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Thursday October 23rd 2014

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We’re Fools for Light, Fools for Life

El Cantador Returns to The Handlebar
BY Sarah McCartan

Just a year after last summer’s release of a collaborative split EP with friends and label mates Johnny Apple-Eyes, Mobile’s El Cantador has released its first full-length album. The album, entitled “Fools for Light” was recorded this past winter at a remote beach house locale and is currently available for both digital streaming and download. The group has official CD release shows set for tomorrow here in Pensacola featuring locals Johnny Apple-Eyes and Pioneers! O Pioneers! and again the following night back on their home turf in Mobile.

While the translation of the term cantador is widely descriptive of a folk guitar player, it more directly references one who walks around playing songs. Although this may not be applicable to where El Cantador is at today, it is highly reminiscent of their origin. What was once a one-man-band then turned into a two-man-band and well, the rest is becoming history. After a series of member changes, the powerful pack comprised of Heath Underwood (lead vocals and guitar), Alex Scharr (bass, synthesizers and vocals) and Sean Murphy (drums and vocals) have arrived at a new place, where the trio is consistently working on creating their new identity while still evolving.

Much like the opening track on the album, “There’s a Hole,” where Underwood proclaims “Gonna write you a new song,” the band has in essence been writing itself a new song over the course of the past year. Fortunately I have had the
opportunity to watch the evolution first hand. Fans will certainly notice the added dance, synth-driven elements in contrast to a previous folky foothold. This direction was already in the works when Scharr hopped on board last year. Scharr’s enthusiasm for the synth and dance elements have been key in helping the band decide that this is the right fit for what they want to be doing currently. “We all worked really hard on the record, and I spent countless hours mixing it. I know that we are all proud of how it came out,” he commented.

Confusions. Communication, or simply the mystery and enchantment of what other people are thinking—These are a few of the inspirations that Underwood credits into pouring into his writing. As far as specific influences for the album are concerned, the members collectively were listening to both Broken Social Scene and Arcade Fire’s new records pretty heavily around that time. Scharr went as far as sharing that he has thrown a couple of references to some of his favorite artists in to various parts, references he is leaving to the audience to figure out. “I just hope someone finds them one day, and that person can be my friend,” he added.

Gaining influence from a variety of sources allows each member to bring these influences to the table and together develop an eclectic sound that encompasses the new, livelier elements while also keeping some slightly tamer, but no less powerful songs, such as the title track. When asked where the name “Fools for Light” came from, Underwood explained, “It just made sense. There are so many light references all around us every day. From various elements of spirituality, to the idea of origins from the stars, to the attraction to the inner light of people—everything seems to come back around to light. Also, it seemed like a good alternative to ‘El Cantador: The Album.’”

The group has found a new freedom, and there is no telling where it will go from here. Underwood mentioned additional influences as of late being those funky ones from the past that seem to have made a full circle. He also remarked, “If the ladies like it, that is all I care about. Sean may laugh at me when I say this, but it is true. If someone says, I conceived listening to one of your songs, then I am happy.”

Things certainly have not slowed down for the group since recording. The trio recently shot a music video for track “Empty Carz,” scheduled to be released within the month. Hopefully a tour will soon be in the works as well.

The group’s return to The Handlebar is no surprise, as it is no secret that the band has developed a strong relationship with the Pensacola community over the past couple of years. Underwood admitted that new upbeat track “PRP” (Peaceful River People) references some of their time spent here, specifically with Johnny Apple-Eyes and company. Lyrics from PRP, “Sleep all Day, Destroy the Night,” are descriptive of the way things tend to come alive here at night−creating together, drinking together, enjoying and developing and furthering that sense of friendship and community. The closing track on the album, “Weak Ends,” also finds its roots here, beginning as a part of late-night collaborations. Underwood summed up the relationship by declaring, “Pensacola is our mistress. I mean, we are playing here before we are playing in Mobile. I think this says a lot in itself.”

EL CANTADOR ‘FOOLS FOR LIGHT’ CD RELEASE
WHAT: El Cantador with Johnny Apple-Eyes and Pioneers! O Pioneers!
WHEN: 9 p.m. Friday, June 17
WHERE: The Handlebar, 319 N. Tarragona St.
COST: $5
DETAILS: elcantador.com