Pedro Subercaseux is in search of the perfect Spanish language song. Every record he makes under his nom-de-plume Pedropiedra, could be an experiment to understand what made Hispanic people tick in the Seventies and Eighties, musically speaking.
Emanuel, his latest, taps into that world, with the debonaire flavor of a velvet suit and a loosened tie. Pedro glides with melodies that are both elegant and heartfelt, and the music conjures pop rock’s future past (in this case, the Eighties) with a very distinctive direction. It’s a bold step in the right direction.
Emanuel comes at a very eventful time on Sabercaseux’s life. Recorded when he was about to become a father, he had also spent some time touring with beloved children’s comedy puppet show 31 Minutos as part of their live presentations, where he hooked up with co-creator Álvaro Díaz (no, not that Álvaro Díaz) and helped produce Emanuel. With assistance from good friend/Quemasucabeza labelmate Gepe, Pedro wanted to create something different than what he had done in the past.
We met with Pedro in Mexico City to talk about pop en tu idioma, hip-hop and how becoming a father had almost no influence on his new album.
What have you been doing lately, Pedro?
I had a baby so I had a bit of a frozen period, creatively speaking. I feel like I’m letting out a lot of things from last year. Besides, thankfully, I’ve had a lot of demand to play onstage again.
How has your baby influenced your music?
Not much, really. There’s order in my life, though. The only thing different is that I eat my breakfast at the same hour everyday, I get up really early and go to bed early, too. That has been the big change, that and not living alone anymore. Before my kid was born, he didn’t have an impact; now that he is born, it has made me remember how things were when I was a kid, how I started meeting the world…I’m still a bastard, though, it’s not like I’m a better person. It’s not like the album is called Gerónimo like my boy or has songs like “Your Gaze Gives Me Light.” But I think there are going to be changes when it comes to creating music.
What inspired the songs on Emanuel?
The first album I did, Pedropiedra, I needed to get things off my chest. It’s like a desk, if you clear a drawer, then you’ll have more space for other things, like if your problems were to go away. Then on the other two albums, there are some songs where I had that need to talk but other songs were more like experiments. I was working more cerebrally instead of instinctively. In that sense, Emanuel is an album almost by another person. Here I started to make songs with phrases that you would hear on the radio, with song-oriented words, so to speak. I don’t think I had that before, I was not respecting that language. I like doing what I did in the previous records but I don’t feel like doing it again; maybe I’ll do it again in the future. It’s like if I invite you over for dinner and give you tamales, and then if I invite you over again, I’ll have to think about making another dish.
What about the lyrics? Songs like “Lima” seems to be more story-oriented. It has a scenery.
It’s more image-driven. There’s this Mexican singer songwriter called David Aguilar and he has this song I love called “La Libelula.”I think that song influenced most of the lyrics on Emanuel. The first album is more like “I’m like this and I need that, I lack that.”This one is more like “the world is full of color,” exploring little things so each person can interpret the songs depending on their intentions and moods.
What about the music? It has this elegant feel like a lot of Eighties pop rock.
It has a big element of soul music. Last year in Chile, most artists got into a sort of trend in which we revisited music from the past. A little bit of soul…it’s also thought as a record. Before, I used to gather songs, but now I brought in a producer to make it more like the departure of a plane; it doesn’t start going at 1,000 kilometers an hour. It starts, gathers speed, starts getting altitude, maybe it rattles you a bit, and you start thinking you’re going to die. I was also thinking about the live show, because you’re not always going off the whole time. If you go see Juan Gabriel or Chayanne, they usually start with about three fired up songs with dancers, then they bring out a chair, a guy with an acoustic guitar shows up and then bring the lights down a bit. I have to learn all of this. To make a good impression as an artist has to do with ambition, to think things through. You have to think that not everything that is spontaneous is going to work forever.
You also worked with a different kind of live show, as the drummer for 31 Minutos’ band. How was that experience?
I have always been a big fan of them and to work with them was incredible. I learned a lot of how they make a script for each show, if they needed to change a joke in each city we played. They care for it to be good always. And the crowd doesn’t get tired, it’s like they don’t realize everything is scripted. The crowds give themselves to the show; if they say “put your hands in the air” they do it, and I’m very surprised about it because if I go to a show and they yell “put your hands in the air,” I won’t do it, I feel self-conscious. It’s a very noble feeling, they forget there’s a guy’s hand under the puppet.
They buy the illusion.
Yes, and it also happens with live music. Gepe learned to do it and his career skyrocketed. He got the dancers and makes every part of the show a spectacle. He just played a huge festival in Chile that was broadcasted by national TV. He broke from the indie circuit to become a real artist who gets played on the radio. People who listen to him are not those who follow trendy blogs or Pitchfork, it’s more like the lady listening to the radio at home. I would say that that’s what everyone wants but not many dare to do it because you have to give up a big part of your life.
The way it’s been, at least in Mexico, it’s that our exposure to music from Chile started for many with 31 Minutos and then we heard about Javiera Mena and the Quemasucabeza roster. Do you think there’s a relationship with both of those camps?
It’s difficult to tell if it started with them. 31 Minutos, Gepe and Javiera Mena started in the same decade but I think they are in different channels. Before 31 Minutos they had other successful TV shows, and they were not children-oriented. Actually, it was a shock that both of them did a children’s show. They, being from a previous generation, have one foot on the Republican era, spending time debating about politics in the park instead of spending any time on the internet. Also, they have different crowds.
Before Pedropiedra, you were involved with your country’s hip-hop scene, most notably with Hermanos Brothers. What do you think you learned from it?
The most important thing I learned from hip-hop is that it can be slow, but you can always nod your head to it. I really can’t make dance music, but I can write slow songs without making them boring. Also, when I started, I used to love to write a lot more lyrics, more words per song and a way to fit more words into a song is to rap them instead of singing them. I was really into hip-hop from roughly 1993 to 2003, I was very much involved with that scene. I was part of some crews and I produced albums. It’s a big influence, right up there with the Beatles for me, so to speak. I try to mix both with romantic music in Spanish from the Eighties.
You don’t follow hip-hop anymore?
I’ve been listening to a lof of music in Spanish from all eras. I’m very interested in the lyrics and the words they use. The more I listen to that kind of music, the easier is going to be for me to write lyrics. To have a lot of information at the ready for whenever you need it, it’s like studying chess, how these people memorize moves and past matches so when they are playing they know what possibilities they have with each move. That mental background helps you when you are writing songs. I like to find the secret to that favorite song in Spanish, we all have one, one that is really exciting and becomes part of your life.
Why are you interested in Latin romantic pop?
Because I love it! Years ago, I was here [in Mexico] and I bought one of those bootleg CD-Rs with every Emmanuel song in it and it shows all the work done by the songwriters, arrangers, and lyricists. Same with Juan Gabriel or José José. And it’s something that happened in all South America. I think some of the essence of Latin rock is there, and I’m more interested in that now than what, say, Arcade Fire are doing. I wish I sounded more Chilean, really. But that’s something that happens little by little. I still have a long career ahead of me and i think I can explore more of where I come from and what I came to do here.