The music of Alma Desnuda can most succinctly be described as "California acoustic soul," but what the laidback San Francisco-based band really aims to play are songs that make you feel good--and maybe even do good. UC Irvine alum Paul Suhr is a founder of the cajón-tapping, bass-plucking, message-bearing quartet, which performed on the John Lennon Bus stage at NAMM in Anaheim last month, and recently released its sophomore album, Riders.OC Weekly: Where does the name Alma Desnuda come from?
Paul Suhr: It's Spanish for "naked soul." Joe (Glasser), Chris (Bryden) and I met while studying abroad in Cordoba, Spain. We started a street publication called "Alma Desnuda," where we would write poems and stories and translate them into Spanish. When we all later moved to San Francisco, we started jamming together on rooftops. One day, we decided to do an open mic night, and they asked us what our band name was. We just looked at each other and said "Alma Desnuda," and the name kind of stuck. Alma Desnuda is a reminder of how we should live our lives. It's about authenticity and living life to the fullest.
What's the story behind your latest album, Riders?
The title song of our first album, Middleway, is essentially based on the idea that there's this pull from society. It wants you to be productive in a certain way. But there's also another way of living and that's following your passion, what your soul is drawing you toward. The "middleway" is your own path between the two. Riders is about what happens when you take the middleway, the struggles, the triumphs, all that. When we wrote Middleway, we had other jobs. I was the director of an English-language school, Tony was a teacher, Joe was in the corporate field, Chris was working at a nonprofit for people with emotional disabilities. Now, this is what we do. We're the riders.
Last year, you were nominated for the title of "Most Socially Conscious Rockstar" by the Oakland Indie Awards. What does that even mean?
Alma Desnuda is more than just music--it's a message. We live consciously and do everything with intention as responsible human beings. We've partnered with numerous nonprofits.We've played for people in hospice care, disadvantaged youth, the incarcerated. We eat organic. Our tour bus, Patricia, is a 40-foot school bus that's painted baby blue and runs and biodiesel. We're not the typical rockstars you would imagine.
You also were part of the Rock Our World project. Your anthem, "Life We Got," was performed and recorded by children in classrooms around the world, resulting in a truly awesome music video. What was that experience like?
Kids are always surprising, but I was blown away by their ability to just get it. Our lyrics are not shallow; they definitely have a deeper meaning. The kids would ask, "What does that mean?" I really enjoyed seeing how music and technology and education all came together for this project.
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Tell me about one of your newer songs.
We just recently wrote a song called "Estelle." We don't have many quote-unquote love songs, but this is a beautiful song from the perspective of an old man who is singing to his wife and reflecting on the different factors that allowed their relationship to last. One thing he knows is that true love is made when both partners are whole and complete in themselves.
What else should people know about Alma Desnuda?
We're not just a band. There's something bigger that we're creating here.
Alma Desnuda performs with Gregory Alan Isakov at the Coach House, 33157 Camino Capistrano, San Juan Capistrano, (949) 496-8930; www.thecoachhouse.com. March 25. 7 p.m. $12 in advance.