The story of Madrid’s rock/pop sextet Vetusta Morla is an independent success story that many an artist today would kill for. The group first came together in 1998 and has taken a long, laborious and highly rewarding path out of obscurity and out of their home country. They recently made a few stops in the U.S. including SXSW to support their second full-length, Mapas — an album of songs that combines the best of Wilco and Coldplay en Español.
I met with guitarist Juan Manuel Latorre after the group’s debut concert at the Troubadour in L.A. It was beneath some framed photos of Guns ‘n’ Roses that we spoke at length about the group’s independent route to success (one that reminded me of Fugazi), Spain’s growing music scene, Spanish television shows, cruising down Sunset Blvd. and why there’s no place on Earth like Austin, TX.
How do you like L.A. so far?
Latorre: Truthfully, we’ve seen very little because we just arrived last night from Tijuana so we really haven’t seen anything. We’re going to stay here for a few days and get some sightseeing done. Yesterday, we were able to do something we really enjoyed, which was pick up our rental car and cruise through the city. We drove down all these famous streets that you hear about in movies and music. We picked up our car in the early morning because the border was hell to get through, put some music on and drove down Sunset Blvd. and other streets.
Did you cruise through all of Sunset Blvd. all the way down to the beach? That‘s quite a drive!
Yes, we went from the beach to…hmm, it was quite a long stretch. I don’t remember exactly how far we went since I don’t have the map of the city with me, but we drove for hours. We also stopped at Mel’s Diner on the Sunset Strip. That’s been our contact with the city so far. We worked all day today and, hopefully, tomorrow we’ll be able to see much more.
I had no idea there were so many Spanish expats living here in L.A. I spoke to a few people here at the show who are from Spain but have lived here in L.A. for quite some time.
I think there are lots of people from Spain living all over the world right now. There’s a TV show in Spain called Españoles Por El Mundo where a camera crew goes out to different cities and interviews Spaniards living abroad. It’s a very popular show and there’s never a lack of people living abroad to interview. Our country right now is going through a rough time and many people are leaving and moving to America to “buscarse las aguas,” as we like to say.
And here I am trying to move to Spain!
Well, maybe now’s not the best time to do so. [laughter] We’d love to have you but now’s not the best time. It’s a lovely place to live in but, right now, it’s very difficult to find a job or start a career.
BEING INDEPENDENT GIVES US THE TYPE OF FREEDOM THAT
COMPENSATES US BECAUSE RUNNING A LABEL IS A LOT OF WORK
AND IT CAN TIME AWAY FROM BEING A MUSICIAN.
It must be even more difficult to find work as an artist these days than before. There are lots of great artists coming out of Spain right now.
Yes, definitely. Many of our friends are having a hard time right now. We’re very, very lucky to be working a lot right now and also very lucky that our tours never end the way we plan them. They always last much longer and that’s great for us. In general, the situation is a bad one and we hope it improves very soon. Even so, the country’s music scene keeps growing bigger and better, flourishing outside the country. It’s a wonderful thing to happen because, for a long time, many artists have had a prejudice of sorts against touring outside the country because touring a country like the US is very difficult. You have to invest a lot of money and you won’t see a return on it immediately. You have to work very hard to build a fan base.
On top of that, if you’re accustomed to doing things a certain way in Spain, and not just economically but also technically and so forth, you’re nobody when you arrive here and you have to lower your standards and humble yourself. Us, for example, we love it. It motivates us because it reminds us of when we first started in 1998, but, more importantly, it reminds us of what happened about five years ago in Spain when, all of a sudden, people started liking our music, we were offered all these interviews and all these wonderful things…
Weren’t you also nominated for lots of awards during that time?
Right, all these things happened suddenly, all these nominations, all these requests for interviews, people walking up to us to tell us how much they love our music and, you know, it feels great when you get those first requests for an interview. It’s great when you’re at a small venue and you meet your fans because we love talking to people. That doesn’t happen anymore in Spain so to relive all of that again here in the US is humbling and we love it.
And everything you’ve done up to this point has been completely independent and on your own. I’ve read that you even started your own label to publish your music.
We have a record label called Pequeño Salto Mortal where we don’t work with any other bands, just our own, because it’s too much work. It takes a lot of work to manage a band this way. We founded the label out of necessity because we recorded Un Día en el Mundo (available to purchase on ) and none of the major labels were interested in it. At first, we had a four-song demo that we shopped around to labels of all sizes, small, medium large, you name it…
Where does Mira fit in all this? Didn‘t that come first?
Mira was an EP (available on ). It was six songs and it was all done independently with the help of a guy who is now our touring sound engineer. We then wanted to record a proper EP in a nicer studio with better equipment and so forth so we released this four-song demo. None of the labels liked it…well, it’s not that they didn’t like it but they wanted us to return with more songs. That forced us to pool our money together, record the full album and, once again, shop around for a label. ‘You said you wanted more, here it is!’ We didn’t want the record to sit in a shelf collecting dust so we created our own label while learning from our mistakes along the way because we had no idea how any of that worked. We’re musicians! We didn’t know anything about running a label, having records pressed and all that.
The art for Un Día en el Mundo was on paper and on plastic. The lyrics were on a separate, transparent sheet of paper. Afterwards, we added a puzzle piece that we stuck on the back for the limited editions. We made a huge puzzle out of the cover image and put each puzzle piece in a different disc. So we had the CD, the paper, the plastic and the puzzle piece and we put it all together on our own by hand. It was romantic in a sense but we’re definitely never going to do something like that again [laughter].
I SINCERELY BELIEVE THAT THERE’S NO OTHER PLACE ON THE
PLANET LIKE AUSTIN WHERE YOU HAVE A STREET WITH 120 DIFFERENT
VENUES TO PLAY IN…ALL WITHIN A MILE OF EACH OTHER.
What about your latest album, Mapas? Was that also released independently? Did you ever consider reaching out to a larger label?
Mapas as well. Everything! Being independent gives us a type of freedom that compensates us because running a label is a lot of work and it can take time away from being a musician. There are times at the end of a week when you ask yourself, ‘what happened? I’ve spent all my time in meetings and filling out paperwork and I’ve neglected my guitar.’ It’s worth the trouble because, at the end of the day, you have lots of freedom to do things the way you want to. No one can tell you to do things a certain way, to release this song as a single, to make a video, you’re the one who decides all that. More importantly, you can personally hire the staff. You can’t run the label by yourself. You need people to help you in specific areas and the beauty about running your own label is that you hire those people yourself. If you sign with a major label, they’ll assign whoever they have. You may get lucky and work with someone you really enjoy working with, or you could be unlucky and the whole thing ends up as a disaster.
How did SXSW go for you? Was it a great experience?
Austin was a fantastic experience musically and professionally but, even more so personally. To partake in that environment, to meet all these interesting people, to listen to all these new bands and meet new artists was a tremendous experience.
How does it compare to a festival in Spain?
It’s very, very, very different! [laughter] There’s nothing in Spain that even comes close to it. I dare say there’s nothing in Europe like it either. I sincerely believe that there’s no other place on the planet like Austin where you have a street with 120 different venues to play in. Each place has its own sound system, staff, everything you need to play a show. I really think there’s no other place in the world just like it that has 120 venues to play in all within a mile of each other.
Must see Vetusta Morla’s second music video “El hombre del saco” off Mapas below; about a diabolical, probably capitalist, kind who torments and tortures five young peeps.