Singer-songwriter David Ramirez was born in 1983—just days after Hurricane Alicia descended upon Houston. For most of his life, he’s viewed this coincidence as a bad omen. But on his newly released album, My Love Is a Hurricane, the musician focused on what it means to rebuild in the aftermath of devastation. “With everything that gets destroyed, oppression breeds resilience,” he says. “And with destruction comes new life and rebirth.”
Hard-earned lessons stemming from struggle and heartbreak have long informed Ramirez’s music. On 2017’s We Aren’t Going Anywhere, the prolific songwriter—who was raised in Houston and is now based in Austin—mourned lost love and the irrevocable gap that grows between two people who were once close. The new album’s lyrics revolve around insights Ramirez gleaned from his current relationship, in particular the rockiness he and his partner encountered. Ramirez wrote and recorded the album long before the pandemic hit, with the work dating back to shortly after he finished his 2017 release. And while the world is a stranger and more terrifying place than when Ramirez wrote My Love Is a Hurricane, the album nonetheless takes on a different kind of immediacy now.
In the build-up to this far-from-traditional album release, Ramirez sought to find camaraderie with fans who have made his live shows so powerful in the past. While quarantined, he’s performed livestreams culled from his eighty-song discography, using the platform StageIt to raise money for the foundation that provides affordable health care resources to musicians, Health Alliance for Austin Musicians.
Ramirez spoke with Texas Monthly about missing the communal aspects of performing, being a vulnerable songwriter, and writing about love during a time of crisis.
On how COVID-19 has changed his creative practice
Because of COVID, I’ve had to be creative and try to find ways that I can still bring people together. The streams I did online were a big hit at the start of this thing, but those have dwindled down and people get tired of staring at screens and they want to be outdoors more―which is great. I also want to be working on the yard or going on walks or riding my bike. But my expectations have been curbed. Curb your expectations, but they still exist. I’m really hopeful for the future. Hopefully that’s sooner than later.
On his family
I’m the oldest of four and we grew up in Houston. My parents had me really young. They had me at nineteen years old and they’re still together. I watched them struggle as young kids in love, starting a family. We grew up very poor, so I watched them struggle financially, too. My dad was in and out of jobs and always trying to chase his own dream, having his own company. By the time I was thirteen, he was able to really get that off the ground. For me, even as a thirteen-year-old, it had nothing to do with music, but I knew I wanted to do my own thing and carve my own path. From the get-go, they have been nothing but supportive. When I wanted to drop out of college to go on my first tour, without hesitation they said, “Do it. Go do your thing.”
I hope my mother doesn’t get upset at me for saying this, but I called her on the phone the other day and she was crying. She said, “Forgive the tears. I’m a little sniffly.” I said, “What’s going on? Are you okay?” She said, “This is just the first release of yours that I won’t be able to be in attendance and it really makes me sad and I feel stuck. And I just want to be there to support you and celebrate you.” That is the example in which I was raised. It’s unconditional love.
On writing about love
Almost every hurricane season, my parents told me the story of Hurricane Alicia and how I was born just after it. It was the biggest one that Houston had experienced until Katrina hit New Orleans. The concept was never at the forefront of my mind, it was always just lingering, until I realized that all of my relationships tend to end around hurricane season. Then it became, “Crazy. I was born in a hurricane.” The relationship that I’m in now was on the rocks last hurricane season in August and September, and I really started thinking about my relationship to Alicia.
At the same time, though, I wanted to continue down the road of every song on the album being about love. I didn’t want a single heartbreak record or anything painful on the album. I wanted it to be full of hope and positivity. It was really difficult to navigate during the breakup, having to continue writing in that way, but I said, “Fuck it, I’m going to own it.” I’m going to write a song called ‘My Love Is a Hurricane’ and just call it the gods or call it fate or destiny, but for some reason, this always occurs around my birthday. I always get down and out on my birthdays, anyways, and maybe there’s just so much emotion going on within me because of the way in which I was born, that it all coincides. For some reason during that time of year, I just get off the rails a little bit. I’ve tried to embrace it and not let it shape me in a negative way.
On avoiding easy politics
Obviously I couldn’t anticipate what 2020 was going to look like. But I started writing this album during the Trump presidency, of course, and my last record had a couple political tunes on it as well. I was tracking down that same road and writing songs about the state of the union. I just found myself feeling like, “This is too easy. It’s too easy to talk shit right now.” Every Instagram page, every Twitter page, and every news outlet, it’s just shit talk. Rightly so, for sure, but I didn’t want to contribute to that conversation. I wanted in some way, shape, or form to remind people that love is a real thing and sweetness and positivity and encouragement are real things that we can actively pursue, even in the midst of so much trauma and in the midst of so much agony. In a lot of ways, I feel like this is a very appropriate time for an album of love to be released into the world.
On releasing an album during the pandemic
For the release, I did a stream, just to celebrate the hard work. I played some songs live and did a little Q&A. There was also a little trivia thing. I had balloons, champagne, and it felt a lot more like John Mayer’s Instagram Live, as opposed to just, ‘Here’s David with this guitar, sitting in a dark corner somewhere.’ For the moment, that will have to do.
Update 08/01: This article has been amended to reflect that HAAM provides affordable health care resources to musicians.