The road to has been a long one for Alejandro Escovedo on the way to releasing "The Boxing Mirror," his first new studio work since winning a fierce battle with hepatitis C.
The road to "The Boxing Mirror" has been a long one for Alejandro Escovedo. On one hand, in the years leading up to this week's release of his first disc since 2002, the Texas-based artist met his fourth wife, who led him on a path to Buddhism.
On the other, he waged a fierce battle with hepatitis C that left him physically debilitated, emotionally dispirited and financially strapped. He also lost an enormous influence in his life when his father, Pedro Escovedo, passed away.
"All these things happened," he tells Billboard.com, "[and they] all kind of led to these songs."
The 11 tracks than make up "The Boxing Mirror," released May 2 via Back Porch Records, contain touchstones and carry the scars of his experiences. But aside from one titled "Died a Little Today," there are few that can be pinned to the abyss into which he stared. Instead, they reflect a wider view, creating not the work of a martyr, but of a survivor.
"You can go too far in one way and they can become maudlin, and it becomes self-pity and I didn't want any of that," he says of the album, which was produced by the Velvet Underground's John Cale. "I wanted to present something that was really strong and confident and that wasn't sick anymore."
That Escovedo began writing songs again, let alone is recording and touring, is an incredible achievement. During his convalescence, songwriting "was pretty much the furthest thing from my mind," he says. "A near-death experience is so sobering.
Yet, once he began to recover his strength, the illness and all of its trappings proved inspirational to the artist, whose career spans the blare and fury of punk and hard rock to the somber contemplation of a singer/songwriter.
"It's really given me so much to think about and write about," Escovedo says, noting that he's gained confidence in his songwriting ability. "I can get to the core of things a lot quicker, without having to struggle through a lot of rewrites. I can really kind of pinpoint ideas before they're actually coming out of my mouth."
Escovedo also found inspiration much closer to home. "I think I found that there were a lot of other things that were much more important," he says. "I'm not saying [more important] than music, because it's all part of it, really, for me, but in a sense it brought me to a place where, I used to tell doctors this, I really just want to watch my children grow up."
He found strength in his family, which includes seven children, and in a community of artists and fans who supported his recovery through benefit efforts. Those included several concerts throughout North America, and most notably, the two-disc tribute, "Por Vida: A Tribute to the Songs of Alejandro Escovedo," proceeds from which bolstered a fund to help cover medical costs and living expenses.
"I really never had dreamed that something like that would happen," he says. "Starting out in punk rock, we always did benefits for people and I like being on the end that was giving rather than receiving. So it was humbling and at times it was... embarrassing. I didn't want to be known for hepatitis C -- I wanted to be known for my songs.
"It was beyond flattering, because it was like an unthinkable thing," he adds. "And especially the level of talent, the people that were doing it, like, 'Wow. John Cale's doing one of my songs? Ian Hunter's doing one of my songs? Lucinda [Williams] and Steve Earle, the Jayhawks, all of these people. It was really humbling."
Escovedo has returned to the road to support "The Boxing Mirror," with dates stretching through July across the United States and the United Kingdom. Among the highlights is a trio of shows in Austin, Texas, leading up to a May 15 taping for the venerable PBS performance show "Austin City Limits."
"It's been a really hard, arduous journey," he says, contemplating his return to his relatively normal life as a practicing musician. "There were times when I wasn't sure what was going to happen. There were times when I was preparing for the worst.
"And then there have been times, like just recently, my wife and I wake up and we just look around and go, 'We are the luckiest human beings on this planet.' And I think if we keep embracing that thought, we'll be fine."