Alejandro Meola is an engaging, eloquent individual, and absolutely incredible live (saw him play the same weekend as this interview was recorded). Keep reading to find out about haunted recording rooms, gospel Sundays, and locksmith characters.
Watch the video for the latest single of Alejandro Meola & Robinsones - ”Black Feathered Angels” here
where are you from?
I’m from Buenos Aires, Argentina. I was born here - in Miami, Florida, but I was raised in Buenos Aires for pretty much my whole life, and now I moved to New York.
in what way did growing up in Buenos Aires shape you?
I lived there for twenty five years, so absolutely - in many ways, the people, the streets, everything. I definitely have Buenos Aires in me, in every step that I take. If tomorrow I start singing in, say, Russian, it will still be Buenos Aires. As every place that you spend a lot of time in - especially those formative years - it has been a huge influence on me.
why New York?
It’s a very nice place to be for music. To do music, there’s a lot of things happening, the scene is very nice, it’s a great place to be for that. It was a decision that I had made a while ago, and I had some records going on in Buenos Aires. So when I was finished with them, I just packed the bags, and came here. One way ticket and all. I was curious about the city, too, it was magnetic, I had to come and check it out.
and what was the first thing you did when you came here?
I went to Harlem to hear a gospel. I loved it, it was the number one thing on my list. Actually, it was the only one thing on my list. It’s very early in the morning on Sunday, and it was just, wow, amazing.
when did you first start getting into music?
Very young. I must have been about 12 years old. I found a guitar under the bed, and I was so curious about it. I took it, and I started strumming it with a coin - at the time, I wasn’t even aware what a pick was. And I never let it go from there, it has been with me ever since.
so when you were a kid, did you want to be a musician, or were there ever other fantasies - astronaut, Spiderman, and such?
I definitely wanted to be an astronaut, I think that was the first. But music was there, too. Whether it was good or bad, I don’t know, but it was like a reflex - I started, and eventually, as you grow up, it grows up with you. And one day you realize that you’ve been doing this thing for fourteen, fifteen years. It’s your thing.
do you think in Spanish, English, or both?
Right now, both. It depends. If I get too angry, I definitely speak in Spanish. I’ve been in New York for almost a year and a half, and at the moment I think pretty much completely in English. I’m writing songs in English, and I think it has to do with the environment. Writing songs, at some level, is like being a sponge - you absorb from your surroundings. All the songs I’ve written in the last year are in English, and it has a lot to do with thinking in it. I have my Spanish records from back in Buenos Aires, and I think that this is a nice cycle going on, and a different one beginning.
do you like performing in venues, or do you busk on the streets, or subways as well?
No, I’m doing venues. We played in Rockwood Music Hall recently, and it was fantastic. It’s a nice place, it’s very crowded. We did the Paper Box as well, that was nice. Now in the summer, we’re doing a series of shows, and I’m getting to know all these venues - a lot of them, my first time seeing them is when I actually go to play. I’m still getting around. So far my favourite has been Rockwood.
how would you describe your sound to someone who has never heard a single song of yours?
I think it’s very blues-y, a mix of rock and blues for sure, and very melodic. Very song format, clear melodies. Very straightforward.
who are your biggest influences? who do you listen to?
Ray Charles, B.B. King, Ella Fitzgerald, Etta James. Also, I grew up being a major fan of Oasis - I was super into it, that type of fanatism that you have when you are a teenager, just once in your life. The Doors. The Beatles. The Velvet Underground. Dylan is one of my favourites. Neil Young, Tom Petty. It’s a very big map, but I’m pretty much listening to the same 300 songs, they suit any mood I have. But also, literature is very important to me as an influence. Ray Bradbury, Kurt Vonnegut, I love them. It’s all over the place, it’s very hard to list influences.
out of those 300 songs, are there any embarrassing ones that you wouldn’t want people to know you listen to?
I would have to check, I haven’t thought about it. Maybe, taste is relative. It happens to me every now and then, I will be listening to a song from the fifties that I think is absolutely amazing, and someone would be.. No, actually, no - I really like all the songs I listen to, and if somebody doesn’t like them, I will confuse the guy, I will prove to him that they’re good. I’m very proud of all of them.
describe your songwriting process.
It’s very fast. I’m very symbiotic with music and lyrics, they come at the same time. It’s very rare that I start with one and then I sit down again in two weeks and try to reconnect with the idea. It starts with a melody that has a word or two in it already, and from there, you pull the string, get it out, write the lyrics. That’s the raw stuff though, the rough draft, or the sketch - and once you have that, you need to spend more hours thinking how to develop that idea. The producing aspect takes me a week, ten days to be happy with it - but the original kickstart is a melody, just walking in the street, and you start mumbling this melody with a couple words in it, wherever they come from.
has there ever been a weird gig? something that didn’t come out right, or was just odd?
I do remember one story. It wasn’t a gig, but once in the same rehearsal several things happened. The drummer lost the cymbals before he came in. Then the rhythm guitar player opens his case and the guitar was broken. And when I called the rehearsal off, my guitar broke down as well. This all happens within a half an hour period. So all of us were there, thinking, what is happening, what is the energy of this place? The bass player was the only one who hadn’t had any trouble, and he was saying, “Hey man, I’m driving, why don’t I smash the bass against the wall or something, or I’m going to die in the street or something.” I talked to the owner of the place, I told him, “you have to do something, bring a priest, I don’t know.” Weird vibes. But after the whole thing a good friend of mine who knew what was going on knocked on my door and gave me a guitar as a present. Brand new beautiful guitar, and I’m using it still.
tell me about the music video shoot. was it the first one you’ve done in New York?
In New York, yeah. I met Morgan, the director, and he’s from France, and he studied here in a film school in Brooklyn. I met him in a bar when I was doing a gig with the band. We started talking, and I knew that by February-March I would have the recording done, and that eventually we would want to have a video as well. I sent an e-mail to him, thinking we would do a low-key video on a low-key budget. He replied to me with a screenplay. “Hey, you know, I have a lot of cameras, and lights, and all that stuff from my school.” And the day of the shooting, he comes with all this gear, and an amazing crew of like, 25 people. It was fantastic, it was like a film set. We shot it in a warehouse, on 16mm. It’s amazing, you meet someone, you just click, and the idea doubles up, grows to the level that you originally didn’t even have in mind. Also, the acting is hard for me. You have a camera in your face, and you’re singing - when you’r just playing music, it’s cool, because it’s what you do - but when you have to be more actor-y in a way, it gets tricky.
what has been the most surreal moment of your life?
I would say that one, the one I was telling you, the rehearsal. Very surreal, surreal enough.
favourite thing about being a musician?
Many things. What I like most is the fact that, and I think any artist has the same thing, wether he is a painter, a writer, or - as a musician, you are able to make these recordings, and they are like bubbles, bubbles of time. It’s like a photo - you take it, and it is there, and it will remain like that over the years. You create a time capsule. Even if you change, if a lot of things change around you, that is going to stay fixed, and you are at that point in your life inside that time capsule.
and the least favourite?
Maybe the struggle? But I like it, too. It depends on the day, it depends on the mood. It takes a lot of endurance, and that’s what, in the long run, makes or breaks musicians - and really, all artists.
tell me about your band.
I met all the guys here, but I’ve always been playing with a band. I never did the acoustic singer-songwriter, even though I love it - but I felt the songs needed more, some rock, electric, two-three guitars, I couldn’t put it together with just one acoustic guitar.
and why the name, the Robinsones?
It’s something that I read in a book a long time ago. I remember thinking at the time, “Oh, this is a great name for a band. Eventually, in a couple of years, that will be a nice way to go.” It’s been seven years since I have started with this project, and there has always been a band, and the band needed a name. But in the end, whether it’s a band or a solo project, it comes down to five guys talking to each other on the stage. It’s a social thing to play music for me, you’re talking a lot.
do you get nervous before playing on stage?
Yes, I get a kick, this rush before getting up. I really hope not to ever lose it. When that happens, it means you’re getting bored, or that what you’re playing doesn’t move you. You’re exposing yourself to another person, a group of people, so there’s always a mix of things, a mix of feelings. But once you’re on stage, you just play, you forget about everything. That’s the best time in the world, when you’re playing on stage, live.
what would be your spirit animal?
Tiger. I like them, they’re very fierce and strong. Talking about endurance and all, I don’t see tigers pulling back.
outside of music, what do you like to do?
I read a lot, and eventually, it would be nice to sit down and write. I love writing songs, but it’s a very narrow space for writing, I can’t really write paragraphs. I like the idea of not thinking about melody or rhyme, and just writing freely, but I think it takes time. I don’t know if this is true or not, but for me, I feel that you need to know a little bit of everything in order to write. Say, you have a character, this guy, and he’s a locksmith. You have to know what a locksmith does, and how he does it. Those things take time. I take music very seriously, but I would like to do writing as a side thing, just for me, private.
who would you want to open for?
The Black Keys, that would be amazing. Noel Gallagher. That would be a full circle. Smokey Robinson. Any of the big blues guys really, that would be such a privilege.
imagine three, four hundred years from now, people find just one song of yours, and it’s the only thing they know you by. what do you reckon they’ll think of it?
I hope that it will show them a period of time, a certain person living and trying to express it in a song. I think that would be a nice thing in three hundred years - okay, this guy was here, in this city, in this time, and he wrote this, why? Those questions that may pop up in their head.
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*photo by Carlos Detres