Monday, January 02, 2017

10 Questions For: La Oreja de Van Gogh


Starting a new year with an interview is a classic of Sounds European!. But when the talk is with one of the biggest names in Spanish-speaking music history, and a favorite act of the editors, we can't help but feeling there could be no better start. These are our 10 questions for Xabi San Martín, of La Oreja de Van Gogh:

Sounds European!: Let's start this talk with your background. How did you guys get to know each other? Who are your influences, the artists you had as examples when you were starting your career?

Xabi San Martín (La Oreja de Van Gogh): We started 20 years ago. We were friends from university and decided to gather mostly as a hobby, with no kind of professional interest and such. We liked the bands which played at that time. Nirvana, Pearl Jam, U2 – those were the groups everybody listened, the ones which took us to choose instruments and try to copy them. Our whole history happened by chance. We actually never thought music would be our life. This is how everything began – 20 years ago, at university. And then, little by little, after performing many covers, we tried to create our first songs, using the ones we liked as role models. Thus, we learned to play and to make music.

SE!: You are one of the most successful and influential Spanish bands of all times. And your music has crossed the borders of Spain and got to Latin America, where you have become one of the most important Spanish acts. How does it feel to have achieved so much with your career? And what else do you still dream of achieving?

XSM: Well, thanks a lot! It really sounds very big when you tell it. As I told you, we have never even thought we would record an album – not even that! So what has happened with us is something incredible, that none of us could expect. I believe our ambition right now is not selling more records and such. That hunger for success we once had is totally gone and has been left behind. Our biggest ambition now is to continue enjoying music, keeping together above all, and growing old together, writing songs.

SE!: We can perceive a very distinct pop-rock sound in all your albums. But we feel a very important differential in your work: every single album, you try to add a unique element, in genre and style. Is it a deliberate intention of yours to present new elements with every new release? If so, how do you pursue these new sounds? And, in the midst of such a wide musical range, how would you describe your own music?

XSM: Well, actually yes. With every new album, we want not to repeat ourselves. We try, on one hand, not to repeat old formulas – so that our fans and people who listen to us won't feel that we are just repeating ourselves. But, on the other hand, we also don't want to go so far seeking for innovation that it makes us lose our own identity. That's why we always have our songs to follow a similar concept, as you said, but adding a new element to it on each album.
At times, it can happen that an album sounds more electronic because of how we have recorded it, or that it is suddenly more acoustic. I guess our state of mind gives shape to the sound of our work. We can say each album by La Oreja de Van Gogh is an emotional picture of that period.
About describing our music... that's a really, really tough one! Especially because our work is very heterogeneous and there are songs of many genres within the same album. But I believe it's pop-rock music, with singer-songwriter songs, performed in a group.

SE!: Many people accross Spanish-speaking countries praise the lyrics of your songs. Some even say that they are your distinctive feature. What do you try to express in your lyrics? Is there any special time or place for you to come up with new lyrics?

XSM: Wow, thanks, it's really nice to hear that! The key, for us, is arousing emotions. We always write about situations or everyday feelings that we, or people close to us, have lived. In other words, we steal something from reality and turn it into a song. Our goal is to reproduce stories, feelings and everyday thoughts in our music.
We want the public to feel the same we have felt living the original stories. I believe this is what inspires us: life itself and everyday feelings.

SE!: Most of your albums and singles were well received in countries which do not speak Spanish. What does it mean to have conquered these audiences, especially when you have such strong lyrics in a language most of them can't understand? And have you ever thought about releasing albums in other languages?

XSM: This is really impressive, and it gives you the dimension of how music can reach beyond the literary content. Take when we played in Tokyo or Nagoya, in Japan, as examples. We've seen people singing our songs by just repeating phonetically what we were singing – probably without even knowing what they meant. We've played in London, in the Middle East, in Israel... It is really impressive to reach the hearts of so many people with music. And imagine when Spanish speakers understand what we say! I believe the message is multiplied even more!
About singing in other languages, we don't discard that idea for the future. But if we ever decide to do it, we would need to do it really, really well. We've seen how some groups which sing in English didn't manage to make their lyrics in Spanish fit so well. So, if you don't do it well (or if the decision is political or economical), it may sound too artificial. It sort of undermines the message and the poetry of your music. So, if we ever dare, it would have to be under our supervision and doing it with very much care.

"Each album by La Oreja de Van Gogh is an emotional picture of that period" (Picture: official Facebook page)

SE!: You've toured all around the world. Is there any place you feel is a must-go when you are planning a tour? And how is the experience of going on stage, for you?

XSM: There are countries which cannot be out of our tours. There are three places where everything happens: Spain, Argentina and Mexico. Spain is our home country. Argentina cannot be missed because, from there, we're in reach of the rest of South America (Chile, Colombia, Peru, Equador, Uruguay, Venezuela...). And Mexico – from there, we're in reach of the United States and the rest of Central America. However, there is a country which is our biggest dream. We have not been there yet and we must go before we die: Brazil. We've always been close to visiting São Paulo or some other cities near the border with Argentina but, for one reason or another, we could never go.
About being on stage, it is pure adrenaline. Every concert, we are reminded that performing live is the real reason we make music. Albums are very nice, and playing on radios and TVs is also great – they make the group be known. But actually, the purest and most direct experience is during the concerts, on stage. We write our music for the people who attend our shows. All the other things are simply means to be known. That is what we really feel: it is music in its purest expression, on stage. That's why it is what we enjoy the most.

SE!: You have just released "El planeta imaginario", your seventh studio album. What can the public expect from it?

XSM: All fans of La Oreja de Van Gogh will be thrilled with these 12 new songs. I think that, this time, 20 years after starting, our lyrics and our music are a bit more "adult", a bit more ambitious and complex. We could surely say that it is one of the deepest and most emotional albums of ours. But it's really hard to describe music, right? I believe the best thing is for people to go directly to Spotify and listen to our album. I could try to keep explaining, but what's good about music is that it explains itself.

SE!: What are your plans for promoting your new album? And what else can your fans expect in 2017?

XSM: As you can imagine, we're in the middle of our promotion in Spain, Mexico, Argentina and the rest of Latin America, with videoclips, promotional advertisement in radios, the usual stuff. This new year, 2017, will be fully dedicated to concerts, presenting this album on stage. We will start in Spain, then we'll continue in the United States, Latin America and finally once again in Spain. And, if we're lucky, who knows, in Brazil – maybe we'll finally make it. This will be the year of live music!

SE!: You've released many duets with artists from many different places. Is there anyone missing in your list? Who would be some Spanish and international artists you'd like to collaborate with?

XSM: There would be so many! What happens with duets and collaborations is that we always try to think about the music, not about politics or marketing. That's our biggest ambition. At times, we notice most of duets are decided in an office of some recorder. But we want the decision to be musical. That's why it is important for the music to exist before the duet. When we have new songs, I'm sure more duets from Spain or any other country will follow. But, as I'm saying, it would be the music taking us to the protagonist – not the protagonist before the music.

SE!: We would like to finish this interview with a song of yours. What is your favorite song by La Oreja de Van Gogh, and why?

XSM: This is really hard! Imagine that we have written more than 100 songs in 20 years... Plus, any of us five is the least accurate one to say which is our best song – for us, all of them have their meaning. But "Diciembre", which will be the second single from "El planeta imaginario" (at least in Spain), is a song which is really important for us. We really care for it and we feel it will start playing everywhere. If you put it and people enjoy it, then we'll be very happy.

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