Born in Argentina, Fernando Viciconte, who now performs under the mononym Fernando, first made a name for himself with a stint as the frontman of the Los Angeles-based hard rock band Monkey Paw. Vicicconte relocated to Portland, to focus on a solo career, which has received praise and admiration from a bevy of acclaimed musicians including R.E.M.‘s Peter Buck, Don Dixon and Steve Wynn. And with the release of his 2006 release, Enter to Exit the now-Portland-based singer/songwriter started to receive local, regional and national attention as the album was critically praised by the likes of Billboard, Magnet (which named Fernando, one of the best, new artists of 2006), Paste, The Oregonian, No Depression and MSNBC.com, among a lengthy list of others. Just when he was about to make a name for himself nationally, Viciconte suffered through major health issues, which nearly resulted in the permanent loss of his voice and prevented him from touring. Fortunately, for Viciconte, his illness was misdiagnosed and the root cause of his issues — a hiatal hernia which essentially bathed his vocal cords in his stomach acid — was fixed surgically.
Produced by Viciconte, with Luther Russell, who has worked with Fever the Ghost and Richmond Fontaine and Mike Coykendall, who has worked with M. Ward and She and Him. Leave the Radio On, Viciconte’s eight full-length was released last September through Fluff and Gravy Records, the label home of JOVM mainstay Drunken Prayer. And although the album took three years to complete, the album features an all-star cast of some of Portland’s finest and most renowned musicians including the aforementioned Peter Buck, Scott McCaughey as well as members of M.Ward and Elliott Smith‘s backing bands, Richmond Fontaine and The Delines.
The album’s first, official single “Save Me” — KEXP helped premiere album single “The Dogs,” when it was initially released as a promotional 7 inch release — is a bitter, aching lament comprised of a haunting introduction featuring Fernando accompanying his vocals, which are fed through reverb and distortion pedals with acoustic guitar before the backing band joins in with wobbling bass, layers of distorted guitars, swirling feedback and distortion to create a sound that’s ominous, forlorn and spectral while bridging indie rock, alt-country and the blues in a way that seems to channel some of Bob Dylan‘s later work. It evokes the lingering ghosts of one’s life — the failed relationships, the misguided decisions and poor judgements and the crushing doubts that seem inescapable and yet, finding a way to move forward with your dignity, sanity and sense of self intact (which is by far, the most difficult thing to ever do). And although it may seem bleak, Fernando’s material isn’t without hope; in fact, it suggests that even at the most desperate, it’s hope that can keep us going.
The recently released music video captures the introspective nature of the song while capturing Viciconte as he experiences the highest highs of his life — writing and performing his songs with his band and in front of a raucous crowd. And then as he experiences the most troubling lows — the recognition that something is terribly wrong and no one can figure out a proper diagnosis, and that your life can be permanently altered as a result. And of course there’s this haunting sense of loss and confusion over what to do next. The video subtly asks “if a creative person is born creative, what happens to them if their body fails them and doesn’t allow them to be creative?”