Interview: Enrique Bunbury, Noticing The Awakening

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It’s been three years since Bunbury released a new album and now the singer-songwriter is about to release his eighth solo studio album—Palosanto—on October 29th. When we recently sat down with Bunbury, he opened up about being inspired by worldwide political movements, Los Angeles, and even UFOs.

Let’s talk about the name of the album, Palosanto. Is it a reference to the wood that is used in sacred rituals throughout South America to cleanse evil spirits?

I like your rationalization and analysis of the name. I like the idea of the sacred wood and the rituals. Let’s just say that that is exactly why it’s called Palosanto. Let’s just stick with that as the answer.

Can you tell me about the challenges and triumphs of being your own producer on this album?

Well, I’ve produced some of my albums and some I’ve co-produced, like Radical Sonora. I produced Pequeño, Flamingos, and El Viaje a Ninguna Parte as well. When I don’t produce my own albums I’m always left a bit unsatisfied. On one hand it’s much more convenient to not produce your own album because you have to be in many phases of it at once. You write the songs, you record them, and on top of all that you have to create a sonic context for each song. There’s also a logistical side to producing that you have to be in charge of…like what time are the musicians arriving, the recording schedules, and coordinating with the studios. So it’s extra laborious work. But what happens is that when I see the cover of the albums I’ve produced, recorded, and written myself, I feel like they’re my favorite albums. I feel that they represent me more. I have a special satisfaction with this album because I am doing all three things again.

The album sounds kind of apocalyptic and introspective. Did you have a certain concept while you were writing it?

While I was writing the album there were many uprisings and demonstrations in many parts of the world. There was a lot of indignation and people were fed up. In Egypt & Tunisia there was what was referred to as The Arab Spring. In Spain there was the 15-M movement, in Mexico there was YoSoy 132, the States had the Occupy movements, and Chile had their student movements as well. All of this made me think that there was an awakening of social consciousness or a desire for change. All of this is addressed and serves as the backdrop to the album and at times it’s more blatantly expressed. The first part of the album is more social and the second half is more personal. Let’s say that there are two points of view, one that has to do more with these social uprisings and politics and the other which is more of a reflection on what you can do about it in the end and what is really within your own reach. These songs make you think more about your nuclear family, your neighborhood, and your partner, so they’re more introspective and spiritual.

I was just precisely going to ask you about why the album is divided into two parts…

The first part has many different ways of dealing with the theme I mentioned before. These songs display more enthusiasm, such as the tracks “Despierta” and “Más Alto Que Nosotros El Cielo.” Then there’s the other part in which the sarcastic and the ironic side appear. It’s the side that questions: Where are they going with this? Nothing is ever going to change. Everything is going to continue exactly the same and they really don’t have a point. There is kind of another part to the first theme which is the idea that many have that no real and successful revolution can be achieved without any bloodshed. That it’s not that easy to remove the power from our government and those that control our governments.

The album has some orchestral arrangements and a female choir. Where did the idea come from to add these elements to the album?

Well, I wanted to make a more soulful album than the one I ended up with. I listen to lots of music from the ’60s, soul and R&B, and even hip-hop. I am very interested by the evolution of Black music from gospel to blues, especially the blues from Mississippi. I wanted to incorporate these rhythms and for them to show up on the album without making the album sound retro. I don’t believe that these elements appeared as much as I would have wanted them to but the gospel choir does give it these brushstrokes.

At the end of the video for “Despierta” there are some UFOs beaming people up to their vessels. Do you yourself believe in extraterrestrials?

Well, it would be very difficult for me to really believe that we are all alone in the universe. Aside from that, conceptually I do like the idea and I like to think that it is possible. Even so, on occasion I’ve seen something that appeared to be a UFO, I couldn’t really talk to the operator of the vessel or see his driver’s license so I can’t really verify that it was indeed a UFO. I do have this sensation and hope that their existence is absolutely true.

Now, to stay on the theme of “Despierta,” do you think that we as a society are awakening or distracting ourselves even more with modern technology, such as smart phones and social media?

Well, not everyone is on to technology, smart phones and social media. I think there is a large percentage of people that are awakening their consciousness. I believe that technology is not necessarily an impediment. A good amount of the information and the different alternative documentation of current events that does not really get covered by the media are being disseminated by the Internet. We are able to access it and we are able to communicate with each other in a speedier manner. The Internet and social media help to distribute all of this information immediately and in an almost uncontrollable way.

Are the lyrics on this album observations or personal revelations?

They are observations. I believe that there are many voices on this album. There are many people talking, not just me. Although, at some point we might change our mind or opinion about something as time passes. Even on a certain day you might get upset and think that there are people in the government that I would totally hit with a baseball bat. We all possess that anger and perhaps after you calm down you realize that you don’t really think this way. What you really need to do is what you believe that you have to do. Even though there are many different voices and viewpoints that arise, I am aware that these people and viewpoints live within all of us.

In what way is the tour for this album going to be different than previous tours?

Well, we are going to emphasize the visual aspect on this tour. We are focusing on the audio-visual elements. It’s going to be a spectacle that will go beyond just showcasing the songs. We want to do something so different that when people come to the shows they will be surprised. We are currently working on having all that material by the first show in January.

You live in Los Angeles now. What was it that caught your attention about Los Angeles?

I kind of have a nomadic life. I’ve lived in many places. At one time I wanted to change and thought L.A. could be an interesting place to live at. I really didn’t know the city. I’d only been here to play live like the many other cities I’ve been to. It was once I got to know the city that I fell in love with it. I love Los Angeles. I can’t say that the reasons that I came here originally for are the real reasons why I’ve stayed. I’ve made many friends and I have other motives aside from the obvious professional ones that make me stay here until I decide to go to another place.

What inspires you the most to write?

Work…I have come to the conclusion that waiting until the muse arrives does not work for me. What I try to do is work seriously every day. When I am working on an album I like to have a set schedule for composing even if the songs I write during that time period are not any good. I’d rather write a lot to have more worthy material.

What has been the most unconventional place that you have written a song at?

It was on a boat in the middle of Lake Atitlan in Guatemala.

Do you have a ritual for writing?

I’ve changed throughout the years. There have been moments when I had a more nocturnal life and I’d wait until everybody was asleep. Only then could I submerge myself in the songs I was writing. Now I try to wake up as early as possible. Now the nocturnal has become dawn for me.

In celebration of his new album release, Bunbury will be at Amoeba Hollywood signing copies of Palosanto on October 29th.

(Photo Credit: Jose Girl)

Download Enrique Bunbury’s Palosanto below: