In the late 1990s, Alex Maryol was something of a household name in Santa Fe. He was just a teenager, but he was sought after for his prodigious skills as a blues musician and played five nights a week at bars and clubs. He also played at music festivals and concert stages all over the country and opened for the likes of Etta James, Bonnie Raitt, Lyle Lovett, and Leon Russell.
And then he kind of dropped out of sight. He enrolled at the College of Santa Fe when he was in his early 20s, not intending to study music, because he felt burnt out — but he studied music. After graduation, he moved to Chicago and then spent some time in Nashville, but he didn’t perform much in either city. Now 39, he’s been back in Santa Fe for a few years, playing small gigs at breweries and still trying to grow as a musician. His newest of five albums, In the Meantime, is an energetic array of blues, rock, blues-rock, and funk. Lyrically, he tried to go deeper than he has in the past.
“I don’t think I’m the best lyricist,” he says. “But as artists, we all try to get better at our craft until we die.”
Pasatiempo caught up with Maryol for a video chat.
Pasatiempo: You’re known as a blues guy, but when you went to Chicago, which is known for blues, you didn’t pursue music. What did you do instead?
Alex Maryol: I fell in love with the city. I loved the trains and the layout of the city and the architecture. It was so vibrant. I lived there about a year, right during the economic fiasco of ’08. I worked in a restaurant. I kind of regret [not playing more music there] now. I did the same thing in Nashville. I observed the music scene, but I didn’t really enter it.
Pasa: It must be tough to live up to a reputation as a child prodigy. What was that like to have so many expectations placed upon you?
Maryol: It’s something that gets into the psyche. When I was starting, I was 16, and Jonny Lang had just come out. We’re the same age. Kenny Wayne Shepherd also came out; he’s about three years older than me. Both blond-haired white guys playing blues. Those guys had great material, and they played well. ... I think I got lumped in with them on a local level. I wasn’t as good as them, and I didn’t have the money behind me that they did. And that’s all fine and good.
Pasa: Do you feel like you came through that phase unscathed?
Maryol: I think I was putting it on me more than anyone was. Maybe it was all in my head. I think I’m OK now, but at the time I was trying to live up to this myth. I think there was a lot of pressure, and I held myself to a high standard. You get through your early 20s, and you’re like, who am I now? And then you hit 35 or 36, and you’re like, Who am I now? I don’t know who I am, but that [teenage prodigy] isn’t me anymore. I cut my hair. That ponytail was a big part of it. That was my branding before I knew what branding was.
Pasa: How has the music scene changed in Santa Fe?
Maryol: I started going to concerts when I was around 10, and what I remember is that the Paolo Soleri [Amphitheater at the Santa Fe Indian School] was the venue. They would get all these great shows every summer — B.B. King, Dave Matthews, Big Head Todd and the Monsters, Indigo Girls, Robert Cray, Buddy Guy, Tracy Chapman. I went there, and I wanted to do what they did. That’s partially what got me into playing music. Now, there are a lot of breweries. Thank God. They’re a hotbed for music. There are pros and cons. Usually, my complaint is that the acoustics suck, but they all have live music. Not all of them pay the fee I want, but they all want live music.
Pasa: You mentioned the phenomenon of the young white bluesman in the 1990s. At the time, the conversation around cultural appropriation of black music wasn’t mainstream. It is now. What are your thoughts?
Maryol: I’m not really qualified to talk about the race aspect of it, but I don’t consider myself a bluesman. That’s a specific thing. B.B. King was a bluesman. I would say I’m a blues-rock musician. What drew me to it in the first place is that it’s honest. It’s from the gut. And it’s the music I grew up with. My dad played early rock ‘n’ roll on the radio in the truck, taking me to kindergarten. Elvis. Chuck Berry. Fats Domino. Bo Diddley. I think my cousin bought me Stevie Ray Vaughan’s The Sky Is Crying  when I was in second grade. My aunt took me to see B.B. King at the Paolo Soleri when I was 11.
Pasa: What are some of the ideas you were working with lyrically on In the Meantime?
Maryol: I tried to read The Abolition of Man , by C.S. Lewis, but it was too dense for me. My friend told me to read That Hideous Strength , the final book in his science fiction trilogy, because it’s the same thing as The Abolition of Man, but fiction. I’d just finished reading that when I started to write this album. The themes are about whether we value people, and things in general, on their inherent nature, or do we value them on their utility? That’s where my head was and is. There are points where he talks about valuing people whether they’re a janitor or a scientist. And he’s kind of making the point that we shouldn’t be valuing people on their utility; we should be valuing them on their inherent beauty, who they are in their nature.
Pasa: Is there anything else you’d want the reading and listening public to know?
Maryol: Everything. Take it all. I’m really excited about this album. I really enjoy listening to it. I don’t know if that sounds egotistical. I still think it could have been better, but at a certain point, you finish it. I want to share it with people. I have a tendency to make the album and then think I’m done. But that’s when the work starts. ◀