After writing three chart-topping, back-to-back albums in 2020, Pedro Tovar — Eslabon Armado‘s frontman — was left feeling “fried,” he tells Billboard. “I didn’t have the mentality to write songs anymore.”
But he had to deliver an album by June so he reached out to his manager Angel del Villar, also founder/CEO of DEL Records, to explain the situation. Minutes later, del Villar had booked a resort for Pedro so he could go “relax and get inspired.” It worked. A week in isolation resulted in 11 new tracks for Tu Veneno Mortal, Vol. 2, all penned by the 18-year-old. He also credits his mom for lighting up 11 candles just as he was leaving to the resort. “She’s super Catholic … God definitely helped me because I wouldn’t have been able to write these songs if it wasn’t for him.”
The new 11-track set (plus intro) follows Eslabon Armado’s three albums released last year including Tu Veneno Mortal, Vibras de Noche and Corta Venas, which all shot to No. 1 on Billboard‘s Regional Mexican Albums chart. In May, the then-trio, comprised of brothers Pedro and Brian Tovar and Gabriel Hidalgo, won the top Latin duo/group award at the 2021 Billboard Music Awards; Hidalgo has since exited the group.
Tu Veneno Mortal, Vol. 2 is an emotional journey about falling in and out of love with achingly personal guitar-powered songs. The album marks Eslabon’s first record without Hidalgo, who has split from the band.
Stream Eslabon Armado’s new album here and below, Pedro answers 20 Questions for Billboard:
1. When did you start writing for this album?
It’s one of the craziest stories. This album is really special because I didn’t have the mentality to write songs anymore. After the three albums we released last year, I tried to write again but I couldn’t. My label was asking when I’d release the new album and I told them that some time in June. I had a month to write the songs but I couldn’t bring myself to write anything new. I had no inspiration, I even told my mom, ‘I’m done. I’m fried.’ And she told me to have faith but I was thinking I would just recruit other songwriters for this album. It wouldn’t be mine.
I called my manager Angel [del Villar] asking him for help. He rented a resort in L.A. so I could relax and feel inspired. So I stayed there for an entire week. As soon as I left, my mom lit some candles because she’s super Catholic. I was at the resort and it just clicked. I started writing. I like to say that it wasn’t me, it was God who wrote these songs. My mom turned on 11 candles, which I had no clue about until after I finished writing, and I wrote 11 songs. God definitely helped me because I wouldn’t have been able to write these songs if it wasn’t for him.
2. How has your songwriting process evolved from the first time you wrote a song to the songs you wrote for this album?
Each has its own flavor. I’ve been improving because I pay attention to a bunch of other genres. I like R&B, alternative and I get words in English that I think work for those genres and translate them to Spanish. It’s important for me to listen to different genres and artists, and really pay attention to what makes a catchy song. What words they are using.
3. What do you enjoy most about the process of creating music?
Creating a good melody. That’s the most important part to me. The lyrics are the easiest part of the process. So, if I can come up with a good melody, then I will automatically enjoy the process.
4. What comes first: the lyrics or the beat/melody?
The melody comes first in the process.
5. What’s one song that really captures the essence of the album?
“Regresa Mami.” I don’t get tired of listening to this song because it’s a reggaeton song in guitars. It has the reggaeton essence, since I love that genre, I decided to leave that essence.
6. How has your sound evolved since Gabriel left the band?
The sound hasn’t changed. Before we started blowing up and with the first album, which was Tu Veneno Mortal, Gabriel wasn’t around yet. We had someone else helping out. And that same guy helped us out on this one too. So it has that Tu Veneno Mortal Vol.1 sound. The same vibe is there. Gabriel did an amazing job with the group, but things happen. With or without Gabriel, we’ll sound the same.
7. Are you guys looking for a replacement or will it be just you two for now?
Yeah, we’re looking for one other person. I think we’ll be announcing a new member in a couple of weeks.
8. Who was the first person that believed in you?
My parents! They always believed in us. Since we started playing five years ago at small parties. We would always go to concerts together as a family. We’d see Los Tucanes de Tijuana and Legado 7 and I felt inspired by them and my dad would say, ‘one day that will be you up there.’
9. I know your parents have supported you and your brother all the way. What’s one piece of advice they’ve given you and your brother?
To stay grounded. Even if you’re in your peak, to remain humble.
10. When did you realize you could be a full-time artist?
I don’t think it ever clicked. It was never on my mind. I just thought playing at small parties would be my thing and that would give me enough money to help my family. But I never thought about being famous, or No. 1 albums. It just happened because of our sacrifices and hard work. A lot of people didn’t believe in us. In high school, people would say we weren’t real musicians. Even local groups would look down at us. But I never let that get to me head or the fact that I could one day be a ‘star.’
11. What was the first concert you saw?
Luis Coronel when I was like 10 years old.
12. In what way did the city you grew up in help shape your identity as a musician?
I was born and raised in the Bay Area where we didn’t really listen to regional Mexican music. We’d only listen to English music on the radio. But then we found a Spanish radio station where they played Banda MS and Banda El Recodo and while I’m not really a big fan of banda, one day I heard Ariel Camacho with “El Karma” and it was so different for me. I fell in love with the sound. I told my dad I wanted to learn how to play the guitar. He had an old one in his room and I started playing it. We moved to Patterson and it was more like a rancho setting so that’s when I was really able to get into that rancho vibe and start feeling inspired.
13. What’s the first piece of music that you bought yourself?
I never even bought a CD or anything physical, I listened to everything online. CDs weren’t a thing anymore when I was growing up.
14. If you could see any artist, dead or alive, in concert right now, who would it be?
Ariel Camacho 100%. He actually played at a nightclub in Modesto, so close to where we used to live but I didn’t go. I was still pretty young so they wouldn’t let me in.
15. Who or what inspires you?
My fans! They inspire to keep me going and releasing music. I’m always doubting myself. Not knowing whether people will actually like our music or not. I’m not confident enough. Even at shows I’m questioning if people will show up or not. So, when I see that they like something we released, it keeps me going.
16. If you weren’t a musician, what would you be?
I’d probably be working at Amazon.
17. What are you scared of?
Disappointing people with my music. Not producing good music. That’s really scary! I’m also scared that something will happen to me. Like get in a really bad accident or something. That’s always on my mind.
18. What do you spend too much money on?
Clothes and shoes. I need to stop because it’s like an addiction.
19. Who do you want to collaborate with next?
I’ve always wanted to do a song with a reggaeton artist but not in that style – more like a guitar song. Like it’d be so cool if someone such as Jhay Cortez would jump on a remix of “Regresa Mami.”
20. What’s one piece of advice you’d give your younger self?
To have patience. When I was younger, I was very stubborn and wanted to see results fast.