Texas music legend Alejandro Escovedo is currently in the middle of an international tour for his latest album, “The Crossing.” And he’s coming home to Dallas this weekend for a show at the Kessler Theater.
He stopped by our sister station, KXT 91.7 FM, to perform a few tracks. While he was in the building, he chatted with KXT’s Dave Emmert. The two discussed punk rock’s early days, the discrimination Escovedo dealt with as a Latino and so much more.
Watch two of the three songs Escovedo performed at the KXT studios in the videos above and below this text. You can also hear portions of the interview by clicking the ‘Play’ button in the player at the top of the page. And if you’re a diehard Escovedo fan, read the transcribed interview beneath the video.
Alejandro, your new record ‘The Crossing’ came out just a couple of weeks ago. And it draws on some of your experiences playing punk rock as a Mexican-American in Texas. Can you tell me a little bit about that experience?
After that, I played in various bands with a woman named Judy Nylon in New York. Then I was involved in starting a group called Rank and File with two members of The Dills – Tony and Chip Kinman – and we embarked on a tour on the night that Ronald Reagan was elected president. It was a seven-week tour, but it only had seven shows. And two of the shows we played were in Texas; one in Dallas and one in Austin. That’s when we fell in love with Austin and that’s where we kind of got started.
Once Rank and File broke up, I stayed in Austin. I’ve been there since 1980 basically.
How did the emerging punk scene react to Mexican-Americans playing punk music in the 1980s?
The Zeros was my brother’s band. It had four young Chicanos from San Diego. They’d play all around Southern California. In the early days of punk rock, it was very well integrated with women, African-Americans, and Chicanos. But rock in general – as far as the corporate rock-n-roll world – was sort of void of that sort of integration. So there were instances where I was refused entry into the front door of a gig I was headlining, because they wouldn’t believe that I was in the band. They asked me to go through the kitchen door. There were instances in Lubbock where a bunch of frat boys wanted me to serve them beer, because they thought I was the bartender, of course, even though I had all of my regalia on. And when I put out my first solo record, radio stations that would say, ‘We can’t even pronounce his name. How do you expect us to play his music?” I never changed my name. I kept my name. And I am very proud of my name. Another radio station said, “We already have one Mexican band. We don’t need another one.” At that time, the other “Mexican band” was Los Lobos.
My records were never in the “Rock-n-Roll” section at record stores. They were always in “World Music” or “Mexican music” sections or whatever. Merely based on my name.
I was incorrectly booked for shows. Once I was booked for a gig in San Jose and because of my brothers, who were salsa musicians, they assumed I played salsa. So they booked me in a salsa festival. And we opened up with “I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges. It didn’t go over well.
You mentioned “Sonica USA,” that’s the first single off of ‘The Crossing,’ and it features Wayne Kramer of the MC5. That’s a really cool pairing. How did you first meet Wayne?
Alejandro, this is your 16th solo record. That’s very impressive. One of the interesting things about this record though, is that you’re backed by Don Antonio, a group of young Italian rockers. How did you meet those guys and write this wonderful album?
Now, these are kids who love punk music. They love everything that led to punk rock. They also love beat poetry, freak literature of the 60’s and American directors from the 70s. And they go looking for this America and they find something different.
‘The Crossing’ is a bit of a concept album. It pulls a lot of musical flavors from your past projects. And it’s a charged album that touches on race, immigration and it’s all told through the characters you just describe. I heard that you and Don Antonio went on a Texas road trip to help find that inspiration for the album. Would you tell us about one of your favorite road trip memories?
And I should say, my process of writing is really like hanging out a lot. You know? And we’d eat at El Pueblo and check out all of the people who were getting off of the buses. Sometimes we’d talk with them and listen to their stories. Also, there are a lot of kids who I’ve met here in Dallas who were DREAMERs, so we would go meet with them. Some of the kids work at restaurants, so we’d go eat at their restaurants and tell them a little bit about what we were doing and they would tell us their stories. And a lot of those stories ended up on the record.
Then we went to Austin to hangout for a while. And we took the backroads like 281 and 67 to go through towns like Evant, Lampasas and Hico. We’d just get this feel for the countryside. Don Antonio loved it. We’d be in my pickup truck driving around and just having a real Texas experience. I think that really pushed us toward what eventually became the story of the record. It had a lot to do with it. It really did.
There’s something to be said for breathing in the energy of a place, especially a place with energy as unique as Texas.
Well, we’ve talked a bit about your music background and about being around during punk’s heyday. But I want to ask. Is punk dead?
I don’t believe that punk rock is dead. I don’t want to believe it anyway.
Alejandro, you were recently featured in an article with The New Yorker. The piece was about you returning to the border. Can you share a little bit from that experience?
But the border was really strange. It was much different than I remember as a kid. We were getting all of these reports that they were denying people entry into the US – even with US passports. They were questioning people’s birthplace and stuff. And it was so weird that when I went running in the morning, I got tailed the whole time! I had only ran about three miles, but I was getting tailed by the border patrol. They were everywhere. And when I got back to the place that Nick and I were staying, he said ‘This is too weird, man. Let’s get out of here.’ And we were supposed to spend the night. But as we thought about having to go back across the border and back again and we thought about the checkpoint – there was this hardcore checkpoint – and that I had only brought my driver’s license with me, so decided to ditch our car and fly home. It’s all in the article. (laughs)
Interview questions and answers have been edited for clarity and brevity.