Last year, the Upstate Latin-pop band Phat Lip released one of the year’s best singles, a deceptively light and catchy tune called “Coyote.” The song wasn’t about a wolf-like creature howling at the moon; it was a strikingly direct tale about an illegal immigrant, a woman who paid someone, known as a “coyote,” to smuggle her across the U.S.-Mexico border in a van.
Phat Lip’s singer, songwriter and guitarist, Kelly Jo Ramirez, left the ending of the song ambiguous, so that we never know if the woman made it here or not. It was less of a political statement than it was an honest depiction of something that happens every day.
This stunning song, which just won the Upstate Music Award for Best Single of 2019, was a curveball for Phat Lip, coming as it did after its debut EP, “Vision,” which was mostly about love, both physical and spiritual.
Let it be said that the band’s new single, “Citizen Alone,” is not about anything remotely political. And it’s not really about love. It’s more about the aftermath when a love affair explodes, set to an infectious mid-tempo funk-rock groove that’s just plain sexy; there’s no other word for it.
Ramirez, long one of the Upstate’s best singers, digs into the song with a fiery fury; when she sings, “You couldn’t give a damn about me/ I don’t know how I don’t show out, get loud, I just shut down.” The song ends with an explosive solo by guest guitarist Matt Fassas and an NSFW kiss-off from Ramirez that we can’t reprint here.
“Writing the song helped me with the ending in real life.” — Kelly Jo Ramirez
If there’s any truth to the concept of music-as-therapy, that’s what we’re dealing with on “Citizen Alone.”
“That’s exactly what it is,” Ramirez says. “It’s about romantic rejection and dealing with that. And expressing how I was feeling made me realize my own truth and where I wanted to end the story. Writing the song helped me with the ending in real life.”
Yep, that’s right: This is a breakup song that actually occurred before — and then hastened — the breakup.
“There was a high influx of emotion going on,” she says, “and I had to write the song to therapeutically weed out what was good for me and what wasn’t.”
And as she was writing it, she had Matt Fassas in mind to be the spark that lit the song’s fuse.
“He’s an amazing guitarist, and he’s hands-down one of my favorite musicians,” Ramirez says. “We’d worked together quite a bit before, and his natural tone and style just fit this song. It’s funny, because it’s so different from what he does, but I told him that I could hear him on this song, and he came in and just shredded it.
“And I said, ‘See? I told you!’” she adds with a laugh.
As odd as it might sound, Ramirez says she was actually more comfortable writing an intensely vulnerable song like “Citizen Alone” than she was writing a story-song like “Coyote.”
“I had to write the song to therapeutically weed out what was good for me and what wasn’t.” — Kelly Jo Ramirez
“I feel like the narrative songs are harder for me to write,” she says. “I’ve always written from an autobiographical standpoint. The personal connection in this case is a little more obvious, but I always like to put a little bit of me in there, if possible.”
Regardless of the subject matter she’s writing about, Ramirez has clearly found the right outlet of expression with Phat Lip. After years of playing solo and in other bands, it just feels like the right fit.
“I’m super proud of this band, and I’m super proud of the music we’re putting out,” she says. “And it’s inspiring to finally get this song out and share it with the world.”
- Phat Lip’s previous single, “Coyote,” was nominated for both best single and best video at this year’s Upstate Music Awards
- Kelly Jo Ramirez told the Greenville Journal in a previous interview that one of her ultimate goals was to “win five Grammys.”
- Phat Lip features Greenville Jazz Collective guitarist Matt Dingledine.