At a time when rock en español lost steam to trap and reggaeton, Argentine icon Fito Páez righted the boat with his La Conquista del Espacio (The Conquest of Space), a gorgeous album that is equal parts a nod to The Beatles sound that Páez so identifies with and eclectic experimentation. The lushly orchestrated set, which ranges from blues to social commentary, won the Latin Grammy for best pop/rock album while the triumphantly joyous title track also won best pop/rock song.
Now, La Conquista vies for a Grammy in the best Latin rock/urban or alternative album, competing with fellow Argentines Bajofondo (Aura), Colombia’s Lido Pimienta (Miss Colombia), Puerto Rico’s Cultura Profética (Sobrevolando) and Chile’s Cami (Monstruo).
Páez, who despite having a string of Latin Grammys has only been nominated twice, spoke from his home in Argentina, where he’s been in deep lockdown writing his new album, a new symphony, and his memoir.
This is an album you did with a lot of hope and joy. How was the process?
One is always making music, but once in a while all the planets align. We went to this beautiful beach in Brazil, in Trancoso. We spent 10 days writing, the songs just flowed. We toured and continued to record and it worked. We stopped in Bogota, recorded some more. We called [engineer] Gustavo Borner in Los Angeles and he had time to work on it. Everything just fell into place with zero difficulties. It was a very beautiful, very joyful experience for the Páez family — and when we say Páez family, I mean my musical family.
You are competing in this mishmash category with a rock album. Do you feel the genre is starting to see an upturn?
I don’t think genres are that important. Works survive genres, in a way. I’m linked to rock, but many people may not know I’m an orchestral arranger or that I also sing tango. I also performed a lot in the U.S. last year, including a concert in Carnegie Hall, and that may have [raised my profile]. Of course, trap and reggaeton in a way took over the “alternative” slot. But rock continues to be an extraordinary school in Spanish.
I hear a lot of social commentary in this album, yet that’s not something I hear a lot of anymore in any genre. Do you think the revolutionary aspect of rock has been lost?
Revolutions are in aesthetics. When rock en español first appeared, it was so innovative that it created a whole continental movement, from Mexico downward and even in Spain. The word “revolutionary” can be very confusing when you speak of music. Chico Buarque in Brazil wrote “revolutionary” songs in the sense that there was a new aesthetic, as was the case with Charly García in Argentina, Café Tacuba in Mexico. And now, we have so many amazing new acts in Colombia and Argentina. Overall, I feel like Argentine rock did a silent and very influential campaign throughout the continent. It did something that was very stimulating for Latin American music.
You’ve been writing your memoir during lockdown. What did you remember that you hadn’t remembered before?
I wrote about my first 30 years. It’s all about “first times.” My mother’s death, music, sex, excesses, politics. All the groundwork of your life that is set in those first 30 years. I was pretty clear on my firsts, and I had help from my ex-girlfriends, my friends, my family.
What was the first time you fell in love, for example?
Well, there’s sex and there’s love and they’re different. For example, when I met [singer] Fabi Cantilo, I was part of Charly García’s band and we fell in love in the midst of tumult because she was dating Charly at the time, so, there was a bit of a ruckus. Which of course didn’t stop us from becoming friends and staying friends to date. I remember I arrived and she was the only woman there. I was a scrawny kid, very peculiar looking. And I came from a small city, and suddenly I was in Charly García’s living room, which was like being in Picasso’s atelier. We looked at each other, and one day I invited her to my hotel room to listen to music and we kissed for the first time, and that became a romance. They called us the “Sid & Nancy” of Argentine rock.
Looking back, what saddened you?
Writing the book was a rollercoaster. At times I was euphoric. But when I had to describe the murder of my grandmothers in Rosario, that took me a long, very anguishing month. I had to find the clippings, do interviews. It was one of the toughest moments of the “trip” because they were the women who raised me. Even though it’s a terrible burden you carry for life, putting it in writing shook me.
Can’t wait to read this book!
You’ll like it. There’s a hero there. He’s a bit of a loser, nothing works out for him, but they finally do. Pretty girls come up to him even though he has zero charm, and I infused it with a lot of humor. I’m considering several publishing offers.
So, now the hero has a Grammy nomination. How important is it to you to win?
Very. Because as always, when they open such an important music home for you, it’s very humbling. When the United States, this great home and music school that I’ve fed on since I was very young, to be told, “welcome,” that’s a big pat on the back. It makes you feel you’re part of the home. I remember when Phil Ramone produced two albums for me, we would have lively conversations. I’d say to him, “None of you know Roberto Goyeneche [an Argentine tango singer famous in the 1950s] and yet we know everything about Sinatra. We know Joni Mitchell and Steely Dan and you don’t know Spinetta and García.” But as it turns out, for reasons outside our hands, this kid from Rosario, Argentina, ends up knowing well the cultural treasures of the United States. I can play from Gershwin to blues, I know from be-bop to country, Bob Dylan to Prince. We had access to that information. So, to have that home open its doors to me, is hugely gratifying.