This interview originally appeared in Dec. on Friends We Love, for which I guest write. And only now posting it. One of my favourite interviews I've done so far...Check it out
Great music. Good people. Work to inspire. This comes to mind when describing Galician musician and songwriter Xoel López.
He has been composing since his teens and gained popularity the past decade as Deluxe. Three years ago, though, he decided it was time for something else and put that name to rest. Off to the Americas he went…
That’s where I was introduced to his music: a random Saturday night in Montevideo’s Lindolfo Theatre, playing with Franny Glass and Pablo Dacal. The show was Canciones Compartidas, one of the many dates as part of Xoel’s La Caravana Americana project. When I learned about La Caravana’s joining of musicians and common roots, it compelled me even more to link with him. If it’s one thing I love, it’s Diaspora.
Recent schedules overlapped perfectly to connect in Buenos Aires, where he resides. It was a plethora of Spanglish, talking about being one half of Lovely Luna and their new album, Chang y Eng;producing Franny Glass’s new album, El Podador Primaveral; La Caravana Americana. And mate. Man, I love me some Xoel López.
JCA: Why Buenos Aires?
XL: That’s a good question. I decided three years ago to make a stop in my career and I decided to travel to America. One of the main parts of this story is that my girlfriend is from here, but that’s not all because I really wanted to be living in Buenos Aires. This is the kind of city that, when you visit, you think about coming back and staying for longer, you know? The other city where I felt that was New York. I came to Buenos Aires for two months and then to New York for two months, too. At the beginning, that’s the only thing I wanted to do. But then I decided to stay more and more and more and more and more. The years went passing by.
I left Spain. I left my career; I think, at the best moment… but [I was] just looking for new music, new experiences, living my life with more intensity. I needed perspective on all the things I’d done in Spain. I started very early—I was 15. When I was 17, I started to record records, doing tours in Europe. From 17 to 31, I made eleven records through many different projects. I never had time to chill. I needed it, and I thought America was a very nice place because the things I knew from this place— from North America to South America— I really loved. I thought it was a very nice place to go inside and go more deeply, with the culture and things.
JCA: Do you want to go back to Spain?
XL: Sometimes. It’s difficult to say because when you travel you always have these thoughts of staying. It depends on the day, the week, the month. Sometimes I miss a lot of things from there. Sometimes I worry about my career because I think the travel has been very long—maybe what I had is not anymore. But I would do it again. I really love this continent. Buenos Aires, especially, because I know this city more. When you start to know something of some value, you start to love it. The more I am here the more I love it. As the time passes by, I feel more like staying but I also miss Spain more. All the time there are these two feelings competing.
I have to say that the more I travel, the more I feel international. At the same time, I feel more Galician, more like my city.
JCA: What does it mean to be Galician?
XL: Galician people are immigrants. We are very rich in culture and many things, but not money; that’s the reason we were traveling all the time. We had a very important immigration at the beginning of the 20th century to America to many parts of the world, but especially Buenos Aires, Caracas, New York, New Jersey, Brazil, Mexico. Because Galicia came to America, I feel a bit American, too. There are many Galicians here, a lot of Galician culture in America. If you talk to a taxi driver, many times they will tell you, ¨My father is from Galicia. ¨This makes me feel like someone from these cities.
This is very important to say: we are travelers, but more than that, we have a strong culture. Even in Spain we are different. Spain is very complex, and Galicia is one of the reasons. We have our own language; that is why I really understand Portuguese, why I have listened to Portuguese music and Brazilian music since I was 10 years old. Galician is a mix of Spanish and Portuguese. It is the same language but it evolved in a different way. But we had the same language in the beginning. [I speak Galician and I love it] and it was a very important link for me to start speaking Portuguese, too.
JCA: How many languages do you speak?
XL: Not too many. I studied, like, three years of French so I can understand a little, but only Galician, Spanish, Portuguese, and a little English. [I studied English] at school and then I improved my English traveling, speaking to my friends in San Francisco.
JCA: How did you come to music?
XL: I can’t remember. When I was a child, I would listen to music and I asked my father to sing to me. He’s not [a professional] singer, but he likes to sing. And when I was, maybe, 8 years old, I started to play in the mirror with the [tennis] racket, [doing] that kind of stuff that every musician child has inside. I used to dream about having a band. (Laughs)At that time, I was probably more a manager. I would take cooking things and say to my friends, ¨Let’s play together. ¨ But we didn’t know how! This thing grew to what it is now. I think I was born a musician.
JCA: Where did you study or was there someone you studied with?
XL: No, not too much. I went to some teachers, especially for guitar, and I studied a little bit of piano. I studied in the conservatory, but just for three years. Everything was just half. I didn’t finish anything. But I took this little information I got and increased it by myself.
I think I learned singing by singing, singing, singing a lot. When I started, my voice was horrible. I started before my voice changed—you know, that moment when you become a man. I really practiced a lot; I started imitating voices I really liked. I made this mixer in the beginning, and then I started to make my own voice. It was something that just happened.
JCA: Why did you leave Deluxe?
XL: Deluxe was just another name for me. It was not a band, as many people think. It was a solo project. I really needed to change skins. Be myself. I started with Deluxe when I was 23 or something like that. Nowadays it makes no sense, that name. I am not the same person. I am more Xoel López than ever, maybe. My music is more directly related to my life and I don’t feel like there are two sides. I am not the kind of person that has [an onstage] personality; for me it is the same. I feel it very naturally. That is the reason I thought it was the moment to put them together and take off the mask.
JCA: Do you miss any part of Deluxe?
XL: It was easier; I stopped a successful career. For me, it was the right decision because I learned many, many things from life, from other musicians. I have more time now to do what I really want. At the same time, I think about my work; I had a lot of concert proposals. Sometimes I think maybe in the future I will miss that, but this change is the best for me.
I am still working hard to see if this is the correct way. The other way— I like it, but I prefer this one. So keep on going.
JCA: Did you get backlash?
XL: Well, my manager is the same, so he really understood. In fact, I am coming back to Spain with a new album. The first Xoel López album and I think I will start to work again and stay longer than these past 3 years. But he understood perfectly these three years of traveling, living, mixing music and growing up as a musician and as a person. Fans…yeah. Sometimes they say, ¨Come back to Spain. We understand that you are traveling, but come on. That’s enough. ¨ But I’ve been coming back for a while. I have played, but it’s been more like a transitional tour because I play songs from Deluxe and new songs that people don’t know yet.
For people who like Deluxe, I don’t feel like it’s a break-up. It’s a continuance. The last songs—especially the last two albums of Deluxe—are Xoel López albums. It is just a change of names.
JCA: You write in English, too?
XL: It’s very interesting. I have to speak about the Spanish scene, because it wasn’t
something personal, not me saying, ¨I’m going to write in English! ¨ Many people started to sing in English and I’ll tell you why: Anglo culture is very strong all around the world. That’s obvious, especially in cinema and music. Many people in Spain were born with English and North American music. For us, the references were from there. That’s why we started copying: thinking that if we speak and sing in English it will be more similar to the music we like. That’s the wrong concept. We have to sing in our language as the English sing in theirs.
When I was 15, I started to make songs. If you were in an underground band, you had to do it in English. You had to do that. Then I grew up and I noticed that I was copying, and so then I started singing in Spanish. Naturally, I should have done it at the beginning.
I really like to sing in English, Portuguese, and many other languages. But now for me, it’s something to do on special occasions. I probably will never do an English record of my songs again. I could do it if I did it with somebody, but [for the past ten years] I always write in Spanish.
JCA: What comes first: the lyrics or music?
XL: Lyrics, always. Sometimes together, but normally, the lyrics. When I started writing in English, I would do the opposite— it was strange. But now, if I’m going to make a song, it’s because I have something to say. I write about something then I put the music to that.
JCA: Do you do any other art? For example, Gonzalo (aka Franny Glass) told me he writes scripts.
XL: Many times my songs come from poetry I’ve made. But I am not a poet. I don’t have any book. I don’t feel like doing it now; I feel more secure in the songwriting style.
JCA: Your lyrics are poetic.
XL: You think so? Songs are different from poetry, but they have the same root. I think if you’re a poet and you practice, you can write a song, and if you’re a songwriter, you can become a poet if you wanted to. Maybe in the future? I have many things written without music, so I have to make something with that.
JCA: Tell me about La Caravana Americana.
XL: Wow. That may be the best and biggest project I ever made because it was not just me. I conceived it and made it possible, but there are many people involved and, as you know, people from many countries— from United States, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Colombia, Brazil, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, and Spain.
I wanted to explain to the Spanish people my travel to America and have a reflection of what I was living. It was very expensive for us— the project of our lives, maybe. But it was a dream come true. I took all these people to Spain and I showed them to the Spanish people to tell them there are many people making fantastic music that they don’t know about. If you listen to the radio, you listen always to the same thing. It’s not easy to meet a Pablo Dacal, a Franny Glass, or Bart Davenport. I wanted to show this very, very high quality of musicians, and we recorded a documentary of all my experiences in America and all the experiences of the Americans in Spain in this tour.
JCA: When does it come out?
XL: Maybe at the end of the year. It’s a very difficult process. In fact, we thought it was finished but then we decided to make it again; we really thought it was an important thing and we want to do it very well. In any case, I have the record in March, so I have things to do.
JCA: How did you find the musicians?
XL: Many of them because of friends. For example, Bart [Davenport] I met in Spain when he was playing there. That’s more normal: a North American playing in Spain, but not the opposite. I thought it was a very nice thing to do—me playing there [in San Francisco]. Bart really helped us in that way. Franny Glass, because I knew his manager. From that very first day, we became friends. It’s very funny— everything was very natural. Legiao Urbana is a big popular rock band in Brazil, and I met them because of friend in common, very casually. With all of them it was the same. Some of them—for example, in Venezuela, Jóvenes y Sexys and Ulises Hadjis—I met because I asked for people to play with as my band.
I had started doing this thing: I came to the country and I would say to the people I knew there, ¨Do you know people who could play with me? ¨ I didn’t have the [preconceived] idea of La Caravana Americana. It was a moment that came that I thought that this is incredible and a critical experience and I really have to tell the people about it. That’s how the Caravana came to my mind.
JCA: Is there anything that was missing that you would have liked to include?
XL: Yeah. Many, many things, many musicians don’t appear because it was a lot. The people in this documentary are not the most important part. For me, the philosophy, the idea of a mix of people, travel, cultures…the spirit is most important.
JCA: Do you feel yourself political? Is your music political?
XL: I don’t like people saying, ¨I’m not political. ¨ No. Obviously, you are. Every decision you make is political. That’s why I feel political, but sometimes I feel a little bit lost when I think about parties because it’s very difficult to know everything that’s happening. Politics don’t carry the whole thing. There are the banks, many things we don’t feel we can control. That’s why I feel apart from political parties and politics. But I have very strong ideas.
The Caravana is a project talking about opening borders. It is a little bit idealistic, too. It is democratic in many ways because there are many kinds of music and many different populations: people who are huge and some not so well- known, people 60 years old and people who are 22. This is political. I believe in this open mind concept of things. In fact, our friends from Colombia could not come to Spain because of passport issues. Very sad, but that’s a reality. This project is the opposite. It is against the monopoly. In Spain, we have English and North American influences. I love it, most of the records I have are from your country. But economically, we are influenced too much by that and it [affects] the music you do not hear, because it is all mainstream. If I live here, why do I have to listen to Beyoncé every day? Every time I get to a newspaper, it’s Beyoncé or Shakira. It’s not the only thing out there.
I was talking about the complexity of Spain, but in the States it is even more complex. New York —
JCA: Is like it’s own country.
XL: Yeah, absolutely. It’s strange, the feeling of being from somewhere. It’s very romantic and complex, something very spiritual. We were born where we were born; it was just by chance.
JCA: Lovely Luna. I have both albums.
XL: Really? And you are one of the people that prefer Lovely Luna to Deluxe?
XL: Okay, because it is a very common thing. Somebody comes to me at night, especially in Spain, and they tell me they prefer Lovely Luna than Deluxe. I really like that! Somebody listened to the records and listened to the music. Deluxe was popular at one time, but Lovely Luna was that obscure project on the side of Deluxe. [Lovely Luna] is my friend Félix Arias and me. We have been playing together since 1995, have three records. Our first one was in English, but it was only 500 copies in 2000.
JCA: Why Chang y Eng?
XL: It’s a nice metaphor of what we are. Félix is one of my best friends. We always had it as a part of our bands. We started making more pop-rock bands, and Lovely Luna was this perfect place where we were playing just acoustic music. Now the folk thing is bigger, but at that time we were very strange people to the rest. ¨Why are you playing without bass and electric guitar and drums? ¨ Félix and I were, like, ¨We like Simon and Garfunkel.¨ It was the ‘90s, with people like Nirvana, Oasis…so [comparatively] we were so boring.
Chang y Eng reflect the idea of Félix and me together no matter what happened around us. We didn’t mind what was happening, solo projects, because we are always connected.
I heard the story of Chang y Eng by chance. I made a short poem about the guys, not thinking about Lovely Luna or Félix. When we started to make the record, I thought, ¨I have this poem. Maybe you’d like it. ¨
JCA: You’re favorite song of yours?
XL: I don’t have one to say right now, but I can…it changes.
JCA: Do you have a song of yours that you don’t like?
XL: Yes. There is one on the last record. Well, I have many, especially, ¨El Ultimo Encuentro¨ onReconstruccíon. Many people like it, but I never play that song on stage. Never. I recorded it and then decided I didn’t like it. There are things you do quickly. A month later, you think the song is not for the record. Maybe if it was a single or a B-side but it was an example of making things quickly. You have to make things calm, think about it, reflect. You have to take time to do things. Sometimes you can make something quickly and it’s good, but many times you feel regret.
JCA: Are you addicted to yerba mate?
XL: Yeah! You don’t like it? I have become a purist. I have to say in the beginning, I didn’t like it, like many things: I didn’t like the first beer; I didn’t like the first cigarette…I gave up smoking a year ago.
JCA: Good! What made you stop?
XL: Thinking about death. Really. I wanted to live more, not die because of this stupid thing. And my voice. In fact, I think it’s better now. My voice is more open. And mate is of the culture. It helped a lot to give up smoking because I substituted the cigarette with the bombilla. You get used to it… and then you love it.
JCA: So, the new Franny Glass album [El Podador Primaveral]. What can you say about it?
XL: It was a very, very inspired recording— something unrepeatable. You can like it or not, but it is what we wanted it to be. We didn’t have much money; we made it at my house and I think it feels like that when you listen to it, very homey. We made it in maybe two weeks, the whole day just recording, recording, recording. Very concentrated. We didn’t have the best studio in the world, so I think we based all the energy on the inspiration and the feeling of the record. I had to think about what to add or not. I did it with Lalo, obviously, but the songs were very finished. He really knows what he wants, and that [makes it] really easy for a producer. I could concentrate on the mood, adding clothes to a body that is already defined. It made it quicker. We changed things, but very small things. I really concentrated on what the lyrics made me feel and how they inspired me, making the perfect mood to them. The lyrics are very much about the past and it is very, as I think I do, too, cinematographic. It inspired me as to what to do with the atmosphere: more reverbs, more acoustic, more rock, whatever. It was a production based on the feelings. It was something special. Not better or worse, but different because we are very similar. For me, producing is very different. I am a musician and composer, so my concept of production is maybe not very good to other producers, you know? But it is special, different in many ways.
I love the record because I love Lalo’s songs, especially the new ones. I think they’re more mature now, the lyrics of the songs. He’s mixing things with some folkloric themes from Uruguay. For me, Lalo is one of the best songwriters right now in Latin America, but he’s going to be more artistically important in the future, I think. But I think the best person to speak about the record is Lalo.
JCA: What inspires you?
XL: Life, people. The way people communicate, their relationships. I wrote about different things when I was 20 than now, being 34. Sometimes I make this in context. I talk about a feeling and I am talking about a little world— a city, for example. I have a song on my new record called ¨Buenos Aires¨. It’s not necessarily about Buenos Aires; I’m talking about my feelings here and why I came. In fact, it came from a question many people asked: why are you in Buenos Aires? [Art] is like therapy. It is a way to communicate with yourself and with the rest of the people.
JCA: What is love?
XL: I have a song on the new record. It is called ¨La Boca de Volcán¨ and it talks about all the different ways to call love and how love changes. Love is maybe the most important thing in my life. I am not talking specifically the love of my girlfriend or my parents. I mean love in a bigger context. I am not very religious. For me, love is a kind of god. I really believe in love. But what is it? Nobody knows. It is many things. You know they say how God is everywhere? Love, for me, is everywhere. Sometimes it changes to hate, but it is something very complex.
JCA: Do you think you can have love without hate?
XL: Yes. I try not to feel hate at all. Yeah… I think you can be a lover without hate. Love is respect. It is empathy. But you have to love yourself first and respect yourself to respect people like that.
Expect a new album from Xoel early 2012.
Foto Credit: Lola Garcia Garrido