We spoke with Fernando Viciconte about beating addiction, the shock of becoming friends with his childhood heroes, mourning the loss of Elliott Smith, why vulnerability is key to great art and learning to live in the present.
I’m really not good at doing anything else, so I don’t think that I had choice but to follow the path of being a musician.
I’d like to begin with a question about your upbringing. Can you describe your earliest memories of growing up in Argentina? How did this translate to moving to Portland, OR? How do you relate to these two locations in your adulthood?
I was born in Buenos Aires, Argentina, in 1969. My parents and I immigrated to Los Angeles, California, in 1971. After a divorce and cocaine addiction, I fled to Portland, Oregon, in 1994. Portland and the folks that I met here helped me get clean and allowed to refocus my artistic direction and purpose.
From there, can you describe your initial flashpoint moment in which you knew this was what you wanted to do for the rest of your life? There’s this piece on Thurston Moore that I love, in which he tells his incredulous younger self that he would interact with all the musicians he loved in the future. So, have you gotten to interact with any of the heroes of your youth by pursuing a musical path?
I really can’t recall any specific flashpoint because I’ve been writing and singing songs for as long as I can remember. However, I’m really not good at doing anything else, so I don’t think that I had choice but to follow the path of being a musician. Yes, I have been lucky enough to meet many of my heroes over the course of my 30-year career. I was a big fan of R.E.M. growing up, but I never could have imagined that one day I would end up becoming friends with Peter Buck and Scott McCaughey and that they would offer to play on one of my records! A couple of years back, I got to play a festival that Peter Buck organized in Todos Santos, Mexico, and got the chance to perform in front of John Paul Jones. After the set, he came up and shook my hand. That was pretty fantastic.
I understand you’ve gotten to spend time with some of my favorites, including Patterson Hood and the late Elliott Smith. Can you tell me about some of the people you’ve met, drawn close to and/or lost in your career? Is there anyone who sticks with you, or whom you miss?
As for Patterson, I have recently become friends with him and his wife since they’ve moved to town and think that they are both wonderful human beings. I did not really know much of the Truckers or Patterson’s discography but I’ve been listening to it now over the past year and I think that it’s fantastic! Patterson’s lyrics are always so well-thought-out and poignant and he sings from the heart, so he’s definitely someone that highly respect. Dan Eccles and I were asked to open for the Jayhawks last summer and we had tons of laughs with them. We learned a lot about professionalism and what it takes to have a lasting creative career.
My outlook and perspective has changed dramatically. I don’t take things for granted and I appreciate my life, friends, family and opportunities much more.
I’d like to expound on the concept of time for a bit. What’s your interpretation of change and the passing of time? What aspects of your life have been altered or changed forever? Please be as specific as possible.
For years, I found it difficult to live in the moment and I rarely took the time to appreciate life. That perspective really changed for me in 2014. I suffered from a stomach condition — a hiatal hernia — which went undiagnosed for many years. It prevented me from touring from 1999 to 2014. In 2014, I had an operation that corrected this condition and it allowed me to return to touring for the first time in 15 years. Subconsciously, I think that I was a bit resentful of the fact that I was not able to perform as much as I would like, so I became pretty cynical and jaded. But since my surgery, my outlook and perspective has changed dramatically. I don’t take things for granted and I appreciate my life, friends, family and opportunities much more.
Are you a good sleeper or a poor one? What are your experiences of trying to get to sleep? Do you have vivid dreams?
I don’t have much trouble sleeping. I only have vivid dreams when I take NyQuil.
Has there ever been a situation where you feared for your life, or felt your perspective shift forever?
I have had a gun pointed at my head on a couple of occasions during the course of my life, so I definitely have feared for my life. As for a perspective shift? I think that my surgery and subsequent return to being a touring musician allowed me the biggest perspective shift. I am now able to go to many new places and meet new people from all over the world, so I’m constantly learning from these experiences.
If you don’t believe what’s coming out your mouth, no one else will. Honesty and allowing yourself to be vulnerable when the song calls for it is crucial to getting your message across.
Please describe your familial connections for us. How do you relate your parents, in childhood and in adulthood? Do you have any siblings, and if so, what is your relationship with them like?
I have great relationship with my folks and my sister. Like I mentioned, my parents and I immigrated to this country in 1971 and because I was the first to learn English in my family, by default, I became my parents’ assistant and translator at the ripe old age of five. My parents were not very strict with me and to this day, our dynamic is more of close friends than parent/child. My sister is eight years younger than I, but she has always been wise beyond her years. We are very close. She is a wonderful mother and one of the sweetest, most caring people that I know.
I just focus on writing and singing songs that I believe in because if you don’t believe what’s coming out your mouth, no one else will. Honesty and allowing yourself to be vulnerable when the song calls for it is crucial to getting your message across.
Finally, can you describe what you’ve done so far today? What you’ll do tomorrow? What about for the rest of your life — what are your larger goals in this existence?
Today I drank some strong coffee, took my wife to work and I’m about to go pick up some vinyl promo copies of my 1997 release Widows. Tomorrow, I’ll be rehearsing and editing demos for an upcoming record. As for the rest of my life, shit, who knows? I guess that I’ll try to live more in the moment and learn a little something new every day.
Curated by: Morgan Enos
Conducted by: Email
Published: December 25, 2017
Total questions: 9
Word count: 1248
Reading time: Five minutes
Direction: Pacific Northwest
Ripe old age: Five
addiction, Argentina, Buenos Aires, caffeine, cherish, coffee, cynical, devastation, divorce, Drive-By Truckers, dynamic, Elliott Smith, experience, honesty, jaded, John Moreland, John Paul Jones, loss, luck, memory, music, Oregon, outlook, Patterson Hood, perspective, Peter Buck, Portland, R.E.M., rehearsal, resentment, situation, Sonic Youth, surgery, The Jayhawks, Thurston Moore, translation, vulnerability
About the curator
Morgan Enos is a songwriter and journalist originally from California. His curatorial work for North of the Internet aims to strike a deeper place in his conversation subjects — the dreamy subtext to the linear everyday. Morgan also frequently writes power pop records as Other Houses about joy, outer space, frustration, chess and spiritual light. He resides in New York, where he continues to creatively fire on all cylinders.
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