Curly hair. It’s all I’ve thought about the past few days. Out of all the things that I remember about listening to Alex Ferreira’s music during my college heyday, the one thing I always have the easiest time remembering is the hair, which was prominently displayed on the cover of his first album, Un Domingo Cualquiera. That album, which was released from Spain in 2010, swept the Dominican Republic by storm with its catchy melodies and the ease with which it seemed to reflect popular American culture.
As long as people have been in their mid-twenties, messy, goofy hair has been cool. It’s why it’s all over the video of “Cambio,” the single for Ferreira’s latest album Cinema Tropical. Ferreira’s puffy hairdo is as recognizable to his audience as Brad Pitt's perfect abs are to Fight Club fans.
Cinema Tropical’s sound and aesthetic are recognizable in the video for "Cambio." That drummer/dancer/Hoola-Hooping karate-chopper in the video smiling goofily is Alex himself, which I’m sure you had probably guessed because of the hair. The music bobs along to '80s nostalgia with its stripped-down beats, and the singer is enjoying the music just how he’d like the audience to. It’s all a concerted effort to make you happy.
During our interview with Ferreira, he made this crystal clear: “I want people to listen to this album, and obviously interpret it in whatever way they want. But, I’ve had a blast making it. I want that to come across, I want to share that with people.”
The album owes its sound to the New York born resuscitation of synthesizers and drum loops as mechanisms to achieve, similarly to what Taylor Swift did in 1989, vintage but sugary throwback pop. It’s not a coincidence it was recorded in SoHo. NoShame, the label that released the album, is located in Brooklyn. Andres Nusser, the frontman for the Chilean band Astro, produced the album. “The reason the album sounds the way it does, well, the credit goes straight to Andres," Ferreira says. "He really took care of the sound and aesthetic of the album. That allowed me to focus on my lyrics and melodies.”
Ferreira says he had to evolve musically for Cinema Tropical, venturing beyond the comforts of his guitar. “When you’re writing with an instrument like the guitar, that becomes so familiar. It’s like a comfort zone. You can’t help but begin to repeat what you’ve already done. In a way, everything grows tiresome.” As a result, the songwriter had to look for new ways to feel excited about his craft. “The trick is to keep yourself emotional, and that emotion leads to innovation. I’m pretty sure there will come a time when the sampler doesn’t inspire me at all, and maybe I’ll have to revisit the guitar.”
The sampler, or MPC, that Ferreira used on this latest album is basically the same technology that Pete Rock and DJ Premier were using in the early '90s to make dope-ass beats. So, The Roots, A Tribe Called Quest, J Dilla, even The Beastie Boys paved the very idiosyncratic path for Ferreira to create Cinema Tropical. “We recorded it all on the MPC. The computers were off. It was a brand new world for me.”
It’s not an uncommon path for a singer-songwriter to take, putting down the guitar and opting for new methods of expression. Alex says, “One of the things that happens when you’re using that kind of technology is that the songs are so different — the creation, the structure, it’s a whole different animal. There are tons of new possibilities.”
The path was new for Alex, but he pointed out that adapting to the modern musical landscape was definitely a priority. In the studio, they listened to “a lot of Blood Orange, and tons of '90s shit.” And just like Dev Hynes’s Blood Orange project, the guitar riffs behind the beats in Cinema Tropical speak to an underlying sense of melancholy that is evident in the albums lyrics, even at its most joyful moments.
“I want to write about human feeling and vulnerability,” he says. “When you write a song and you record it and release it, it reaches a point where the song no longer belongs to you. People interpret it in whatever way they feel is right to them.” Ferreira's music quickly leaves the speaker and becomes part of the individual’s experience. Songs so often nurture the moments we remember.
“There are too many songs that I write, and to me it’s meant to be about one thing, and then someone will come up to me and thank me because they fell in love with their soulmate to the song. But, in reality, I never thought it was a love song. I mean, I charge the copyright. But, those songs don’t belong to me anymore. And I love that. It’s beautiful.”
Ferreira and Nusser working in the studio.
Photo by Franck Bohbot
But, while Cinema Tropical is Ferreira's new album and priority, his journey doesn’t end here. “Right now, I want everyone to know that my new album is out there. We’re about to end this two-month long tour here in the U.S.A. We’re headed to L.A. soon," he says. "I’m glad to be done with this album. I can keep going with my life. It’s been a few years. And I just want people to enjoy it.”
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Now that it's all said and done, Ferreira just wants his album to find a safe home in the ears of his fans. “I want people to listen to it, and interpret it in whatever way they want. I had a blast doing it. Actually, the other day I played a song with Andres on stage, and he texted me after saying how happy he was about having recorded that, and remembering the process. It’s been a great process. It’s been emotional seeing it come to an end, and I just want to share that. I want to share our journey.”
Asked if he had anything else he wanted to share, Ferreira didn't hesitate. “We’re also making condoms! We’re giving them away! We think it’s a really sexual record, and we just want people to have sex to it. If they make love to this, it would make me very happy.”