How Hurray for the Riff Raff Learned the Power of the Present

Almost a year after the sudden death of Alynda Segarra’s father, the sight of a Bronx-bound subway entrance made the musician cry.

“I walked by the 1 train yesterday, and the color of the red and the ‘1’ and the ‘Van Cortlandt Park’ and the ‘Uptown’ — I just burst into tears,” Segarra, who uses they/them pronouns, said. “I was just like, this is so crazy that I don’t really have a reason to go up there.”

Segarra, who is 36 and makes folk music with a punky defiance as Hurray for the Riff Raff, wore a distressed white tee under a fitted leather vest, and silver jewelry that matched their painted nails. Sipping a coffee on a zebra-print couch in a quiet nook of Manhattan’s Hotel Chelsea, they compared the storied hotel’s décor to the sets of the Yorgos Lanthimos movie “Poor Things.” Staying at the Chelsea was an uncharacteristic extravagance, but since their father’s passing, they have been allowing for treats like these, in his honor.

“My dad loved enjoying,” Segarra said. “He just didn’t deny himself pleasure. So now I’m really starting to be like, ‘Why not?’”

Segarra, who is of Puerto Rican descent, was raised in the Bronx and left home at 17, first living in a Philadelphia squat and eventually relocating to New Orleans, where they busked in a motley hobo band called the Dead Man Street Orchestra. (“I couldn’t believe that it was real,” they recalled with lingering delight. “I just get to sing Tom Waits songs and people give me money?”) When Louisiana got too hot or Segarra just got too restless, they would ride the rails, getting to know America through blurred glimpses of its vast landscape.

Hurray for the Riff Raff’s “The Past Is Still Alive,” Alynda Segarra’s arresting, artfully autobiographical ninth album, is due Feb. 23.Credit…Luisa Opalesky for The New York Times

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