Alejandro Escovedo has made a career out of taking chances. He started in punk with the Nuns, joined cowpunks Rank & File, and formed the country-oriented True Believers with his brothers before going solo. Even after being diagnosed with hepatitis C, Escovedo's rock-and-roll lifestyle helped define his music. That is, until he collapsed on an Arizona stage. Following a year in the hospital, he painfully chronicled the ordeal on The Boxing Mirror. We spoke with Escovedo about his renewed appreciation for life, his acclaimed new album, Real Animal — and being healthy again.
Westword: If The Boxing Mirror was baring your soul about almost dying, what is Real Animal?
Alejandro Escovedo: It's the exact opposite. It's celebrating a life. It's the story of my life in music, the characters along the way, the records that influenced me to shape the kind of music I play, and the approach and philosophy to making that music. It's more about life than death, even though it is reflective.
On "Slow Down," you sing, "I can't live for the moment/When I'm stumbling through the past." Are you trying to get the past out of the way?
It's kind of like cleansing your consciousness, in a way. By telling this story, by coming to terms with it and looking at in this way, I'm not really that attached to it anymore as a result of having written about it. It's out there in the cosmos. I don't feel the attachment that I once had to all those memories.
Was there a need to make this album?
I needed to because I wanted to get away from [death and illness]. I wanted to talk about something that's more uplifting. It's more about life, the joy I feel about playing and being in all these different places like New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Texas, and all the things that I learned as a result of being in those places. It was a real conscious effort to get away from that topic.
You used to party hard on the tour, even with the hep C, and it almost killed you. What's the road ritual like now?
It's a lot more subdued. I don't drink, obviously. I don't go to the party anymore. I'm kind of boring. Joni Mitchell probably parties harder than I do. It's good, though. As long as I can keep doing this, I don't care what it takes.
And it took collapsing and almost dying to come to this realization?
It certainly did. I was in denial. I was diagnosed several years before, but it wasn't until it crippled me that I got the message. It was a close call.