Songs materialize out of the ether like dreams do. You never know where they came from or where they might be headed. Instead, the moment matters most.
Coastal Clouds roll in on an ethereal soundtrack of sun-kissed melodies and dusty guitars that would comfortably fit in at a late-night Laurel Canyon jam session circa 1966—or at a modern-day Venice Beach bonfire. The musical alter ego of Puerto Rico-born and Santa Monica-based singer, songwriter, and multi-instrumentalist Roberto Rodriguez echoes beyond eras on the 2019 full-length debut, Coastal Clouds [MAKE Records].
“My main goal in music is to leave behind artifacts and evidence of simply being here and what I was doing at the time,” he states. “It’s really just about capturing a feeling.”
Roberto initially felt a calling to create music as a child. Growing up in Puerto Rico the oldest of four kids, he spoke Spanish first and went from singing classics in the language such as “Caballo de Palo,” “ De Colores,” “Vamos A La Playa (Calienta el Sol),” to discovering formative influences such as Jose Feliciano. At home, his grandfather played maracas as he jammed along to folk songs passed down from generation to generation. This enduring familial connection to music inspires him to this day, imparting a Latin soul upon his sonic DNA and adding an undercurrent to everything to follow.
By his eleventh birthday, the family moved stateside. Settling in Orlando, he practiced English with his cousins and dove further into music. Inspired by Bob Dylan, The Beatles, Neil Young, The Velvet Underground, and Elliott Smith, he cut his teeth in high school bands and spent countless hours writing and recording music. He also would subconsciously and naturally draw on early influences from back home (like Jose Feliciano) and other latin music such as Mexican “rancheras” his mother would sing or Argentine Elvis / heartthrob, Sandro, his mother would play on the long drives to elementary school, and later discoveries such as Silvio Rodriguez , a Cuban singer whose political ideology clashed heavily with his exiled Cuban grandparents.
Upon graduating from Florida State University, he headed “to the West Coast on a whim.”
After a year of balancing an audio mixing internship and restaurant job, Roberto’s lease ran out. So, he made the decision to live out of his car for a few months as he assisted at a friend’s westside recording studio. During the day, he skated by the beach and surfed as much as possible. “Really fringing it,” he utilized the Venice public showers or cleaned up in the studio sink. Some nights, he snuck into the studio and “crashed on the couch” in between recording early demos of his own and immersing himself in the city’s creative community at speakeasy shows in the wee hours.
“It was an interesting time,” he recalls. “It wasn’t like what people would think. I had a lot of time to think and just sort of take everything in.”
At the same time, he started penning songs under Coastal Clouds. Those experiences “fringing it” in the car eventually coursed through the songs.
After a chance encounter in the studio, GRAMMY® Award-nominated producer and songwriter Billy Mohler [AWOLNATION, Macy Gray, Dolly Parton] signed Coastal Clouds to his newly launched MAKE Records in 2017. The Nothing To Hide EP introduced a singular style punctuated by lithe 12-string guitar and “retrospective” melodies. With Mohler behind the board and on bass, Roberto recorded the full-length Coastal Clouds at sessions in Long Beach throughout 2018.
The first single “Comes From A Time” hinges on a steady beat and breezy acoustic guitar as the frontman’s calming delivery takes hold. He delicately croons evocative lines a la, “Sent from above, and I still can’t take it.”
“As humans, we’re given all of these things,” he explains. “We could have it all, but we still have this innate human quality where we either don’t appreciate everything or still need more. It’s this feeling of unsatisfaction. We compare ourselves to others over and over again. The heart and mind battle. The song describes the struggle.”
Elsewhere, the opener “Nothing To Hide” resounds with wistful whimsy over organic instrumentation. At the same time, he penned “Nothing To Hide” while living in the car. It slyly nods to his gig at the studio “buying coffee [he] couldn’t afford on Abbot Kinney for musicians recording as I was living out of my car which was ironically parked by one of the most expensive streets in California” as checked in the lyric, “You might have seen me on an empty street when my cup was dry.”
Mellow and carefree, “Bottle of Sunshine” leans into the style of psych folk / rock. Halfway through the album “Wanna Come Down” hits with a burst of high energy and shoegazy tones. The penultimate track “Waiting For You” pairs stark strumming with a love letter to his wife as he croons, “I’ve been waiting for you.” Meanwhile, the finale “All Of My Days” carries a deeper significance as Roberto became a father following its recording.
“It could’ve been written about a lover or a girlfriend, but when the baby came, it felt like that experience,” he smiles. “The songs all chronicle the general human story.”
In the end, Coastal Clouds deliver an identifiable message that endures no matter the moment.
“In many ways, this urges people not to put a timeline on their lives or worry where they’re ‘supposed to be’,” he leaves off. “It comes down to appreciating what you have in the moment and just living.”