'My mother was always putting on this old scratchy LP called Music from Around the Globe," says 46-year-old Carlos Olmeda, "and I would sit mesmerized at how beautifully diverse each song sounded." This early exposure to world music inspired his later songwriting. "I call what I do tricultural pop. That just means that I'm not really a genre specialist. I sing and I play acoustic guitar with the intent of making you imagine things in your head with a soundtrack attached."
Born in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Olmeda moved with his family to Oceanside when he was six and soon got himself a $15 Tijuana Borderline Special guitar. By the time he reached eighth grade at Washington Junior High in Vista, he was already composing pieces like a musical adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe's "Annabel Lee," which he was asked to play for a final-period history class. "I had to run from phys ed class to get there before the bell to go home. So there I was in my gym shorts and a wifebeater T-shirt, dripping sweat, probably kinda smelly and out of breath, trying to sing this dark love song with all this genuine feeling."
Olmeda played his first professional gig with brother Toca Rivera (currently Jason Mraz's percussionist/backup vocalist) at Vista's El Rancho restaurant when he was just out of high school. "We played mostly originals and some popular acoustic music for tips and then spent all the money playing Ms. Pac Man until two a.m."
His debut studio album Learning to Walk dates back to 1995, though he just recently won the copyright to the masters from a one-time "friend" to whom he'd signed rights in order to facilitate distribution ("All told, it cost me over $6K to get them back"). Over the past few years he's written music and done voiceovers for television with a company called L-7 Creative, and he won a 1999 San Diego Music Award for "Best Adult Acoustic Alternative Album." Olmeda opens for the Weepies at Dizzy's on Friday, June 17, at 8 p.m.
FIVE FAVORITE ALBUMS?
1. The Beatles, The Beatles ("Pop interpreters who existed at exactly the right time in history to allow them to be perceived as revolutionary while remaining almost completely adaptive. Now that's cool.")
2. Bob Dylan, Highway 61 Revisited ("When I was a kid in the '60s, Bob Dylan gave me hope that you don't have to sing like Caruso or play like a virtuoso to be involved with music in a deeply moving way.")
3. Paul Simon, Greatest Hits: Shining Like a National Guitar ("Poetry, dignity, sense of humor, soul, reason. What I wouldn't give to open a show for this man!")
4. Elton John, Goodbye Yellow Brick Road ("With Bernie Taupin. 'Nuff said.")
5. Elvis Costello, Spike ("Hope springs eternally, if angrily, man!")
WORST COVER SONG YOU EVER HAD TO PERFORM?
"My mom asked me to play 'The Princess Pupuli' at a church luau. To this day I cringe when I remember having to sing the phrase 'Za za za za, za za za za, zay!' Oh, baby! I have the video in the safe-deposit box of a Mexican bank."
SIMPSONS OR KING OF THE HILL?
"I prefer King of the Hill. In its own way I think it's more subversive and less hopeless. The dad is also more soft spoken and loving towards his son. I kind of relate to being a fat little kid with a lot of heart."
"I prefer Jumbo Dreadnaught guitars for their rich low end. I just got a new Taylor 815ce that sounds great miked or through the direct/XLR. I also have a Guild Jumbo Dreadnaught and an Ovation that sounds damn good through the P.A., even if it sounds like a toy in my living room. The Taylor is the first guitar I've ever owned that I could tell you the model/make number of. It always kinda pisses me off when some dweeb spouts off the model numbers and names of his gear just to sound impressive before he/she even plays the darn thing."
SOMETHING FEW WOULD KNOW OR GUESS ABOUT YOU?
"I can imitate the sound of a cricket with my eyes closed while executing a demi-plié ballet move where the feet and knees are facing outward and I dip at the center with arms out to the sides. It's really quite a thing."