Ahead of his Tri-State Fair concert, Rick Trevino talks about immigration, politics and his new single
"I Am a Mexican" teaser, Rick Trevino and Flaco Jimenez
By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Best known for his easy-going '90s country hits, Rick Trevino is working in a more topical vein in a forthcoming album that will touch on the hottest of hot-button issues.
With the single "I Am a Mexican," due out in the spring, Trevino, a third-generation Mexican-American, "gives a voice to the undocumented or illegal worker," he said in a recent phone interview.
The song, coming on the heels of his recent "Cowboys LIke Me" (a hit on Texas radio), will be featured on his long-awaited new album, Long Coyote Gone, due to drop in time for South by Southwest in spring 2018. It'll be Trevino's most independent album ever, released on his own Campo Negro Records label, a far cry from his hit-making days with Sony and Warner Bros.
"I spent 17 or 18 years with two of the biggest labels in the record business, with some good and bad experiences," Trevino said. "I didn't want to spend (another) eight years producing art and not have control over it.
"I wanted to fund the record, produce the record and release the record on my own dime, so I'd own the masters and they wouldn't be sitting like they did with Warner Bros. (with his delayed 2011 release Whole Town Blue)," he said.
But what he didn't intend was for the album, and not just the single "I Am a Mexican," to be so issue-oriented.
"It wasn't an intentional, calculated move to write something that (addressed) guns and talk radio and immigration," Trevino said. "I didn't intend to write all of that stuff, but it was interesting to me."
He's expecting some backlash, even though "I Am a Mexican" was written several years ago, well before then-candidate Donald Trump started talking about building a wall or ending the DACA program.
"At first, I was a little worried and concerned and uncomfortable ... because I play in a lot of venues where you expect a more conservative crowd, but my shows are mixed and I have a lot of Hispanic following at my shows as well," Trevino said. "I haven't had any unpleasant experiences with the tune. Yet."
And if he does? That's OK, too.
"First and foremost, I want folks to pay attention to the record. I want it to be something that's successful," he said. "I think the industry and the fans will see a side, a very personal side, that they've never seen before.
"But in terms of being a voice for the undocumented immigrant laborer, would I be willing to take up the torch for undocumented immigrant causes? I don't know what God has in store for this, but God's been faithful to me for many years. ... I would be happy for that if the good Lord wants me to carry the torch, to give a voice to folks that don't have a voice."
That's what inspired the single and the album in the first place — "the frustration that we've got congressmen that we're paying to get things done and the idea that no idea can come together," he said.
"It was written in a prophetic way, not knowing that Donald Trump would be president of the United States in 2016," Trevino said.
But regardless of the administration, "illegal immigrant labor is as American as anything. It's part of the American fabric," he said. "You can't go to a restaurant and not see some sort of immigrant worker."
That happened with Trevino in Austin, where he and his wife spoke to a worker who was cleaning up after their anniversary dinner.
"Here we are, going through this debate in the U.S. about illegal immigrant labor, and here's this guy telling me his story. He's from El Salvador and has a wife and three kids back there. He paid a coyote $7,500 to get over, and he makes more in one day here in the U.S. than he made in a month back home," Trevino said. "He's trying to work and save money to pay another coyote another 3 or 4 grand to get his family over.
"His kids don't have any options. If you're a boy, you enter the drug business or the gang business. If you're a girl, there's a lot of abuse there — sexual and physical abuse," Trevino said. "He's trying to save his family.
"That made a big impression on me."