Celebrated native son, lanky Alex Maryol, at 26, enjoys region-wide popularity as a rocker and blues man. With that and his foodie-family background, the soulful singer, by Santa Fe standards, has got every finger that's not plucking a guitar string plugged into our town's preeminent cultural sockets.
The self-effacing local success story, who draws crowds with his accomplished guitar riffs, songwriting skill, sincere smile, and long golden locks, actually thought I wanted to interview him about his family's lauded restaurants, which include Tia Sophia's, Tomasita's, Diego's, and at one time Route 66's Central Cafe, owned for decades by his Greek-immigrant grandmother. Currently pursuing a degree in Contemporary Music at the College of Santa Fe, ("Why go anywhere else?") while also enjoying notoriety as a local performer, Santa Fe-born-and-raised Maryol has made his soulful sound near legend in the City Different.
With regular gigs at the south side's Blue Corn Cafe-known as perhaps the best tipping gig in Santa Fe-as well as at Willee's Blues Club and numerous other venues around town, The Alex Maryol Band-with bassist Willy McGee and drummer John Curtis-has been in demand ever since its debut six years ago at the Cowgirl Hall of Fame. Maryol began with a ukelele at the age of three, moved on to the piano, which he hated, then got his first guitar at seven. That was also the year he began his album collection, with Stevie Ray Vaughn's "The Sky is Crying."
"My cousin George gave it [the album] to me."
"Where is cousin George now?"
"Oh, he lives right over there, actually."
With the élan of one deeply in his element, Maryol casually waves his hand toward the neighborhood surrounding The Downtown Subscription, where we chat over cups of tea, then squints through the French doors glass panes and points more specifically. "Right through there, actually." He seems to want me to follow his finger up the street, around the corner, and past familiar landmarks, willing a vision of cousin George's well-loved dwelling directly into my mind.
Known for an indefatigable, single-minded dedication to his craft, Maryol says playing music is no more nor less than a basic part of who he is: "The bulk of my career has been all writing my own stuff. Lately I've been trying to hone my writing skills as best as I can, because I realize...this is just what I do. It's not anything great. Its like: you write, my dad makes food, my brother makes food. Everyone's got their thing. It's just I write and I perform."
His easy breezy confidence in his own uncomplicated identity-a Santa Fean and a musician-might be a bit on the safe side for an artist whose musical style is traditionally about lost, out-of-your-element, self-destructive, low-down, blue moments of absolute self-loathing...but give him time for the grit. An uncertain future sure to be fraught with the innumerable pitfalls of trying to make it in the music business holds all the despair and angst one man really needs.
His soul-tinged blues-rock has opened doors for Maryol within Santa Fe and to some extent throughout Colorado's resort towns as well as Memphis and Salt Lake City, but the songwriter insists that the music he makes now isn't really his sound. Not yet. His current style, which has already won him extensive critical acclaim, is just a jumping off place for the third-year college student who counts among his influences Chuck Barry, Johnny Rivers, Fats Domino, Elvis, Mozart, and Jimmy Hendrix.
Recalls Maryol, "Chuck Barry made me want to play guitar. My dad used to play these artists [Barry, Rivers and Domino] on the radio driving me to kindergarten. I was like: I want to do that! I don't know what it is, but I want to do that! The style that I play now is...how do I describe it? If you think of a band like the Beatles or the Rolling Stones they all started off playing the blues, you know. And eventually, over time, they started developing their own sound, which-a lot of people say they're all just rock and roll-but...you could compare the Beatles and the Stones and U2 and Aerosmitth but really they all have their own unique sound and they all started off pretty much playing the blues."
"That's kind of what I'm trying to do. I started off playing the blues, just straight out blues, and now I'm at this point where I love the blues, I'm going to keep playing the blues, but I really am just wanting to make good music. That means that I'm pretty much incorporating everything that sounds good to me. I'm playing the blues, I'm using some Middle Eastern-sounding stuff. I'm taking a lot from the classical western tradition. We learn a lot of Mozart, Chopin, Beethoven and stuff in school and it's really wonderful music. Basically they've already done everything that we're doing now in modern music, so revisiting all that is really helping me to find my own sound. I'm just trying to find my own sound, and it's blues-based, but it's not limited to it. It's rock and roll."
Among his influences Maryol cites many local musicians. "Jono Manson! I think he's one of the best performers that I've ever run into. Mathew Andre. He's awesome. He's from Santa Fe. I don't know if he's overlooked but I feel like I should hear about him a lot more in the press. The Soul Deacons. They're really tight. Their vocal harmonies are really right on. They look like a band that has spent a lot of time working at their music. And Ramon Bermudez. I only saw him play once-they were seriously one of the best bands I've seen in a long time, musically, rhythmically, melodically, harmonically, emotionally-because there are so many technical things that can get me going, but there are so many emotional things, too."
The quintessential Santa Fean, Maryol is headed for a refreshing cross-country ski after our interview ("I have to remind myself to take breaks."), and then later probably out for dinner and dessert ("I eat out way too much!") with his girlfriend, who Maryol thinks would like it if I mention that she eats dessert for breakfast. (Would that be an apple pie breakfast or a chocolate mousse with blackberry cordial breakfast?) Maryol rolls his eyes up ecstatically at the mention of food. He can talk about local restaurants with as much zeal as he does music, recommending Trattoria Nostrani and La Boca right away. Though deeply earnest on stage, the songster is genuinely affable in person; his cheerful, even-tempered mien supporting a rant about music and food and dessert and his most recent musical influences (John Mayer, Sheryl Crow, Ian Moore) that could go on indefinitely. I get the sense I'm interviewing a man nearly at the top of his seminal phase as a local favorite, which is probably a very pleasant place to be. But what next?
Jono Manson, one of Maryol's favorite local musicians whose experience includes extensive European tours, volunteered a few words for this article on behalf of his friend and contemporary, to wit: "His greatest strengths are his guitar playing and his charisma. Definitely. But being a local hero can be a double-edged sword. To his credit he has built a strong base for himself in his home town, but Santa Fe in a lot of ways is not the real world. Until you go out and get your ass kicked in the real world you don't really know how good you are. He seems to recognize that that is the case and that resting on your laurels as hometown hero is not enough, and at some point ceases to be creatively gratifying, even if you're making money. To find out what you're up against you have to get out of the comfort zone."
In a year he will graduate from school and Maryol, echoing Manson's own sentiments, states that he is eager to go abroad after that. "Right now I want to finish school. I want to write a lot. I'm working on a new album. I'm playing in New York next week. I'm playing once a month at one club, once a month at another club. Trying not to overplay one place. I'm also working hard on keeping my web site [alexmaryol.com], and especially my MySpace page, up to date. [myspace.com/AlexMaryol]. So my goal right now is to finish school and to work on my musicianship. I want to travel. I want to start touring, especially in Europe and Japan, but probably after I finish school. I really want to travel!"
With two albums so far- "They Call Me Lefty," and "Make Everything Alright"-which are currently available at Tia Sophia's restaurant and Borders downtown bookstore, Maryol will soon be ready to jump with both feet into the musical world outside of Santa Fe, where he will be, for the first time, a newcomer and an unknown, and facing a musical career that could go from its zenith as a Santa Fe all-star to its nadir as a striver in the greater musical scene at large. But Maryol is excited and unfazed by the impending transition. More than anything, he reasserts to me that music is not so much what he does for money, for fame, for prestige, as it is an essential part of who he is, and if the benefits keep coming, so much the better, and if they don't, well-"I'm a musician." Says Maryol, "If I make money, cool. If not, I'll work at Whole Foods and be a musician on the side. But I am a musician and I work as hard as I can to be the best I can be. It's not about being in it for the money."