A Hurricane Gave Alejandro Escovedo PTSD, but He's Still Rocking

Alejandro Escovedo performs at Soiled Dove and eTown Hall this week.
Alejandro Escovedo performs at Soiled Dove and eTown Hall this week. Nancy Rankin Escovedo
Alejandro Escovedo was just beginning a fall 2014 tour when he started having what he calls “a kind of brain seizure.”

“They happened a few times, and one of them happened just before a gig in Portland,” Escovedo says. “The place was sold out and we were about to play, and suddenly I went into this weird kind of psychedelic weird kind of surreal haze...I don’t know, I just became this other person."

His fellow musicians called him and asked him to reschedule the tour. "Nobody wanted anything to happen more serious than that," he says. "That’s when I went and got tested and found out that it was PTSD as a result of the hurricane.”

That was Hurricane Odile, which in September 2014 hit Baja California, Mexico, where Escovedo and his new wife, Nancy, were honeymooning. The storm ripped off the front of the beachfront home where they were staying; the couple was emotionally devastated.

Overwhelmed by trauma, Escovedo postponed recording his album, Burn Something Beautiful. Then he and his wife relocated from his longtime home of Austin to Dallas, a move that shaped his music. The recording would not be complete and released until October 2016, on Fantasy Records.

The 66-year-old Escovedo, a former member of the San Francisco punk act the Nuns and the Austin-based alt-country band Rank and File, says the title, Burn Something Beautiful, refers to a lot of things. “It signifies the beauty of certain human beings that burn out too quickly, I think,” Escovedo says. “There’s a lot of beautiful people that I’ve known personally and admired that have passed on in the last year or two that really meant a lot to me. So I was thinking about the beautiful light that people carry and then it burns out. I lost a lot of good friends, and I lost a lot of great musical heroes. We all did. And so that really started to kind of present itself in the songs.

"Songs like ‘Farewell to the Good Times,’ ‘I Don’t Want to Play Guitar Anymore’ — songs like that really had a lot to do with that. And ‘Heartbeat Smile’ even is really kind of an homage to the beautiful people that I’ve known in my life.”

Escovedo says the album title evokes “how readily we destroy the environment and have destroyed the environment, and how we have to be more cautious and conscious of all that stuff."

While Escovedo worked with longtime David Bowie producer Tony Visconti on three albums in the past decade, for his latest effort, he teamed up with REM lead guitarist Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey of Minus 5 and the Young Fresh Fellows, who both acted as producers and co-writers on Burn Something Beautiful.

“They’re both great experiences,” Escovedo says about working with Visconti and newer collaborators Buck and McCaughey. “[They're] very different in that I think that with Tony, you get a true producer in that he is constantly listening for new ways to arrange, and he’s writing out sheet music for strings as you’re playing. His role is solely to produce and arrange and to get everything together, but with Pete and Scott, you get two guys who are right there side by side with you as you’re cutting the record, and they’re in the band, you know, they’re playing in the band. It kind of is more of a group decision than it is an individual’s decision. So I think that makes it just different. I wouldn’t say better or worse. It’s just different.”

About Burn Something Beautiful, Buck and McCaughey "made me want to play louder and more distorted and just to kind of rock a little harder,” Escovedo says. “It definitely brought out more of the kind of Velvet Underground, Mott the Hoople stuff.”

Whether Escovedo is playing solo or with a band, he says he likes to bring the same attitude to both of those environments.

"I really try to kind of hit it as focused and hard as I can whenever I play, no matter whether it’s with an acoustic guitar or an electric guitar," he says. "But there’s something about electric guitar that I’m just completely in love with. I love making noise."

Alejandro Escovedo will play with Jesse Malin at 8 p.m. Wednesday, March 1, at the Soiled Dove Underground. Tickets are $20-$28. There will also be an eTown live radio taping with Escovedo and William Bell at 7 p.m. Thursday, March 2, at the eTown Hall. Tickets are $25.
KEEP WESTWORD FREE... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we'd like to keep it that way. With local media under siege, it's more important than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" program, allowing us to keep offering readers access to our incisive coverage of local news, food and culture with no paywalls.
Jon Solomon writes about music and nightlife for Westword, where he's been the Clubs Editor since 2006.
Contact: Jon Solomon