How Alex Lacamoire keeps the beat of Lin-Manuel Miranda's music
He’s the righthand man behind the music on Hamilton and In The Heights. But Alex Lacamoire tells The Big Issue why his latest collaboration with Lin-Manuel Miranda, new Netflix film Vivo, is his most personal yet.
How does a composer, arranger – son of Cuban exiles growing up in Florida – become the musical maestro behind a non-stop run of Broadway hits?
His name is Alex Lacamoire. And there are so many amazing things he’s already done.
Music director of In The Heights and Hamilton, he is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s right-hand man. These shows revolutionised musical theatre and, following them, Lacamoire also went on to help The Greatest Showman and Dear Evan Hansen come alive.
This month he’ll be back with Miranda, who voices a cute kinkajou from Havana who can’t resist a catchy beat, in the Netflix animation Vivo. Lacamoire tells us about serving as composer on a film with music at its heart.
The Big Issue: This is an impossible question, but can you explain the magic in the music you’ve created with Lin-Manuel Miranda?
Alex Lacamoire: There is something really special about Lin-Manuel’s music where you really feel the love that’s baked into the writing of the song. There’s something about his generosity, openness, honesty and his willingness to bare himself in his music.
It’s not being clever for clever’s sake, it feels very honest and pure, so I feel that as a listener you just pick up on these vibes. The access point is really easy. You’re able to connect because it feels very personal and real.
Lacamoire and sidekick Lin-Manuel Miranda in 2016 after getting a Grammy for Hamilton. Photo: Theo Wargo/WireImage
What’s the process when you collaborate – do you work independently or are you together in the room where it happens?
It depends on what phase we’re in. There are times when we get to be in the room side by side, sharing a piano bench and working on a moment. And there are times that, either with schedules or pandemics, we’re in separate places and time zones. It’s a big job I’ve been entrusted with, to execute these songs that he’s written, to go from his brain to whatever gets put out into the world.
It would be amazing enough just to be able to work with Lin, because he is an amazing composer, but it’s even more amazing to work with him because he’s my friend, to boot.
Vivo is set in Cuba and Florida. Is it different when this is a project that must be very personal to you?
Yes, 100 per cent. Because of my heritage and my family roots, all of that made Vivo probably the most personal thing I’ve done with Lin. Not to say that I don’t love In The Heights, I’m not saying Hamilton wasn’t the amazing experience that it was, but there’s something about this music and where it takes place. Being able to play clips of this movie for my family and have my mom break into tears when she sees herself represented in a film like this, both visually and musically.
I’ve been able to write in a style that came very naturally to me, not because I studied it at school, but because I felt it in my in my bones.
Who is the listener you have in mind with this music – your mother and people were raised on a certain kind of music or someone like me who’s being introduced to it?
The true answer is I’m thinking about the story. I’m trying to serve that moment and try to make the music feel as organic as possible. It’s a story the audience is supposed to be immersed in. So, it’s my job to make them feel like the music is in service of that.
This is something that my mom will like or that Steven in Scotland will like – that will cross my mind every now and then, but ultimately the goal is to try to make it feel like the music never didn’t exist together with that moment.
Vivo’s tagline is ‘One song will change everything’. What’s the one song that changed everything for you?
A song called Music Box Dancer. It’s an instrumental pop song, a bit cheesy, but I just remember hearing the sound of the piano and wanting to learn how to play it, to figure out how those sounds were made. Because of that song – I had a toy piano – I was given piano lessons, and it just unlocked something for me.
You’ve performed at the White House three times. You were on piano as Lin-Manuel Miranda performed the opening song from Hamilton for the Obamas in 2009 [watch the now iconic video here] and most recently celebrating July 4 with the Bidens this year. Between these first and last time, the world turned upside down. How did it feel to be back?
Well, it never gets old to be asked to perform at the White House. I always love any time that art is held in such high regard it is asked to be a part of the administration’s celebrations. That’s not something to take for granted because now we know that it doesn’t happen all the time, let’s put it that way.
What do you do when your dream comes true? You’ve achieved more than I’m sure you could have imagined. Is there always something more to reach for?
I do feel very fortunate. I try to keep learning. I’ve always been walking through whatever doors seem open and connect with people I enjoy communing with. I just get lucky that people ask me to be part of projects. I’m honoured that I get to keep reaching new levels and new artists to work with so that is something I will always keep chasing.
What comes next?
Strangely enough, all these projects I’ve been working on, that have been gestating for a very long time ago, will be completed. So I feel like I have a clear horizon in front of me right now, which is great. I’m confident something will pop up that will seem like a fun project to take on.