Dusty Santamaria: Minor Cult Figure

April 5, 2017

In the song Sylvia Says, the opening track off the album Minor Cult Figure, Dusty Santamaria sings, “Left my home in ancient Rome, a messenger out on the sly.” The line is quintessential Santamaria: cryptically romantic, damp with the collective shadow, hinting of an unresolved past.

A selection of previously recorded material from 2008-2015, the ten tracks that comprise Minor Cult Figure were hand-picked from four full-length releases and an EP, and pressed for the first time on vinyl.

Santamaria, a fixture Portland’s underground music and poetry scene for over a decade, relocated, temporarily, in 2016 to Southern California. (The Willamette Week lamented the departure in last year’s article entitled Portland Is Losing Dusty Santamaria, The Greatest Enigma It Never Knew It Had) Uprooted from his adopted city and based for the past year in the town of Temecula, Santamaria found himself at an artistic crossroads.

“Being back in Temecula is killing a part of me that probably needs to die, but it is also training me to focus, with discipline, on what I’m calling my True Will,” said Santamaria. “Any illusion I had of my status as a small-time Portland rock star completely disintegrated into my new reality as an anonymous worker in a suburban neighborhood.”

That encapsulation within a stale and arid landscape inspired a renewed desire for touring. In 2016 Santamaria hit the road in brief stints, traveling as far east as Texas and Louisiana to perform his songs. With the release of Minor Cult Figure, a greater devotion to the touring life seems imminent.

“I love the road,” said Santamaria. “It’s a great reminder that wherever you go, whatever you’re looking at, you’re really only looking at one thing, which is life experiencing itself.”

And, perhaps, it is on the road where Dusty Santamaria truly belongs. His songs and poems have often suggested an allegiance to some ambiguous gypsy lineage. The lyrics on Minor Cult Figure spill from the speakers like archival sacrament, while Santamaria’s adaptive voice navigates the hallways and passages of his own documented past, ghostly and elegant, yet timeless in structure and substance. The music pulls from a variety of American styles, weaving doo-wop with folk, country with punk. Layers upon layers. An overlapping of time and place where, beneath the surface, swims the voice of the messenger. Cadences rise and fall like echoes of a playful mysticism from the backroom of an occult shop; to understand the songs, one must be willing to pass through the beaded curtain and offer up a palm.

“I’m giddy as hell that these songs are coming out on vinyl,” said Santamaria about the release of Minor Cult Figure. “Most of the folks that helped bring this record to life are living in the Pacific Northwest. It was in the rainy Oregon winter that I first got a notion of artistic community. I’m very grateful for that. This area of the world always leaves me wondering, what’s really at the bottom of the rain?”

-Charles Ghent