These days, it’s increasingly difficult for songwriters to tackle love without sounding like everything else in the world. Some might balk at such a daunting task, but Alex Ferreira. On his new album Canapé, the Dominican singer-songwriter croons exclusively about romance. “Some love songs say the same thing over and over, but I find that boring,” says Alex in an interview with Remezcla. “But a love song that doesn’t mention the word ‘love’ or any other cliché words…I like to do that.”
The singer-songwriter was raised in the Dominican Republic, save for some stretches spent in the U.S. A gifted composer, he was nominated for the island’s prestigious Premios Soberano without a full-length album. Eventually, Ferreira moved to Spain to pursue his career, which materialized in a record deal and a string of albums and EPs, beginning with Parto Mi Viaje. In 2015, he released Cinema Tropical, an album that traded his folkier sound for electronics, thanks in part to his collaboration with former Astro member Andrés Nusser. The following year, Ferreira formed El Frente Caribe, a project that found Alex reconnecting with the merengue and bachata that blasted from Santo Domingo street corners when he was growing up in the 80s. For the past few years, he has been living in Mexico, and now he’s gearing up to release his most accomplished album yet.
El Frente Caribe helped Ferreira learn a lot about songwriting, and fostered his appreciation for the music of his homeland. “I wanted to start a project that had rules, to make authentic Caribbean music. I think we Dominicans have a very particular way of playing percussion. Puerto Ricans make salsa, Cubans make son, and we make merengue and bachata. It was a way to learn for me. I’ve been spending my life moving around, so it was a way to reconnect with my island. I didn’t get into music to become a bachatero or merenguero, but it has always been there [for me]. Juan Luis Guerra is one of my biggest influences.”
Without that experimentation, Canapé wouldn’t be the eclectic work that it is. ”When you mix [elements of merengue and bachata] with other styles of music, interesting things happen. That was what I was looking for. There’s a song in particular that’s called ‘Ven Que Te Quiero Ver’ that has a very tropical rhythm and melody; it’s very Dominican. There’s another song, ‘Me La Saludan’ – we originally did it as a bachata. Then, some of my songs are in the style of my first album. The great thing about Canapé is that it has a little [bit] of everything that I have been doing so far; there’s some of [Cinema Tropical] there too. I sing in English on one song. Canapé is just that; it’s a dish that has different elements from other kinds of food.”
The challenge of incorporating multiple sounds may be difficult for some, but Alex has welcomed the opportunity to make sense of his eclectic musical upbringing. “The good thing about being a solo artist is I can do anything without asking anyone for permission. I can go in and out of my comfort zone. The songwriters who have influenced me throughout my life are those who have constantly changed but retained their essence. Caetano Veloso has done everything – Dylan, Bowie. I love being a solo artist; every record represents a new stage in my life – it’s more fun, less monotonous. I love allowing myself this kind of freedom.”
In spite of the musical diversity, the songs were born in a very spare fashion. “For this record, I started at home alone with a computer. I got back to what I was doing when I was 15; it was me and my guitar. It’s very stripped down. It boils down to the voice and the guitar. I wanted the songs to work with just those elements…I’d change some parts of the songs while on tour, lyrics, melodies,” he explains. “It was important as well to see the reaction of the crowd.”
On the production front, he got help from Mexican electro psych band Mylko, who he considers “close friends, like my little brothers.” They contributed instruments and arrangements throughout the mixing of the album, which Ferreira considers essential to the final product.
Although Alex assures us Canapé is not a concept album, he noticed a running thread throughout the project. “All the songs are love songs, and we [haven’t] run out of love songs. Canapé departs from every point of view – from high serotonin and total happiness to the saddest, most spiteful, and horrible aspects of a relationship, and everything in between. I did this on a subconscious level. I could arrange the tracklist in chronological order, from the moment boy-meets-girl until the relationship ends, or begin with hate and end with a new relationship.” Ultimately, Canapé aims to redraw the blueprint of a love song, and gives Alex Ferreira his most definitive statement to date.
Alex Ferreira’s Canapé is out now.