Vicente and his guitar are waiting for us in the hotel cafeteria. The maestro has been giving “two hundred thousand interviews”, one after another. He’s tired of talking about the same thing over and over, which is his new hot-off-the-press album “Paseo de Gracia”. A record that includes all the friends of his professional life, and which will be presented in Madrid in just a few days. Although it’s morning, he seems a bit lethargic, almost absent. He senses that once again he’ll have to say the same words which just the day before he spoke to another fifteen communications media. That’s the promo game. Those dues artists pay to the industry that markets their music. He’s distracted, but his reflexes are sharp enough to play with scorching precision all the while he’s explaining his ideas about life, the guitar, loneliness… The expected script has been changed, without warning. Vicente shifted in his chair, put his guitar face down and ended up saying what until now had only been said by his strings. It’s called emotion…
How is your back these days?
It’s still a little messed up, but much better than it was at one point. They operated on it one month ago, and I’ve had to pull myself together quickly to be in form for these days. It was very difficult, because the hernia had touched the ciatic nerve, I was nearly two weeks without getting out of bed. Everything is boring when you’re like that. But it was time to promote the record, so I did what I could. Perhaps a bit too soon, but here I am…
From now on you’re going to have to take good care of yourself.
I have no choice. We guitarists have a difficult time, as you know, sitting all day long, a sedentary life, the tours…
And on top of everything else, sitting there for hours on end…
Don’t ask. And the doctor specifically told me I had to be lying down or walking, that was the best thing…if he were to see me now…I hope it doesn’t get any worse. It was an old injury, from years ago, and the last seven or eight months it had become unbearable. I’ve always had weak muscles in my back.
You would eliminate promo tours, just like that…
Well, yes. It’s a drag, but it’s something we have to do…for me, it’s the interviews…I don’t know, sometimes I don’t know what to say. I’m nobody…I don’t know what all the fuss is about…as if I were someone important.
Well, at least you’ve got your guitar with you. To warm up a bit?
More like to hide. Like I said, this is a drag, these interviews, so while I talk, I play guitar, I think, I relax with the guitar in my hands.
It doesn’t take much listening to the record to realize it’s going to be a huge hit…that first piece, with Niña Pastori…
Oh yeah? A huge hit? Do you really think so? I hope so…could be. Well, the record company was bugging me for a long time to do a record with guest artists, with people I’ve been surrounded by over the years, and here it is. I shared the work with many people.
“We all go through some suffering and, well, you have to tell that part too. You put yourself in that place and try to work with those motifs, making something beautiful out of something as ugly as loneliness, sadness…”
So you sort of got rooked into making this record?
No no, what I mean to say is the record company had the idea from years before to make a record of collaborations, and lots of guest artists. The thing is, I just didn’t set my mind to it, I didn’t have enough material for everything, and I didn’t really feel like doing it, because then it’s hard to do the live show…but now I got it all together and it happened, it’s only logical. I don’t think it subtracts personality from the record, it’s an interesting piece of work.
I can sense that in the recordings you made with José Mercé, Remedios Amaya, Pele…
But it’s very much my own record, you know? It’s like a way of singing with guitar, of accompanying the verses with my melodies. There’s lots of cante, but I’m with them every step of the way, I like to do with the guitar, what everyone else does with voice. It’s also a brave recording because it approaches pop, but always with respect and knowing that I’m first and foremost a flamenco, backing up the harmony and voices in my own way.
What do you think an old-school guitarist might think of “Paseo de Gracia”?
I think they’ll like the piece with Morente, they’ll say that’s the way it should be…when you hear the tangos, the same thing. It’s an expressive record.
The lyrics are more pessimistic that usual…
There must be some reason for that…(laughter). Because that’s how life is, there are good moments and bad moments…we all go through some suffering and, well, you have to tell that part too. You put yourself in that place and try to work with those motifs, making something beautiful out of something as ugly as loneliness, sadness…
The guitar is like a safety valve.
For all of us who play guitar, this is beloved torture. With the guitar, you get a lot of satisfaction, but you’re also all wrapped up in a knot with it.
The bolero is dedicated to a friend.
To my friend José Mari, a doctor in Córdoba (Vicente plays the piece as he speaks). It’s an original theme, long, with electric guitars, mandolins, violins… It’s a different thing from the preceding pieces, the ones I dedicated to my children.
Last year there were all kinds of rumors about the collaborations on this record. Some people mentioned names like Springsteen, Bono, Pat Metheny…
“Bono”…that must be related to Bono-hotel, right? (laughter). No idea, really. Of those people, the only one I know personally is Pat Metheny. I was introduced to Bruce Springsteen in Sting’s house, and I barely recognized him, with his beard and hat, leaning against a staircase…it’s that…even if I knew them, what can I do with people like that on my record?…I’m flamenco.
It’s because you cause a stir, people say all kinds of things…
Well I don’t know why, because the only place you have to be is in here (he points to the guitar). I don’t care what people say, what matters is working with the instrument, and giving it everything…
“Azules y Corinto”, another bullfighting theme to add to your long list…
It’s dedicated to José María Manzanares junior. Speaking with him I realized that, like his father, he likes blue and maroon torero suits, so I called the piece “blues and maroons”.
Of your favorites, only Morante is missing.
Let’s see if it happens, because he’s also a phenomenon. It’s a question of whether the music comes, of everything falling into place. Who knows…
“Alexis Lefèvre contributed a great deal. He’s a wonderful person, very positive, and a violinist whose artistic sensitivity goes beyond the norm. As soon as I heard him, I proposed we do something together, and he’s very present here. It was one of those nice surprises life brings”.
It’s the newest thing on “Paseo de Gracia”, where I see more future than past.
And the bolero, the piece with Morente…there are many new things here.
A lot of your biography is in this recording.
But they’re good memories. Our memories should be in everything we do, we learn from them, they are our personal heritage.
And none other than Alejandro Sanz, in “Y Será Verdad”.
The song with Alejandro was in my head since a long time ago. It’s a verse dedicated to him. I wanted to get into his world from my flamenco perspective. We have a special friendship, and he really sings very flamenco here.
What about José Parra?…if it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t even see him…
He’s fine, working again. The thing is, he was out of circulation for a while, he’s very special, with a closed mentality, the kind of person you can barely understand, he seems like a foreigner…(laughter). I was very happy to see him again, he sings great here.
We heard him in “Luz de la Sombra”, bulerías that take me back to the past, to the piece titled “Gitano de Lucía”.
It’s that it’s the same basic thing, just like you say. The same idea, but evolved. Like what I just said about a person’s memories. Ideas that have been kicking around in my head for twenty years. And in the recitals you hear some of it, but as a compact, finished piece.
Violin fills this record, a bit like the accordion in the previous one.
Yes. Alexis Lefèvre contributed a great deal. He’s a wonderful person, very positive, and a violinist whose artistic sensitivity goes beyond the norm. As soon as I heard him, I proposed we do something together, and he’s very present here. It was one of those nice surprises life brings. I suppose we’ll do a lot with this record, but I don’t know exactly what, because we’re a troupe…maybe when we make a quartet.
I went to Granada so she could participate in the song with Alejandro, but in the end it didn’t happen. I think it was a problem of vocal placement. We just didn’t see it. So her father said, “you must have something for Estrella, take a look…”, and I suggested these tangos. They listened to them, and everything was perfect, they said it was just right. A nice way to end the record, don’t you think?
”That internet thing is a big waste of time, everyone knows everything immediately, there’s no escape. When you think how nice it used to be when they would put a poster up with your face, and everyone would say “Look, Vicente is coming to my town, he’s going to perform”. Now, they have you nailed wherever you go. I don’t like people all over the world knowing where I am at every moment”.
Where was it finally done?
In Córdoba. In my house. I would have liked to go to Rocamador, or some isolated place to record and compose, but in the end, it was my house, and don’t think that means peace and quiet. This has been a difficult year in many ways, I wasn’t able to record at a single go. I had the guitars done from a year ago and, like I said, lots of personal things going on that postponed the final recording.
Could you go into what some of those things were?
First of all, I wasn’t feeling particularly optimistic, and that puts the brakes on when you have to record. Then, I was in the process of moving from one house to another in Córdoba, and I had to live in a rented house for a few months. All this adds up to not getting down to work until many months after getting through the most difficult phase, which is the composition.
How are you going to manage the live performances. Is Rafael de Utrera going to end up doing all the cante?
Almost…we’ll see how he and Miguel Ortega manage it, because I can’t take everyone from the record on tour with me (laughter). Between the two of them they can handle it.
You’re famous for being obsessively methodical in your recordings.
It’s that with the technical means at our disposition, it seems the most logical thing. But even so, sometimes you don’t know if it’s better to record and re-record and do it over eight-hundred times, or two or three takes and call it finished. I try to find the right expression, it takes a lot of time, and I’m always doubting…my whole life is doubting…
“How could I not be grateful to Manolo?…I was living in his house, that’s where I learned to play and to be a person! How could I possibly not feel affection for Manolo Sanlúcar? I adore him. That was a stupid thing to say, a load of crap, no other way to describe it. And if my own father says a load of crap, I’ll also say so, you know?”
So is there a recession or what?
For crying out loud, of course there’s a recession! Every one of us feels it. And then they go and pirate your records, they record them and put them up on internet instead of buying them. The recession is a major issue, especially in this line of work, in culture, that’s where you feel it first. You have to resort to live performance, and that’s on the wane as well, the problem is felt all across the board.
How are the little “Amigos”?
They’re fine…running around. For now, they don’t play the guitar, they’re mostly interested in piano, and they do have a certain ability, but it’s too soon to say. Then they’re with their computers, internet…I don’t like that internet thing at all.
But I’ve seen you crop up on Facebook.
Yes, but that’s a friend of mine doing it…I don’t (laughter). I don’t even have a cell phone. That internet thing is a big waste of time, everyone knows everything immediately, there’s no escape. When you think how nice it used to be when they would put a poster up with your face, and everyone would say “Look, Vicente is coming to my town, he’s going to perform”. Now, they have you nailed wherever you go. I don’t like people all over the world knowing where I am at every moment. And when I decided not to have a cell phone, I had my doubts, but I think it’s the best thing in the world. I said “Hey, that’s the end of the cell phone, now I just play guitar”. My studio used to seem like an office, I couldn’t even tune up in peace…it was very stressful.
A year ago you said you were learning to read music.
Yeah, but in my own way…with books I picked up here and there. What with the recording I have it a little sidelined, but I’d love to know how to make arrangements and write music for other instruments, that’s so great.
In that field, your maestro Manolo Sanlúcar is a real expert.
Yes, of course, he spends half his time putting flamenco into sheet music, orchestrating…he’s something of a pioneer.
A few months ago he said he was very disappointed with your ingratitude when you only mention Paco de Lucía as your maestro.
That, with all due respects, is load of crap. (Vicente stops playing, puts the guitar down and shifts in his seat. Silence). And he wasn’t the least bit shy about saying it…when I found out, I felt disappointed as well. How could I not be grateful to Manolo?…I was living in his house, that’s where I learned to play and to be a person! How could I possibly not feel affection for Manolo Sanlúcar? I adore him. That was a stupid thing to say, a load of crap, no other way to describe it. And if my own father says a load of crap, I’ll also say so, you know? The thing is, even though he might not like to accept it, what guitarist is not in debt to Manolo Sanlúcar and Paco de Lucía? What a load of crap, there’s no other way to describe it.
Who would you like to record with?
With Potito. No doubt about it. Although I’ve already done things with him, I feel I’d love to make a recording with him, something more serious, because he’s one terrific singer, he’s got everything. I’d like to share experiences with him, through my records, and his, I don’t know. If he’s happy being retired, god bless him, but his sensitivity is above and beyond the norm.
Potito come back, we need you!!!
But he’ll tell you he never left, that he’s not retired. He’s got his ideas about religion and, well, it must be what makes him happy. He’s amazing.
You once told me loneliness was a place. Just where is that place?
Right here (he points to his head), but also here, in the gut, when something turns you inside out. There’s also that kind of loneliness. It’s something that tortures each and every one of us, it’s very relative, but at the same time, we always seem to manage it somehow. Above all, it’s something that’s deep inside.
What does the word “happiness” mean to someone like you?
(Vicente looks up at the ceiling, and again turns serious) …happiness…is the feeling that you wouldn’t want to change places with anyone…when you love everyone, you feel confident and are free from fear…and there are many moments like this in life. There are also many of the other kind, the bad ones…but there’s no gadget to eliminate them and just live the good moments…the whole thing is difficult.
Thank you maestro…
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