Nestled up in the Echo Park hills just north of Sunset Boulevard lies La Casa Studios, where we wait on 14-time Grammy winning producer Gustavo Santaolalla, an Argentine. The walls in the studio lounge are decorated with album artwork for acts he produced like Maldita Vecindad, Juanes and Café Tacuba. When the 61-year-old, gray-haired Santaolalla emerges, he tries to shake off the tired look — from spending hours in recording sessions — as we talk about the group he co-founded, Bajofondo.
The classically-driven experimental music act started as a pet project inspired by the Rio de la Plata — the river that divides Argentina and Uruguay. Buenos Aires, on one side, is like Paris or New York, he says. The Uruguay city of Montevideo on the other side, however, is like “Buenos Aires unplugged, a bit cooler.” The river is so wide you can't see the other side, and the spirit of our music is to unite the two cultures across the river, he says.
Bajofondo's first album in 2002, Tango Club, went triple platinum (300,000 records sold) in Argentina, and won a Latin Grammy for best instrumental pop album.
Their new work Presente, their third, comes out tomorrow, March 5. “The album has a futuristic vision, with a gift from the past. It's an important album for us that represents ten years of playing together and we needed to make an artistic statement,” he says.
Their second album Mar Dulce had features including Elvis Costello and Nelly Furtado, but there are no guests this time around, with the focus instead on the group's violins, violas, cellos, upright basses and electronic instruments. It sounds something like a sophisticated party.
“The album doesn't have a storyline, but it's a trip. Hopefully by the end of the record you've gone though many musical and emotional landscapes.”
Santaolalla has also won two Oscars, for the Brokeback Mountain and Babel scores. He's produced over 100 albums, and continues to work on films and new projects like music supervising video games. But he may be changing things up a bit.
“I have an urge to perform live. When Bajofondo started performing, I felt like a real artist for the first time,” he notes. They've played everywhere from Coachella, to the Walt Disney Concert Hall.
It's easy to label the group's style as electro-tango music, but the group members prefer to note that their influences range from the Beatles to Radiohead to the Chemical Brothers, along with the styles across the Rio de la Plata.
“We are a rock band,” says Santaolalla. “That's the best way for me to describe Bajofondo.”
Bajofondo performs at The Fonda on March 18