Bajofondo’s Gustavo Santaolalla Talks About Their 'Uninhibited' New Album 'Presente'


Picky Talarico

Co-founding member Santaolalla says "Presente" is a their statement album.

Bajofondo’s music is most often been characterized as “electro-tango”. Gustavo Santaolalla, the Oscar-winning composer, pioneering rock en español producer and co-founder of the band of Argentine and Uruguayan musicians, prefers to call it “uninhibited.”
“Part of what makes Bajofondo so hard to define is that it is a mixture of so many things,” says Santaolalla. With a new album, “Presente," out tomorrow (March 5) on Sony Masterworks, Bajofondo will kick off a U.S. tour at SXSW.
Santaolalla’s other current projects include a solo album to be released later this year, and the soundtrack for the furiously anticipated PlayStation adventure game “The Last of Us.” He paused to talk to Billboard in his studio in Los Angeles’ Echo Park neighborhood.
How would you describe the sound of the group’s new album, “Presente”?

The album is conceived as a trip, as a journey. It starts out very introspective. By the end of that trip, hopefully you will go through emotional landscapes, geographical landscapes, musical landscapes.
Part of what makes Bajofondo so hard to define is that it is a mixture of so many things. That’s why we’ve always been against the label of tango electronico. Because we feel we don’t play tango and we don’t play electronic. We play music that has elements of tango, but also milonga, candombe, rock, hip-hop, electronica, folk, symphonic music, progressive rock and funk.
All of those things are in our music, and hopefully the music represents who we are and where we come from. We are from that part of the world, from El Rio de la Plata, and we obviously have elements or genres that are embedded in us because it is part of the musical genetic makeup of that region. But also, we have 40 years of rock nacional, bands playing rock in our language and developing their own thing. And we have years of growing up listening to all kinds of music, from the Beatles to The Chemical Brothers, from Radiohead to Pavarotti. Growing up in Argentina and Uruguay, because it’s so far, we tend to listen to a lot more music than I feel kids do here. That was true of my generation at least. I used to listen to everything I could get my hands on.
I think Bajofondo is very hard to describe. And each piece is different form the other. We are very uninhibited.
Bajofondo, previously known as Bajofondo Tango Club, has existed for a decade now. How did the group get started?
The project really started as a lab project. It was Juan Campodónico from Uruguay and myself from Argentina as producers in a studio, inviting friends in as guests. That was “Tango Club,” our first record. That album got such a great response that people wanted to see the band. But we didn’t have a band.
Over a period of three months we put together the band, and that is the same band that has been playing for ten years. Once we started to play live, the music started to change, just because of the fact that we were playing live.
Our second record, “Mar Dulce.” captured the evolution of the band, but it still didn’t translate all of the power the group had live.
We arrived to “Presente” with several things in mind. We really wanted to make a statement, an aesthetic and artistic statement that has some weight. We were very clear that we didn’t want any guests on this record. We wanted to do it all ourselves. And we wanted to make a conceptual album. The album is almost like a double album because of the amount of music there is on it, and we wanted to make it a conceptual album, even if there is not a plot or a story line.
What would you say is the current balance for Bajofondo between music played on instruments, and programmed music?
When we started in the beginning it was 80% programmed and 20% played. And I would say today it’s probably 85% playing and 15% programmed.
There are about 30 musicians on the new album. We have a big string section, woodwinds and brass and percussion and harp and a bunch of other stuff.
Fans of Molotov, Juanes and other artists know you as a pioneering producer in the United States of rock en español, and what has become known as Latin alternative music on albums produced on your former label Surco, a Universal imprint. “Presente” marks your debut with Sony Masterworks, on which you’re also set to release a solo album later this year.
For many years I took myself out of the spotlight and devoted myself to help and discover new talent and take it to the next level. And I did that very successfully, but kind of the same time that Bajofondo came to life, at the same time the thing with the movies started happening for me, and suddenly I was again on stage. I had stopped playing for 20 years of my life. I was more on the side of producing for a long time, but now I feel like an artist. And I love the new phase.

Bajofondo begins a U.S. tour on March 18. What can people expect?

It’s an experience to see us live. There’s an immense amount of energy at our concerts. It all ends up on the stage with people dancing.