Vicentico
Courtesy of Sony Music

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs frontman talks new solo album, band's 30th anniversary

Vicentico's new album, Último Acto, revisits some of the raw-voiced Fabulosos Cadillacs frontman’s best-known songs. But there are surprises. Willie Nelson collaborates on a new version of “Sólo un Momento,” and rhythm geniuses Sly & Robbie drop in for “Las Estrellas.”

Two classic covers also stand out on an album whose sound varies from salsa to pop, reggae and country: Vicentico’s Spanish-language slow-dance update of the 1972 hit “Alone Again (Naturally)” and his Quentin Tarantino-meets-Pedro Almodovar take on La Lupe’s signature vein-cutter “Puro Teatro.”

“I think it’s a very eclectic record and it passes through a lot of different places,” Vicentico says about his sixth solo recording, which was released digitally earlier this month (the CD drops Jan. 20). “But somehow it works.”

From Las Vegas -- where the Argentine singer performed at the Latin Grammys Person of the Year Dinner for Joan Manuel Serrat -- he talked Último Acto, his Zen take on success, and the possibility of a new album from Los Fabulosos Cadillacs.

The biggest surprise on this album is your duet with Willie Nelson. How did that come about?

When I was putting the repertoire for the album together at one point I said, ‘And how about if we invite Willie Nelson?’ It was something that went through my head that I thought would never happen. [But] Willie just asked us to send some of my songs to listen to, and then he said yes. That was it.

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He’s an angel, such a warm person. We recorded in Nashville, and it was surprising to see a legend like Willie Nelson just sitting in front of the microphone, with his braids and blue eyes, so simple and so profound in his way of singing and really committed to the song. It was an important moment for the album and an important moment for me as an artist.

Ultimo Acto consists of new versions of previously-recorded songs of yours, plus some covers. Why this revisitation instead of new songs?

The idea of doing an album of new versions of my songs wasn’t my idea. To be honest, I never would have thought of it. I was ready to record a new album with new songs, but my label, Sony, asked me to do an Unplugged or something like that. I wasn’t enthusiastic about the idea of an Unplugged, so I proposed a record that would allow us to travel to some different places in the world with musicians who are at the roots of my music.

So the part of the album that’s more salsa we recorded in the Bronx with a band called Our Latin Thing. We recorded other parts in Nashville, and then we were in Jamaica. 

Another part of the album we recorded in Argentina with an orchestra. The orchestra director was Jorge Lopez Ruiz, an old arranger who worked a lot in the 1970s with Sandro and other artists, so the sound has a retro color. He arranged my songs as if they were from that period.

So what category will they put this one in when it’s nominated for next year’s Latin Grammys?

[Laughs]. I think it’s a very eclectic record and it passes through a lot of different places, but somehow it works. There are a lot of styles but only one artist, and that’s what makes it all come together. Everything is funneled through my personal style. Whether it’s a salsa song or gospel or ska or reggae it doesn’t matter -- there’s something I want to say that I say with my voice and my tone.

When you started recording your solo albums, was it because you wanted to explore your more melodic, romantic side in contrast to the Cadillacs' upbeat sound?

I started doing solo records because, with Los Cadillacs, we decided to stop working for an extended period. That was in about 2000. I don’t know how to do anything except record albums, so I started writing and recording on my own.

When you say romantic, I agree in that it’s a romanticism taken to its highest point; but not that I’m a cantante romantico. Yes, I’m interested in love in all of its dimensions, from the dark side to the purest that it can be. The songs that I wrote for the Cadillacs were like that, too, only my solo songs are more intimate because I’m writing for a singer, not a band.

You also recorded with Sly & Robbie for this new album. Were they a big influence on the Cadillacs?

I’ve been a fan of Sly & Robbie since I was a kid, and everybody in the Cadillacs were fans of theirs. We recorded in one afternoon in Kingston. They are two very different characters. Sly is like a nice little old man and Robbie is just the opposite, a big dude with the face of a bad guy. They are both lovable and incredible musicians.

Los Fabulosos Cadillacs have been together for 30 years. Looking back, you were pioneers in the newly democratic Argentina in the 1980s. The Cadillacs brought ska and a party vibe to a scene that was dominated by a more emotional and lyrical kind of rock.

We got together like every other band on the history of humanity, in school or in the street. We were kids of 16 or 17 who didn’t like sports or studying, and we got together to make music. Our music school, you could say, was punk rock, and we started with that. After a year of being together we recorded an album, and that was well received and we realized that we could really make music.

Everything happened naturally. After 30 years everything is still the same. The great thing about music is that you don’t even realize what’s happening. You make a song and that song starts to travel the world, and you start traveling, too. Looking back I don’t have any memories of it being hard, everything was easy, and it keeps on being easy.

Will the Cadillacs tour in 2015 to celebrate the 30th anniversary?

Yes, we are going to do some concerts. And we are thinking about recording something new together, but we have to think about that a little more.

What about a solo tour?

Starting in March, I’ll start touring in Latin America. I hope to get to Spain, if I’m invited.

And the United States?

Yes, I suppose I’ll do some U.S. dates too.

Is success in the U.S. market important to you?

Not especially. I like to travel and do concerts, and I’ve gone from playing for a lot of people, to less people, to a lot of people again for many years. The important thing is to connect with at least one person. The public’s about who’s there that night. I don’t really notice what the repercussions of it are. That’s what we musicians are here for, to make the nights as magic as possible.