Traitors Table is the latest release from Portland, Oregon-based singer-songwriter Fernando Viciconte. The personally-charged album arrives 21 June via Fluff & Gravy Records and is preceded by the release of the single, “The Longest Wait”. Living alongside songs about his own immigration story and the overreach of political correctness as well the haunting closer, “Turned Away”, about a man who is executed simply because he knows nothing of his own birth.
Speaking about “The Longest Wait”, Viciconte says, “It’s a song about a segment in the forgotten America who believe they are being kept down, and rather than build bridges with other oppressed groups to overcome the powers that be, they scapegoat and blame their troubles on those less fortunate than themselves.”
With flecks of psychedelic rock and punk rubbing elbows in the tune, Viciconte’s vocals come to the fore, as he spits bullets of truth in his husky, authoritative voice. It’s a novel for the ears, a strutting rocker with a brain and muscle.
Traitors Table was recorded over a period of six days with longtime friend and collaborator, Luther Russell, Viciconte recently spoke with PopMatters about the making of the album and his friendship with Russell.
My understanding is that you and Luther Russell worked very quickly on this record. How much did that differ from how you’d worked in the past?
This is the fastest that Lu and I have ever worked and we both absolutely loved it because there was no time to over think or second guess our decisions. My last release Leave the Radio On involved 15 different musicians and due to my health issues, it took over three years to make so I much prefer the Traitors Table approach. Also, we made this entire record on a Tascam 424 four-track cassette recorder so that definitely limited our overdubbing capabilities and consequently, kept things raw and moving right along.
How did your friendship with him develop?
We met in Portland, Oregon around 1998 through a smarmy label owner that I’d rather not name. Lu and I really hit it off right off the bat and we both felt an immediate musical connection so yes; it was love at first sight! You have seen his beautiful blue eyes, right? We also both shared a love for the Sir Douglas Quintet, doo-wop, and Ritchie Valens so we decided to make a rock en Español record called Pacoima, which in turn led to many hangovers and fruitful collaborations over the years.
On the lyrical front, you’ve turned toward some deeply personal subject matter. What inspired that?
The short answer would be the state of this country and the troubling and expanding division that I see within our society. The songs “I Don’t Know” and “Thirsty Man” are the most personal because they describe two aspects of me and my parent’s immigrant experience but they also fit in with the larger narrative that Luther and I are were trying to convey. We both made a conscious decision to try to write songs from the perspective of the folks on the political left, right and center in order to find some common ground among them all.
Your vocal delivery on “Division Lines” is pretty impassioned. Did you have to put yourself in a particular headspace for something like that or does the song ultimately tell you where to go?
Lu and I wanted a bit of a deranged manifesto to open the record in order to set the tone and to state the lyrical theme so, yes, the song definitely steered me in that impassioned direction. Also, two years of a Trump Administration didn’t hurt.
There’s also an interesting juxtaposition. On one hand, it feels like a punk rock/protest song, at the same time there’s a classic psychedelic feel to it.
Yes, I am glad that you caught on to that! Lu and I are big fans of Syd Barrett and the Clash so we wanted to see if we could merge those two worlds together. Musically, we wanted the listener to feel a bit off center, so we decided to include about 10 more chord changes than we normally would so I think that probably gives it a bit of that psychedelic feel. I do remember cursing Luther out for putting in all those chords because, after a bottle of wine, it was hard as hell to sing!
If there’s a uniformity to the lyrical subject matter, there’s a lot of musical diversity across the album. “No Deal” is so raw. “I Don’t Know” feels like a New Order song. “Hey Darlene” has touches of country. Did you always like albums that had that kind of range?
I do like records that have variety! Lu and I are fans of many different types of musical genres and we both tire quickly of doing the same thing, so mixing things up, comes pretty naturally to both of us. If you listen to our discographies, they are pretty much all over the map and thinking about it now, probably, one of the reasons that we are so commercially unsuccessful and unknown. [Laughs.]
How much did you think about the emotional arc of the album? The end of “Turned Away” finds the music dissolving into noise and yet it becomes a statement that’s almost as powerful as the words that way. Very disquieting.
Well, thank you. That’s one of the many things that we discussed during the making of this record so yes, we made a very concerted effort to create a clear emotional and thematic arc. Like I said before, we wanted to start the record out with a statement that would make the listener feel a bit disorientated musically and that would lyrically set up the character sketches that would proceed and we wanted it to end with a hopeful proclamation that all of us can only be turned away for so long before everything collapses.
What do you hope listeners will take away from the album?
I hope that people take away that we have much more in common than we have differences, that we need to stop fight each other in order to defeat the real enemy and that a couple of old dudes still can rock!