Groovy Avocado Disco
From depths of despair and almost complete mental breakdown, Steven Ramirez (Unfortunately Steven) gives inspiration in his music and story. Quirky and distinctive, Ramirez’s music is inspiring, but equally inspiring is his head-on challenge to mental illness. Read about his bravery, share his inspiration and then hear the challenge and success in his music.
Unfortunately Steven (Steven Ramirez) is a Los Angeles-based Experimental Indie Rock singer-songwriter. He has undertaken a self-commissioned, two-part mission with his new concept album “Groovy Avocado Disco,” which comes out on May 6, 2022, on streaming platforms and limited-edition vinyl. “Life’s Too Expensive For Me,” the lead single, came out on April 1. Ramirez is a multi-instrumentalist and vocalist who hopes this unique release inspires people to seek therapy. The first part of the mission is accomplished with the release of this quirky yet engaging music; the second part is under way. Groovy Avocado Disco is the accepted synonym for Generalised Anxiety Disorder, something which Ramirez hopes will no longer be suffered in silence, but people will seek therapy. Ramirez hopes this unique release empowers people to seek out help.
Of the release, Ramirez comments, “The concept of the album is a full therapy session from start to finish. From walking into the session, a human balloon filled with crippling anxiety and depression to leaving deflated and ready to take on the week. The album begins by walking in, sitting down, and spilling the daily truth. The therapist guides the listener through these thoughts and grounds them through mindfulness. The album tackles the human condition, depression, drugs, addiction, capitalism, and personal issues related to my father. As the album is experienced, the songs begin to become more real, meaning that the listener, or myself, is expressing these heavy feelings and then becoming lighter by being honest with oneself.”
Ramirez describes his sound as a combination of indie rock, musical theatre, and the wall of sound. His love for concept albums like The Beach Boys’, “Pet Sounds,” Pink Floyd’s “The Wall,” and Nilsson’s “The Point!” coupled with his mental health journey, inspired the new album. He says,
“As a society, we tend to shy away from dark thoughts or depressed feelings, but they are simply part of the human condition. Everyone deals with struggles, and people who say they don’t are living in denial. My goal for this album is to establish the harsh realities of mental illness and what it’s truly like in the mind of an anxiously depressed individual.”
Because the concept and music are based on Ramirez’s experiences and his journey with mental health, it feels raw, visceral, yet, because of the musicality and talent, it somehow feels also effortless and straightforward. A creative work of art and an open, honest, documentation of Ramirez’s experience.
Steven Ramirez (Unfortunately Steven) was introduced to The Beatle and The Beach Boys by his family and found music a great escape from his anxiety, which pursued him since he was a boy. He says, “I used to think that everyone felt this way. It felt like a constant disco of negative thoughts in my head, an unease that was impossible to escape. I would pretend it wasn’t there until it became too overwhelming, and I’d retreat further into my mind. Music became my only escape.”
Partly due to the instability of his family and being a solo child, Ramirez formed a comic wit and felt the need to please people constantly. He began playing guitar aged 12 and piano at 13. He developed Generalized Anxiety Disorder, moderate depression, and high levels of trauma during this time.
“My anxiety disorder caused me to feel that everyone was unhappy or upset with me,” explains Steven, “I constantly walked on eggshells and wanted all parties to be happy. After college, I was doing all-request piano shows that furthered my mental health decline. These gigs, combined with my chemical imbalance, led to a bad mental breakdown in the spring of 2016. It became too much, and I broke. I was having daily anxiety attacks and started to hear voices. I became an agoraphobic that only a mid-70s Brian Wilson would be proud of. During this time, I began to write music. The writing became therapeutic but was also often maddening because I was very much not OK. I realized then that I needed therapy, and I was crying out for help.”
Ramirez sought out a therapist, Randall Sokoloff, and began working on mindfulness, meditation, and overall acceptance. Steven credits Randall with saving his life.
“I am learning to put ego and pride aside to better myself. To me, therapy means facing all that you are and actually dealing with the issues that surface. It’s not fun. It’s work. I wrote these songs as I was going through therapy. It gave me the clarity to say how I really felt. I just knew I had intense feelings, and instead of tucking them away, I released them.”
Phil Spector’s wall of sound partially inspires the album to create an ‘overwhelming wall of anxiety’ sound. Ramirez clarifies, “We crammed two drums, two basses, and two pianos into one studio, so the listener can experience what it’s like to be inside an anxious mind. It can be overwhelming at times, but so is anxiety. The therapist guides the listener through thoughts and grounds them through mindfulness. I like to think of myself as the blueberry girl from Willy Wonka. I’m fully blown up with anxiety, and by the time therapy has concluded, I am deflated and ready to take on the week. The hour of therapy, in this case, works out the root cause, being some unresolved father issues, and by the end, I’m left with nothing. I am empty. I’m also taking medication for my anxiety, so it’s easier for me to deal with these issues because I’m now numb. The medication makes it tolerable to live and no longer feel bad, but the unfortunate side is that I no longer feel good. I don’t feel depressed (yay), but I’m also not happy. The album demonstrates that awkward middle ground where I have nothing left, but all of the nothing I have is for the listener. The reality for me is that there isn’t really a happy ending or any ending for that matter. This is a reminder that it takes continuous work and effort to fix your mind.”
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th ed, (DSM-5) notes that Patients with Generalised Anxiety Disorder typically present with excessive anxiety about ordinary, day-to-day situations. The anxiety is intrusive, causes distress or functional impairment, and often encompasses multiple domains (e.g., finances, work, health). The anxiety is often associated with physical symptoms, such as sleep disturbance, restlessness, muscle tension, gastrointestinal symptoms, and chronic headaches. A uniquely bold release, “Groovy Avocado Disco,” finds Unfortunately Steven completely unfiltered and unrestrained lyrically and sonically as he opens up, digs deep, breaks down, and breaks through.
The songwriting took place from April 2016 to January 2020. These songs chronicle Steven’s mental state since his 2016 breakdown and his starting therapy soon after. The album was recorded at Sivraj Studios in North Hollywood. Steven attended college with producer Ryan Jarvis, who built the studio by hand. Ryan is someone that Steven trusted to carry out his vision without judgment.
So, the way to listen is to give yourself an hour, settle down, and imagine you are in a therapy session. Bring your worries, lay them at the feet of the understanding musician who can get to your soul and relax.
‘Entrance’ is just over a minute long and accurately depicts the arrival at a therapy session. Lots of rhythms, a swelling of energy, and a walking gait throughout. The question, ‘How’s it going’ Steven?’ ends the entry. ‘Me In My Mind’ is an incredibly accurate portrayal of a confused, overly-anxious individual, yet one who can put words and music together in perfectly expressive order, which makes uncanny sense. ‘People drive me mad; their judgment makes me sad.’ ‘It’s not real; it’s just me and my mind’ My head is full of things that scare me so’.’ I’d rather be on my own, you don’t understand, therapy work for me, make me fine, it’s not real, it’s just me in my mind.’ are snippets which come across loud and clear. The music is well textured and cleverly arranged, and the musicians form the perfect safety net for the singer musically. The clever way the uplifting beats are used to convey profound problems is inspiring.
‘People Are Stupid’ is darker and about people – their deranged driving, selfishness, the singer’s despair with them. The sudden crash of sound – an actual sound wall — is effective because it symbolises a crash, not only of the mind of the singer but of the decision making process to get off the train of life. ‘Is there even a point, I’d like to think so’…people make it too hard for me, so I light a joint for my anxiety!” there are too many gems in the words to list here but suffice to say, this is a monster of a track with great sax, a London feel and a definite subliminal nod to Dury/Madness/Kilburn essences.
‘Therapy’ is a snippet of a therapy session, followed by ‘Life Is Too Expensive,’ which is what it is – all about how life is crazily dear and costs keep rising. The bluesy interludes from the piano and the band’s support are stellar. Many possibilities, moves, and potentials are discussed, but the end game is too costly.
‘Cosmic Connection’ is about loving someone from afar, those feelings of being afraid to say hello, thinking she is above him, ‘she’s a work of art I can’t afford to buy.’ Not meant in a misogynistic way but simply the artist feeling the girl is out of reach. His dreams, though, create a place for the two of them, the perfect residence; they make love, dance, belong – in the fantasy at least. Then he decides she is not worth the trouble as she, ironically, is out of her mind.
Another brief therapy interlude talks of love addiction and distraction. Then ‘The Art of Failure’ talks about, well, failing, but if this is failure, musically, this is brilliant. Coming from first right, then left speaker, the vocals work their way into your mind. An almost comic twist sees the vocalist singing about the art of failure – how you can exceed at it. ‘I can never do right, I’m always fucking up, don’t matter how I try, I won’t succeed,’ says the vocalist – however, a couple of listens in, and you might just disagree with him. The backing ensemble work wonders here, too, filling the gaps and providing the sound foundation to the slightly crazed lyrics and singing. The bass is astounding throughout, coming forward and receding intuitively yet providing a solid rhythm.
A little more therapy about not setting standards too high and therefore setting yourself up to fail and then talking about becoming a musician, which is interspersed with, it has to be said, slightly maniacal laughter. Then ‘Strawberries and Rain’ is about the drugs taken to ease physical and mental pain – they are the Strawberries and Rain of the title. Come with me, and you will see mental breakdown ecstasy, the feeling is hard to explain, strawberries and rain.’
The music on this album is intense, superb, and thoroughly engaging. There are essences aplenty – from pub gigs in London during the 1980s and 1990s to rock to jazz to blues. The hefty, pounding drumming in this track feels like a drug in itself, tied with the vocals, which take on a Wreckless Eric ( Eric Goulden) tonality, this is a standout track, and I guarantee Strawberries and Rain will be emanating from your lips by the end of the track. Despite the subject matter of some number, I had a constant smile on my face.
Another snippet of therapy about anxiety, sleeplessness, and marijuana leads into ‘Five In The Morning,’ which, as the title suggests, is about the feelings when you get insomnia. A 5/4 section perfectly reflects this number’s early morning time setting. The vocalist tells of meds not working, taking more drugs, going back to bed, nightmares and the whirl of drugs, nightmares, and trying for solutions. The screaming in the vocal lines captures the lack of control and the sheer lack of structure. However, salvation comes in the form of understanding and coming to terms with anxiety when he speaks again to the therapist before chaos ensues with the annihilation of the rhythm at the end. Clever.
‘Piece of Shit’ is angry, torrid, and fluid with thoughts of anxiety, feeling low, and feeling like a victim. It is about hating yourself, the final section being emphasised with backing vocalists who agree he is indeed a piece of shit.
More therapy follows in a snippet where Randall talks to him about isolation yet reminds him we live in a society, before ‘Help Me, Randall’ talks of the self-imposed isolation and asks Randall for help. ‘screaming help me, help me please!” “Save me From This hell hole I’m stranded in.” The final section is bonkers, slightly off-kilter yet subtly controlled with a guitar solo that rises above the mayhem.
After a little more therapy about an absent father, Tom Hanks appears. As ever, Tom saves the day. ‘Tom Hanks’ is dreamy, with a gorgeous classical style piano opening, and the song talks about wishing movies were real, wishing Tom Hanks was his dad (but not the one in Forest Gump or Cast Away, nor in Philadelphia). Ramirez sings of a time when his dad was present and then the realisation he had disappeared. ‘I wish Tom Hanks were my dad, the best dad I never had” it is moving and often told from a child’s viewpoint – the missing dad, the playing ball with no one.
‘My Nothings For You’ is a blues-laced number, laid back and soft to begin with. The lyrics tell about addiction, the hiding and lying, and lack of feeling, even when a girl loves him. ‘A miserable joy, a damaged boy,’ says the singer, ‘I’m not OK, but that’s OK. I wouldn’t have it any other way.’
This is one of the best things musically I have listened to for a good while. The band is tight, the arrangements strong and well worked, the solos wonderful, and the singing and how it all comes together are simply outstanding. It is not possible to convey in a short review how well structured and clever this music is. Nor how good the players.
If Steven Ramirez thinks for one second – one millisecond – he has not succeeded or that he will not touch hearts with this, think again. This is entertaining, engaging music which deserves to be noticed.
Somehow Ramirez mixes pub rock band sound with Harry Nilsson, Daniel Johnston, Fiona Apple, prog rock at times, blues, and jazz in a heady cocktail of music that works better than any drugs at lifting the listener – high.
Steven Ramirez- Lead Vocals, Piano, Keyboards, Guitar
Harry Waters- Piano (Life’s too Expensive, Tom Hanks, Cosmic and My Nothing)
Ryan Jarvis – Guitars
Mark Pacificar- Bass
Doug Wayne- Organ
JD Carrera- Lap Steel, Guitar solo (Help Me Randall)
Shawn Grindle- baritone bass
Leana Courtney- accordion, bass, and piano
George Chammas- Guitar solo on (Strawberries and Rain)
Katin Burns- Drums and Percussion
Joesph Quintana-Drums and Percussion
Cristina Black- Harp
Gina Romantini- Violin
Rondrequel McCloud, Sophie Rae, Jake Novak, Caitlin Beale – vocals
Peter Gutierrez- Trumpet
Zach Reed- Saxophone
Ryan Kiernan- Trombone
Producer: Ryan Jarvis
Release Title: Groovy Avocado Disco
Release date: May 6, 2022
Distribution formats: Spotify, Apple Music, Tidal, Amazon Music, iTunes, YouTube, Tik Tok, VINYL
Groovy Avocado Disco
2. Me in My Mind
3. People Are Stupid
4. Therapy #1
5. Life’s Too Expensive for Me
6. Cosmic Connection
7. Therapy #2
8. The Art of Failure
9. Therapy #3
10. It Hurts (Therapy #4)
11. Strawberries and Rain
12. Therapy #5
13. Five in the Morning
14. Peace of Shit
15. Therapy #6
16. Help Me Randall
17. Therapy #7
18. Tom Hanks
19. My Nothings for You