For a “collective” of busy musical geniuses, with their own projects, who live in two different countries – Argentina and Uruguay – Bajofondo has certainly been acting quite like a band lately. Fronted by composer-cum-rock star Gustavo Santaolalla, they’ve been recording with household-name guest artists, touring together frequently, and, unlike most musical aggregates, have stuck with the same eight people for seven years now. First coming to attention with the electro-tango craze led by The Gotan Project, a collective based in France, Bajofondo has outgrown the initial comparisons. Santaolalla, industry veteran and much-honored composer of the Brokeback Mountain and Babel scores, chats with us about how Bajofondo works to bring the sound of Rio de la Plata to the world, and where it’s going.
Bajofondo has so much synergy live, yet you all live in different places. How do you get so in synch for performance when you rarely see each other?
We don’t rehearse! There’s just something about playing together that touches us. We can only get together for performing and making records, but we have had the same group of people for seven years—even the same technicians and people who work around us.
On record, the music is so evocative of stories and scenes, almost cinematic, one might say…
Producing albums and making records, or making music for films, are connected, but it’s totally different for Bajofondo. My music is always very visual, and I find that in Bajofondo, too, it’s just the process of producing [that’s] very different. I am a big fan of storytelling and good narrative, in any songs. Verses create tension, and the chorus is the release– a celebration point in a song.
You’ve had other bands in the past, but with such an extensive background as a composer, do you feel like you’re a performer first, or a composer?
I am a true performer—I had my first band when I was 10, so I’ve been performing a long time!
So you’ve experienced big change in the music industry.
I signed my first record deal at 16, and there was no such thing as “world music” then. A lot has happened.
“PLAYING IS RELAXATION FOR US.”
After your San Francisco show in April, we noticed you and the entire group rode the cable cars to the after-party in North Beach…
We couldn’t get a taxi! So we hopped on one of those little cars and totally filled it up. The other passengers thought we were crazy. I’m glad you were at that after-party, because we had a spontaneous jam there…that show was hot!
Many artists just want to relax at their after-parties…
Playing is relaxation for us.
When you’re on tour, do you try to experience a little of each city like that?
I love different cultures and diversity, and always try to have the possibility of meeting and connecting with people from the different places I go. We do have a couple days scheduled in New York. After that show, though, I’m heading off to Belgium for the Ghent Film Festival, which is special to me because it’s one of the first places where I got recognition, when I was just starting out. I’ll be performing there as an orchestra.
Full circle! Any film projects you’re excited about?
I’m doing the score for the upcoming film of Jack Kerouak’s On The Road. A lot to draw from!
Bajofondo has such a varied audience. Do you feel that in the US you get more recognition from non-Latin press and fans because of the “world music” connection?
Maybe, but it tends to just be local followings, wherever that may be. We have a following in Greece, Korea… local audiences show up at the shows. It’s wonderful.
You’ve rejected the “electronic tango” label, and Bajofondo is such a mix of genres and influences. Do you still get associated with The Gotan Project?
You know, if we contribute to tango music, that can be said in 20 years, not now. Tango is part of our genetic fabric, but so is rock’n’roll: 40 years of rock en espanol, growing up listening to The Beatles…the difference between us [and The Gotan Project] has been increasingly obvious. They are more lounge, we are more rock… I’m from Argentina, so I of course love soccer, and I say, they play like Europeans, and we play like Latin America.
There are really great bands out, this is a good era for that. We like the Arctic Monkeys, Vampire Weekend… Groups that have their own sound.
You write so much music for others to sing lately, what makes you choose a song to sing yourself?
It’s whatever sounds best in my head. We had Elvis Costello come in for “Fairly Right” [on latest album Mar Dulce] which I love to sing myself, but I knew it would sound great sung by him. It had the right change of octaves, and what an opportunity!
Tell me about the future of Bajofondo. You started as a collective, but it seems to be a focus for you. Can we expect more band-like behavior from Bajofondo in the future?
Playing live shows with the same people for seven years has had an effect on the music that has mutated from the first album. We grew together. That excitement of us being together, playing live, will definitely be heard on the next album.
Catch Bajofondo perform tonight at NYC’s Highline Ballroom.