The last five years have been excruciating and enlightening for Austin, Texas-based artist Alejandro Escovedo. As his health deteriorated due to previously diagnosed hepatitis C, he collapsed backstage in 2003 after a performance and spent close to a year in treatment for advanced cirrhosis and other vascular problems. A working musician with no health insurance who depended on steady gigs to make a living, Escovedo saw his life falling apart around him.
But he was invigorated by the incredible outreach of love and support he received from fellow artists and fans who rallied to help with his financial needs during recovery. After benefit concerts were thrown around the world, and a tribute album of his songs was released, the money came in just in time. The respect from others strengthened Escovedo's faith in humanity, he says. Now living a healthy and once again productive life, he is thankful and optimistic.
"My health is excellent," Escovedo humbly says when asked how he is doing. "It's good to be alive and working."
Always moving in new directions, Escovedo has made some major changes in his business handlings, from switching management and booking to working with a new label, Back Porch Records, which released 2006's impressive comeback The Boxing Mirror. The hard-rocking album was simply another notch in his diverse musical repertoire. From Escovedo's early days in the punk band the Nuns, he has never been content with compartmentalizing himself. With deep country roots in Rank and File, the hard rock of the True Believers, and the alternately introspective and edgy solo albums ranging from gentle acoustic guitar to neo-punk to string quartets, Escovedo's oeuvre has defied categorization.
The mastery of that incredible range may be why he received the '90s "Artist of the Decade" honor from No Depression magazine. The 13-year-old alt-country magazine recently announced that it will cease publication with issue 75 (May-June). Escovedo laments the loss. "If it wasn't for No Depression magazine and Bloodshot Records, my career would have ended a long time ago," he says, referring to his former label.
"It's a shame that so much rides on the support of advertisers' dollars. This is a sad reflection of what's going on in the music industry. People don't want to do any homework. There is so little information actually coming from the real sources anymore. The more we lose things like No Depression, the worse it gets."
Nevertheless, Escovedo is finding that his second (or is it third?) chance to make music for a living has become quite interesting. With a new album coming out in late spring and a feature documentary in the works, he's moving forward at full speed. He anticipates the new record with much enthusiasm. "This one is sort of a history of my music through the years, mainly done with my rock band. I have been working with Chuck Prophet on the songs and production."
The career retrospective theme is timely, as noted filmmaker Jonathan Demme – responsible for the Talking Heads' Stop Making Sense and Neil Young's recent Heart of Gold – is on board to make the documentary. "We start filming in April," Escovedo says. "The idea is to portray me watching each of my bands perform through the years, sort of a battle of the bands format."
The relationship with Demme precedes the current project. "I worked with Jonathan on the soundtrack for Man from Plains, a documentary about Jimmy Carter. Unfortunately, I didn't get to meet Carter; maybe next time I am in Georgia ..."
Escovedo's other recent issue with a president was a bit more humorous. "I was told that Bush had my song 'Castanets' on his iPod," he says. As a result, he stopped playing the crowd favorite in concert for quite a while. "It was very discouraging and humiliating."
"Actually it turned out to be the Los Lonely Boys' version, from the Por Vida compilation," he says, referring to the '04 tribute released in his honor. Ironically, the sales garnered from that 32-song, double-disc release helped save his life.
He has resumed performing the song since then.