The tradition of the singer/songwriter who looks at life with an explorer's curiosity is alive and well with Melendi, the Spanish superstar whose albums have struck a collective chord in his native Spain. At 38 years old, a time when many Latin stars are struggling to adapt to new sounds, Melendi has stayed on his course of beautifully crafted, mostly acoustic songs, and seen his eighth album, Quítate las gafas, spend five weeks at No. 1 on Spain's sales charts. Now, for the first time, Melendi is seriously looking at the U.S. and Latin America as fertile grounds for his songs, and is currently touring the U.S., Mexico and South America before launching his 30-plus city tour in Spain this spring. We spoke with Melendi prior to his March 4 sold-out show at the Fillmore Miami Beach.
You've said before that you started in music late in life. It's hard to believe, listening to your albums.
I discovered a guitar when I was 16. Before that, I hadn't even sung Happy Birthday. I found a guitar in my grandfather's attic and it became mine. I've always been very shy, and I realized it was easier for me to sing than talk.
Tell me about "Desde que estamos juntos" and its very Cuban vibe.
It's a Cuban rumba. Well, it's a rumba, but we added a Cuban tres so it sounds a little like a Cuban son. I have a Cuban subconscious because my grandfather lived his entire life in Cuba, and even though he died when my dad was just one year old, I feel the connection. I wanted to film the video there but it wasn't possible.
That song is very different from "La casa no es igual," a ballad about lost love.
The album has a bit of everything because our viewpoints change so much with time. It's funny being a songwriter who doesn't just talk about love and looking at how you tackle different themes today at 38 years old compared to before. It's really hard for me to listen to my first five albums. Not because I find them bad, but because I don't recognize myself.
Which album is particularly hard to listen to?
The first one was very special because it was true musical lunacy with songs like "Sin noticias de Holanda." Thanks to music and to songwriting, I discovered what life was, little by little. Each album represents a moment in my life, but you really see the evolution from the third album on, which is when I had my first child.
You have three children - the oldest born in 2005, the youngest just a year old. What has been the biggest difference between being a parent then and now?
Very different. It's hard to admit this, but you enjoy your children more when you have some conscience. When we're younger, we're more selfish and we miss out on a lot. But once you settle down, you start to enjoy many more things. I'm ga-ga over my youngest. It's not about time; they've always had my time. But now I make good use of it. Plus, I've come to realize children don't listen to you; they just react to your emotions. But I've written for them. I have song titled "Carlota," one titled "Marco." I have yet to write one for Lola.
What are your musical references?
Sabina, Serrat, Pablo Milanés. My parents always listened to songwriters. I've never heard a lot of music. I like to listen to their interviews and learn where their music comes from. It's far easier today to be a singer/songwriter than it was in the time of Serrat and Sabina. In their day, it was hard to tell the stories they told; it was often a matter of life and death.
How do you write?
I tackle music and lyrics at the same time. I've had something interesting and very lovely happen: I write much better now that I realize I'm not an artist. There are artists who live the inspiration of a moment, and there are people who are creative. I'm creative, but I'm not an artist. And as a creative person, I understand the creative process. I write a song in the same way you write an article. Something calls to me, I ask questions, do research, ask for different opinions and then I begin to write. I do that with all my songs.