For one year between October 2013-2014, I posted a song a month on this website. The songs now constitute my fourth studio album, This Marauder's Midnight. An illustrated short story was included in the special edition of the record about an infamous serial hair-fetishist in fin de siècle Paris that manages to get himself caught red-handed by an unlikely heroine while trying to obtain yet another trophy for his abominable collection. The Marauder realizes he has broken into the wrong room when he encounters a 10-year-old girl who demands that he tell her a story in exchange for not screaming. Granted, I might have gotten a little carried away with this indulgence but it comes close to describing one of the feelings that I both enjoy and dread when writing and performing music: almost on command, a song has to be able to move a stranger.
I was born in San Juan, Puerto Rico. From early on, I was the recipient of various eclectic mixtapes compiled by my father. Paul Simon, The Police, The Beatles, Keith Jarrett, Tom Zé, Willie Colón, and Nina Simone, among others, came out of the speakers at home. I spent the last years of my youth playing dive bars in Old San Juan, trying my very best to be worthy of the local punk rock scene before being whisked away at age 17 by a young woman and the Old World promise of adventure and romance. I ended up in Gent, Belgium, where I fronted several bands and studied painting. It was there during my last year of art school that I met Technotronic producer Jo Bogaert, who would go on to produce my first two records. The first, Ghostboy, was an eccentric, nostalgic, bilingual mix of latin, pop rock, and urban beats. The main single, “Broad Daylight,” was well-received and allowed me to build a following in Belgium and The Netherlands as well as a steady summer festival presence. Our second collaboration, Angelhead, delved further into the world of pop electronica and away from songs in Spanish. I was now finding it increasingly difficult to sit through the countless hours of programming and editing that so characterize albums made “in the box.” I had also acquired an 8-piece band and was playing mostly to sold-out audiences who had come for an uptempo party. Alas, my sojourn as an entertainer was cut short when upon a stage in a small arena in Brussels I realized that I was no longer where I wanted to be. I disbanded the group, started playing solo shows and formed a trio with Jef Neve (piano) and Kobe Proesmans (percussion) to explore the road less travelled. The Dangerous Return was the fruit of this union and its title track gave me my first taste of live recording.The thrill of setting out to capture a unique performance was an unparalleled experience. Yearning to be in an English-speaking city with a healthy live music scene, I left Belgium for New York. It was only then, after three studio albums, that I arrived at the place where many singer songwriters actually begin their journeys: in front of a small audience with a guitar, a mike, and a handful of songs.
Almost upon arrival, I was introduced to the world of Rockwood Music Hall, that great little place on Allen street where people go to find good music. The slightly daunting reality of all those people singing and playing great songs became an inspiration rather than a deterring force. I realized that, just like everybody else, the only thing I had to do was come up with the best possible songs and show up to play to whomever happened to be there that night. No soundcheck, no curtains, no introductions. Something told me that if I did this for a couple of years, the album would write itself.
One of those present one evening was Ruben Samama, a gifted musician and composer/arranger who would eventually join me on double bass and go on to produce the album. After trying out several line-ups we asked his wife, the sublime cellist Amber Docters Van Leeuwen, to accompany us on a couple of songs. It quickly became clear that we had found the right instrumentation. The idea then came to make a record with nothing but the three of us playing the songs in a room. This also became the premise for the videos which were directed by Michael Sewandono and consist of us performing the songs live in an empty venue. Keeping the arrangements sparse allowed us to give just a hint of classical orchestration while keeping the focus on the songs and stories themselves. When the time was right, we booked a week at Dreamland Studios in Woodstock and returned with half the record. I began releasing a song a month while simultaneously playing concerts and recording later additions to the batch. This allowed people to preview the record during the course of the year, getting to know the album inside out, track by track. The success of the album's first single “Gold” has kept us busy in Europe and a dance remix version of the same song, made independently by Thomas Jack, went viral, opening doors for us by unexpectedly introducing people to a record they would probably not have found otherwise.
When you take away the drums, there’s a lot of empty space in a song. The listener’s body has to react to the pulses in the music and connect the dots. I like watching faces change as they grow accustomed to the sounds, especially when it’s a brand new audience. It’s like adapting to a pitch black room just before shapes and subtle tones become visible. An overwhelming attraction to words and melodies led me to this place -- a place of dimmed lights and expectation. When all is said and done, I like believing that what moves me is going to move you.
A song a month for one year; that was the pledge. Now that a year has come and gone and the album has been compiled and released, we hope to be coming to a town near you very soon. Look out for the special edition of 'This Marauder's Midnight' with bonus material and a surprise inside the booklet. Also, press on the star on the top right corner of the page for an intimate video recording of one of 12 cover songs that will be uploaded the third Monday of each month. For those of you who live outside of the Benelux, the album will be released physically and digitally early 2015. In the meantime you can listen here, on Spotify, or on Deezer.
A song a month for one year; that was the pledge. Now that a year has come and gone and the album has been compiled and released, we hope to be coming to a town near you very soon. Look out for the special edition of 'This Marauder's Midnight' with bonus material and a surprise inside the booklet. Also, press on the star below for an intimate video recording of one of 12 cover songs that will be uploaded the third Monday of each month. For those of you who live outside of the Benelux, the album will be released physically and digitally early 2015. In the meantime you can listen here, on Spotify, or on Deezer.