By Chip Chandler — Digital Content Producer
Introspective Americana singer-songwriter David Ramirez has gone pop. Sort of.
But don't let the sun-drenched and neon-accented cover of his new album We're Not Going Anywhere fool you. Though Ramirez himself says he's exploring pop music more on the album, Ramirez's tunes have lost none of their soul-searching lyrics or deep themes.
He'll return to town for a 10 p.m. Saturday show at Hoots Pub, 2424 Hobbs Road. Cover is $12.
"The album is conceptually as personal and maybe as melancholy as my usual albums ... but it has driving drums, screaming guitars, synths, keyboards," Ramirez said.
Why the shift from the quietly strummy guitars that characterized his earlier music?
"I was getting bored," he said. "I was getting bored with how a traditional Americana record sound and following those rules. I don't live my life that way, so I decided before we went into the studio that we were going to flip that script."
It helped that Ramirez began working with a full-time band two years ago.
"It was really exciting for me to write some songs they could actually play on — to not just create sounds in the peripheries, but to be a full-on band on," he said. "It's exciting to see these songs come to life."
Ramirez had some trepidation before dropping the album earlier this month, but not because of the new sound. He always has that feeling, he said.
"No matter how true to the course or how out of the box an album is, that's the case, always," he said. "I've had that fear with every album. ... That kind of pushes me to say, well, have fun.
"If it's a terrible record and no one enjoys it, the reality is I'll make another record down the road," Ramirez said. "I'm trying not to live in that headspace of will they or won't they (enjoy the album). We had a great time making it ... and so far, thankfully, the response has been really great."
On the album, Ramirez is experimenting with new instrumentations and breaking old rules, but songs like "Twins" and "Stone Age" are a far cry from the stereotypical pop song.
"Twins" reflects on the fall of the Twin Towers on 9/11, comparing the chaos following the tragedy with the current state of national dysfunction.
"Instead of just coming out and saying, here's how I feel about this election, which is what everybody is saying, I wanted to tackle the feeling of unrest that I was sensing around me," Ramirez said. "The first time I remember feeling that personally as an American was two weeks after I turned 18, when the towers fell."
On "Stone Age," Ramirez continues in the political vein: "Well, I'm tired of waiting for the world to change / Funny how the future is looking more like the stone age / We're building a wall, shooting guns, painting in the streets with blood / Uncle Sam and Lady Liberty moved to San Fran to run a start-up."
It was inspired by Ramirez's trip to London in July 2016, attempting but mostly failing to celebrate Independence Day while surrounded by indifferent Brits and dealing with disheartening news from home.
"Instead of feeling that camaraderie with my friends over here, I was waking up and reading my tweets — police versus Black Lives, the gay club in Orlando that got shot up. Instead of really wanting to celebrate the Fourth, I was kind of mourning our country," he said. "Being overseas made it sting a little more."
It made his mind drift back to John Mayer's "Waiting on the World to Change" — and not positively.
"I'm not judging him or his character, but when I read that line, it seems really passive," Ramirez said. "The changes that are happening, I feel like we're regressing, not evolving in a positive way. That's kind of where ('Stone Age') came from — feeling a little helpless, wanting to say something a little more active."
The rest of the album tackles long-distance relationships, love and heartbreak — "but in a way that's not just sad, that there still can be love even after it's lost," Ramirez said.
But it's "Twins" and "Stone Age" that best typify Ramirez's thoughts in putting together the album.
"I was listening to this podcast with Max Brooks, and he was talking about art and how art can be this wonderful timestamp of who we are at this time, and I agree with that," Ramirez said. "He mentioned that he was afraid that in 100 years, when they look back on our time, that he was afraid of what people would think was actually going on socially.
"Most of what we discuss (in music) is going out drinking. Don't get me wrong. I enjoy that very much, but I felt very convicted after hearing that and wanted to document what I personally am feeling in this moment."
Chip Chandler is a digital content producer for Panhandle PBS. He can be contacted at Chip.Chandler@actx.edu, at @chipchandler1 on Twitter and on Facebook.