PopMatters Associate Music Editor
I first heard Javier at a performance in Cleveland, and I had an opportunity to briefly meet him after the show. And after meeting with him, I knew I wanted to speak with him more. Javier has an openness about him that comes across in even the briefest of meetings. His approachability seems to translate as easily over the phone as it does in person, and what started as an interview easily turned into a casual conversation about his Latin heritage, his music education, his father’s radio station, the importance of his roots, and the breadth of his ambition.
Javier initially says he doesn’t consider himself an artist, and that he thinks of more visual things when defining art—“movies ... theater, painting.” But when pressed, he acknowledges that he is an R&B artist, “because obviously music is art.” He just doesn’t naturally think of his chosen craft as art. And this couldn’t be further from the truth. Javier is a renaissance man.
Raised on music and immersed in his Latin heritage, Javier has been able to take his passion and parlay it into a profession. His father purchased an oldies radio station when Javier was a boy and turned it into a Spanish station. In preparing for the station’s transition, it was Javier’s job to erase all of the station’s cart tapes contents to prepare them for his dad to put the Spanish songs on them. As Javier tells it, “Before I could erase [the cart tapes] I had to tape all these oldies songs for my mom because she loved all these oldies songs and I would sit in the studio and I would be passing them from a cart to a cassette tape ... and I ended up keeping [the copies] for myself.” Everything from the Four Tops to the Coasters to Marvin Gaye to Otis Redding to Stevie Wonder found their way into Javier’s collection and consciousness that summer.
Javier has combined these discoveries with healthy doses of hip-hop, courtesy of his older brother, and rock, thanks to his older sister. This amounts to an R&B singer whose most recent iPod playlist includes Coldplay, Michelle Branch, and Stevie Wonder. His tastes range form “Broadway stuff to Metallica to oldies ... anything.” This open-minded approach to music was fostered at the Hartt School of Music at the University of Hartford and continued in Javier’s role as the lead singer of the Derek Trucks Band right out of college.
It quickly becomes apparent that Javier’s music education degree colors his approach to the craft in every way. “I think about music differently, you know, having the knowledge that I acquired at school.” So he’s not just sitting down and putting chords together, he’s “thinking of the form and kind of analyzing it in my head, and, you know, thinking ahead of time where I want it to go.” Out of college for only a month and craving experience, Javier found what he was looking for in an offer to take over lead singer duties for part-time Allman Brothers guitarist Derek Trucks’ blues-rock jam band. The results exposed Javier to more jazz and world music, and a lot more of the United States. He considers the two-year journey “a great learning experience.” And by “doing six shows a week going all around the country,” Javier estimates that there are “only a few states” that he didn’t get to see and perform in while with the band.
Performing on stage, Javier’s natural charisma is obvious, and his combined experience is put to use. His band, put together through the close-knit family of Connecticut musicians, conveys a rapport that defies their relatively short time together. His drummer the night of the Cleveland show was Nate Morton, the house band drummer from the Rock Star: INXS TV show, who had worked with Javier on his first album. Morton flew in from L.A. just for the Cleveland show, then headed back out west the next morning.
Creative outlets are in large supply for Javier. Apart from his singing, he co-wrote all but three songs on the new album, Left of Center. And he has acting ambition as well. In high school, he “did every play” that was to be had, and he was originally a music theater major his first year of college, before switching to music education. As Javier explains it, “Theater is definitely, you know, a love of mine, definitely something I want to do in the future, theater and acting. It’s just a matter of kind of doing one thing at a time, focusing on one thing and trying to, you know, get one thing going and then kind of moving on to the next. And right now it’s the music thing that’s in the forefront.”
Of course, Javier found a way to combine the two at the end of February with Songs in the Key of Life, a stage production based on the landmark Stevie Wonder album of the same name. It’s a local Hartford, Connecticut, theater production using a six-person cast singing a capella with only a drumbeat and percussion.
Javier is fortunate that Songs in the Key of Life worked perfectly in his increasingly busy schedule. With a Soul Train appearance in February, promoting and launching the album in March, and preparing for a tour, Javier is a man in motion. He is an artist who doesn’t see himself as one, but who is grateful for the gifts he’s been given and willing to work hard to make the most of them.