David Ramirez & Matt Costa
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How do you write love songs when you’re heartbroken? How do you sing about hope and passion when yours is lost? How do you finish an album when the relationship that inspired it has ended?
During the Summer of 2017, David Ramirez had fallen in love with a woman who, despite having only just met, felt incredibly familiar to him. There was a scary but comfortable feeling of deja vu within their moments together. “In past relationships, no matter how eager I was to feel loved and to give love, there had always been a hesitation to crawl out of my old life. I didn’t feel this with her,” he recollects.
Ramirez began to pen songs for his next album and hopeful odes to new love spilled out. Songs like “Lover, Will You Lead Me?” filled with vivid images from the heart: I recognized you from some distant dream / Like when it rains on a cold day / I had a chill in my bones / Is it true what they say / “When you know, you know.”
These were followed by sultry, romantic ballads about how love matures and grows. He wrote “I Wanna Live In Your Bedroom” while sitting on his lover’s bed just minutes after waking up on a hazy fall day. “I was looking around at all the perfectly curated pieces in her room,” he says. “Everything was so intentional and held a story and a place in her heart. I wanted to be one of those pieces.”
One after another, Ramirez poured his soul into a new work of art that covered both the sweet parts of love and the hard times it can bring. He wrote about potential, survival, hope, and encouragement. He wrote about partnership.
But art is often bred from spontaneity and suffers under the confines of routines and borders. This is a conflicting dynamic that can cause massive problems when you’re building a partnership, when you’re part of a team. A seeming “whatever” attitude can foster insecurity and doubt in a lover. As more and more troubles emerged in his relationship, Ramirez found solace still at the tip of his pen, holding his guitar, sitting at his piano.
“I was born in August of 1983 just days after Hurricane Alicia had hit my hometown of Houston. As my relationship began ripping at the seams, I started to think of this storm as a precursor to my being born,” Ramirez confides. “Was there something in the universe that imprinted a characteristic of chaos in my blood during my last few days in the womb? Was I destined to wreak havoc everywhere I went?”
Soon, the relationship that had inspired a new burst of creativity in Ramirez and moved him to start writing an album unlike any he had ever attempted before, came to an end. And with that ending, he still had one last song to write. His heart exhausted, he sat on his patio one night and tried to process all of the lyrics that he knew he had written, yet now left him feeling like a stranger to his own story. Through tears and muffled whimpers, he started to write down all of his negative thoughts about love and put the pain of his broken heart into words. From this emotional purge, he began to see the beauty in what he had gone through: the struggle, the pain, the confusion. He soon found himself writing the lyrics that would become album standout “Hallelujah, Love Is Real!”
“I was reminded of a great line in the film Vanilla Sky, ‘The sweet is never as sweet without the sour.’ I decided to celebrate Love,” he explains. “I wasn’t gonna write about how it made me feel in that moment. I was going to write about its existence and how thankful I am having known it.”
This chapter of Ramirez’s life came to a close in the form of his forthcoming 10-song set, My Love Is A Hurricane, recorded with producer Jason Burt at Modern Electric Studios in Dallas, TX. For the first time in his career, he did no pre-production ahead of time, working from gut feelings throughout the process and spending most of his time in the studio on the edge of his seat. The resulting R&B-influenced, piano-driven production is highlighted by heavy basslines and synths with the occasional gospel backing. This experimentation with new melodies and rhythms places Ramirez’s deeply personal songwriting on top of dreamy, groove-driven landscapes that heal the heart and promote positivity while prompting listeners to want to sing (and dance) along.
My Love Is A Hurricane is Ramirez’s fifth full-length record and eighth collection of songs. Early albums like American Soil (2009) and Apologies (2012) put him on the map both locally and beyond, while his STRANGETOWN (2011) and The Rooster (2013) EPs delivered fan-favorite recordings, “Shoeboxes” and “The Bad Days respectively, that are staple singalongs at his concerts to this day. He made his Thirty Tigers debut with 2015’s FABLES, produced by Noah Gundersen, which features his most widely received single to date, “Harder to Lie.” While this earlier work landed Ramirez firmly in the singer/songwriter canon, a need to do more exploring sonically led to the expansive sound of his most recent album, We’re Not Going Anywhere (2017). Influenced by ‘80s bands like The Cars and Journey, it is lyrically reflective of the country’s intense political landscape framed from his perspective as a bi-racial American of Mexican heritage.
As songwriters evolve as people, so does their art, and that could not be more apparent than on Ramirez’s newest offering. The soundscapes utilized on My Love Is A Hurricane may be unlike any recording he has previously crafted, but it's not a departure from his journey. It's a new path created in order to tell a new story. A new canvas needed to hold the scene that his intensely personal lyrics are painting.
“David Ramirez has a voice like a tall tale, one minute strong and thick, the next threadbare and careworn.” — Stereogum
“Mr. Ramirez is a resolutely hesitant singer, never pushing his hurt, letting it instead decay him from within.” — The New York Times
“It's not easy for a writer to maintain the aura of the unspoken in a song. Music and the space surrounding it intensify the impact of confession; the true challenge comes in giving voice to a narrator who's tongue-tied, or simply reticent. Texas singer-songwriter David Ramirez does so beautifully…” — NPR Music
“Quietly mesmerizing” — The Wall Street Journal
“A powerful voice and perceptive pen” — Austin Chronicle
When Matt Costa started working on the songs for his sixth recordYellow Coat, he’d been on tour for the better part of two years and had justended a relationship of almost a decade. The music needed to exist, and itwas as much an emotional exercise as a creative one.
“I think every other record that I've written, I wrote knowing that thesongs would have an outlet,” Costa says “And for this one, I really didn’t. Itwas just a process I was going through, clearing myself of these feelings andthoughts.”
The songs were like Costa’s letters to himself, with the honesty andintimacy of something that was not meant to be heard. “ I feel really close tothem for that reason,” he says. “Some of my favorite writing is like that -VincentVanGogh’sDearTheo,orSteinbeck’sALifeinLetters.T hosearereally revealing, because it’s not intended as part of their body of work.There’s something really special about that. But at the same time, I writesongs and perform for a living. So it's hard to think these songs will neversee the light of day.”
And now, of course, they have. Yellow Coat is a masterpiece ofheartbreak from a preternatural tunesmith, its raw emotion channeled intogently swinging, hooky love songs, most of them awash in strings andmellotron and harmonies and groove. From the insinuating acoustic riffs andlo-fi beats of “Avenal” and the snappy fatalism of “Slow” to the almostchurch-like fragility of “Last Love Song,” Yellow Coat is equal parts lost‘60s AM radio hits, folk-pop beauty and dark night of the soul music.
At the time that Costa started writing, he had stripped things down notonly emotionally, but in terms of his surroundings. He had moved into aLaguna Beach studio - as in the size of his living quarters, not a recordingcomplex - with just the bare minimum of furniture and instruments. Insteadof a bedside table, a Wurlitzer Sideman drum machine.
The Wurlitzer eventually got used and sampled on “Avenal,” whichCosta and his friend Chase Perkowski (Iris and the Shade) wrote on agoing-nowhere road trip a few hundred miles northeast of L.A. “I was in asearching headspace,” Costa says. “Running away from something, trying tofind something, trying to find myself. We stopped at a gas stationoverlooking highway 5. Chase was strumming a few chords as the gas waspumping, and I sat under a tree humming a melody and frantically writing
down lyrics. By the time the car was fully fueled I asked him to play backthe chords to me as I sang the song.” Back on the road, the next sign said“AVENAL: 2 Miles” and Costa had both his opening track and song title.
The 37 year-old Costa has a lot of music and artistic growth under hisbelt, particularly in the last six years. He was 21 when he made his first EP,having immersed himself in music after a bad skateboard landingsidetracked what might have been a pro career. Coming out of that world, hehad a punk side, but also became enamored of Scottish folk, and BrianJones’ guitar style in the Rolling Stones.
“One of my first shows that I played was with a band that was allabout things like At The Drive-In,” he remembers. “I went up there with myacoustic guitar and played like a Pixies song, and a Donovan song, and thenan original of mine. And I remember thinking, What am I? Do I even belonghere?” But at no point did he ever think, “Okay, I'm just going to be a guywith a guitar. I always heard bigger arrangements.”
He began his career on Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records, where bothhis 2006 debut, Songs We Sing, and 2008’s Unfamiliar Faces were producedby No Doubt’s Tom Dumont. Costa produced 2010’s Mobile Chateauhimself, while 2013’s self-titled effort brought him to Scotland, where
producer Tony Doogan (Beck, Air) assembled a backing band drawn fromthe ranks of Belle and Sebastian. In 2013, he began a several year period ofrestless wandering, working on soundtracks such as the 2017 documentaryOrange Sunshine and releasing short EPs experimenting with differentaspects of his artistry. Then, in 2018 with Santa Rosa Fangs, he found a newhome at Dangerbird. The record, a winding story about a family ofcharacters in Northern California, was a rebirth of sorts and a second act to along and storied career.
“I've always had freedom in making my records and songs,” he says.“But with Dangerbird, and the last records, they really trusted me to followmy instincts, which is a pretty special place to be.”
Even before writing “Avenal,” Costa had done a fair amount of homerecording. Once an album seemed to be in the cards, the label suggested heconnect with producer Alex Newport (At the Drive-In, Death Cab For Cutie,Bleached), as much because they would get along personally as creatively.They worked on three songs that were in varying states of completion,including “Last Love Song” (a simple home recording), “Slow” (a demo)and “Make That Change” (a bare-bones solo acoustic track that Costa andNewport fleshed out from start to finish). Then they kept on going.
Costa plays a bit of everything on the record, but he also brought intouring drummer Cory Gash and one-woman string section Alexis Mahler(she plays both violin and cello). Costa and Mahler had previously done a lotof remote recording, but this time she came down to California for a week.“We worked up a bunch of arrangements together that lifted up a lot of thesongs in a nice way,” Costa says. “I wanted to really pull up some of theemotional stuff with string and things” (said ‘things’ being the mellotron,which can evoke so many different tones, as well as Costa’s layered vocals).
Costa had been playing “Slow” at solo shows before recording it, butit was first written around a rhythm track. With its snappy bass anddoo-wop-inspired backing vocals, it feels like a song that could have beenplucked from a Scorsese movie, except made in 2020. The sweeping, soulful“Jet Black Lake” is equally cinematic, with Costa pushing his vocal rangeinto falsetto.
But it’s “Let Love Heal” and “Last Love Song” that are perhaps theheart of the record, bittersweet evocations of love’s power to both sootheand devastate. When Costa first wrote what became “Last Love Song,” ithad a different title, and was meant to be an anniversary gift. Instead, it
turned into a break-up song, its sadness as palpable as the sound of Costa’sfingers on guitar strings.
Life does go on, however: the r ecord ends with the last song Costawrote for it, “So I Say Goodbye,” which provides a sense of closure, itspiano-driven tunefulness feeling both uplifting and melancholy. And sincefinishing Yellow Coat, Costa has written and released an even newer piece ofmusic, “Human Kind of Song,” which he lyrically crowd-sourced with fanson Instagram while sheltering in-place. Like every other songwriter, hedoesn’t know when he will next play live in front of people, so theexperience provided some community. And while Yellow Coat m ay havestarted as an album about heartbreak, its sense of sadness, hope andperseverance also feels completely universal.
“Everyone's going through personal trials all the time,” says Costa.“And it can be isolating. But now everyone's going through something. Andas difficult as that is, there's comfort in that too. Because we're all in ittogether, and we have been the whole time. Except now we can actually feelit.”
David Ramirez / Matt Costa