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Latin Jazz Conversations: Alexa Weber Morales (Part 3)

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Musicians are tasked with tapping into the thoughts and feelings of the current social climate and finding relevant ways to reach people. Musical statements are meant to be shared, and the most effective expressions find a way to connect with an audience. They discuss topics that effect the audience's everyday life and they they relate to common experiences. These musical ideas reach people through communication paths that are both modern and traveled constantly. An artist that can share these types of worldly ideas while keeping their artistic integrity not only displays a fine maturity, but also glows with a strong cultural relevance.

After years of crafting her skills and developing an artistic vision, vocalist and songwriter Alexa Weber Morales has found many ways to touch the community around her. Her parents instilled a deep love of music and language into her throughout childhood, providing opportunities to sing and live abroad. They exposed her to Ella Fitzgerald and other jazz artists, inspiring a lifelong love of jazz. She moved to the East Coast for college, but it wasn't a fit, so she traveled across the country and began writing original songs. Back in the Bay Area, she actively dived into music studies and performance, where she formed a bond with trombonist and composer Wayne Wallace. As she built her musical skills, her day job allowed her to travel, taking her across South America, where she gained a deep appreciation for Latin music. With her focus set upon music, she hired Wallace as a producer and went into the studio, where she recorded Jazzmerica. She began working as a vocalist with Wallace's group as well, performing live and recording on several of his albums. Wallace signed Morales onto Patois Records, resulting in the album Vagabundeo/Wanderings, a group of modern Latin Jazz tunes that highlighted Morales' striking vocal presence. She parted ways with her day job, making a living through a steady stream of gigs on the Bay Area music scene. With a collection of new music, Morales has started a Kickstarter campaign in the hopes of recording a third album. Through the effective use of social media, Morales has built an extensive network that includes fans both in and out of the Bay Area. Her new album's title track, “I Wanna Work For You," taps into the social consciousness of the downtrodden economy, reflecting the state of many people. Morales has moved into musical maturity with an awareness of the world around her.

In collaboration with bassist and producer Sam Bevan, Morales is moving forward actively towards the completion of her third album. Her smart writing and insightful message, along with Bevan's smart arranging style, promises to make I Wanna Work For You another strong artistic statement. In Part One of our interview with Morales, we took a look at her early connection to language, her first steps into songwriting, and Bay Area musicians that influenced her. Part Two of our interview dug into her musical explorations in South America and Cuba, the recording of Jazzmerica, and the creation of Vagabundeo/Wanderings. Today, we finish our interview with a discussion about her current Kickstarter project, her effective use of social media, and the music for her new album I Wanna Work For You.

LATIN JAZZ CORNER: Tell me a little bit about your Kickstarter campaign.

ALEXA WEBER MORALES: I’m always writing songs; I don’t know what my exact rate of writing songs is, but I’m getting a handful of songs per year. It’s not like I’m writing a song every day, but I certainly come up with a new song every month or so. I had this song that I had written called “Catastrofe de Amor”; it’s a salsa tune. I was trying to figure out who could arrange it; I did a pretty good job of arranging it myself, but I still ran it by a few people. Then I heard a record that bassist Sam Bevan had arranged, so I called him up. It was kind of similar to when I discovered Wayne, I didn’t know that Wayne produced and arranged. It was the same thing with Sam. Sam and I started talking, and we just clicked. That was in October—that same month, I gave him “Catastrofe de Amor.” He arranged it, and I just loved it, it was amazing. Then I gave him “I Wanna Work For You,” and again, I loved what he came up with. Then he did one more, “I Didn’t Drill That Deep.” So it just started to happen. One day, I put it all in a folder, and I realized that we had six songs. It’s been a natural evolution. I recorded another project in the winter, and that got my recording legs back.

One of my fans had asked me if I had thought about doing Kickstarter. I looked into it, but I wasn’t sure. As it became evident that we were actually progressing towards having a record, I thought, “O.K., it’s time to do it.” There are a number of artist funding sites; I had looked at ArtistShare a number of years ago. I wasn’t that thrilled with ArtistShare’s approach. Kickstarter has an all or nothing philosophy—people are pledging and if you don’t get the minimum, the people’s pledges will not go through. From the backer’s perspective, if you are somebody who views it like an investment activity, there’s very little risk. At least one layer of risk has been removed—you’re putting your money on something and the artist really can’t get it together, you won’t loose your money.

At the same time, people are pledging and they’re getting rewards. The rewards are meant to be commensurate with the pledge. If it’s a CD, don’t make the pledge be $75. If it’s a very unique experience, then maybe that could be $75. The more I looked at it, the more it made a lot of sense. Most of the support that you get is going to come from your existing fan base. So the money that you raise is going to be sized relatively to what that fan base can support. I have had some support from people that I don’t know at all, and that really amazes me. That’s an advantage of Kickstarter. Because it is a very hip platform, it has that additional boost that you’re going to get from being on something like that.

I’m really hoping that the unique nature of some of the rewards will help the project spread beyond my fan base. I’ve added some new rewards recently—some e- books that I've written. I have one that called Alexa’s Guide To Practice. I’ve interviewed different people and gathered a lot of different beliefs and thoughts about practice. It can apply to music, sports, or anything that you want to get better at. I have another e- book called Alexa’s Guide To Books. It’s like the New York Review Of Books, but it’s shorter and artier. The idea is similar to a bibliography of all these books that I’ve read in music, art, composition, life, business, sports, and all these different things that I’ve read and that I recommend.

LJC: You use social media very effectively; how do you see the opportunities for artists in social media?

AWM: It’s really funny; it wasn’t an overnight thing. I had been on MySpace like everybody else. I wasn’t very active on MySpace; I just gathered up a bunch of friends and tried to promote that way. Murray Low was the person that hipped me to Facebook. He told me it was much better than MySpace, but I wasn’t sure at first. Then one day I got on there and gradually I started to increase my use of it. The same thing happened with Twitter. A music publicist was talking about how valuable Twitter would be and I didn’t believe it at first. Then I got on there and started using it; it was a slow process, but it has been incredibly useful.

Social media has been life changing for me. I’m a total homebody, but on Facebook, I’ve been able to form this network of local musicians. It's amazing; you go to a club and you see twenty people that you know. You wouldn’t have known them if it wasn’t for Facebook. It gives you incredible information right at your fingertips. It has coincided with working more; now that my kids are a little bit older, I'm able to get out and work nights more. It has coincided with my free-lance writing—I’m often writing about these topics. I don’t know where it’s going to go, but I feel like the social media revolution is just starting. What you’re seeing with the big media companies is that they are jumping on there. They’re not going to try to reach us primarily through the television anymore; they’re going to try to reach us through social media. That’s an argument for controlling it ourselves and not just being sheep to be advertised to by the media.

LJC: One of the things that really struck me about the new project is the title—I Wanna Work For You—it seems in tune with our country’s current state.

AWM: Exactly. For the second time in my life, I have been self- employed for the past five years. At different moments during that time, I’ve tried to get a corporate job. One time two years ago, I did an interview for a job. It was crazy; I have a really good resume, but it’s an employer’s market right now. It’s not an employee’s market at all. So if you don’t have exactly the experience that they want, they’re not going to hire you. This particular thing dealt with writing about small business. I can write about small business, but this guy was hesitant. It was really frustrating. I’ve written about all sorts of technical areas, but they were going to find the person with the exact experience that they were looking for; that’s the person that they were going to give the job to. When I got home, I wrote “I Wanna Work For You." I wrote the song, I recorded it, and I put it up on Facebook. Soon afterwards, I got a call from someone that I knew from my old job, and he hired me to go do a gig. I’ve been playing this song out a lot. People always come up and they say, “Can you play that song again? My friend is out of a job and I’ve never heard a song like that . . .”

Just like on Vagabundeo/Wanderings, we were trying to find that thread that made it a cohesive album; the one thing that we started to discover was that it’s all original music. I have “I Wanna Work For You.” I have a song about the BP oil spill that I wrote called, “I Didn’t Drill That Deep.” I have a song that I wrote a number of years ago called “Let’s Not Ruin This Affair.” I love the arrangement that Sam did on that—he did a partido alto funky thing and it’s amazing.

The other thing that is different about this album is the process—we’re playing these songs out before we record them. That’s not what I did with Wayne ever. Wayne tends not to work that way anyways—he’ll do it in the studio and then subsequently play it out. A lot of people do that, but then you end up with a studio version of a song that’s very hard to play out.

These songs are going to be songs that we can play as a quartet and sound good. We’re going to add horns, we’re going to add additional percussion, but it won’t be as big. It’ll be mainly acoustic instruments, but it will have a very new sound. Some of the grooves are kind of pop, a la Herbie Hancock and his Imagine project. They’ll still have that jazz improvisation element in it as well.

LJC: When that Kickstarter campaign gets funded, how are you going to proceed into the future?

AWM: I set the timeline, so I'm ending the Kickstarter campaign on May 2nd. Very soon we’ll be rounding up musicians and figuring out availability. Then we’ll try to get this done in two days. So many people in the general public just don’t understand why it costs money to record an album. I’ve had people at concerts say to me, “My friend has a studio, why don’t you just do it over there? How much can it really cost?” No, you can’t! What we’re doing is cheap compared to what a major label would do. People also don’t understand how much computers and outsourcing is replacing local musicians being able to make money this way. That’s an important part of this project, and I think that it’s related to the concept of “I Wanna Work For You.” We’re going to do this in Oakland, and we’re going to have local musicians playing on this. We’re not going to send it off to another country to be finished. I explored that, and I could have sent it off to another country, but I thought to myself that it would be against the ideals of the album.

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This story appears courtesy of The Latin Jazz Corner by Chip Boaz.
Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved.

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