Fernando, with your new album “Zebra Crossing” you have fulfilled a lifelong dream, of making an album at Abbey Road Studio 2. How was it for you to finally stand in the holy halls of every Beatles fan and strike the first chord?
It was a childhood dream to even walk into Abbey Road. I had done the tourist thing and walked the crosswalk before but I had never done a tour or anything. It was beyond incredible to finally walk in as a client. When I was shown to studio 2’s upstairs control room and walked to the famous window overlooking the studio I was hit with real emotion. I saw the same room I had seen in hundreds of pictures the same way it looked back in the 60s setup to MY specifications. Tears flowed. Then I walked down the famous staircase and sat down at Mrs Mills (a legendary piano at Abbey Road Studios) and started playing – more tears… Thankfully I got over the emotion and was able to work. Eleven hours of hard work followed. And it was amazing!
The Beatles’ obsession has long been part of your life. I’ve read that you became a Beatles addict at the tender age of eight. What has been inspiring you about their music for so many years?
I feel like I learned a second language with the Beatles. All four members inspired my musical vocabulary on every instrument and of course the song craft. Melody is key in my music. I pride myself in continuing the core values of Beatles music in my recordings whether it’s pop or prog rock.
I have to ask that question: Who is your favourite Beatle?
I am a “Paul Guy” 100 percent … I feel like his Wings years were equally influential to me than the Beatles.
You had only one day at Abbey Road studios. Any other artist or fan would have felt like a kid in a candy store. How did you manage to work focused?
Having set goals helps. I am very focused on achieving goals. I am a doer.
You recorded the album mostly by yourself but also joined by friends: The Zebra Crossing All-Star Band. Tell us about your collaborators and the recording sessions.
Thanks to my biggest idols being Paul McCartney and Todd Rundgren, who happen to be the greatest one man bands of all time, I have to do what they did. But it is also great to have others join me. I am so lucky to have two of the greatest string players in LA on Zebra Crossing, Kaitlin Wolfberg and Ruti Celli, who have a gorgeous sound and great ears. Kaitlin did most of the string arranging and it is just stunning. The backing vocals Durga McBroom did on “Home” are spectacular as always. And having Dr Danny and Megan Zeankowski of The original Lemon Twigs on board for “Find Love” really made that song shine. Ken Sharp has a one of a kind voice and it really shines on the record. And it was great to write with Harry Nilsson’s son Zak Nilsson and have him sing on those songs. Stephen Kalinich is a national treasure and his spoken word at the end of “Sundays” really brings that song home. And my lovely girlfriend Cyndi Trissel played some clarinet on “Sundays” as well. She is just wonderful.
Fernando, your recording day in London coincided with a special day in music history: the 50th anniversary of the first recordings of the George Harrison classic “While My Guitar Gently Weeps”. A cover version of the song closed your album. Was that a spontaneous idea or did you plan it in advance?
Abbey road is very difficult to book. July 25th 2018 was the only day available while I was in London. I immediately went to my “Beatles Recording Sessions” book and saw that that was 50 years to the day of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps” take 1-5 (as heard on Beatles Anthology) were recorded and I planned to cover that song.
As time went by I put together the band and singers for what was supposed to be a live take. It ended up being backing track recorded live and vocals recorded live separately around four mics. Andy Mapp on drums and Dave Bainbridge on piano were on tour with Dave Kerzner (why I was in England). I wanted Dave there but he had already booked his return flight for that very day. He ended up adding his tracks at his studio. Paul Stacey on bass was a suggestion I got from my friend David Jenkins. I then called up my friend Shawn Lee who helped me round things out. I did overdubs later including percussion by Mark Murdock (recorded in Japan) and strings from Kaitlin Wolfberg and Ruti Celli.
You’ve got vocal support for this song by Diane Birch, Shawn Lee, Jason and Daphna Rowe. How did this all-star ensemble come about?
I simply thought…who is in London? Well Shawn Lee is there and he happened to be producing Diane Birch when I called him. That was amazing because I am a huge Diane Birch fan and was delighted that she made it over. I also thought of Jason Rowe who brought his incredible wife Daphna with him. I am a huge fan of Jason since he was known as Jai back in the 90s. There was incredible talent in the room that day. I am the luckiest!!
“Zebra Crossing” features diverse songwriting collaborations – amongst other with Harry Nilsson’s son Zak, Ken Sharp and Cyndi Trissel. You also worked with lyricist Stephen Kalinich on that album, who co-wrote several Beach Boys classics including “All I Want to Do”, “Be Still” and “Little Bird”. How did the collaboration come about?
I wrote “Stay With The Friends” from my 2016 album “Voyeurs” with Stephen. I want to write with him again and again. He is a genius. I played a few tributes to Harry Nilsson with Zak and he has always been amazing to me. The last tribute Zak debuted a song he wrote for his father called “A Bigger Man”. I produced the song along with my friend Jason Berk. That will be coming out in 2019. I then asked Zak if he wanted to write lyrics to a song I had for the record that was lyric less and he did so good with “Somehow” that I also sent him a song that was gonna be on the record as an instrumental. And that is how “Crown Of Stars” came to be. Cyndi and I spend a lot of time together and her input into “We Were Raised With Headphones On” and “I’m Here” was essential to the songs being as good as they are. She is amazing and very talented in so many ways.
“Zebra Crossing” is the result of a GoFundMe project that you started to record at the legendary Abbey Road Studios. Would you ever have thought that there could be so much support for your dream?
I am so humbled by the support I get from my fans and friends. It keeps me going. THANK YOU!
When you hear the album, you get a strong sense of nostalgia. Songs like “We Were Raised With Headphones On” and “Sundays” conjure up memories of one’s childhood and youth. You are 38 years old now, is it time for looking back?
I have been looking back all my life. I look forward too and I plan on having a long career. I have a lot to say and I enjoy being an ambassador for the styles of music I make.
Fernando, another obsession of you is the classic 70s art and prog rock. Earlier this year you released with “Out to Sea” a critically acclaimed instrumental progressive-rock album. What fascinates you about this genre?
I love classic prog and Jazz Fusion. Instrumental music has always been an obsession for me. I would have never predicted that progressive rock music would make such a comeback. “Out to Sea” was my first album released through my distro deal with Cherry Red Records and that record did very very well. I am so happy that the same company has decided to release “Zebra Crossing”. Making music is so much more rewarding when every day I get email or texts about how much people like what I do. Again: THANK YOU!
A last question: Your album is characterized among other by your great guitar work. In today’s music the guitar plays an ever smaller role. Big guitar producers like Gibson and Fender are in crisis. Do you think guitar music still has a future? And if so, why?
Guitar never went away. It’s all about perception. If you love top 40 music or EDM you may think guitar is dead but in the world of music I love guitar never went away. YouTube is a big reason why it is still strong. There is a new generation of guitar heroes that are not necessarily “Shredders”. Young players like Cory Wong of Vulfpeck, Brian and Michael D’Addario of Lemon Twigs, Kurt Vile, Danielle Haim, Julien Baker, Cristina Vane and St. Vincent are gonna keep the guitar going for ever.
Photo: Fernando Perdomo
This interview was first published on December 5, 2018.