Lea la versión en español aquí.
How is Fito Páez, one of the fathers of rock 'n' roll en Español, largely spending the pandemic? In short, working, because he hasn't stopped. When the thought of a break comes up on a phone call from a rural part of Argentina where he is working on his forthcoming 25th album, he responds with a laugh. "Why?" he asks. "As long as you have fun and occupy your time in this strange period of a pandemic, the choice is a very healthy one."
It might be that work ethic that has led to the influential Argentine singer/songwriter releasing more than 30 albums—in 2013 alone, he released three of those albums. In more than four decades of making music, he's sold more than 3.5 million albums. His latest album La Conquista del Espacio is a rock/pop album with extraordinary orchestral arrangements and a hint of cumbia. On an artistic note, the album was an opportunity for him to reinvent his sound.
The long, curly-haired boy from Rosario who began as a keyboardist in the Argentinian Trova Rosarina rock scene in the '80s is now gone. Now, Páez is a full-on Latin pop legend, a status he attained by experimenting with pop, synth and Latin sounds, among others.
La Conquista del Espacio is a testament to that, and in 2020, the album earned him a Latin GRAMMY for Best Pop/Rock Song for "La Canción De Las Bestias." Last year he also saw his second GRAMMY nomination, the first in 20 years, for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album.
In celebration of the GRAMMY nomination and career trajectory, Páez revisited several albums in his catalog for GRAMMY.com and spoke about the growth, meaning and influence behind them.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Let's start with Del 63, your first solo album. Why did you go solo?
I started as a part of the Juan Carlos Baglietto group and a movement called La Trova Rosarina. I was Juan Carlos's pianist when he decided to come to Buenos Aires from Rosario. From the age of 15, while I was playing with Juan Carlos, I also had my solo groups: Staff, El Banquete, and Juan's group came pretty quickly. Juan's [group] growing up was a very important popular phenomenon in Argentina.
At one point, one of the producers at EMI Odeón in those years in Argentina, Jorge Fortunato, proposed that I have a solo career. I thought he was kidding me. I was 19 years old—imagine! So I accepted immediately, of course.
There I met Charly García. I knew his work, not him personally—and that generated a great shock to me, because Charly calls me to play keyboards on a live show for his Clics Modernos album. There, I received an injection of music, modernity, tradition—of serious work.
Del 63, I think is a failed album in many ways, but on the other hand it's the album that triggered me to do what I really wanted to do, which at that time was to be a lot like Charly and experiment with sounds that I hadn't worked with in a studio. The drums played in a certain way, or the bass, or the guitar—in short, I began to explore other worlds.
In "Del Sesenta Y Tres," you sing about politics and the Vietnam War. You also name Antonio Carlos Jobim who you were listening to. When you hear this song years later, what do you think?
It gives me a very fond feeling, and I think that all of that is [still] real, in some way it is a [feeling of] luck, of here I am. I'm here, I'm Fito Páez, I'm from Rosario, I'm from Argentina, I have all of those influences in my life. It is a fundamental song.
Yes, they had killed [John] Lennon recently. My father put Jobim on when I was a child and Antonio Carlos became one of my [most influential] musicians over the years.
Yes, they were assassinating Kennedy, but the song was in the throes. On the other hand, do not forget that the Alfonsinist spring was coming— as it was called, democracy in Argentina after so many years of military dictatorship.
That's why it makes that final call: "We are going to try to improve the world, because the banquet is ready," it goes [in the song]. So there is something nostalgic, there is something affirming, of, "Here we are," there is also some positivity towards the future.
I noticed that on the album cover you have long hair. Is that not your thing anymore?
[Laughs.] No, I cut it in '96. Actually, my hair was long, because—I wanted to have it that way, because they said no, Jennifer, do you understand? They wouldn't let me have it that way. When I was able to, I said, "Well, now I'm going to keep it long and I'm not cutting it anymore."
Until life put me in my place after spending countless money on shampoo and rinse cream. Cecilia Roth, who was my wife during those years, also came to untangle my life. That also made me cut my hair.
In '87, Ciudad de Pobres Corazones came out, which was a personally heavy album for you. You made it after the murder of grandmother and your aunt. What does it mean to you to be able to make music to process difficult moments like these?
It's everything. In a sense, music is a language. What happens to you in life becomes the laboratory where you will carry out a large part of your work. Music in that sense has been an instrument, a universe, I would say.
It helped me be stronger. When you count or try to address different situations, you are somehow draining your interior out and music helps you manifest it. There is a permanent liberation, in that sense, in whatever the theme you are telling. There is always something that happens inside you that you need to be able to manifest.
How do you think you grew as a songwriter on this album?
There is something happening there, there is a break there, because somehow there is a [sense of], "I don't care about anything. I don't care about anything."
There is some of that [nature], but at the same time in the domain of language. For example, on that album, there is a song called "Ambar Violeta," which is a piece by Mozart, it could be on one hand.
On the other hand, then there is experimenting with Latin techno, like "A las Piedras de Belén." Prince was also coming into my life in those years, in a way there was also a strong influence from that musician of excellence, Mr. [Rogers] Nelson. Also, the fact of having been a secondary victim of a tragedy, that also forces you to have to be open, to get into terrain that you do not know and not be afraid of it, to try to express it in a way that is not known to you.
Tracks like "Fuga en Tabú," for example, which has that unusual ending, is a kind of techno reggae that ends with chords like Joe Zawinul from Weather Report. Anyway, there are a number of mixtures there where I felt that I took a step forward as a musician, rather than as a songwriter.
Years pass, we get to '92, and you release El Amor Después del Amor. According to Apple Music, you sold more than 600,000 copies and this album was a sold out show, that is, this album was very successful. How did that make you feel?
Yes, that album sold one and a half million copies in Argentina.
That's huge. How did you feel?
It was crazy, frankly. It was a moment of [my] maximum popularity. It was [during the time of] El Amor Después del Amor and Circo Beat, which went out immediately after. It was a very bright time, to be honest, because all the things I used to do, I couldn't do again. You start to live more locked up; you lose a bit of contact with what your daily life was on the street.
I would tell you that I enjoyed it a lot in the sense that there, when I get to that album, I'm already mature enough as a musician and as an artist to be able to offer those two albums and in that sense have the freedom and curiosity to continue studying music.
All that paid off in the width of the albums and in the playback at each concert of those albums. In my personal life, I was suddenly transformed as if I were a president. They followed me, I was like Carolina de Monaco [laughs].
What was the inspiration behind El Amor Después del Amor?
I was ending a long relationship of several years with Fabiana Cantilo, a great Argentine singer/songwriter, and, today, a soul sister. I was starting a relationship with Cecilia Roth, with whom I had a son, Martín, who is now 21. We were together for 11 years. I was initiating a bond that was going to be very important, I knew it.
It seems to me that this emotional transfer of that situation was the engine that started everything. And, of course, having a person like Cecelia around was also very important. [She] lit the fuse.
When there is a muse, many seduction mechanisms are activated. Luckily, musical or artistic ones are also activated. That seems to me was the inspiration for the whole album, plus the obvious growth that I was having as a musician, as an artist.
There was more information, it was better processed, I had a much more relaxed management of the studio, I was already almost 28 years old and I had already produced a lot of records. All of that was distilled into the album.
El Amor Después del Amor brought you success, but in 2000, you won your first Latin GRAMMY for best song for "Al Lado del Camino." Was this the biggest of your career at that point?
No. I don't believe much in highlights; there are no such things. But the important thing that the album brought me was meeting Phil Ramone.
He was one of the greatest music producers in the history of music and was a dear friend. [He was a] teacher to me in the sense that I could see how a producer really works, what is the task one should perform. I saw his generous heart, his extramusical research on what he had to record.
Let's remember that for that album with Phil, we spent almost a month and a half before entering the studio. Me going to New York, meeting his family and him doing the same in Buenos Aires.
He was an extremely curious and warm man. He wanted to know what Peronism was, for example, which is a very difficult thing to explain still because, for Argentines, it remains a mystery. I wanted to know things so I could later make decisions about my music. The most beautiful thing about him that I take, first, is that he was a charming and loving person.
[When I think of him,] I remember how a producer does the task of the producer. The only thing a producer has to do, and I saw that clearly with him, is to prepare the ground for the artist to be free on the battlefield, absolutely free.
Phil taught me freedom, in a sense. That is my memory of Phil: as one of the great people I crossed paths with in music.
Fast forward to 2007: Rodolfo came out and you won another Latin GRAMMY. On this album, you're only accompanied by piano. Why?
Yes. I'll tell you, I was finishing the editing of a film, my second feature film, which is a comedy, set in Rosario in the '80s, at full speed.
You have seen a '80s movie—imaginative, toxic, with a lot of humor. We were all young. There was a lot of music—an explosion of color. The filming and the entire adventure of the film had been a very strong experience.
As a Piscean, when I was finishing editing that explosion of music, lights and emotions, I would come home after long editing sessions, apart from having composed the music too. I would sit at the piano and play, which seemed to calm me somehow.
Rather than calm down, I would tell you that it turned me on again, but ... [The music would come out] a bit like in El Amor Después del Amor. When it would come out like [the music from] ¿De quién es el Portaligas? I got into this adventure of Rodolfo, which was very austere and in black and white, while the film was an '80s epic at full speed and in color.
I think my Piscean character has always allowed me to move [between] these extremes.
You believe in astrology?
It amuses me a lot. Of course, I have read Linda Goodman's books, I recommend them to all who have not read them. She is an excellent astrologer from New York.
You started with rock, but have obviously experimented with other sounds like on this album. Did you ever mind creating outside of rock?
No, but you know why? Because you don't leave these things.
I was born in a lower-middle-class house. My father was a municipal official. At that time, in the '60s ,'70s, let's say, my father, who was a worker, listened to the popular music of the world [and it] was very colorful.
In my house, you could hear [Aníbal] Troilo's tango orchestras ... you would hear Mercedes Sosa, you would hear Burt Bacharach, you would hear Antonio Carlos Jobim, you would hear jazz, Oscar Peterson, Friedrich Gulda. You heard everything.
My father also injected that freedom into me. Rock for me is a genre that I enjoy a lot, in fact now I'm making an album that is very rock, but it's not a central element in my music. I also remember when I traveled to Cuba, I had the possibility to cover what Cuban son [music] was like, learn the key, learn to play it.
When I traveled to Peru and got to know how the Peruvian marinera moved through Lucho Gonzales, who had been one of the guitarists of Chabuca Granda, I learned about Brazilian music—how the choro, samba moved. The Northeast's music, Jobim's harmonies, João Gilberto's drive, the guitar.
When you go to Chile and learn the cueca, I was able to appreciate and get to know it very closely because of Álvaro Henríquez, who is a great rock artist.
I am a very curious man, I like music in general, I have no prejudice in that sense. So I would tell you that rock, first of all, it's a very difficult word to define, a very difficult genre because, as Bowie said, "Rock is a culture." It is a sense for which Oscar Wilde, a Victorian writer, is also rock born in another era. Mozart would also be rock in a sense. [Laughs.] So more than a musical genre, as our dear David said, it's a culture.
Now, I want to talk about Yo te Amo, which is your 20th album. When you started your solo career, did you imagine reaching album 20?
No, I didn't even think I'd get to the corner of my house, imagine that. I just think I am one of the lucky people that music has allowed into their home. Of course that is not free, it is not easy, it takes work, tenacity and desire for knowledge. In short, it's a study of many things.
On your website, I read that the album is "Dedicated to all who live in and with love." What do you mean by that?
It is a Buddhist or Gandhian way of dialogue, an album dedicated to those who live for and in love. Love as a beneficent force, outside of the concept of romance. Love is solidarity, love as piety, love as humor, love as an embrace, as a company, all of these things make us better people.
We all need love now...
We always need it, what happens is that we do not realize that human beings are very vain and very conceited. We think that we have everything under control or even, many at the moment, we give ourselves the luxury, even to be cynical or ironic. They are all attitudes of a fly tickling an elephant.
When death comes, it will stand in front of you and erase you with one finger. That's why I say in the process of life, the important thing is a hug, a look, closeness, the dust. I don't know how to say it, if we understand how to have [meaningful] sex. Being in contact with each other, of course without losing the moments of intimacy and solitude that are very important. In the drive-by shooting that is life, we just have to hug and accompany each other.
Is love your favorite topic to write about?
I believe that love is what interests me the most, which does not mean that I am not a fan of [Carl von] Clausewitz and know the treatises on war or the art of war, which interests me a lot too, but I think that love is the most elusive, mysterious and indefinable matter. Utopian matters are always the ones that have caught my attention the most.
Yo te Amo was launched in 2013, but it was not the only album you released that year, you also released two others. Were you tired at the end of 2013?
Of course, that's when El Sacrificio came out. El Sacrificio was an album where I could collect all the cursed songs that had been left out of other albums plus [add] some new ones, which were also cursed.
Because I realized that when I tried to put any of those songs on an album, I surely thought that the listener was going to jump to another song, or was it possible that they could possibly want to hear the story of a murder every day.
I built a house for all those damn songs and there they were fine. They love each other; they repel and accompany each other. It is an album that I like very much, Sacrificio, I also released Dreaming Rosario in parallel, which is an album where the virtues of love are exalted.
There is a song dedicated to my son. It is a romantic album.
In 2014, Rock and Roll Revolution arrived, a tribute to Charly García. What does he mean to you?
As it says on the album, he is my moral reserve, he is an artist who was lucky enough to cross paths with, meet him, now be his family, but I never forget the artist he is, because when you spend a lot of time around someone, you forget that they are a genius or that they are someone superior, really in that sense.
I have these two dimensions with Charly. He is a fundamental person in my life, he has been by my side during the most important moments of my life, the good and the bad, he is a person of lucidity, I have only known a few in the world. He is a bright, intelligent, audacious, rogue man.
A composer [like him] appears once every 1,000 years. I would tell you that he is one of our Mozarts of the 20th and 21st centuries, and I would tell you that he is a central artist to think about when you think of rock in Spanish, music in Spanish [in general] and a little in global music … He is in a musical dimension; he is in contact with a lot of different universes.
I want to finally talk about your most recent album, La Conquista del Espacio. What inspired the title?
That is very difficult to answer because I believe unconsciousness is always really activated. When one works, intuition also.
Later, we began to see with Max Rompo, who was the designer of the album art, that La Conquista del Espacio was something that was everywhere—from the conquest of the miniskirt in '78, women's rights or when a flower is released from a stem, or how inside of a cell, protons and neutrons are fighting to occupy space.
Also, the conquest of the embrace, the subject in a moment. I think that La Conquista del Espacio is something that got out of hand, it ended up being very comprehensive, like El Amor Después del Amor.
Which part of the production process did you enjoy the most on this album?
I would tell you everything. Now I understood, because the first part of it was, as it always is, even now, about 10, 12 days in a small fishing village in Brazil.
I went with Diego Olivero and a friend, and there I developed the little cells I had to make the songs. It was actually very nice because things don't always appear so clearly and so genuinely, sometimes the work takes a long time. Simply, here I emptied the cells that I had on my phone, which I have been recording throughout the year, and when we started to develop it, in 12 days we had the album composed—lyrics and music.
The whole process, Jennifer, I would tell you, was totally joyful, a rare, one in an album-making idea because complications always appear at some point and they didn't exist here.
What have you learned from yourself as a creator after all these years of making music?
That it is very necessary to move from [one] place [to another]. And that it is very easy to get comfortable with what you know, but that has something to do with what's inside oneself.
I remember a poet friend, Fernando Noy, who used to tell me, "When I like myself the most and enjoy myself the most, is when I don't know myself." [Laughs.] I think this person wrote that and I always thought the same as he did, I always felt the same.
On the other hand, knowing there are inevitable consequences of the development of a style over the years, which you cannot avoid, but what I can do is incorporate different forms of an album. For example, now, for the first time, there are six songs that we are recording in which I did not play a single piano.
It is the first time that there will be no piano on an album of mine, possibly.
I say those things to encourage those things.
You already won a Latin GRAMMY; now, you are nominated for a GRAMMY, I know it's your birthday the day before the GRAMMYs. What would happen if you win a GRAMMYs for La Conquista del Espacio?
Let's see. The first thing I'm going to tell you is that I'm going to feel great gratitude to the great music school that is the United States of America, with whom and where I have been trained, among so many types of music that I have learned and enhanced.
When I am nominated, I feel the same, but like when you arrive at a high music house, such as Brazil, Mexico or Cuba, when they accept you or in Chile, Peru or Uruguay, who give you a pat on the back and say "Welcome, now you are part of the family."
I believe his award is very important in my life because they are things that complete you, I have a great intimate relationship with the music of the United States of America. There is something like a full-circle moment that would occur with that award that would give a lot of satisfaction, a lot of pleasure.
But, I tell you, I'm already very happy and having a feeling of fullness with this nomination.