When it comes to adhering to the traditions that make up the innermost, most intrinsic musical values of your homeland, few on the circuit right now do it as well as Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses.
Though the name may strike a familiar chord right away because of 20th century hit-maker Linda Ronstadt—and, indeed, she remains a national treasure—the Ronstadt family has had musical roots extended in the American west since well before her career had taken flight in 1966 with the Stone Poneys. 126 years earlier, a great-great-grandfather to her and her brother, Generations frontman Michael “Papa Mike” J. Ronstadt, arrived in what is now Tucson, AZ for the first time. Since then, the Ronstadt family has made an influential mark on the Old Pueblo and folk music at large.
Ronstadt Generations are Papa Mike, his two sons, Michael G. and Peter “Petie” Dalton Ronstadt, and y Los Tucsonenses are their incredible band comprised of Alex Flores, Sam Eagon, and Aaron Emery. Together, they form another national music staple representative of over 100 years of musical history spanning both sides of the border, all while offering their stamping their own brand of modern innovation onto their tunes. What listeners are left with is a collective outlet capable that reaches into the past to make for an intuitive musical present – the very encapsulation of a modern-day metamorphosis and what it looks like when worn by the Ronstadt family well.
Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses have just recently released their latest album, In the Land of the Setting Sun – just one of four new releases by Ronstadt Recording Co. Petie Ronstadt sat down with For Folk’s Sake for a chat about the albums and their development processes.
Coming hot off the heels of your recent release shows in Tucson and Bisbee, how would you say each of them went?
For me personally, the weekend was a lot of work and I couldn’t really gauge how everything went. But, as I start to drive out of the ‘forest’, I can turn back and see it as a whole, and it looks pretty good. I no longer feel like I’m lost amongst the trees. I was happy to get in front of some people and share what we’ve been working on, and in that regard I’m thrilled with how it all went.
In the Land of the Setting Sun is your third mainline full-length, studio-recorded album. How would you say the band has evolved since, say, recording Lulo back in 2010?
Wow, the band has grown and evolved a tremendous amount. We’ve grown ‘Los Tucsonenses’, found our sound, and developed that sound into something unique that hearkens back to the past while looking to the future on the horizon.
With Lulo we were just the three Ronstadts (Papa Mike, Michael G, and Petie) and were bringing some people in to play some things here and there. With Prelude and Epilogue, we took a snap shot of what we were developing at our weekly Chicago Bar gig, our fun covers along with some originals and traditional songs. With In the Land of the Setting Sun, it feels like we’ve created something that presents the band as it is: a living, breathing entity that converses amongst itself and responds to stimulus. I’m proud to be a part of a group of musicians who are all thoughtful and meaningful with what they play, and am excited that we were able to capture that in a record.
Could you guide us through a brief retrospective on the development of In the Land of the Setting Sun? What went into the recording and song selection processes?
In May of 2015, I was in a car with my wife driving to New Mexico to see my sister-in-law graduate from UNM. I was in the passenger seat on my phone writing down all the songs that we needed to record and noticed the magnitude of original and traditional tunes that were on that list. The line from my dad’s song ‘Coyote’, “In the land of the setting sun”, became my theme and I started collecting songs that fit the concept and it all kind of fell together. I also started grouping songs under the concept “We’ll meet again, someplace sweet” [lyric from Petie’s original song, “Bowl of Dust”], which will hopefully materialize as a follow-up soon.
When our east coast summer tour wrapped up around August or September of 2015, we jumped into LandMark Sound Recorders (a studio run by Sam Eagon and myself) and did the initial tracking of drums and bass. From there we shifted to Jim Brady Recording Studio’s and started laying down the vocals, guitars, sax, and other instrumental ear candy. Tracks were emailed to my brother, Michael G., and he laid down cello and vocals in Cincinnati and sent them back. Though it took longer to materialize then I originally anticipated, it all came together and I’m thrilled with the end product.
Petie, you have also released (to my knowledge) your debut solo album recently – a series of live recordings straight from the living room. Could you tell us a bit about the inception of The Living Room Series, Vol. I & II?
The Living Room Series was a series of StageIt.com concerts that I performed from my living room over the span of a few months. After doing the second one, I took the list of songs that I played on the first two and thought it would be fun to go in the studio and record the songs live as they were performed on the StageIt broadcast.
In February of 2015, I went into Jim Brady Recording Studios with my guitar, banjo, and stompbox. We set up a few microphones and over the course of a few hours laid down 14 songs, raw and imperfect. We came back the next day and mixed the songs down and I had something that I envisioned just releasing on iTunes. As time passed and I never figured out what the cover art would be, it faded into the fog and I figured they would never be released.
To celebrate my 30th birthday (in September), my wife organized a trip with friends to Parker Canyon Lake and amongst the group of friends was a long-time family friend, Mary Rosas. She gave me a painting that she painted for my birthday and during the drive home I stared at that painting thinking it would make a great album cover, if only I had a solo CD to put out. So in a sense, that painting pushed me to release the collection of songs. I hope to someday soon put out a true produced solo record, which may or may not include some of the same tunes.
How about the development of Michael G.’s latest, or Kate Becker’s? What about Kate and her music encouraged you to have a hand in the release of Pirate Radio? What has been like working alongside her?
Michael G. does a lot of ‘session work’ for a variety of artists (everyone needs cello). Most of this session work is people sending Michael tracks for him to add cello to. Sometimes he adds one cello part, but often he creates these lush cello soundscapes that stand on their own as interesting things to listen to. Most of Shaken Earth is a collection of those cello soundscapes. Other pieces on ‘Shaken Earth’ were pieces developed by Michael G. for soundtracks and other purposes.
Ronstadt Records really had little to do with the recording of Pirate Radio, though we welcome the album into our RRC family so we can help with the selling of the CD. Kate came to me to record a few tracks (drums and bass) for a record they were self-producing but didn’t have a space big enough to record the drum tracks. As they worked on the record it stalled in the process, and after seeing RGYLT’s headlining performance at the Folk Festival last year, Kate approached me about coming on as a co-producer.
As with any record, it was a rollercoaster process. There were periods of time where very little was happening, and then periods of time where it seemed as if I was working in the studio 80-90 hours a week as the release date fast approached. I keep saying that I won’t work on records where the release date is announced before the record is finished, but somehow keep doing it (recently Serenity Fisher and The Cardboard Hearts: Carousel of Love, Andy Hersey: Tell Me All About It, Kate Becker: Pirate Radio, and RGYLT: ITLOTSS). Apparently I’m a glutton for punishment.
What’s up next for Ronstadt Generations? Anything upcoming (live shows, etc.) that you would like us to know about?
Up next for us? I guess just keep marching along in the fashion that we have, sharing our music and art with anyone who will listen whether that be here at home, or out around our country and other countries. We plan to keep digging into the past and let what we find influence what we do in the future, and we plan to start working on another record sometime soon.
No one knows what the future might bring and how things might change. This band lives in the ‘now’ and I encourage all of you to live in the ‘now’. Go experience life and seek out the good things. Don’t wait to go see your favorite band the next time they come around because they may not come back around, don’t wait to tell your friends and family that you appreciate them and love them, because you don’t know if you’ll have another chance. All you know is you have this chance. It may be a cheesy sentiment, but as someone who analyzes the past and theorizes on the future, I encourage everyone to be mindful of the present.
Words by: Jonathan Frahm
Top photo courtesy of Ronstadt Generations y Los Tucsonenses
Concert photos by: Jonathan Frahm