Sulfuric Songwriter David Ramirez Pens His “I’m in Love” Record – Breakup and All
Austinite goes through heavy self-reckoning on new LP
I didn't recognize David Ramirez when he arrived to our interview. That happens in this era, in which masks cover half our faces. Something must have been different about his eyes.
Pre-pandemic, when you'd greet someone with a hug or ask for a drag of their cigarette, I used to run into him at least once a week, after midnight at a now-defunct watering hole called the Hard Luck Lounge. Now, we're meeting at noon at a coffee shop, and he's rolled in all fresh-faced on a bicycle. In the upheaval of COVID-19, the Austin singer-songwriter's emerged habitually healthier, happier.
His heart's full too. That's the subject of Ramirez's new LP, My Love Is a Hurricane, his finest collection of songs to date. The four-letter word exists as both the most superficial lyrical topic and the most profound. I told him my favorite love-focused album is Leonard Cohen's I'm Your Man and asked him his. He sipped an iced coffee and said he'd never thought about it, but admitted he'd been listening to a lot of Boyz II Men. He also credits the Killers' Brandon Flowers as a "powerful" writer of love songs, citing "Between You and Me" and "Here With Me" as particularly Venusian declarations.
The Houston native addresses the subject on Hurricane with the same sulfuric songcraft that he's demonstrated on his previous two Thirty Tigers full-lengths. On "Lover Won't You Lead Me?" he sharply recounts falling head over heels: "I didn't smoke that night because I never wanna die."
"None of it's about pain," he says of the 11-song effort. "None of it's about how angry I am at society. None of it's about the president. It's just about love."
Significant self-reckoning came with that endeavor.
"I learned from writing the songs – most of them having some nod to living in darkness or being isolated – that I'm obsessed with being alone," he explained. "I'd always thought my loneliness and depression was fueling all this music. Then I opened myself up to this woman like I never had before and found I'm still able to stumble upon songs that have richness and story. That made me realize I didn't need to be sad or an alcoholic to write something that I found to be beautiful."
The 13th century Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi, an enlightened contextualist of love, once wrote:
"I am a sculptor, a molder of form.
In every moment I shape an idol.
But then, in front of you, I melt them down."
That got me thinking about the hazards of building a monument to love. It's something addressed in Brittney McKenna's short story that accompanies Ramirez's new record. The lovestruck protagonist spends all his time in the studio, trying to commit his girlfriend's "fiery essence to tape" and, in the process, neglects her. One day he comes home to an empty house and a note: "Call me if you ever break up with your guitar."
It's fiction, but the story mirrors real events surrounding its audio companion. Last year, while tracking his relationship homage, Ramirez eloped with his instrument, clocking 15-hour days in a Dallas studio with producer Jason Burt and backed by a collection of players fluent in gospel, R&B, and hip-hop who inspired an unprecedentedly soulful delivery from the singer/guitarist. Ramirez ran high on creativity but low on emotional availability.
Gary Chapman's 1992 book, The Five Love Languages, defines "Acts of Service" as one of the dialects of loving expression. However, if those actions consume you, they risk erasing a more important manifestation: quality time.
"In my mind it was for her, but my life wasn't an example of me being there for her," he shrugs. "So she could give two shits about the record, honestly."
It put such a strain on their relationship that they broke up.
"It was super rocky and shitty, and I thought it was gonna be a done deal forever," Ramirez recounts, mask around his neck as he hits a smoke on a deserted patio. "At that time I'm thinking, 'I can't hold a relationship to save my fuckin' life because of the habits I've created.' Every single relationship I've ever had has ended in August or September ... hurricane season."
Those self-inflicted wounds inform the final two songs recorded for My Love Is a Hurricane. The scathing title track connects his stormy relationship history with his mother going into labor as a tropical storm swelled overhead. He sings tempestuously:
"August of '83,
Alicia came to wreck my city.
Six days before I was born,
I like to think that was some kind of warning."
The breakup? Maybe it made the album better. After all, a split followed by reconciliation makes a relationship stronger because it wakes you up. Love disagrees with complacency.
"So," I ask the 37-year-old songwriter, "Is this a love album or a breakup album?"
"It's an 'I'm in love' record," he smiles. "Even when we split, I wanted to maintain this idea of love and commitment. I didn't want to have breakup songs. I wanted songs explaining myself.
"We've since mended fences and we're better than ever. COVID-19 has actually saved our relationship ... because bars are closed. I'm home and not reluctantly so.
"Even when bars opened, I didn't touch 'em. I'm still boozing from time to time – buddies will come over and we'll drink some Modelos and take shots – but I've fully adopted the life of being with someone and our relationship being a collaboration.
"And she likes the album now, because it's our story."
My Love Is a Hurricane lands at www.davidramirezmusic.com.