Fonseca Goes Wide And Deep on New Set 'Agustin': Exclusive Interview

Denise Truscello/Getty Images for LARAS
Fonseca attends the 19th annual Latin Grammy Awards at MGM Grand Garden Arena on Nov. 15, 2018 in Las Vegas. 

The set was named for the singer's newborn son.

When Colombian singer/songwriter Fonseca (full name Juan Fernando Fonseca) was getting ready to release his new album, the street date kept shifting, as they are wont to do. September became October became November, which became November 9, which would coincide with the birth of Fonseca’s baby boy.

“I had been looking for a name for the album and I like the album titles to reflect the moment I’m in. And one day, as I was driving, it hit me: Agustin. The name of my son.”

Beyond the very personal significance of the title, Agustín is an eclectic departure for Fonseca. Yes, it features his signature mix of pop and vallenato, but it also takes unexpected detours that highlight some of Fonseca’s best attributes, including his plaintive voice and pathos. The opening track, “Ven,” is a slow ballad, which blends into the slightly trippy “Paso a pas” featuring Ana Torroja and “Que se vaya contigo,” which brings Mexican rockers Kinky into decidedly pop commercial territory. It also brings Fonseca together with many different producers, including Mauricio Rengifo and Andrés Reyes, Julio Reyes (no relation) and Fernando Belisario.

The variety makes sense coming from Fonseca, an artist who’s willing to experiment on many planes. On Nov. 29, he’ll play the AmericanAirlines Arena in Miami and in December, he’ll play a series of concerts in his native Colombia accompanied by Orquesta Sinfónica de Colombia.  

Billboard caught up with Fonseca days after the birth, and release, of Agustin.

You open the album with an acoustic ballad, “Ven.” It’s so beautiful and such a departure for you, or anyone, to open an up tempo album like this. What’s the story behind the song?

I wrote it for [my daughter] Paz. She’s eight years-old and she resents my traveling so much. She’s at an age where it affects her and saddens her, and that touched me to the core. Obviously what affects her affects me and at the end of the day there’s not much I can do. One day I went late to the studio to record some guitar parts, and it came to me as I was playing. I literally sculpted the song in two hours.  

You also have “Paso a paso” with [former Mecano member] Ana Torroja. How did that come about?

I wrote that song with [Venezuelan singer/songwriter] Fernando Osorio and his daughter. And I sent Ana a very long message on twitter, she was super cool and wrote me back asking me to send her the song. I did, and there’s Ana in the album.

You’re releasing an album at a time when most artists are releasing singles. Why?

It’s related to what I was saying about the title. Compiling the songs I have and putting them together under a single name marks a stage in my life. I realize albums are becoming a thing of the past, but I like to say, ‘this is what I’m working on.’ And this album was a different process. I worked with 13 different producers, and mere fact of working and writing with different musicians made it very different. Each of them is a completely different world, and that’s why there are so many different ‘languages’ inside the album.

In Colombia, you made a deal with chain retailer Exito to release the album in physical format. But as it turns out, it’s the only country where you have the physical version. What do you think of that shift?

I understand that if they have no place to sell them, they can’t. [Physical sales] work in Colombia precisely because Éxito exists and they’ve developed a system. We released 20,000 copies. But I love what’s happening in the digital world. Spotify, for example, gave us great support.

Many of the songs have a reggaetón beat. Was it a struggle to opt for that direction?

Not at all. In my particular case, urban rhythms are not a very different language from the one I speak. The difference here is they weren’t recorded but programmed. I didn’t record a single percussion instrument in this album. I like that new sound. What I like best about urban rhythms is the beats.

One of my favorite songs in the album is “Como enamoraban antes” (How They Courted Before).

And that song touches precisely on the urban theme; on how lyrics have changed when it comes to talking about love. I wrote it with Edgar Barrera, and his grandmother, who lives in this small town, was always telling him, “If you could only see how your grandfather courted me.” And the end result was this song, which is very now, but also has a connection to those sounds I’ve always worked with.


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