Fonsi Steps Up His Sound

Excerpted from the magazine for Billboard.com.

Luis Fonsi began his career as a classic Latin balladeer, a purveyor of romantic songs with lyrical lines adorned by singing strings.

On the eve of his fifth album, he boasts an updated sound.

"Paso a Paso," (Step by Step) due July 12 on Universal Music Latino, is pure Fonsi in its penchant for romance and its showcasing of his beautiful voice. But it is more contemporary in arrangements, edgier in feel and more organic, with guitars taking the place of strings. It is also the first album Fonsi co-produced in full.

"It really is step by step," the 26-year-old Fonsi says of the quiet evolution that has taken him from his days as a singing teen in Orlando, Fla., to an English-language album, "Fight the Feeling," which MCA released in 2002 only to abruptly cut off its promotion.

Now, Fonsi returns to Spanish and a sound he deems more his. Speaking at the Hit Factory in Miami, where much of the album was recorded, he says, "It's still pop ballads. It isn't rock'n'roll. But the ballads are less traditional. They're more aggressive. And while the lyrics and the emotion and the style of singing are the same, the construction of the songs, with the guitars in front, is different. We wanted something more modern."

Helping to make the sound "real," as Fonsi says, was recording with musicians in the studio with him. Gesturing toward the Hit Factory's roomy studios, he says, "That's how we recorded. With the band behind to get the feeling of listening to an artist singing live."

Fonsi, a native of Puerto Rico raised in Orlando, was one of the first artists signed to fledgling Universal Latino in 1997. At the time, he was majoring in vocal performance at Florida State University.

Despite his classical training, his calling was in pop music. (Among other projects, he sang in a group with 'N Sync's Joey Fatone.) He is an established star in Latin America, Puerto Rico and the East Coast. According to Universal, he has sold more than 1.5 million albums worldwide, including 300,000 copies of his last album, 2003's "Abrazar la Vida." Two songs have topped the Billboard Hot Latin Songs chart.

In looking for a breakthrough album, Fonsi teamed with producer Sebastian Krys (Carlos Vives, Obie Bermúdez) for a different approach. It was a new experience for Krys as well.

"I had worked with more singer/songwriter alternative projects, but I hadn't worked on what I would say is a straight pop artist," Krys says. "We wanted to go from 'Abrazar la Vida' and have a natural growth from there."

As with past albums, Fonsi -- who writes for many other artists —- wrote or co-wrote much of the material. But he also took songs from other writers, to "have different points of view," he says.

One of them was the new single, "Nada Es Para Siempre," which is No. 3 on the Hot Latin Tracks chart. Written by Cuban singer/songwriter Amaury Gutierrez, the lyrics about the need to embrace life and love fully at the moment, struck a chord with Fonsi, whose girlfriend, Adamari Lopez, is battling breast cancer.

"I felt [the song] as my own, because its lyrics are very positive," says Fonsi, who also wrote the poignant title track especially for Lopez after he learned she was ill.

"My form of escape has always been my guitar and my music," he says. "And that's what I did. Instead of locking myself up in my room, I sat down with my guitar and wrote. And that's how 'Paso a Paso' was born. It's a very dramatic song, for me, but also, very positive."

Sung simply with guitar, "Paso a Paso" is also a dramatic statement of Fonsi's vocal prowess and of his desire to showcase a more intimate, vulnerable side.

"I recorded this album at a difficult personal moment in my life," Fonsi says. "The feelings you hear in every song are very honest."




Excerpted from the July 16, 2005, issue of Billboard. The full original text is available to Billboard.com subscribers.

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