Street Soul

Rolling Stone's David Fricke once described Alejandro Escovedo as being "in a genre of his own." Since jumping feet-first into the first wave of American punk with his band The Nuns at the ripe age of 16, Escovedo has traveled far and wide, both musically and physically.

From San Francisco to New York City to Austin, Escovedo has chased his muse wherever it chose to roam, transitioning from punk to an early stint in alt-country with Austin's Rank and File, then over into rock with the legendary True Believers.

Always seeming to have a knack for when to move and change things up, Escovedo wowed the alternative-music world with his first solo albums, Gravity (1992) and Thirteen Years (1994). He's been a major musical force ever since, right up through most recent efforts Real Animal (2008) and last year's Street Songs of Love.

Chatter: Did The Nuns ever play Houston?

Alejandro Escovedo: No, we really never did much except San Francisco and New York. After we opened for Sex Pistols at The Winterland in early '78, we'd run our course. We drew well in San Francisco and New York, but punk rock as we knew it was kinda over.

Dead Kennedys and those bands came along, and it became more urban, more testosterone-driven, and I moved on to Austin to try something else.

C: What's the story behind "­Chelsea Hotel '78" on Real Animal?

AE: We left San Francisco and moved into the Chelsea. It was a crazy scene, cops and punks and the art crowd coming and going. I just tried to ­recapture some of that feeling and tell the story of the place and time.

C: Did you realize Rank and File was on the leading edge of something, and would become one of those bands that was a poster child for the cowpunk and alt-country movements?

AE: Not really. We were just trying to make good music, and I think we briefly caught the vibe of that time, what was brewing in Austin and some other places.

C: Your next band, True Believers, caught on fairly big in Houston in the mid-'80s.

AE: We started playing the Ale House and found a crowd. Those were some crazy, crazy gigs up in that tiny room they had upstairs. That really was a great period for us. One minute we were sleeping on [Ale House manager] Angela Mullan's floor, then suddenly we're in Los Angeles riding in limos and hearing our stuff on the radio.

C: Jon Dee Graham once told me he quit the Plan 2 program at UT because it was hard to tell yourself to get up and go to class once you'd opened for The Clash.

AE [Laughs]: Yeah, that was pretty powerful stuff.

C: You've collaborated with Chuck Prophet on your last two albums, and both of them rock it hard. What does Chuck bring to your projects?

AE: Chuck and I had wanted to write a record together for a while, and we finally just did it. He and I are on a lot of the same pages about music and writing, what we wanted to say on that record [Real Animal]. He's got some very strong opinions about how things should go, what works, what doesn't.

C: That record was a ­return of sorts to full-on rock. Was that the plan or did it just happen?

AE: Tony Visconti, who produced the Moody Blues, David Bowie [and] T. Rex, heard us doing "I Wanna Be Your Dog" at a sound check and immediately said, "This is how the next record should sound." And those songs lent themselves to rock rather than my string ensemble.

C: How has your health been since your bout with hepatitis?

AE: I feel great, as good as I have in a long time. We're right in the middle of a big tour, and I couldn't feel better.

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William Michael Smith