Been a while since we'd heard from Fernando Viciconte. Portland's premier roots rock singer/songwriter of the past decade disassembled his band shortly after the critically lauded release of 2006's Enter To Exit
—he was named one of Magnet's Ten Artists To Watch that year—after continuing throat problems threatened his career. Listening to new album True Instigator
, though, the voicebox sounds better than ever. Fernando sat down to talk with Jay Horton about his health, his new band and trying to escape Argentina.
LocalCut: Why the new band?
Fernando Viciconte: The material that we're doing kinda leans back to the Americana/roots music we used to do in the early '90s. I hooked up with my original band members Joe Chiusano on bass and Daniel Eccles on guitar. We just started playing together again. and the band formed from that nucleus. It's the line-up that fits the kinda music we're playing.
No hard feelings with the last group?
No, no hard feelings at all. Jeff Lyster, our old guitarist, is now playing with Lucinda Williams, and he's really busy. My other drummer Derek Brown was playing with the Eels, currently with this band called Everest—they're doing really well, about to be signed to a major label. For the most part, those guys had other things going on, I was going in a completely different direction with this record, so it kinda fit to change things. We're all still friends.
Had you known you wanted to change directions?
When I stopped playing with Dan and Joe, there was unfinished business. We had another record that we never got around to putting out. So, I decided, hey, let's go in and record some tracks. I'd written some things along the same lines of the songs we used to be playing that never got put on any previous release, and, as we got to playing, it just sorta meshed and headed that direction and that's kinda the result. It wasn't any premeditated plan, I never make plans to change directions musically, it just kinda happens by random occurrence. Playing with Joe and Dan again, that led me back into playing American music.
We' re shopping around—our main goal with this record is to get a European label or someone that has European distribution. No knocks to the people we've worked with in this past, but our records have never really been available in Europe and, coming from the perspective of our drum player Dan (who's also in Richmond Fontaine) and how things have gone for them in Europe, we want at least to try.
Last time we talked it seemed like you might have to retire due to health reasons.
I'm feeling a lot better. I just stopped being precious about things. I was always kinda freaked out about the throat, thinking it might be cancerous, but I'm so neurotic already and just started getting a little too obsessed. Since then, I started drinking a little bit. When I went to Argentina, I smoked a cigarette here and there. I quit punishing myself trying to be perfect and completely healthy all the time. I think it's actually helped me. My voice hasn't ben bothering me—as far as I know, I think I'm okay.
So, what we're saying to the kids—have a drink, have a cigarette, and throat problems will go away?
Yes. [laughs] Exactly! I just think, that for my situation at least, worrying about it was just making the situation worse. I just mentally eased off it a little bit. If I'm playing a smoky bar, y'know, fuck it. I'm not too concerned about having a drink once and a while.
How was Argentina?
I went there to visit my family with my girlfriend, talked about going on a four week vacation, and, on the second day…I'm not a US citizen, I'm a permanent resident alien of the United States. So, every time I go to Argentina I have to get my passport stamped by the Argentine government. My second day there, I go down to the police station to renew my passport and discover they need an identification number. One was supposed to have been issued to me as a child, but I left the country before that happened. Basically, I had to acquire the number, and I was told when I went to investigate that it takes four to five months to get that number. I have a family member who's a captain of the fire department, he called a captain of the police. It ended up speeding up the process, but I had to stay eight weeks in Argentina. A month's more vacation. It wasn't terrible, just stressful casue I had to go downtown and deal with this paperwork.
What about prison? When were you flogged?
I almost did…I got really angry at the police department and basically it was insinuated that, if I continued pursuing this complaint, I would be taken into custody. That was one of the times that happened. Also, we were caught in a flash flood down there. We witnessed a purse snatching followed by a police officer firing his weapon on a crowded street about thirty yards in front of us. We did have some adventures. It is Argentina, after all. Little different from the United States.
Fernando plays Audio Cinema Saturday night with Napalm Beach and At the Spine.