Omar Velasco

Omar Velasco

You’ll never be disappointed in Alela Diane‘s choice of support acts to bring over to Europe. Join us in exploring Omar Velasco’s tribute to Leonard Cohen’s You Know Who I Am and Silvio Rodriguez’s La Gota de Rocio for the Influences. With Alela Diane lending her voice to the mix on the Leonard Cohen cover and Velasco’s stunning song Paperweight, Velasco delivers soulful renditions of these iconic songs.

Shoved into the closeness of life.

Based in California, Omar Velasco is an accomplished singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who draws inspiration from a range of artists, including Stevie Wonder, Mercedes Sosa and folk luminaries like Leonard Cohen, Silvio Rodriguez, Nick Drake, Bob Dylan, and John Martyn. In my conversation with Velasco, we delve into the intricacies of his songwriting process, the evolution of his craft, and the personal experiences that shape his music. Velasco graciously shares insights into his recent album, and the impact of life’s twists and turns on his writing.

Reflecting on the inspiration behind his latest album Like the Fruit Falls from the Tree, Velasco acknowledges the transformative power of life events such as the loss of his father and the birth of his second child. These experiences catalyzed a period of introspection and growth, infusing his songwriting with raw emotion and depth. “It was life-changing, honestly. I feel like I grew up a lot during that time, more than anything. My father passed, my child was born and my band quit. In the middle of Covid. It’s just a lot of change, you know? But it’s great for songwriting. Really great. It was coming easy.”

Velasco continues: “I felt really open, especially when my dad passed away. I did. It’s like you get shoved into the closeness of life, and that’s a good place to write from, I felt. Yeah, I wasn’t overthinking it at all. I was just writing. And I tried my best to keep that sentiment when I went into the studio. I really tried not to overthink it.”

Collaborating and co-producing with Jonathan Wilson

Omar Velasco’s long-time friend and producer Jonathan Wilson helped to keep that sentiment in his studio. Velasco emphasizes the importance of organic creativity and trust in the studio. “We’re friends, first and foremost. There wasn’t an air of, you know, officiality about it. I asked: ‘Can I come do this with you at your studio?’ And so I was there. And I didn’t need a whole lot from him. I was just there, cranking away with the engineer and a couple other folks that would come and go. But I pretty much knew what I wanted it to be. And Jonathan is so good at just sprinkling the song with beautiful elements. He did a lot of the percussion and drumming and he’s really a master at that. It was crazy.”

Omar reflects on the evolution of his songwriting process, noting a shift towards prioritizing lyrical depth and simplicity in his compositions. A lot of times recording in studio’s, it’s been more like experimentation for Velasco, he remembers. “Up until this past album, I’d been more of a music first kind of person. That what would draw me along in the song and writing would be the melody, the chord changes and the arrangements, and the lyrics were kind of secondary. And for this past one, it was the opposite.”

You now know who Omar Velasco is

Sharing his inspiration for covering a Leonard Cohen song on his latest album, Velasco highlights the impact of Cohen’s lyrics and delivery. “I started listening to Live Songs and I was familiar with the recorded version of You Know Who I Am, but live it was totally different. It’s in a higher register and when I heard the live version it was like I was listening to a sermon. ‘Oh my god, this is so beautiful and almost like a priest telling you a secret or something. I just loved it and I thought: ‘What the hell, I’m gonna try it.”

‘Silvio Rodriguez has got it all.’

The music of Silvio Rodriguez  – Cuban musician, and leader of the Nueva Trova movement – was just in the Velasco household when Omar was a kid. “He’s has accessible songs with catchy choruses, and things that appeal to wide audiences. But a lot of his stuff is pretty heady and intellectual. I mean, I even understand only about 80 percent of what he’s talking about, a lot of times. So, when I first heard him as a kid, it was just part of the environment. Whatever, you know? It wasn’t until I got a little bit older that I really started to appreciate his music in a deeper way. He’s an inspiration to me in a certain way. He expects a lot from his audience, I feel like, and that’s a cool thing. Sometimes I get tired and annoyed listening to him because I’m like: ‘Dude we can’t follow along with what the hell you’re talking about.’ But I think that’s better than that lowest common denominator approach.”

Sometimes songs only reveal themselves at a later time. “I love that. You may just not be mature enough for it to resonate with you. The other thing about Silvio Rodriguez is that he’s a great guitar player and musician. He’s got that Cuban, really sophisticated combination of rhythm and harmony that I think is so great and rich. So, he’s got it all really.”

Getting closer to where he wants to be

Velasco himself doesn’t go for the lowest common denominator either, and has included both English and Spanish songs on his record. Allowing his music to transcend linguistic barriers and resonate with listeners on a universal level. “Honestly, I’ve never – for better or worse – concerned with myself with how it was going to market or sell. It wasn’t really a conscious decision, it just kind of happened. A lot of times if I’m messing around on the guitar something will elicit one language or the other.”

“Lyrics are just kind of taking center stage, so the music is almost secondary. And I think you need to have confidence or be sure enough to allow yourself to do that, I guess. I think it took me having a couple kids and, you know, losing my dad and just getting older, you know? To a degree, I’ve always been a really late bloomer. I’m 40 now and I feel like with this latest album I’m just barely getting closer to where I want to be.”

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La Gota de Rocio (Silvio Rodriguez)
Tidal | Apple Music

You Know Who I Am (Leonard Cohen)
Tidal | Apple Music

Omar Velasco

Apple Music


Filmed & edited by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio recorded by Matthijs van der Ven.
Audio mixed by Omar Velasco.

Utrecht, The Netherlands

Alela Diane
Remco Frijns

There is no better way to discover music than watching great musicians cover the songs they love. The Influences has been producing these videos ever since 2008.

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