MIAMI (Billboard) - The rain beats down incessantly on a
typical Miami summer afternoon when Juanes runs into the Hit
Factory studios, late from battling rush hour traffic in the
middle of a storm.
He is traveling solo, devoid of entourage, as he likes to
be when he isn't in touring or promotion mode. Juanes is here
to begin mixing his fourth solo studio album, "La Vida Es un
Ratico" (Life Is a Brief Moment), due October 23 on Universal
Music Latino. With only a first single mixed at this point,
Juanes carries the rough cuts on his iPod and cues them up for
Billboard. The tracks are full of rock edges and aggressive
bursts of down-and-dirty Colombian folk beats.
When it is all over, he asks, expectantly, "Did you like
With more than 8 million albums sold worldwide, Juanes --
real name Juan Esteban Aristizabal -- still has the air of an
But a superstar he is: "La Vida ... Es un Ratico" will be
released simultaneously in all Universal territories, an
unprecedented move for an artist who records only in Spanish.
Indeed, Universal Music Latino president John Echevarria
says, "It is quite possibly the first all-Spanish album to be
released simultaneously in Europe, Asia, Australia and North
and South America."
While it is tempting to compare this scope of marketing
with the strategies designed for such crossover stars as Ricky
Martin, Shakira and Enrique Iglesias, Juanes is an anomaly
because he doesn't record in English.
Nevertheless, his song "La Camisa Negra," from his 2004
album "Mi Sangre," managed to go to No. 1 on radio and sales
charts in more than 30 countries, including Germany, France,
Japan and Holland, which will release special editions of "La
"Singing in English doesn't really interest me," Juanes
says. "I have to worry about pronunciation, so I don't sing
from my soul."
"Mi Sangre" has sold more than 650,000 copies in the United
States, according to Nielsen SoundScan, and more than 4 million
worldwide, according to Universal. Its predecessor, 2002's "Un
Dia Normal," has sold 700,000 copies in the States.
Q: This album has songs of love and breakup. Should
listeners interpret them as personal experiences?
A: "These are things I've written mostly while on tour and
they reflect different emotional states, but they're not only
based on my reality, but also in the creativity and stories of
people around me. But definitely, it's a very personal album."
Q: But all your albums are very personal.
A: "Yes. Most of the songs I write are a reflection of my
feelings, and I couldn't do it any other way. For this album, I
did the exercise I always do, of writing many songs, and in the
end, those songs that aren't very honest get dropped along the
way. The songs that stay talk about what I really feel and
think at that moment. Right now, it's a bit of a transition.
For example, 'Tu y Yo' (You and Me) speaks about the years I
spent with my partner and how we stuck together in good times
and bad, and that our love was made carefully, like a
carpenter, and that the house only looks beautiful when she's
there. But there's also the transition. I have a ballad titled
'Dificil' (Difficult) that talks about the breakup, and it's a
harsh song lyrically and melodically."
Q: What is your writing process like?
A: "I do the music first. Never the lyrics. I have my
guitar, my computer, my little m-box, and I put them in the
hotel or home where I'm at, and I improvise the melody over a
series of chords. If I like something, I save it. But I'm
always searching for the melody, and that melody dictates the
words. I live with the songs for a long time. They change
20,000 times. I improvise a lot. I can record 20 guitar solos
until I find the one. Sometimes, I will go in the studio and
write a song in a day. But from the moment of inception until
it's recorded, the process passes through a million different
Q: When I interviewed you prior to 'Mi Sangre,' you said
you felt very pressured, given the success of 2002's 'Un Dia
Normal.' Now that you've been continuously successful, has the
A: "I don't think so. It's still there, but it's all me. No
one is saying anything, but it's the pressure of being able to
do a different album, one that I like, the concern about not
writing the same song. I still respect the audience. I like
what I do, but I don't know if the audience will like it. And I
face the album that way -- with respect, because you never
Q: You wrote most of the album in Colombia. Does this
influence the music?
A: "I think so. My home is in the mountains of Medellin.
Being there, watching the news, my family, the air -- yes, it
has a great influence. I had a need, a physical and mental
need, to go to Colombia. I love living there. I like Miami a
lot, but I have more things to do in Colombia -- with my
mother, my siblings, the foundation." (Juanes established the
Mi Sangre Foundation to aid Colombian children injured by
Q: As a public figure, with a visible foundation, many
people assume you have a stance on social issues. Do you like
A: "It's not a question of whether I like it. What I've
realized is you can really make a difference through music. You
can motivate people in the good sense of the word, either to
push a message or to at least place issues in the public
agenda. For example, I didn't know preschool education wasn't
mandatory in Colombia. The recent march (in Colombia, where
more than 400,000 took to the streets against kidnapping and
violence) had no precedent. We tend to be indifferent, and as
citizens we have to take action."