The life of the traveling songwriter certainly seems romantic. But as David Ramirez notched mile number 260,000 traveled in his 2006 Kia Rio, the novelty began to wear off.
"I've learned a lot from being alone and isolated," says Ramirez, who until recently toured completely by himself, without a band, manager or anyone else for company. "Yes, it's romantic in a way. But it has also been kind of rough on my head and my heart. After a while it made it difficult to connect with people on a personal level when I got home. In hindsight, I can see that it's been kind of detrimental. You know, when you travel around alone for months at a time, the world revolves around you. There's no one else in the equation. Everything was just about me. It's a selfish way of living. And I'm ready to move on from that."
It's taken three years since that realization, but with his new album 'FABLES,' out August 28 via Thirty Tigers, Ramirez takes strides towards that personal growth both as a musician and as a man.
"I hit a dry spell for a couple of years after my last album. It was frustrating. I went into the studio two years ago planning to do a whole record, and it just wasn't coming together. So I scrapped the whole thing and took some time away from it," he says. "It felt forced. I don't want to just put more noise into the world. I want to put something out there that means something to me. And if it doesn't, then I don't release it. Therefore, I haven't had a new record in three years. I know that can be frustrating for people on my business team. But I don't want to put it out there if I can't stand behind it."
The delay, it turns out, was for the best. "My focus wasn't really on my music at that point," he explains. "I was at a point in my relationship with my girlfriend where things were getting serious. The closer we got, the more I realized that I needed to be honest with myself and with her about where my life was heading. If I want to be in a meaningful relationship with someone, I have to be honest in everything I do."
The album's title, 'FABLES,' was inspired by the first single, "Harder to Lie," which captures the moment Ramirez realized, as he puts it, "I couldn't bullsh*t with her anymore. She knew me completely. It got me thinking about how much I bullsh*t in my life - exaggerating stories, faking a smile, or whatever. Just telling fables. When you don't know who you really are you can end up hurting people."
That newfound maturity and clarity translated into his approach in the studio, as Ramirez traveled to Seattle to work with his friend Noah Gundersen, who produced the album. "My previous albums were a bit less personal. I always went in with a certain idea of what I wanted them to turn out like. I had never just walked in and said 'let's just see what happens.' And that's what we did this time. From the writing to the recording, it was just based on instincts.”
In a world full of singer-songwriters hawking their stories, Ramirez has managed to stand out from the noise, developing a fiercely loyal following of fans who are drawn to his intimately personal songwriting. "When someone buys a record of mine, they're getting my life. They are essentially memoirs. They're going to know a little bit more about who I am."
'FABLES' is a sparse, poignant set of songs crafted around Ramirez' starkly beautiful baritone, which the New York Times once described as full of "haggard loneliness." NPR Music praised his knack for writing "dark, wrenching tales that are immediately identifiable to those who've loved and lost," while Paste described his "brutally honest" lyrics as "almost alarmingly descriptive."
After years on the road touring as an opening act for artists like Noah Gundersen, Gregory Alan Isakov, Shakey Graves and Joe Pug, Ramirez is excited to finally embark on his own tour. "Fans have been paying high-dollar tickets to watch me open for other bands, and I'm very thankful for it. I've also had the chance to see how other songwriters I respect work on a professional level. I've learned a lot and been challenged a lot. It's like I've been going to school. I've been taking notes. And now I think I'm ready for the job. I'm really excited to finally go out with a band and do my own full set. It will be more fun and energetic."
As he has learned to open himself up to other people in his personal relationships and in the studio, Ramirez has also been focused on putting together a full-time band and letting other musicians become involved in the creative process. "I'm trying to build a family of people who create together, not just a backing band," he says. "For the past five years traveling, I get off stage and I have no one to share it with. I've been lucky enough to ride along with some of the bands I've opened for. I watch them get ready for their set and have that sense of collaboration, and I'll just be in the alley smoking a cigarette by myself. I've always had a little envy for that. I'm like every kid that grew up playing in a garage. I want a band. No one has dreams of playing the world alone."