There's something special about Fernando Viciconte's voice.
Whether delivering words of longing and heartbreak over sorrowful strums of an acoustic guitar, or painting dreamlike narratives over meaty psychedelic guitars, there's a raw quality about his voice that cuts through style and cultural context to connect on an unmistakably human level. As he alternates between English and Spanish lyrics, you feel his words, even when you can't understand them.
Over the course of eight studio albums and decades of performances, Viciconte's voice has transcended its original function to serve as a window into a man's psyche—the product of a lifetime spent in front of a microphone.
"Even as a little kid I was always singing in the back of the car and writing songs in my head. Creating melodies has been something that I've done for as long as I can remember," he recalls. "I mean, I was imitating Elvis Presley when I was five. I've always loved it, but it's a matter of taste whether the voice is good or not."
It's become quite obvious people do in fact enjoy it, as he's attracted the admiration of an all-star cast of Portland's finest musicians—including collaborators Mike Coykendall and Scott McPherson of M. Ward, Dan Eccles of Richmond Fontaine, and Lewi Longmire of The Left Coast Roasters. Scott McCaughey of R.E.M. was so impressed after hearing recent demos that he convinced Viciconte to return from a hiatus, actively participating in the recording process of Viciconte's eighth studio album, Leave The Radio On (due for release on Portland's Fluff and Gravy Records on August 15).
"The people closest to me are the ones that influence me more than anyone else. I'm surrounded by talented musicians and visual artists that influence me everyday," Viciconte explains. "The guys that I'm traveling with right now are all great artists. Everyone's a singer-songwriter in their own right, so I respect their music and vice-versa. There's a mutual admiration between all of us."
Though his exceptionally talented support system has never been in doubt, it wasn't long ago that Viciconte's most valuable asset was in jeopardy. Since the early 2000s, he's suffered from severe acid reflux caused by an undiagnosed hiatal hernia, resulting in damage to his esophagus and vocal cords. Fortunately, after the problem was finally discovered and diagnosed, Viciconte successfully underwent a major operation two years ago that not only eliminated the problem, but allowed him to come back stronger than ever—a feat unusual for a performer entering the back end of his 40s.
"For years there was acid pouring down my throat, so everyday I was horse when I would wake up. I already have a scratchy voice to begin with, so I didn't need any help from that," he says. "It's funny because as they get older a lot of people drop the pitches on their songs because they have to drop the key a little bit to be able to sing it, but the opposite happened to me. I've been raising the keys because I had to sing lower before, so I've been singing better than ever." He adds, "The operation completely changed my life."
With renewed energy, the Argentinian-born Viciconte expanded on his diverse brand of rock'n'roll as he brought Leave The Radio On to life. After dabbling in country, pop, doo-wop, folk, and soul variations over the years, his new sounds take on a decidedly psychedelic tone. Blending the influences that dot his various cultural backgrounds, Viciconte soaks traditional Argentinian triplet rhythms in reverb and marries them with Simon & Garfunkel-esque melodies. The end product includes some of the finest work of his long career.
Fortunately for us, he has no plans of slowing down anytime soon.
"I can't stop doing it," he confesses. "I've got at least three records worth of music demoed, just on my iPhone alone. Even if I have to record something on a tape recorder at home, put it on a cassette and give it to my friend, I'm going to do it. I don't know how to do anything else better."
7 pm. Wednesday, April 15
McMenamins Old St. Francis, 700 NW Bond St.