The show was Hot Ticket’d by Shanghai Talk this month. Here’s an excerpt:
[Alarcon’s] debut solo album, The Boy Who Floated Freely tells the story of a boy who washes up on an island and falls in love with a gypsy miss. Alarcon seems to be equally influenced by the Brothers Grimm and Dickens as he is by, say, Antony and the Johnsons or Seu Jorge (the latter of which he has opened for). His solo project, Ramona Cordova, is named after Alarcon’s grandmother, who used to murmur Spanish lullabies to the insomniac toddler — she obviously did something right. The Boy Who Floated Freely is a collection of exquisitely crafted, surprisingly affecting numbers that weep with lyrical grace and charm with poetic mischief. The after-party will be at the always eclectic, always solid Freaklub Wednesday weekly at LOgO.
Shanghaiist caught up with Senor Alarcon today via email — he’s in Hong Kong getting his visa for China! — for a quick Q&A (click the link below to read it).
Ramona Cordova Show: Wednesday, April 11
RMB 60, reservation required (email [email protected]).
Secret location – address and directions will be provided to those who reserve spots.
Show starts at 8:00 sharp. Goes til 9:30pm or thereabouts.
After-party at Freaklove — special anniversary party with the One Love reggae night on Fridays — at LOgO (13 Xinfu Lu, near Fahuazhen Lu).
SHist: What was the inspiration behind Giver [the central character in The Boy Who Floated Freely] and this tale of love and loss? Where did you get the idea to do this story-through-an-album?
RC: Well, at the beginning, I thought it was just a story I made up from nothing, out of the blue, so to speak. But we all know that this is impossible. Everything comes from something. I’ve realized recently that the songs are all quite biographical. It’s funny…
SHist: This album was originally just a side solo project, a low-key affair with online distribution. How did you feel when it started to blow up?
RC: A bit overwhelmed at times, but really excited. And happy that people are appreciating this record and the story that goes with it. I’m really glad it’s given me the opportunity to travel as much as I have, I’m really grateful.
SHist: You didn’t even sing in your last band [Denver in Dallas]. When did you realize you wanted to – or could – and how did you get to developing the falsetto sound?
RC: It’s funny, because I was actually listening to demos of The Boy Who Floated Freely and my voice was not very good. Not in tune all the time, and really poor falsetto and vibrato. It’s gotten a lot better with time and touring, but to begin with, I just told myself I wanted to try and sing like Snow White, and ‘old movies’ in general, and so I did. But it wasn’t so pretty at first. I had to practice.
SHist: Ramona Cordova is your grandmother’s name. What’s her reaction to you using it as your stage name?
RC: “Oh, how nice,” she says in a thick Puerto Rican accent, as she smiles and nods her head. She’s very old, and I actually just got to see her for the first time since I was 17 this past March, in Bullhead City, Arizona, where I used to live when I was about 3 years old. I’m not really sure if she gets it, if she really understands what I’m doing. I sang her a song, though, and she got very happy about it.
SHist: You’ve said “I don’t think my music is all that great” and that success came as a “super shock”. What has been the most surprisingly part of it all? The most shocking fan reaction to your musical creations?
RC: Well I’ll take your question, and answer it like this: the best compliment I’ve had is when people say that they like to listen to my music when they are driving through the country, or when they are making art, or something like this. That, to me, means that it is inspiring them. And that is so important to me. My favourite music is that which inspires you to do things, create things, feel things. It’s very important, and it’s different for everyone.
SHist: You’ve said that although you don’t want to be shticky and you don’t want to be pigeonholed as the ‘guy who writes these little stories’, there is one more story you want to tell. So what’s on the horizon? The next album, we’ve heard, is just about what’s on your mind. Will the story that’s waiting to be told, then, get told at some point?
RC: Probably not in a CD form. Probably through a book or a film, or photographs, or drawings, or an art installation. Who knows? But that story you’re talking about, that I said I had to tell, I’m not sure I’m so into the idea anymore. I think I’ve grown a bit past it. That’s a good thing, though, that means it would have probably not have been so cool anyway…
SHist: One of my favourite tracks on the album is “Chesser” [It’s a rollercoaster of a break-up ballad]. Can you speak a bit about the inspiration behind that song? What was occupying your headspace at the time?
RC: Mmm…I was about 16 or 17 years old and I’d just seen a girl at a Glassjaw concert. I asked her for her number and she gave it to me. So then we talked over the phone a few times and tried to hang out, but I was living out of the state for a summer, and so we never got to. But it was just that whenever I would try and talk to her, she never had anything to say. She never responded to my stories or things I thought about, and she never really told me much about her, or expressed much of anything to me. It was frustrating. It was really just a young crush, but I actually put the song on here because when I was in my old band, I had told her that I wrote a song about her – which is mostly this song, though I’ve made some changes – but I felt that if I already told someone that there was a song about them, I should probably live up to my word. So I put it on the record even though I really didn’t want to. Especially after I recorded it, I thought the singing was awful. I still do, kind of, on the record, but I’ve grown to appreciate it for what it is.
SHist: What are your three favourite books or stories?
RC: Right now, it’s The Worst Case Scenario Handbook, The Sailor’s Handbook, and I was floored by Terry Goodkind’s Wizard’s First Rule.
SHist: What are you listening to lately?
RC: My friend’s band Kickball – they just put out a new record – and their live show is incredible. So is the live show of Dirty Projectors: wow.
SHist: How was Taipei [Alarcon played there Monday night]? What was the show like? Anything come as a great surprise?
RC: Yeah, the time. I looked at my watch and it was almost 9pm. The show started at 8pm…oops. The show was good though, except I was out of breath because I ran to the venue with my guitar in one hand and a box of CDs in the other…oops. And, in my rush, I forgot to take the address of the venue…oops. It was like that. You understand, I’m sure…
SHist: Do you have any expectations for China, either for the show or otherwise?
RC: No, I mean, I wish that I could see some water and fishermen, but I don’t think that will happen. I do expect, however, to not be able to find vegetarian food very easily. It’s been really difficult in Taiwan, and I’ve got pieces of little piggies and shrimps and chickens in my belly. [Not to worry, we’ve recommended Vegetarian Lifestyle, Hao Niang Niang, and Gongdelin so we think he’ll be fine.]