David Ramirez wears his Mexican-American heritage proudly on his defiantly-titled, Thirty Tigers debut We’re Not Going Anywhere. “Being half white and half Mexican has made this current political climate especially interesting,” he says. “So many cultures in this country are being viewed as un-American, and it breaks my heart. My family has raised children here, created successful businesses here, and are proud to be a part of this country. Most of what I’ve seen as of late is misplaced fear. I wanted to write about that fear and how, instead of benefiting us, it sends us spiraling out control.” Refusing to be a target of someone else’s paranoia and prejudice, Ramirez mixes philosophy and provocation throughout this fine collection of songs.
The first words of “Twins”, the album’s opener, are “Where were you when we lost the twins? / Where were you when the fear set in?”. Rather than a chorus there follows a simple, sad refrain: “There she goes. Goodbye America.” Ramirez sees our country descending into a tailspin, its citizens — drunk on willful self-deception and paranoia — willing to compromise every principle in the service of isolationist patriotism, and he has undoubtedly found himself the subject of prejudicial ire. “Give me a dirty look scream till you’re blue in the face”, he sings in “People Call Who They Want to Talk To”, “Throw punches and tell me you hate me I’ll handle it all with grace.” There is no questioning the source of this anger and will to violence, as he sings later, in “Stoneage”: “I’m having trouble seeing colors in the dawn’s early light / No more red, no more blue: all I’m seein’ is white.” His response to all this is simple, somber, and defiant: presence as a revolutionary act. On the album’s closing song, he declares “I’m not going anywhere / You can bury me in the ground or spread my ashes I don’t care / I’m not going anywhere.”
A spirit of righteous anger infuses many of these songs but doesn’t overtake the album. If Ramirez betrays a political perspective here, it is beyond the simple labels we throw at each other. Ramirez is a humanist above all, and his expressions of this viewpoint extend beyond the social and into the individual. He treats conflicts of the head and the heart with equal aplomb. The bittersweet, beautiful “Time” masterfully captures the slow march into necessary conformity that is aging: “Who wants to grab a drink tonight? / I know, I know, it’s only Tuesday, and you got work tomorrow. / Who wants to come to my place after the bars close? / I know, you got the kids and can’t wake up hungover.” Time is the only thing we possess, yet it ultimately will destroy everything we value, from our leisure to those we sacrifice that leisure for.
The album’s lead single, “Watching From a Distance”, hauntingly captures the lingering pain of loss in its opening lines: “Don’t you dare think that I don’t think about you / Just ’cause we can’t speak doesn’t mean you’re not on my mind / Like a ghost, like the moon, like a god, like the truth.” So, too, “Telephone Lovers” effectively portrays the damnation of separation, it’s lamentations of being “too far away” giving in to the resignation implicit in its closing question, “What the hell are we thinking?” Ramirez proves a master of capturing the contradictory politics of the heart.
This is the first of his albums that Ramirez has not self-produced; rather, Sam Kassirer, who has helmed records for Josh Ritter, Elephant Revival, and Lake Street Drive, helps Ramirez to expand his sound beyond his deep roots affinity and to create a true band album. In particular, Matthew Wright’s quivering organ and synth playing evoke depth and melancholy amplified by Simon Page’s sparse yet moody guitar work. Both create space within the songs for Ramirez to fill with his growing lyrical acumen and everyman’s voice. These songs reach for radio play without cloying for it, and they deserve to be heard.