Q&A: Before Ybor show, David Ramirez talks abandoning anxiety, seeking the company of others, dedicating his life to song and more

The Texas songwriter brings an amazing new album to Crowbar on December 13.

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click to enlarge David Ramirez, who plays Crowbar in Ybor City, Florida on December 13, 2017. - Stefanie Vinsel
Stefanie Vinsel
David Ramirez, who plays Crowbar in Ybor City, Florida on December 13, 2017.


David Ramirez used to worry about things.

"It was, like, such a big deal. Like, 'Am I gonna die alone?,' or like, 'I gotta settle down. I gotta find a lady,' or whatever," he told CL in a recent phone call after the Thanksgiving holiday.

He also used to fret over the way listeners would receive his music, too, and while he still prefers the company of others versus sitting somewhere alone, Ramirez, 34, travels the country these days knowing that his main purpose in life is to meet people and make his songs as good as they can possibly be.

"Man, I don't know. What I'm looking for. I guess that's part of it, just being around people. I mean if you want to get specific, yeah it would be super dope to, you know, have a wife," he said. "I think that'd be really rad, you know, have some kids. But I don't look for that anymore. I mean, I did when I was like 21."

As Ramirez arrives in Ybor City on December to support his excellent new album, We're Not Going Anywhere — where he paints the seldom-sober melancholy from a 2015 LP Fables and his 2012 debut full-length Apologies with lush instrumentation and a still-pointed, less-wordy approach to lyrics — look for him to be searching for inspiration and maybe someone to share a drink with.

"I like being around other souls, even if I'm alone drinking at a bar. I prefer that to drinking at home," he said.

"I like the energy of the human race even though shitty people exist and shitty things happen between one another, um, I see a lot of good and potential in a lot of us. I like people at the end of the day."

You're gonna like Ramirez even more, too, after his headlining set on December 13.

Read our Q&A with Ramirez — and listen to a live album from a previous solo tour  — below. Get more information on the show via local.cltampa.com.

David Ramirez w/Molly Parden/Kristopher James
Wed. Dec. 13, 7:30 p.m. $14-$16.
Crowbar, 1812 N. 17th St., Ybor City.

Hey, David. What's up? Thanks for working this out, I think we lost touch after the Thanksgiving break, and your show in Tampa is coming up quick.

Totally fine. Yup, next week or week after that.

Yeah, the 13th, did you have a good Thanksgiving? I like that picture of you and your family.

Oh, thanks. Yeah, it was really nice — they're sweet. Good times, relaxing, naps, that sort of thing.

Are you, like, a one plate in between each nap kind of person.

Haha, um, yeah pretty much — I'm a pig.

Yeah, that's how I kind of feel about myself, too. I just kind of tell people that I'm disgusting.

We're just horrible people, we'll let them figure it out.

We're just gluttons who drink too much, and eat too much and then watch TV and choke on our food as we lay on the couch. Was anyone in that picture your wife or your kids? Wasn't sure if you had any kids or anything like that.

Oh no, I am, uh, not married, nor do I have any kids, no. It was just parents, siblings, my sister-in-law, kids.

Right on, is that because little kids are hellians? Is that an intentional choice for you?

Um, no, I mean it just hasn't happened. I would love to have some kids — that would be super rad, but you know, it just hasn't happened.

OK, yeah, you write about familial themes, and other people, the love between people in a really deep way, so I was like, 'If he doesn't have an inkling of interest or experience in that, then he is truly a master [songwriter].'

Haha, yeah. Nah.

Where do you think that comes from for you? That ability to write about love. It looks like your family is pretty warm. Like where do you learn how to listen to people like that? I know you spend a lot of time with your fans, too.

Um, you know that's a good question. I think I just gravitate towards people. I like being around other souls, even if I'm alone drinking at a bar. I prefer that to drinking at home, uh, I like the energy of the human race even though shitty people exist and shitty things happen between one another, um, I see a lot of good and potential in a lot of us. I like people at the end of the day. I don't know where that comes from. Probably my upbringing for sure, my parents are that way. I moved around a lot as a kid, too. Went to four different elementary school, four different high schools; meeting new people just kind of became part of my life, and I like it. It's a good time.

When you're moving around, was that just between Texas?

It was just between Texas.

Why did you guys move so much?

Different reasons, you know. We were pretty poor when I was a kid, so in and out of different apartments, or renting different houses, so you know, old man would have to get a different job in a different place, so we'd have to move closer or, you know, just things like that.

And did you have a struggle when you decided to stop doing your normal jobs and pursue songwriting or was it more like a calling because, I think, a lot of times, when you come up in that environment, some kids feel like a burden to be successful — not that you're not successful, I just mean that from a money standpoint — sometimes it's tough being a career musician, you know?

Um, yeah, it's tough, but you know, I never had a career or other jobs. I was working service industry stuff, you know working restaurants, coffee, so it wasn't hard to leave all that. I wasn't really attached to the work, but yeah, no, um, success doesn't frighten me, no not at all. My old man is very successful as of today, and you know, he struggled for it, he worked his ass off for it, and he encourages all of us to do the same, so money is not a factor, it's not a fear and being on the road doesn't scare me, so. I mean, shit dude, I get a kick out of it — it's a good time.

You don't even get scared when John Moreland is taking your money on dice?

Haha, uh, nah. I don't get scared about that. John Moreland. I don't even know that him and I have actually played dice.

Oh, I saw that Instagram post that he put up where he was challenging you to throw some dice.

Oh yeah, the challenge has been made for sure, but we see each other maybe once a year, and I don't think we've had the dice on us. But yeah, I am scared of him taking my money, but I think I have a chance at taking his.

Do you guys roll dice with Molly, and does she just, like, bet with coffee beans instead?

Haha, she uh, I'm not sure if she plays with us, but yeah that sounds about right.

Before I switch back to your record, do you mind if I ask you a little bit about Molly. This is a really cool tour because you had that Thanksgiving break, and you kind of had another leg. Can you talk about the decision to bring Molly on tour? She doesn't have a ton of songs, she's got the full-length, the EP, and she's done a lot of writing and a lot of backup stuff, but what made you really want to take her on this super-long tour?

That's kind of how I like to do it anyway. If I am gonna bring an opener, then I want it to be for the long haul. You know, build a relationship and actually, like, put some miles in together. She and I have been friends for about seven years, I believe, and we've played a handful of shows together, and we've always had a blast whether I was opening for her or following her act. And I remember when I just had a couple EPs and people would take a chance on me, take me out on tour, it meant a lot. It helped me grow as a performer, as a writer, and I hope that I can offer that same opportunity for other people. I just love her work. I think she's a joy to be around, you know. So, yeah, the call was pretty simple, and it's been pretty rad, too because she's been able to jump onstage with us and sing some backup, and that's been really fun as well.

Yeah, it's funny because a lot of times when you get a bill like this coming through you kind of, you know, fantasize about the two singers singing together, and she kind of talked about how that's happened and how she's adopted some personnel from your band. I didn't realize that you guys were friends for seven years. I was gonna ask you if you've learned anything about her songwriting/songs that you might not have realized if you weren’t on the road with her, or grown more endeared or learned some things about her that you didn't know.

Yeah, uh, I don't know if I've learned anything new necessarily. You mentioned coffee, and I guess I had no idea how insanely obsessed she is with coffee.

Nobody drinks more coffee than she does, right?

I don't, I don't know, I don't think so. Um, but as far as everything else. You could meet Molly one time, and you'll know she's just a good person. There are no surprises. What you see is what you get. She just is herself, and I think she is great to be around. No surprises, good or bad, it's just been a good time.

READ MORE
Q&A: Molly Parden on the Anglican church, appeal of paper coffee cups and more

Yeah, she seems pretty rad and straight up. Like, she didn't really allow me to pander too much in my kitschy questions. She just kind of called me out on my bullshit and stuff, so I thought that was really cool.

Haha, that is cool.

I read that you don't have a lot of fear or anxiety about how people receive your music anymore.

That's right.

But there's still a lot of loneliness, sadness and longing in your music — which doesn't necessarily reflect who you are on a day-to-day basis.

Sure.

But even with all that sadness and loneliness and sadness and longing, it still feels like you're still looking for something. Whether it's some kind of peace of mind or — after you're hearing your response to the first question — are you really just kind of looking for people to be around, is it just pure energy for you? When you explained it that way it just made sense because there is just a comfort about being around somebody no matter where you are.

Man, I don't know. What I'm looking for. I guess that's part of it, just being around people. I mean if you want to get, like, specific, yeah it would be super dope to, you know, have a wife. I think that'd be really rad, you know, have some kids. Um, but I don't look for that anymore. I mean, I did when I was like 21.

How old are you now, actually?

34.

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OK, OK. So you were looking for it when you were 21, but not anymore.

Yeah, when I was 21, it was, like, such a big deal. Like, "Am I gonna die alone?," or like, "I gotta settle down. I gotta find a lady," or whatever. I don't think about that anymore, although I think it would be super sweet. Just not looking for it, but, yeah, I think I am looking for peace of mind, looking to be around people. I think I'm looking to be inspired, and right now my number one priority is my craft, but it hasn't always been that way. I just wanna make better records than the last one I made, and I wanna write better songs. That's pretty much the goal, and the content may be the same, you know where I talk about loneliness or feeling sad or heartbroken. Um, the last set of songs was about that, and I feel pretty good about it.

Yeah, I like that you mention working on your craft because I feel like Noah really pushed you on Fables, and you kind of had a similar situation with Sam on this one where Sam..

That's right.

...where he kind of pushed you into a whole other territory. Obviously, like you mentioned earlier, there is no more guard up, there is really no more fear, and I read that you started writing on the road for We're Not Going Anywhere, so I was wondering if you were able to write many songs on the last leg of this tour or if you've even started writing now. Are you in a mode where you're writing every day?

No, I wrote a little bit on the break, you know, the holiday. You know, writing for We're Not Going Anywhere was more, kind of, there was just more time available. When I was doing that tour I was playing solo and there wasn't an opener, so I'd show up to the venue at 5 to load it, soundcheck would take half an hour, show doesn't start until 9.

Yeah.

So I would just sit on stage for three hours and just fuck around, you know. And, uh, that;s just not possible on this run, you know.

Yeah.

I got the fellas with me, and then Molly is opening.

And how long did you say soundcheck is for this tour?

Oh, this one we kind of knock it out in about half an hour.

Oh, OK.

But, load in is a little longer, and we have to set up everthing. But once we get all set up it's like 20, or so minutes. From the time we walk in the door to the time Molly is done soundchecking it's probably an hour-and-a-half, two hours. So I just had more time on the road. This time I don't have as much, but I'll get back into it when I get home. I'm looking forward to it.

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Awesome, so you're not a person — well I guess we talked about not having fear — but you're not somebody who worries about whether or not you're gonna write another song or write enough good songs to get a record.

No.

Just keep writing, methodical, going to work on it.

Yeah, just going to work on it. I used to be afraid of that. "Maybe I wrote my last song," but I don't really believe that anymore. I think it just takes work and takes time.

Hell yeah. And you mentioned that load in takes longer. I'm assuming it's because you have adopted a little bit of synth in your sound, so there's more gear. What do you feel like the sound has done on the first leg, and what are you hoping the band, do you have hopes for the band as far as evolving the set, evolving the sound, certain songs growing, becoming more muscular or allowing for more space in the live setting? The record you have out, there's a lot of texture, a lot of space, obviously, very musical. Do you feel like that's being executed onstage, could it be better? What do you wanna do on the second leg?

Yeah, I mean, when we first started it was like, "Let's learn the songs and make sure we know the parts," and then that felt comfortable, then it was like, "Well, let's tighten the set," you know, it was like "Boom, boom, boom" — song after song we're just knocking them out. Now what's really cool is that all of the guys feel so comfortable with the music that they're all creating new parts on the fly, in the set.

OK.

So it's been pretty exciting and super rad to be singing the songs and then they're all playing this new part that I haven't heard before, and it's, everyone is just feeling pretty nice and so comfortable that they can kind of spread their wings, and they're not just playing my songs, but we're playing our songs together. That's kind of what's been happening as of late, and that's been really exciting to be a part of, so yeah, the set is super tight now. We all know the songs, everyone plays really well, but now the songs are kind of changing live, which has been really neat to see.

Yeah that sound like an addicting situation.

Yeah, it's pretty cool.

So when you say the set is getting super tight, does that mean it's not getting any longer because I think, some people, when they hear musicians talk about their band like that they kind of get excited to see a set that may be an hour get longer, move towards two hours, things like that.

Yeah, it's roughly an hour-and-a-half, some days a little shorter, some days a little longer, but I don't think we're getting close to two hours.

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Um, I wanted to ask you about "Stone Age." There's always been a little bit of rallying against institutions, whether they are big institutions or the institutions of our ideas. That line about Lady Liberty and Uncle Sam moving to San Francisco to run a startup is very stinging, very powerful, and that's an angry song, but you still don't give, like, a guidebook or instructions on how to deal with the anger. It's more like, "This is why I'm angry," and "This is what I think it looks like." Is that something intentional that Sam did, where he's like, "Try not to say too much," or is it that something that you've always tried to do in your songwriting where you try not to, um, maybe tell a listener how to act.

You know, that's interesting. For me writing is, uh, personally me trying to get an idea about how I feel, you know. Songs are art itself. It doesn't have to be a guidebook, uh, with answers on how to respond to the work, uh, my goal is just to make people think. Because I'm going through these things, and I'm questioning stuff, and through those questions hopefully I can find my own personal answers, but I would never be able to find answers if I wasn't able to just feel it. Just the simple experience of feeling insecure or hopeless or out of control. It has to start there. So I am never gonna write a song where, "Alright, here's a feeling," and then, "Here's how you should respond." I'm gonna write a song that says, "This is a feeling, this is all it is. How does it make you feel?" And then your response is completely up to you. I think that's my job. My job certainly, I hope to God my job is not to tell people how to respond to that. I just wanna pull something out of you and make you feel it — that's all.

Right on, and do you regret — it's kind of weird just because of the times that we're in, and obviously your heritage — some people kind of latched onto this idea that you were a Mexican-American writing songs, well, you just happened to write these songs with this guy in office, but really, especially since you live in Texas for so long, the shits been kind of fucked up like that for a long time.

Sure. Yeah, I was watching Arrested Development the other day, and they were talking about building a wall in that show, you know? I mean we've been dealing with this in Texas forever. It's not a new thing.

Do you regret — well, I guess you don't have regrets. I'm gonna stop asking you that. You just don't seem the kind of guy that is gonna sit there and wring his hands over the thing he wrote, like, you're just gonna write the song and then write the next one, and try to do a better job, so maybe I shouldn't have asked that.

No, no regrets. I love that song.

Nah, I didn't know, sometimes it’s tough, and sometimes it's good I guess, when your record gets pinned to the zeitgeist, but I feel like your songs, they're timeless, and when you go back a lot of the themes are the same.

Oh, I see what you're saying. The Mexican-American thing. Yeah man, people are so desperate to make a narrative about everything. Like, "We have to have a story, and it has to sell, there's no story there." And I'm like, "Can't the songs just be the fucking songs?" Like "Can't this record come out, we'll put my name on it, and then we'll tell people that it's out?." you know. We don't need a narrative for everything. I see what you're saying. Yeah, it's kind of shitty, but whatever.

It's not as bad as having nobody listen to your record, I guess, right?

Yeah, for sure.

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I guess we're short on time now. I couldn't tell, but I don't think you've played Tampa or St. Pete before.

Oh no, never. I've never been down there. This, I mean in the past I've played St. Augustine before, like, but it wasn't like a proper show. I played a patio of some Italian restaurant, you know, like eight or nine years ago.

In St. Augustine?

In St. Augustine.

Whoa.

But as far as doing a proper Florida run, I've never done that in my life, so this would be the first time. I'm pretty stoked about it and to see what's going on down there.

Are you going the beach, or going to the strip clubs or eating Cuban sandwiches...

I think Cubanos are on the menu for sure.

Cigars and stuff?

Maybe so. You know, I haven't really thought about what we're gonna do. I imagine there'll be some drinking.

Well you are going to be in Ybor City.

Is that a drinking town?

Yeah, it's not quite like Bourbon Street, I think it feels more historic than drunk. It's an old immigrant town, like a mixture of old Cuban, Italian, Spanish immigrants and then even within the different populations the light-skinned, dark-skinned. Lots of bars, yeah, the bar that you're playing is a nice bar to hang out in and to also get wasted in, so.

Well, right now. Well I'm looking forward to it, it should be cool.

And did you find a Halloween party in Spokane? I didn't see any pictures after that.

Man, we didn't no one responded. Quite the letdown to be honest.

That sucks. How does nobody respond about a Halloween party?

I'm like, "Surely there's something going on," but whatever.

Maybe we'll bring candy and party for you down here.

We'll do a Halloween party in Florida.

Thanks you for your time, and thanks for hiring your PR firm because Joe Sivick is awesome.

Yeah, Joe is great.

Thanks for bringing Molly, too. My wife turned me onto you and then turned me on to Molly, so it's been a good time getting to spend time with your music.

Killer. Thanks a lot. Well we'll see you in couple weeks.

Alright drive safe.

About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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