On Oct. 2, Puerto Rican singer/songwriter Tommy Torres released "12 Historias" (Warner), his first album in four years. The pop/rock set takes its cues from the likes of Bob Dylan, Simon & Garfunkel and early Elton John. It's surprisingly different from the albums and songs that Torres has written and produced for some of Latin music's biggest stars, including Ricky Martin, Ricardo Arjona, Alejandro Sanz and Ednita Nazario. Torres spoke with Billboard about finally having the time to write and produce for himself.
The album's sound is very '70s, down to the organ.
[In 2009] I finished Sanz's "Paraiso Express" and was also promoting my own album ["Tarde o Temprano"] and I was fried, creatively speaking. I was writing stuff, but nothing excited me. So I disconnected for a while, and when I realized it, I was listening to a lot of singer/songwriters from the 1970s. And I thought, "How about telling stories from around the world?" There are many characters on the album-there's a Buddhist monk, a student fresh out of college-and all the songs are in third person. The album sound is a bit more rough. We recorded the band entirely live.
There are collaborations with Martin, Sanz and Arjona in the credits, but they only sing background choruses. Why is that?
It was part of the charm. I like duets when they're written from two points of view. These songs weren't conceived like that. And it's like those older albums where artists would be passing by the recording studio, they like what they heard and they would just come in and record something. That's the spirit behind all the collaborations except the duet with Nelly Furtado, which was conceived as a duet and written eight years ago.
There really is nothing this acoustic or organic-minded on Latin radio today.
It's harder to write this way. I had to change [gears] and write without concerning myself about what everyone else was doing. And it gave me a lot of freedom to say a lot of things. We pop singers know we're romancing teenage girls. And in this case, I wanted to talk about other things. By speaking in the third person I was able to say things I may not have said openly before.
You write and produce for so many people. How do you keep your own voice when you do your own album?
There are undeniable similarities. But time puts a distance. This album has nothing to do with Sanz's "Paraiso Express", but that's because I put time between them.
Is that frustrating as an artist?
I sometimes wonder, "What would have happened if I'd sung that song?" And maybe nothing would have happened. I don't want to say I have no ego, but I try to concentrate on the project at hand. And if I'm working for Ricky or Arjona, I don't hold back. I always think, "My own project is coming up, and I can create again."
Do you see yourself first as an artist or a producer?
An artist. I became a producer as a way to become an artist.