On a beautiful Saturday afternoon, I sat in the living room of local singer-songwriter, Richard Cortez. I listened track by track to his new album, Sleeping with Strangers. Composed over the past two years, the album is a compilation of Richard’s trials and tribulations as a gay man. Written and arranged entirely by Richard, the album features heart-felt music about love, sex, relationships and sorrow.
While he attended the American Musical & Dramatic Academy in New York City, Richard frequently played local venues. Over time, he attracted a strong gay following. “I used to borrow $50 from my mom to purchase blank CDs.” He adds, “I’d hand out my music to fans who attended my shows in the East Village.” Richard attributes these free giveaways to his success.
Richard’s grass roots efforts paid off. He caught the attention of a production company who wanted to work on his album. The only negative is the company wanted to change Richard’s identity. “They wanted to send me to do speech therapy to teach me how to speak ‘less gay’ and they wanted me to get a girlfriend for public appearances and photos.” He ultimately decided to reject the offer.
Drawing from his musical influences, Joni Mitchell, Carol King and Ani DeFranco, Richard created a unique sound. The resulting style incorporates his love for theatre and folk music.
As we listened to “Be Alright”, the opening track of Sleeping with Strangers, Richard told me extreme fame and popularity is not his goal. “I just want to be able to make a living off of my music.” He says, “It’s not all about the glamorous life.” At the time he wrote “Be Alright”, Richard was going through a challenging time.
“My mom was selling her house and my brother was going into the military. I felt like a bird getting pushed out of the nest.” In his first full album since 2005, Richard conveys the daily rituals of Fort Lauderdale, a place he calls, “A big gay playground.” No stranger to temptation, Richard writes about his one-night stands, forays in dark allies and escapades in porn shops.
“Body of Water” began to play. “I wrote this song about a boat captain I was dating.” He explains, “It was completely sexual and developed into a passionate late-night romance.” Today, Richard barely speaks to the captain, but their time together makes for a memorable song.
The title track, “Sleeping with Strangers” is Richard’s most introspective song. “The lyrics say, ‘sleeping with strangers but dreaming of you.’ Everyone is always looking for something more…they think someone better is going to pass them by, but in the end, they have nothing.”
“Missing” is about Richard’s passionate six-month affair with a man who was in a 4 year relationship. “One night we shared a bottle of wine and were having crazy sex when his boyfriend knocked on the door.” Richard smiles, “The plan was for me to run out without him seeing me.” He continues, “I loved this guy, but he was lost, confused and overwhelmed. He was not strong enough to walk away.”
There was a time when Richard was more concerned about sexual experimentation and exploration than his well being.
“My hormones were raging. I had just gotten dumped in a bar and needed to let loose,” he recalls. Not always portraying himself as a victim, Richard wrote “The Mourning After”. “There was a side of me that just slept with people knowing full well that I would never call them again.”
Richard now craves more. “I’m 24 and want to share love with somebody, but people need to realize that they can’t just hop into bed with someone and call it marriage.” Missing the physical release and selfish pleasure of his past life, Richard promises that he has changed his lifestyle. “I’m still the same person but I’ve just changed my behavior and want different things out of life.”
“Crazy Fool” is a response to “The Mourning After”. Written through the voice of the victim in the previous track, Richard tells me how he was always trying to better himself visually. “I would work out five days per week, wear designer clothes, starve myself and stand at the bar waiting to meet someone.”
As we listened to the remainder of the album I began to hear Richard’s passion for storytelling. “Everybody scrutinizes me for writing about love, but this record is about more than love, it’s about truth.”
“We go out, party, meet someone, sleep with them and then someone’s heart breaks. It hits you like a wave.” The final track, “Trainwreck” is the realization that Richard was grasping for help. “The song is about hope and letting people know it’s going to be okay.”
Richard is okay now. He is happy with himself and his album. He even goes as far as to say that his next album should be lighter than Sleeping with Strangers.
The album will be released on Valentine’s Day and made available through the iTunes, Amazon.com, CDbaby.com and other online retailers. For more information, visit www.wollenbergrecords.com.
Richard Cortez Live
Dennis Dean Gallery