On his new single, David Ramirez sings about the passage of time with a world-weariness. It’s not an affectation. The same gravity grips his voice as he discusses current events—the divisive political landscape, the too-warm winters—or personal matters, such as the difficulty of sustaining a relationship overseas. It was there when I spoke with him on the phone last Friday. I caught Ramirez somewhere between Columbia, Missouri, and Madison, Wisconsin, at the onset of a string of dates with Austin folk-rocker Shakey Graves. When Ramirez started to speak about his new music, however, his tone brightened. “I wanted to make a record that sounded like the music I listen to,” Ramirez said. “When I’m driving down the road, I’m listening to stuff like the National, War on Drugs, Journey, or the Cars. I don’t listen to a lot of songwriters or Americana—that just happens to be the kind of music I’m good at writing.”
With that in mind, Ramirez and his band left their homes in Austin last January for a two-week stint at a studio in rural Maine, with snow on the ground and the closest neighbor over a mile away. The recording space was an eighteenth-century farmhouse with rooms modified to fit the needs of a modern band. In this isolation, far from his boyhood home in Houston and the Texas roadhouses where he got his start, Ramirez and his band worked with producer Sam Kassirer to create something unlike anything they had done before.
The experiment paid off. The resulting ten tracks on We’re Not Going Anywhere are largely a departure from Ramirez’s earlier work. The influence of expansive rock and eighties acts are heard in new synth-driven aural textures, but the compelling lyricism that has grown Ramirez’s audience over the years remains the backbone of the record. Yes, the lyrics have been whittled down to make room for the bigger, atmospheric music, but the limited word count is used to great effect. (For proof, check out “Twins,” which stands as one of Ramirez’s best songs to date.)
Another fine example of Ramirez’s acerbic writing on the record is “Time.” Two lines in particular stand out: “Second matinee today and the sun’s still shining/Park beneath some shade and I might just get a nap in.” It’s this clever penmanship, marked by tight internal rhymes, that elevate a seemingly simple song about the lonely ways one kills time to a thoughtful rumination about the passing of the years. Musically, fans of the Ohio-based band the National—one of Ramirez’s self-professed muses—will recognize “Fake Empire” as a clear musical reference point in the song. A simple piano carries the melody throughout, though as the song continues to slowly build, the keys fade into the layers of synth and spacey pedal steel until they are lost beneath drums and swelling guitar. Ramirez’s voice stays low until the very end, when he raises his pitch slightly to sing alongside what sounds like an ethereal children’s choir repeating, “I hear the tick tock.” Indulgent in its slow-building pace, the resolve at once satisfies and beckons for more.
Perhaps this record will give Ramirez an incentive to continue working on projects that more closely align with his own musical interests. One thing’s for sure, he should no longer feel that “the kind of music he’s good at writing” is restricted to Americana. He’s an artist with an increasingly diverse set of tools at his disposal and, fortunately for us, loads of time.
This track appears on We’re Not Going Anywhere, which is out September 8 via Sweetworld.