Juanes is a Colombian-born, international folk-rock superstar, well-known for his cumbia-rock mega hits “La Camisa Negra” and “A Dios Le Pido.” A winner of two Grammys and 20 Latin Grammys, he is on tour promoting his sixth studio album, Loco de Amor. He will be performing Friday, August 7, at the Santa Barbara Bowl with Grammy-nominated Mexican singer/songwriter Ximena Sariñana. I recently spoke to Juanes over the phone about his songwriting process and working with legendary producer Steve Lillywhite.
A lot of people are talking about your upcoming performance at the Bowl. It’s your first time performing there, right? Yeah, it’s my first time performing there. I’m very excited about this whole tour, to go to different places, to give the best for the audience. So yeah, I’m very happy.
How did you link up with Ximena Sariñana for your tour? I met Ximena in Mexico years ago. I just fell in love with her music. I think she is a really cool artist, a really cool star. She is very fresh, her style, the music she is making. She is a real refresher for Latin music. I respect her a lot, and she is very talented. We are very honored to have her performing with us.
You’re really busy, you tour a lot, you’re always winning Grammys…How do you balance family life and work? Well sometimes it’s kind of hard, ya know. This moment for example, I’m here with my family. My kids and my wife are with me for this first leg of the tour. You have to try to make it work; it’s not easy to be far from them.
Do you teach them music? Do your kids play music? Yeah my two girls play the piano really well. There are really into the piano. My little kid Dante, he loves drums, but he doesn’t know yet if he wants to be musician or not. Actually he asked me, “Daddy do I need to be a musician, as well?” I said “No, no, no, you just need to be happy, man; don’t worry, whatever you want to do.”
For your Loco de Amor album, you worked with Steve Lillywhite. What did you try differently with this album that you didn’t do in your other ones? The biggest difference in this album was the guitar sound, because we used acoustic guitar. The album sounds more raw, more pop or whatever. There were no electric guitars, which is part of my language, ya know? It was a really great idea that came from Steve. I really love it and support it because for me, it gave a freshness to this album and the sound.
Can you talk about your songwriting process? Yeah, well normally, I always travel with my guitar. I always travel with my computer. So if I have an idea, I try to record it. After I record it, I start to persist, like in my mind. Most of the time I improvise, like a chord progression kind of thing. And then over that I start to sing melodies, and then the last thing I do is I put words to those melodies.
Or sometimes I just have an idea or a concept, something I want to talk about. Then I write a couple of lines, and then later on I try to build the song from that with melody, chords, and stuff like that. But most of the time, it’s just improvised. It’s crazy — sometimes I think to myself, “Wow, I don’t even know how I do this, but the way it comes, it’s just like magic, man.”
How long does it take for a song to go from improvisation to more or less finished? There are songs that I wrote in 20 minutes or half an hour. There are songs that took me like three months, four months, even a year. It’s kind of different all the time. Sometimes the idea is so clear, it’s so fast. Sometimes you want to make it happen so natural, no pressure, organically. Depending on the song of the moment, of the vibe you have or whatever.
Have you written songs for other artists? Well, just a couple of times, but not very often. I’m not used to that. Normally what I do is write songs, and after, if somebody asks me for a song and I have it there, and the artist likes it, then they can record it. But it’s not something I do normally as a way of living.
Would you consider doing producing for other artists in the future, or any other collaborations? In the future, with other artists — I would like to have time do that.
I saw on YouTube a cover you did of Bob Marley’s, “Could You Be Loved?” and I thought that was really cool. Thank you, my friend. We love Bob Marley so much. Every show, before we play, we play Bob Marley’s music.
Would you ever do an album of Bob Marley covers? I would love to do that. It’s not something that I was thinking about it, but now that you mention it — like a Bob Marley tribute or something. Yeah I love Bob Marley so much, maybe it’s today — why not?
What was it like writing your autobiography Chasing the Sun? Well, it’s not like a biography; it’s more like a photo album. We wanted to have a photo album. I have pictures from when I was a kid to these days. I wanted to have some stories to tell to the fans. I wrote about different moments of my life that really touched me at some point. So that’s what I did, and I really like this book. I did it with a lot of heart, obviously, and as a way to give back to the fans — for them to see what it’s like and to know more who is behind the songs, ya know?
You have a lot of fans. I told my mom about you, and she said, “Oh my god — he’s gonna interview Juanes!!” [Laughs.]
She told her coworkers … [Laughs.] Please say hello to your mom.
I will, thank you. I really appreciate this interview. Thank you for your time. Anything else you would like to say? No man, just invite the people to the concert. It’s gonna be fucking great!