed to cancer last Wednesday at 63. A local fixture since the mid-Seventies, Hines is best remembered for the distinct lead guitar lines he laid down as Alejandro Escovedo's right-hand man and was especially magnificent in super-loud bar band Buick MacKane where his merciless riffing gilded classic LP The Pawn Shop Years. Hines also played in the Rockin' Devils, the Skeletones, and Hellapeño.
New Settler's: A veritable coup occurred in the folk fest scene Monday, when two high-ranking Old Settler's Music Festival staffers announced the Driftwood Music Festival, running the same weekend (April 19-22) as OSMF and in its former location at the Salt Lick, which unceremoniously informed the longstanding roots and bluegrass gathering it couldn't stage its final year in Driftwood because of its nearby residential developments. Read "War of the Folk Fests" at austinchronicle.com/daily/music.
The Vinyl Countdown: A vinyl manufacturing facility, Gold Rush Records, is slated to open locally in December. The business, led by former Google Music employee Caren Kelleher, will reportedly use new pressing machines from Canada's Viryl Technologies and focus on small runs for independent artists.
Rock You Like a ... Hurricane Harvey relief efforts once again proved Austin's music community aren't slackers when help is needed. The Mohawk's Houston Strong benefit, headlined by Black Joe Lewis, who spent days prior rescuing people by boat, sold out last Friday. GBH and the Casualties fundraised with a Barracuda encore, Waterloo Records customers donated to see Patty Griffin perform, Sound on Sound Fest donated ticket sales, Sunday's Reckless Kelly Celebrity Softball Jam will aid flood victims, and Walker Lukens used his tour van to collect and distribute cleaning supplies.