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Dark songs set to a perky beat

On the plus side, he’s just released the incredibly good, can’t-get-the-songs-out-of-your-head Beatles-esque pop album. On the bad side, he’s suffering from an illness that’s affecting his throat.
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Fernando Viciconte — who performs under the name Fernando because no one can pronounce his last name — has a bit of a dilemma. On the plus side, he’s just released the incredibly accomplished can’t-get-the-songs-out-of-your-head Beatles-esque pop album, “Enter to Exit.” It’s a departure for the singer, whose previous records ranged from roots rock to folk to a Spanish language album, and he’s very excited about it.

Which brings us to the problem: His throat. Fernando received a real scare last year when doctors thought he might have throat cancer. Thankfully that wasn't the case, but it turned out he was suffering from a bout of leukoplakia, causing an erosion of his esophagus and vocal cords.  “It’s just been really frustrating,” he says, “You got a record out, you can’t tour, you can’t even do solo shows.

“It’sa matter of me rehabilitating [my throat],” Fernando explains, “Almost like an ACL tear or something. It’s me trying to get back into singing and touring shape.” He goes to the hospital five times a month for vocal therapy and is working hard to get back out on the road soon.

Here’s hoping it’s soon, because the second I heard “Enter to Exit,” it was hard not to picture myself in an intimate club setting watching the man work that John Lennon-esque voice of his.

But the 37-year-old jokes about his condition, too, saying, “I’m like an old man, I have to talk about my illnesses. It’s like I’m talking about my goiter.”

Needless to say, the illness, along with some other physical ailments, colored his songwriting on “Enter to Exit.” The thought of potentially never singing again sent him reeling. “A lot of the themes kind of touch on that lightly,” he says,  “Kind of the whole feeling of not being there the whole time and having no energy.”

You definitely sense that feeling in songs like “Mariana,” in which he sings, “Oh Mariana queen of sleep / What do you have in store / For the likes of me.” The health uncertainty combined with the medication Fernando had to take — at one point, 12 Vicodin a day — fueled songs that seem to quest for clarity and focus.

In the song “Another Day in My Head,” he sings, “Are you losing contact with all the things that echo in your head? / Lord am I living or am I dead?”

Simply reading those lyrics, you might think, wow, this guy’s a real downer. But that’s the real surprise of the album. While the lyrics can be dark, the music is uplifting enough to get you moving.

“I live in Portland, Oregon, we have rain for about seven months of the year,” Fernando explains, “There’s no other way to write. I try and write happier songs, but probably the best I can do is write happy music.”

My favorite song on the CD is the darkly tongue-in-cheek break-up song “From Now On.” With its bouncy beat, and lyrics like “From now on I’ll never call your name / And if I do return, it will only be to hurt you again / So go ahead and cry,” it’s hard not to let out an evil giggle while listening to it. Fernando laughs when I tell him about my reaction: “I’m glad you’re not taking that seriously and thinking I’m a complete dick.”

There are definitely a couple guys from the Eels who seem to have a high opinion of him. For the past three years, Derek Brown and Chet Lyster have been making music with him on the side. “I produced this [album] with Chet,” Fernando says, “And he was a great help in this record, both in engineering it and as a second ear to the project.”

He also got a bit of help from jazz singer Michael Jodell, who lent vocals to three songs, including the gorgeous, “Devils in the Sky” and “Mariana.” “She just kind of came down that very same day we had the idea and cut the track in like 30 minutes,” Fernando explains, adding that he would love to work with Jodell again. “If she’s willing to take me again. I’ll bring the drinks.”

When they do hit the road and swing through my town, I’ll buy the drinks. Fernando estimates that he’ll be well enough to start a West Coast tour in October. “I’m really optimistic.”

For more information on Fernando, visit: