Interview: The Many Lives Of Leandro Fresco

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There’s a really good chance that you know Leandro Fresco even though you don’t know Leandro Fresco. Fresco has been writing and recording experimental electronic tunes on his laptop since the age of 16 and shared the stage for many years with Gustavo Cerati and later with a reunited Soda Stereo.

His solo career includes over a half-dozen solo records of ambient/experimental electronic music. Recently, he made a leap and released an album of ’80s new wave tunes in which he also debuts as a singer. We spoke with Fresco from his home in Argentina via Skype about his time with Cerati/Soda Stereo, his switch from experimental, instrumental music to pop tunes and when we’ll hopefully hear and see him in the US.

So what’s new? You mentioned via e-mail that you’re working on a new album.

I’m working on a new electronic album and I’ve been playing songs with a full band from my [self-titled] album that came out late last year. I hope to release the electronic album later this year. I recorded a podcast for an art magazine in Russia a few months ago and I have two remixes on a Kompakt Records compilation they release annually. They recently confirmed that they accepted two of my remixes of Michael Mayer’s tracks. He’s one of the artists on the label and I and various other artists remixed a number of his songs and they’re all going to be available on a remix album on vinyl and CD.

When will you come play for us here in the US?

I’d love to! The last time I was in Los Angeles was at the Nokia Theatre with Cerati. I haven’t been back since then and I’m itching to go back but, unfortunately, I don’t have too many connections with promoters in the US. With Cerati, it was like an ant traveling…you know, they picked me up. A lot of people knew me from working with Cerati but, at the same time, they had no idea I had my own project. So I’ve been working on building my own act because I would love to perform in Mexico, Colombia, all over.

How long did you play with Cerati? You were about 19 when you started, if I remember correctly.

I played as part of his band for 10 years. At 19, I released my first electronic album, which was produced by Daniel Melero. It wasn’t until I was about 23 when Gustavo and I began working together frequently and collaborating. We became friends, got to know each other pretty well, and started working together until he invited me to be part of his live band. We went on tour and lived the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle.

What did you learn from working with Cerati during that time? I imagine it had to have been a huge leap from working independently to suddenly touring the world with a well-known music celebrity.

In all seriousness, I never really thought I learned too much from him, but, thinking back to that moment when I stepped inside the recording studio to record my album and, you know, having to make artistic decisions, I remembered a number of situations working with Cerati on a technical level, like how he recorded his vocal tracks, various methods he employed regularly in the studio. In some cases, I was able to apply those methods to my own work.I learned not only from Cerati but from many other artists I’ve had the opportunity to work with. Before I worked with him, I worked with Daniel Melero, an Argentine producer who’s worked with lots of bands and worked with Cerati on their album Colores Santos. Other people you’re around tend to influence your work and you learn lots of things from them on a subconscious level. Later, when you find yourself in a similar situation in the studio, you have this mental backup of ideas to draw from.

Let’s talk about your latest album. Your previous albums were all ambient and electronic while this one had more of a ’80s new wave sound to it. Plus, you sing for the first time. Why did you change your sound and style?

I liked the idea of doing something new in my career and I liked the idea of putting myself in an uncomfortable position where I didn’t know how my fans would react. I’ve been labeled as an electronic musician and had no profile as a singer outside of singing backup vocals and choruses with Cerati as his keyboardist. The switch seemed, to me, an artistic risk. I liked that idea even though I was completely unsure of how everyone would react to it. I liked that risk however. I’d never composed songs like this for myself and I’d never sung before like this. For me, as an artist, it was much more interesting to recreate myself as an artist rather than compose another electronic album. After Gustavo’s accident, everything was reset to zero. I came to a crossroads where I had to decide if I wanted to continue working in music because, at that point, much of my career was working with Soda [Stereo] and others, performing in large venues so…it weighed heavily on me. The album was my chance at a rebirth where I could create something completely opposite of what I‘d worked on before. A lot of artists who change their sound also change their name or work under an alias. I didn’t want to do that because I liked the idea of confusing the audience by not separating my work. I wanted my pop music, the more mainstream, commercial work, to live side-by-side with my experimental work. At the same time, it’s quite a clash of styles. My fans in Europe who love my electronic work probably have no clue of this other project and vice-versa.

Are you working on another electronic album any time soon?

I’ll hopefully have another electronic album out later this year. The idea is to alternate between the release of an electronic album and a pop one. I released that pop record last year, I’ll hopefully release an electronic one this year and follow it up with another pop record next year. I’ll be able to experiment with many new ideas on that record. I have to filter those ideas on the pop records because I want to make those records more accessible to a global audience. I like to be extreme in each case.

Why did you decide to separate them though? You could have released an album that transitions from one sound to another the way some artists group songs from many genres in one album.

Well, that option is still available. I’ll have to credit you with coming up with that idea if I do it though. It helps me balance myself. After I finish work on one record in one style, I get a bit tired of it and want to move on to something new. Whenever I finish an electronic record, I immediately get the urge to work on some pop songs.

Was it difficult going from singing as a backup vocalist with Cerati to singing front and center stage?

(long pause) Not too much. (laughs) It’s a pretty huge switch but, on one hand, I already had experience singing onstage and that helped me out a lot. It helped me when I switched roles to frontman but I also had to develop my own identity onstage to capture my audience. With Cerati, there were 30,000 people focused on him. With me, maybe 500. (laughs)

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