You know Laura Fernandez as the host of Café Latino, but you may also know her as an accomplished singer and songwriter.
She has just released her third album called Okay, Alright. It arrives a full 10 years after her last release, Un Solo Beso.
Blending pop, jazz and classical influences, Okay, Alright is a collection of deeply intimate and affectionate original songs that span two decades of her songwriting. While some of these tunes were written recently, others have lived in her heart for more than 15 years.
For Okay, Alright, she was joined by bassist George Koller and drummer Marito Marques. The album was co-produced by Peter Moore with guidance from Howard Gladstone.
Laura Fernandez joined us to talk about the making of Okay, Alright, and why the album was a much-needed outlet for her creative expression.
Congratulations on the new album. A lot of these songs, you had them with you for a long time, almost as if you’d been hanging on to them for yourself but decided to release them into the world. Why did you finally take this time to put those ones out there?
Some of those songs have been around for a long time. It’s a journey through my songwriting. I started about 20 years ago, and these were songs that had lived in my heart for a really long time and I felt it was finally time to just put them down. Some of them are more recent. The more jazz-influenced ones were composed in the last three to four years. But some of them are 15 years old. It was a journey through the soundtrack of my life.
There are 12 originals on the recording, and they came from a pool of material of about 29 tunes. How did you go through that process of picking the ones you wanted to put on the album?
It was very difficult, because as you know, my last album was all Latin. I only had one song that was in English on that one. For the last while, I had been trying to decide whether to release an album of mixed material, or an all-English album, or another all-Spanish album. I just decided to listen to my heart and record what I really wanted to record. It just happened to be this collection of songs. I went to the studio to do demos, and we did 29 songs. The three of us who were there — Howard Gladstone, Peter Moore and myself — went home and wrote down the ones that felt like they would fit together. We all came up with the same list. To me, it was a sign.
So, you all collectively felt the same way?
That must have been relieving. If everyone had different opinions, you could’ve been there for three more days arguing about which tunes to put on the record.
Or longer. You know, it’s my first album in 10 years. Part of it is that you get busy with life, and I’ve been really busy with my work at JAZZ.FM91 but also with my personal life and everything else, and gigging and being a musician and writing. When you’re finally going to record, it takes an enormous emotional investment. Not just an emotional investment, but a financial investment. It’s a big deal to record an album, especially when you’re doing a lot of things, because you know you’re going to be at it for a while. It’s not something that I did in three weeks. I’ve been working on it for two years.
You’re also an accomplished painter and illustrator. You’ve said that creatively, those things weren’t necessarily giving you everything you needed as an artist. How does music fill that space?
Music was the one thing that I always loved, that I felt has no boundaries for me. It also gave me a challenge. I did study piano and I studied voice, but I didn’t go to Humber — this is all just from having the love of music. Playing, always writing songs. When I worked as an artist and as an illustrator, I worked in the commercial field, I worked in advertising, I was often heavily art-directed, and it just felt like [music] would be my personal work. A lot of artists have their own personal collection of paintings that they do. I was always so busy with my career that I didn’t have a lot of time to create a body of work in painting, and it always just felt like work. Under pressure of deadlines, always. When I decided to go back to my music, I made a vow to myself that I would only record things that were in my heart, and that I would never record out of any kind of pressure, and that I would just make the music the way I wanted to. That was my freedom. And I do think of my songs as sonic paintings, so to speak. I’m just using a different medium. But they are little worlds and stories unto themselves, kind of like paintings are.
Peter Moore co-produced the album with you. What’s your relationship with him, and how did you find your groove together?
I’ve always respected his work. He’s amazing. He actually mastered Un Solo Beso and I knew him from that. But I had been invited to work with Howard Gladstone on his album, and I went into the studio and got to know [Peter] through working on Howard’s album. I just knew from that moment that he would be the right person to take over. Partly, I wanted to produce the album myself. But not being a technician, I knew I couldn’t do it all by myself. It was very important to have someone who had the experience of engineering but also with producer ears, and also someone I really trusted and who made me feel comfortable — and that was Peter. You really just can’t go wrong with someone like Peter Moore. He cares so much about how something sounds, and about the authenticity, and about the emotion. He made me feel like I was in my living room. And really, that’s what I needed.
We’re in the middle of these difficult times. I’m guessing it was a difficult decision to release the album during this time, but I guess this is also what people need. Was there any kind of thought process that went into putting this album out right now?
Absolutely. We were ready to release it around February … and then COVID-19 hit. I thought, we’re all stuck at home, this is actually the best time ever in history to release singer-songwriter music, where the lyrics are important and it’s a message you can really listen to that gives you peace. I just said whatever it is, there’s a reason for everything that happens. I didn’t want to hang onto it for another year, because who knows how long this is going to go on? I just decided to go ahead.
You’re at the piano and you’re singing, and you’ve got George Koller and Marito Marques in there. Are those gentleman you’ve worked with on previous albums, too?
Yes, I’ve been working with them for years, actually. George almost produced my last album Un Solo Beso, and we ended up going with Billy Bryans, who passed away [in 2012]. I always wanted to work with George, and I’ve been working with him live for a long time. I love what he adds. He’s a beautiful and very intuitive and emotional player. And Marito, as well. When we went in, I started kind of backwards. I wanted the songs to breathe and I didn’t want to play to a click track. I played the songs as I wrote them. We recorded the piano tracks, then the vocals. I asked them both to come in, and they had never worked together before. But I have to tell you … It was magic. The three of us — Howard, Peter and I — looked at each other and went, “Oh my God, I can’t believe what they’re doing and how it sounds.” They had never played together before, ever. It was just magic.