For as long as it’s existed, California has held a special place in the hearts of Americans everywhere. From the “Forty-Niners” who sailed around Cape Horn in search of gold, to the “Okies” who sought a haven here after the destruction left by the Dust Bowl, people have always looked to California as a land of infinite promise.
Raquel Ramos is no exception. An aspiring singer, her life in Santa Monica is many things: a realization of a childhood dream, an opportunity for personal transformation and a muse inspiring her musical endeavors.
Ramos was raised in Queens, NY, with a musical diet rich in Culture Club and Madonna. She claims to have been writing music “forever and ever,” and still remembers the words to “As the Leaves Fall,” a song she wrote in fourth grade about a crumbling marriage.
“I was a very deep child,” she joked as she described the song.
Raquel got her first taste of West Coast life at the age of 7 when she paid a visit to an uncle who lived in Los Angeles. A week spent visiting Disneyland and Venice Beach would resonate with Ramos for the rest of her life.
“That was kind of the pivotal visit,” Ramos said. “Since then, I’ve always thought L.A. was magical, and I’ve always wanted to live here.”
This childhood fantasy is one that would take years to become a reality. Though she left Queens in 2005, Ramos missed the mark by a few hundred miles, moving to the Bay Area, where she lived for two years, playing in various bands.
“It was a good experience, and I met some great friends,” Ramos said of her time in the Bay Area. “But now that I’ve moved here and I feel connected to this place, I realize how much I really wasn’t meant to stay there.”
The transition to Santa Monica came in March 2007 after Ramos “fell in love” with the city during a weekend visiting friends, and promised herself, “Next time I come here, it’s going to be on a one-way ticket.”
That instantaneous affection for and connection with the city has remained strong through the years Ramos has spent here.
“I just never get tired of being so close to the ocean. Looking at the pier and seeing the Ferris wheel never gets old — honestly, I don’t think it’s going to,” Ramos said. “I think that everyone has a vision of their ideal life … I feel like this is it: just being able to have a simple life in a beautiful place.”
Ramos’s life in Santa Monica is chronicled in her new album, “West Side Butter Pecan Life,” which was released in October.
The album is “a snapshot of my first two years living here,” Ramos said.
The title track pays tribute to Santa Monica, mentioning “sand in my high heels” and opening with the lines, “Spring comes early here, and melts into eternal summer.”
The metaphysical changes Ramos’s relocation has brought to her life inspired the album even more than the physical aspects of Santa Monica.
“Once I was here, I had to make the most of it,” Ramos said. “I used to be someone who would just go about my business … because I didn’t want to get hurt and I didn’t want anything bad to happen. It’s a safe life, but it’s really unrewarding. You can have magnificent experiences if you allow for the possibility that you might get your feelings hurt once in a while.”
Ramos used the release of “West Side Butter Pecan Life” as an opportunity to give back to the community that she now calls her home, donating a portion of the proceeds from album and merchandise sales to Meals on Wheels.
“You can’t really go wrong with that charity. I think what they’re doing is really great,” said Ramos, “I also like the fact that it’s local, since my CD is so much about Santa Monica in particular, and the Westside.”
Ramos, who does not own a car, also volunteers with Meals on Wheels “whenever I can finagle it.”
“West Side Butter Pecan Life” is the second album Ramos has independently produced. The first, “Unzipping the Mermaid,” recorded under the name Sirena Sol, was produced during her years in the Bay Area. The album’s name is both a metaphor — Ramos herself is the “mermaid,” a musical siren who “unzips” her soul for listeners — and a literal tribute to Ramos’s mermaid tattoo.
Ramos’s partner in the production of “West Side Butter Pecan Life” was Patrick Doyle, a local musician who was Ramos’s producer and co-writer. Ramos connected with Doyle, the bassist for local band Sputnik Munroe, through Craig’s List.
“I was really excited to work with Patrick, because he comes from this background of doing sort of hard, edgy stuff, and I come from something a little more pop-soul,” Ramos said. “The combination of the two different styles was very cool.”
With the album successfully produced, Ramos has turned her attention to distributing her music — mostly to local club owners, music supervisors and DJs. Both her albums are available on iTunes, Rhapsody and her Web site, www.raquelramos.com, and she is scheduled to perform at the Dakota Lounge on Jan. 2.
“I’m not as focused on [distribution] because I feel like the limitations it would put on me would not make the return worth it, and I really like the idea of having total autonomy over [the album],” said Ramos, adding with a laugh, “but at the same time, if someone were to say, ‘Here’s a million dollars …’”
As welcome as a million-dollar contract may be, Ramos has set her sights on another target; unsurprisingly, that target is a local one.
“My next goal is airplay on KCRW,” Ramos said.
It’s a mission that will have to be accomplished through “trial and error,” for Ramos, who said, “I’m just going to have to keep reaching out to people so they’re aware of me.”
Ramos has not forsaken her inner New Yorker; she still feels a deep affinity for the city in which she was raised, and where her mother, much of her extended family, and many of her close friends still live. Even so, she believes she has found a permanent place for herself in the land of eternal sunshine and infinite promise.
“I’ve been absolutely happy since the day I moved here,” Ramos said. “I think I’m totally home.”