Last month OnTheAttack Records released of Amor En Tierra Ajena (Love In A Foreign Land), the spoken word debut by Carlos Salazar (of Before There Was Rosalyn and Kings & Daughters fame). Gripping, intense and personal tales from a man who rose up from a broken home in Honduras to fight some of his life’s greatest challenges. In Amor En Tierra Ajena, Salazar shares his heart’s most euphoric moments, while it simultaneously prepares for the inevitable pain and grief of loss.
Check out the following interview we did with Carlos as he shares his poetic journey of courage, honesty, rage, and the ongoing endeavor of trying to find your place in this world.
“To be honest, I’ve never been much of a musician, but I’ve been calling myself a writer for as long as I can remember,” Carlos Salazar said. He didn’t take a liking to music until the summer between his 7th and 8th grade years. High school changed everything for him, when he joined a couple of bands.
“That was really more about great friends, hanging out together and talking about music more than actually writing it. Although we did eventually play some shows around town and had fun doing it. My passion for music as a movement came to a sort of fruition in the winter of 2004.
“For some time up to that point one of my best friends (Matt McLendon) began sharing music with me that would eventually change the course of my life. Bands like Norma Jean (whom I actually disliked the very first time I heard them), As I Lay Dying (awkward to think of now), Underoath and then later The Chariot… These were bands encompassed by such aggressive sounds but with such uplifting and positive messages.
“My favorite band at the time was a band called Passerby. They would later change their name to Flyleaf. They actually had the same message as these bands I was being shown and my taste in music began to shift towards the heavier side. Though to this day, I still love Flyleaf.
“Then in December of 2004, a friend from college invited me to attend a Wednesday night church service with her. I did. Afterwards, she mentioned that some of her friends from that church were playing a show that same night at a venue nearby. She invited me and I went to that, too. That night changed my life. Her friends were in a local Houston band called the Pilots, and the music was indie and soft, but at the end of their set, the vocalist gave this simple, yet passionate speech about Jesus Christ. And … as I sat there, on a stool in that bar, I think that maybe for the very first time in my life, I felt a calling tugging at the corners of my heart. I went home that night and prayed one of the most honest prayers I ever uttered in my life, seeking a purpose for that calling in my heart. I told God that I wanted that – that sort of mission – that sort of journey – to be in a band like that. I told Him I would take no for an answer if He had something else planned for me, but that I didn’t want to miss out on this calling simply because I lacked the courage to ask Him to bless it. A few days later, I received a call about a post online that I’d responded to – a few guys who were sort of a band looking for a vocalist. The call lasted thirty minutes or so. I went to meet them days later, tried out for them and when they asked if I had any name suggestions, I replied, ‘Before There Was Rosalyn.'”
What happened to Before There Was Rosalyn? How did it feel to end a band that had something going on?
Rosalyn was one of the greatest adventures of my life on a personal and spiritual level. Being in that band changed the course of my life and brought people into it that are still an important part of it. We toured on our own without any label help for about four years. Before Victory Records came along, we’d inked a deal with another indie label of Tennessee called Holdfast Records, and that helped us with a bit of more exposure and distribution, but I was still booking most of our tour dates with help from Trent, our guitarist and a bit from our manager. Even after we signed with Victory in 2009, I still did most of the booking myself. So we always felt like we were a DIY band, to be honest.
I think some of the guys had been dealing with life changing questions in their hearts about their own personal futures for a while, even with our debut record coming out. It was on that touring cycle that a couple of band members made the decision to part ways with the band. For me, I still felt that tug at my heart, that this was where I was meant to be. I’m not good with endings. Even back then, I knew, and I told God that when it was time for me to move on from Rosalyn, that He would have to take her from me, because I might never otherwise know that it was time to let go. and that time eventually came. Through the life of the band, Trent Gibson and I really cemented a friendship that allows me to call him my best friend to this day. When he told he felt the need to part ways with the band to go back and finish school, I felt that sort of peace in your heart that people talk about sometimes. I knew that it was time to burn it down and walk away.
What were the highlights of your musical career?
I think for me it was being able to share the stage with bands that heavily influenced me years earlier. Bands like Norma Jean, The Chariot, As Cities Burn and Maylene & The Sons Of Disaster, to name a few. Those experiences are really what stick with me. And also the ability to have built friendships with folks I never would have otherwise met. For me, two special memories stand out.
One in October of 2008: we were booked at a literal truck stop – like a truck stop off a highway in Wesson, Mississippi. Exit 51. We were booked there with The Chariot. That show was insane. So many people showed up. If you’ve ever seen a The Chariot show, you can imagine how insane it was – this outdoor pavilion in the middle of nowhere turned out to be one of the best shows we ever played. For me it was also more than that. Before the show started, Josh Scogin approached me. He’d known who I was for a couple of years at this point from me being a fan and playing together. He asked me if I knew a certain part in one of their songs, called “Yanni Depp.”
“The drowning in ankle deep water part,” he said. In my head I was like, “duh! Yeah I know that part!” But I just responded “yeah.” He then asked me if I would sing it with him when they took the stage. Of course I said yes and I did it. That moment has never quite left me. He was such an influence on me, and to this day we still speak and hang out a bit when he plays in town with 68, but that moment was just something I’ll never forget.
The other was Cornerstone 2010. It was the second night of the festival, only generators stages were being utilized. The Texas stage had booked us for a 10 o’clock slot that night. I remember walking into the tent to watch the band before us, Mouth Of The South. I remember watching their set and the energy was incredible. I remember thinking that I hoped people would stay and watch us. Before they finished, I stepped out of the tent to help our guys load the gear in. When it came to our turn to play, I looked out onto a massive sea of people. There didn’t seem to be an empty space underneath the tent. There were even people standing just outside of it trying to be a part of the show. That night was a different type of show. That night was beautiful. The world felt like it was on the tip of our fingers. I felt moved. It was a spiritually fulfilling night, and it almost brought me to tears.
How did traveling the world change your perspective?
I actually wasn’t born in the United States. My native land is Tegucigalpa, Honduras, and although I came here when I was six, I grew up with many memories from my homeland, so I think I always had a bit of a different perspective about a world outside the borders of the United States. I’ve seen poverty first hand in my home country, and others, like Mexico, Belize, Thailand and The Dominican Republic where I actually have extended family. I’ve been all over the world, and the thing that comes home with you is the disbelief and sadness at how so much of the world really lives. I’ve also been to much richer countries in Europe and it’s really been interesting to see how different cultures approach the treatment of those who are less fortunate than we. It’s such a contrast to what is sometimes experienced here at home. I think that traveling makes you aware of the humanity of every stranger regardless of their nationality. It strips away at nationalist ideals and serves to remind you that we are all very much more alike than we are different, and we are all searching for a place to belong.
How did you maintain a focus on Jesus and people as you pursued a professional career in music? What kept you grounded?
Since the very beginning of Rosalyn, I felt a certain conviction about the kind of band that it needed to be, and it centered around the message of grace and forgiveness that is Jesus. I always tried to stay true to that. I never took myself too seriously as a musician (and I still don’t), so nothing was more important to me than our interaction with the people placed in our path. I wanted to make sure that we made people feel welcome, appreciated and that they could talk to us about whatever they wanted. The guys and I always prayed together and we were continuously blessed by the kindness of strangers on the road. We didn’t have a strict routine for worship or fellowship. We just tried to be honest about things in our hearts and work through our shortcomings as people.
Tell us about Kings & Daughters
That’s a project that really was born out of my friendship with Trent. We were in Rosalyn for so long together that we are really comfortable working together. I’ve never really stopped writing, whether I’ve been in a band or not. I’m not particularly gifted in music, but words tend to haunt me every second of the day, begging me to write them down, so I did, and Trent wrote the riffs. We decided to use Kings & Daughters as an outlet for some ideas we’d never been able to try before.
Why this spoken word album? What led to that initial idea? What were first attempts like? How did the project evolve?
I’ve been writing some version of poetry for as long as I can remember. Every piece of lyric I ever wrote was just a poem begging to be a song, so the transition was organic. I’d even recorded a spoken word track on an early Rosalyn EP, so the thought was one that had always been with me – the idea of putting myself out there in that medium. I’d approached my good friend and producer, Aaron Isbell, who had tracked the last unofficial Rosalyn demos and the Kings & Daughters EP, about doing something like this together. He was always receptive to the idea of us tracking something like this but the timing hadn’t quite worked out. It really came to fruition when David from On The Attack records approached me about a particular poem idea that I’d shared online. He asked me if I would consider doing a record like this and I let him know it was something I’d been looking to do. I’d already performed most of these poems live, some at shows and others at a Houston based gathering of poets called Write About Now, that meets weekly on Wednesday nights at one of my favorite establishments, called Avant Garden. David told me he would be interested in releasing the record and I went to work with Aaron on making the tracks come to life. It was a great experience. Cathartic and introspective to say the least. Some of these poems I’d written years ago, at different crossroads and chapters of my life, and to give them new life was a very personal and self reflective experience. These poems are the embodiment of some of my life’s toughest moments. I tried to make sure that I was honest in each one, and sitting back and being able to listen to each track and know exactly where I was in the moments depicted and the moments in which they were written, it’s kind of a priceless thing. It’s all a journal of sorts. I think like all art that we try to create.
What message(s) has God put on your heart?
That’s a really great question. I think the honest answer is right now I find myself wandering through the desert, in search of the promised land. I believe that God is faithful to His word and that one of His traits is that He is a river of grace and mercy. I find myself in search of those waters. There have been times in my life where I was so certain of my purpose, but these days I’m not so sure. I find myself praying for discernment these days, but the one constant that I always feel in my heart is our duty to try and lessen someone’s burden anytime we can. I’ve been blessed so much and I don’t forget that to whom much is given, much will be required of.
Are you still in Houston? Is there good fellowship there?
i still live in Houston, yes. I actually haven’t been part of a church here in a few years. I don’t want to give you the cliche answer about organized religion because I actually do think it’s important to have fellowship with other believers, but I think that too many of the churches I have attended in the past do more harm spiritually than good. I’ve been to lots of churches here throughout the years, including that mega church that everyone knows about when you mention Houston.
The only time I really ever felt at home in that setting was when a church that called itself Anchor was still open. They used to meet in a building that was actually a venue and ran by my good friend, Brian Yarbrough. It was a great place. He actually baptized my best friend there, too. I got to be there for that. Brian was and is the kind of guy that sort of oozes Jesus, if that makes sense. You can see his love for the gospel and for the people he ministered to. He felt led to disband the congregation and attend another church, and that was sort of it for me. I guess I might be waiting for him again.
Maybe I’m waiting for my pastor friend, Carson Jones, who is heavily involved with his own church on the south of Houston to get his own flock, if you will. He’s just another great guy who has Jesus all over his heart, and that’s the kind of leader that I would need, to be able to believe in “going to church” again. I’ve always held it in my heart that it’s more important to be the church when God needs you to be His hands than to put too much stock in where you’re going every Sunday. A lot of that these days seems more geared to whom you should vote for and why being a Christian who votes a certain way should be justified and I want no part of that. I don’t agree that Jesus would swear allegiance to any empire, no matter how “patriotic” any one particular pastor might think himself.
What are your plans to promote this album?
This is a passion project for me, and I hope that if anyone’s ever listened to the bands I’ve been in, that maybe they’ll give this a chance. This is so much more mine than anything else I’ve ever done. I would love more opportunities to perform these tracks and to further my involvement in the spoken word/poetry community but at the end of the day. This is something I’m happy to have created and put forth in the world. I don’t know if I’ll ever have children, but if one day I do, this record is a capsule in time that I would love to share with them, so I think that even if no one really listens to this, it will still hold such immense value for me. I’m glad that it exists, because it could so easily never have been.
What are you doing musically these days? You were active and saw the live music / touring industry kind of dwindle. Some would say “fall part,” but I think that’s a bit much. What happened to the music scene? Where is it headed?
These days I spend more of my time in other avenues of writing. Obviously, this record is an example of that, but I’m also working on a novel. I actually published a book entitled Sagewillow back in 2007 and I’m working on something of a follow up to that. Musically, Trent and I still toy around with ideas and riffs and it’s only a matter of time before we write together. When we do, we will record with Aaron (Isbell) over at Nocturnal Studios, where Amor En Tierra Ajena was tracked. I love working with him and it’s been the best recording experience to date.
I can’t really speak about what happened to the music industry but I think, like everything else, it’s cyclical, and right now it’s going through an important shift in terms of how artists distribute their music and how they can manage to make a living from it. It’s always been a tough industry, but like any other, it’s those willing to innovate that thrive while the rest of us are left wondering what exactly is going on. Touring itself seems to be a less viable way to succeed for a band that isn’t already established. It’s crazy to think that for years I booked our tours with no other tool than MySpace. But those days are long gone. It will be interesting to see where it goes next, but as long as there are creative thinking people willing to sacrifice other aspects of their lives to share their art with the world, the industry will find a way. Art always does.
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’d just like to say thank you for taking the time to do this interview and for always being kind. I’d like to thank David at OnTheAttack Records for releasing Kings & Daughters & Amor En Tierra Ajena, as well as the other Dave (Stagg) from HM for the continued support and to anyone who might take time to listen to this record, thank you. It is my hope that it may resonate and that we might share the same insecurities and fears, but that whatever dragons might stand in our way – we can beat them.
If you’d like to sample some of this spoken word album by Carlos Salazar, click here.