Alé poses for a Día de Los Muertos project. Photo by Wenceslao Quiroz.
by Abel M. Salas
Alé pulls up in a small, well-worn, red pickup truck, a familiar green-and-white logo visible on the white paper go-cup clutched in his hand. “I’m so sorry. I should have asked you if you wanted something,” he says gesturing with the coffee he’s picked up blocks around the corner on Soto and Olympic.
“You’ve never been here before? You mean I’ve never invited you over to see my studio?” he asks. “This is it. This is where all the magic happens,” says the Boyle Heights born-and-raised musician, songwriter, sound engineer and producer, leading the way up to the third floor of the four-story Downtown Rehearsal Studio.
Built in 1923, the gray building occupies a space at 2155 E. 7th St. Directly to the rear of the structure, a parking lot reaches to the eastern bank of the concrete channel which, long ago, replaced the Los Angeles River. According to Alé, the structure once housed a munitions factory. By 1958, the building had been retrofitted and housed the Los Angeles Furniture Mart.
Alé has been renting a small space inside since 2007. “I sold my car, a Toyota Forerunner, for $3700,” says the artist who prefers the short stage name he adopted several years ago during what he describes as a slow spiritual epiphany. “I decided it was time to do something about my passion,” he continues. “With that money, I bought sound equipment, my first MacBook and rented this space.”
A veteran of the East Side backyard punk scene since high school, Alé led a band for several years until he realized no one else in the group took the project as seriously as he did. Nearly a decade after graduating from Roosevelt High, he arrived at his own do-or-die moment. In the midst of a bittersweet band-break up and the end of a romantic relationship, he decided to take a leap of faith.
“I was at a crossroads. So I said [to myself] ‘I’m going to continue living like this. Stuck. Or I’m going to say fuck it all and get in a room and learn what I gotta learn, be what I gotta be.’ I had no idea what I was doing. I was used to recording on a phone or a four-track,” he recalls.
He was fortunate, Alé says, to meet Mike Warfield, a former aerospace engineer who’d turned his focus to sound engineering and set up shop in a studio just down the hall from the room where Alé was determined to begin making his mark on L.A.’s cultural and musical landscape.
“I had already started developing songs, acoustically,” Alé recounts. Warfield, he says, was a “recording genius” who taught him what it would have taken two semesters to learn at a college or university. “He would talk theory for hours. So, I struck a deal with him.”
Alé’s arrangement with his adopted mentor, whereby he supplied a sixer of cold ones once or twice a week in exchange for exclusive permission to watch Warfield work, take notes and learn the trade from a master, paid off in spades. “Thanks to him, I was able to do what I do here. He fast-forwarded me into the digital age,” Alé says.
The cement-walled studio with high ceilings is padded to absorb sound on one side, and a midnight blue fabric covers a wall he says had still been decorated by a large, tacky brown throw rug bearing the image of a lion when he moved in. Finished in a matte-black, the other walls comprise a large box filled with speakers, cables, instruments, Alé’s electric and acoustic guitar, an electric piano keyboard, a bank of effects pedals, a desk with the computer loaded with mixing and editing software and a hinged, free-standing mic stand with sound buffer scrim arranged in a semi-octagon behind it.
A small refrigerator, a futon bed and a clothes rack on wheels are testament to the long hours and late nights, Alé has invested in his dream since selling his SUV. The wall on the hallway side of the room, where futon and where spare togs on wire hangars bears paintings of musicians Alé admires, giving the studio an art student dorm room touch that reflects his humble roots and unpretentious spirit.
In 2010, recently sober after 15 years as a self-described “raging alcoholic,” Alé released a seven-song EP titled “Acoustic Noise.” Two years into sobriety, he had an unexpected and life-changing “mystical, almost surreal experience.” Uncomfortable divulging too many details, Alé says he felt a kind of peace and tranquility he’d never known before as a result. He was more resolved, he continues, to break out of the musical conventions that had kept him hovering around a single-minded dedicated to harder strains of garage and punk rock.
“After that, I started performing as a solo artist in English and Spanish. I didn’t want to put limits on what I did. As a producer, I wanted to become as versatile as possible,” Alé confides. In 2014, he released Irregular Heartbeat, a full length album featuring 11 original tracks. A video for his up-beat playful take on mysterious, seductive women titled “Niña Bruja,” directed by Xavier Ybarra, was also released and uploaded online the same year.
“I owe it all to my mother, Margarita González Gómez. She’s had my back the whole time,” Alé says emphatically.
“If it wasn’t for her, I don’t know what I would have done. I’d probably be dead or on the streets.” His voice, suddenly filled with emotion, grows somber as he acknowledges how much her belief in him and her hard work as a single parent have made his pursuit of music possible.
An energetic performer, Alé is busier than he has ever been, appearing at venues from Hollywood to East LA. Always eager to support non-profit service or advocacy organization, he often plays fundraisers and cultural events on a pro bono basis. He is visible excited about the recent partnership with Soul Rebel Radio co-founder and event producer Miguel Paredes, who has agreed to act as his manager. Word of Ale’s highly charged live performances, delivered with equal intensity no matter how many people happen to be in the audience, has begun to reach wider circles.
The growing buzz around his dedication to straight-ahead, full-on showmanship regardless of how large or small the crowd happens to be, has resulted in more frequent live appearances and precipitated a challenge most musicians would welcome… a shortage of available time to record and produce. His long-awaited 2nd full-length recording remains a work-in-progress.
“I was hoping to have it finished by the end of this year, but now it’s looking more like January of 2017,” he says. The album, titled Dimensions, is even more of a digression from the guitar-heavy metal and punk styles that represented the bulk of his early repertoire. According to Alé, the album will feature a number of prominent LA poets and musicians as guest collaborators. “It’s supposed to be a surprise. But once you hear it, you’ll recognize who they are.”
With his faith in a “higher power” restored by the vision that came to him in a dream filled with light and promise—that transcendent moment which has occurred in 2012—he launched his website under the “Operating on Dreamtime” banner. The slogan, Alé notes, was inspired by his encounter with what he regards as a divine presence, a guardian spirit that reminded him of all the kindness, sacrifice and love his mother offered unconditionally every day. Located at www.oodreamtime.com, his virtual home includes press clips and links to his songs on SoundCloud as well as a number of online videos created before the collaboration with Ybarra.
“Here in L.A., it’s easy to be seduced by the desire for rock-and-roll stardom and all the crazy things that come with it,” Alé observes. None of those superficial trappings—money, fame, all-night parties and indiscriminate sex, he suggests, can truly sustain an artist trying to connect with audiences on deeper emotional level. The crash-and-burn, balls-to-the-walls lifestyle can take a serious toll, one that can sometimes trigger deep depression.
“Before I had that experience, I got to the point where I was ready to give up music and go find a regular job doing anything just to pay the rent and eat,” Alé confesses. Brimming with newfound excitement, Alé is not slowing down. Between gigging and mixing new tracks, he continues to write new music. His cover of the Richie Valens hit
“We Belong Together” has reached the maximum number of downloads on SoundCloud and has earned upwards of 45,000 listens.
“I believe I was put here to share my music,” Alé confides. “And I don’t want to sound like some kind of Christian fanatic or anything, but I do have to thank God for giving me this opportunity.”