Enrique Bunbury, the Spanish rock legend of the instantly recognizable singing voice and theatrical onstage persona, is just another guy in faded black jeans sitting in a busy West Hollywood café on a recent weekday morning. Bunbury admits to feeling a bit nervous about his first interview to talk about the Oct. 29 release of his double album, "Palosanto" (OSECA/Warner Latina), which he wrote and recorded in Los Angeles, his current home.
"What I wanted to do was tell a story of the changes in society I've seen over the last few years," says the 46-year-old former Heroes del Silencio vocalist, speaking quiet Spanish that belies his trademark vibrato.
The self-described nomad is scheduled to tour Latin America, Spain, and the United States throughout 2014.
"Palosanto," the title of your new album, has mystical connotations as the name of the South American tree whose "holy wood" is said to have healing properties. You've joked on your web site that you'll have to invent a reason for the album title for inquiring journalists, like it's "the wood my guitars or the baseball bats I use to destroy the boxes they try and put me in are made of." Well, you're right, I want to know: Why "Palosanto"?
It has a lot of meanings, I will tell you one. I started writing the songs for this album at about the same time that I came to live in Los Angeles, in 2010. When I went to put a name on the hard drive for the album, I remembered a friend from Andalusia who made a rather strange, mistaken Spanish translation of the word Hollywood – he translated it as palo santo. So I titled the hard drive "Palosanto".
Later, I was on tour in the U.S. when the police called that someone had broken into my house and taken that hard drive, where I had most of the songs for the record. There were about 30 songs and I didn't have a back up. That was in 2011 and I had to go back and rewrite the album.
The first single, "Despierta" has been released, with a dystopian video directed Alexis Morante in which you're singing on a desert landscape of abandoned boats.
I think "Despierta" is a song you can look at from a personal point of view and a social point of view. What I wanted to do [with the album] was tell a story of the changes in society I've seen over the last few years, and the possibility for change that has come out of different countries and communities. The protests, people going out onto the streets and facing a system that seems to be worn out.
"Despierta," which is the first track on the record, shows optimism that people are rising up. Then the album moves on to the cynicism and sarcasm that converts all of people with hope into targets for criticism and ridicule. Then a part of the record asks if the only way to revolution is through the spilling of blood. The second album is the more introspective part, it asks if the changes in life aren't really much smaller, if they can be reduced to the family, the couple, the neighborhood. And finally,it asks if revolution is merely a spiritual exercise. That's basically the story of the album.
"Palosanto" is literally epic. What was your writing process like?
For this record I locked myself in a little room very early every morning. I departed from the usual songwriting method of a rock musician who seeks out the night – you could say that dawn is my new night. I worked in a very rigorous way, almost with office hours. I gave myself the routine of working and writing and composing songs everyday, obviously accepting that if you work every day, not everything you do is going to be good. I used to always work in a more chaotic way. A lot of times I was just waiting for the muse. This time I sought her out.
You recorded the album in Los Angeles, in Draco Rosa's Phantom Vox and Westlake studios, and you've been living here for several years now. Why Los Angeles?
I've always lived a bit like a nomad, moving from one place to another. I've lived in different places in Spain, I also lived in Havana for a while. To travel and get to know other cultures has really helped me to detach myself from established ways of thinking. We live with a series of cultural lies we've learned that make us think that things are a certain way. Traveling helps you shed that way of thinking that you've learned from your own culture.
When I decided to come here to Los Angeles to live, it was like continuing that constant journey. I even remember flipping a coin to decide whether to come here or New York. Now I am in love with this city, but for me it's just another place where I am temporarily.
You have such a distinctive voice, probably the most immediately recognizable in Spanish-language rock. When you were starting out in the 1980s, did you set out to create a voice and persona for yourself?
I had two idols who I tried to imitate, David Bowie and Elvis Presley. No one is born out of nothing. We didn't invent rock and roll. But generationally, we have expressed things differently.
How do you see the state of Spanish-language rock today?
Rock en Español was a label that worked very well at one time, but it's not a name that describes what is happening now in Latin America.
What about Latin Alternative?
That is the new label. Somehow "rock en español" has become something of the past, and we're three or four or five artists who still have a significant following. I think it's logical. The public changes, and there are some artists who are able to stay relevant, and other artists who just don't connect with a new generation. There are few artists who can make that connection with different generations.
And you are one of those artists?
I can't complain.