Cover and Feature
By Diego Valiente
How do you remember your childhood? Did you know you were going to be a composer and a singer?
I grew up in Washington Heights, NYC. We arrived there in the late 60’s from Cuba. It was just my mother, my older brother and me. My father stayed behind as a political prisoner. I definitely had a lot of music around me all the time. One of my uncle’s, Listoriel Torres, was a singer/songwriter and whenever we had family gatherings he’d bring out his guitar and sing his own songs and some traditional Cuban and Mexican songs. At the same time, I was getting into bands like the Beatles, ELO and artists like Elvis Presley, Paul Simon, Bob Marley and many others. So I had an eclectic mix of sounds around me all the time. I guess that at some point early on I knew that music was going to play a big part in my life. I remember the first time I saw an Elvis movie and he was singing and I was just like, "I want to do that!"
What was the first song you wrote?
Actually the first song I ever wrote was from a crumbled paper that I had found on the floor of one of my classes in Junior High School. I picked it up from the floor and it seemed like it was a love letter from some guy to a girl. The first two lines read, "Girl the world is changing fast. It’s getting harder and harder to know if love will last". For some reason the sincere yet poetic feelings in those two lines really hit me and I went home and I wrote a song using those first two lines and it was the very first piece I ever finished. It was very Beatles-ish.
Does winning Grammys or any awards? Change your life? Does it put pressure when creating a new project?
I actually have not won a Grammy yet, I’ve been nominated twice but have not won yet. I have won a few BMI songwriting awards for my songs that have been top ten hits on Billboard including the #1 song I wrote with Obie Bermudez, "Todo el Año". I don’t let these kind of awards or recognition get to me. You know I think that it’s great to get praised but I really just keep doing what I do and still enjoy the creative process the most. I think that’s enough of a reward on it’s own.
How do you separate composing for other singers and making the songs that you will put on an album?
What a great question! I think it can be a little tricky at times. It has happened to me a few times that I’ve written a song for myself and it winds up in the hands of another artist and well sometimes it hurts on an artistic level but it helps on an economic level if that song goes on to be a hit by that other artist. I usually know when a song is meant for me, it has a certain quality to it that I know is just very personal. There are exceptions, for example my song, "Los Demas", was on my first album, "Normal" (BMG/RCA) and years later, Julio Iglesias Jr. recorded it and it became a top ten hit. Some of my fans were upset with me for letting him record one of my most personal and loved songs but hey it helped me financially record my own albums down the line.
What would be your advice for composer and singers now that the music industry? How do you make a career in this market?
My advice to any singer/songwriters or composers is to find your own voice and to do the kind of music you love most like to do. When you do music that you like and are passionate about it’s going to motivate you to keep getting better in that genre and to keep growing as an artist. I know so many talented artists who start doing other styles of music just because they think they’re suppose to because it’s "commercial". I always think that’s a mistake, you should do whatever it is that really makes your wheel turn, even if it’s Polka Death Metal Reggae.
What is your favorite instrument and why?
I love the piano because I think it’s the most complete instrument to write on. But the Guitar is my passion. There’s nothing more beautiful than a great singer/songwriter playing his/her guitar and singing a beautiful song. The guitar is just such a mobile and accessible instrument to take with you wherever you go. I keep one with me at all times. You never know when someone asks you to sing a song or whenever you get inspired. Guitars are great for those kind of moments, its tough carrying a piano around in your car.
Your image is very original, how did you or who made the look that makes Elsen Torres?
Ahhhh, thank you….ha ha ha…I think getting your own look/vibe is just from years of going through different styles and tastes, and finding you feel comfortable with. I like being myself at all times, and I think that’s why my "look" is original because there’s only one Elsten as far as I know, maybe in an alternative -bizarro world there’s another version of me but I don’t think that he’s probably a singer/songwriter, he’s probably a fisherman.
You Cuban, raised in NYC and now you are in Miami? Tell us about your background and why do you choose to live in Miami?
Yes I was born in Cuba but left when I was only a year and half old. NY is really more of who I am because that’s where I lived most of life and where I developed as an artist. I’ve been in Miami now for some time. Music and Family brought me to Miami. It took me a long time to embrace Miami and I think that in the last few years I’ve learned to appreciate the "uniqueness" that Miami can be. I must admit that I am in the process of relocating for a while to a different city/country. I’m looking at the west coast, L.A. or San Fran. and even Spain or Japan. The world is open to me right now.
Milcho was in one of our prior issues, how was your experience working with her?
Milcho! Milcho! Milcho! esa loca! I love Milcho! Besides being such a dear friend and such a beautiful person with such a loving and refreshing spirit, she is one of the most unique and talented people I know! Working with her a few years ago was a combination of mayhem and joy! She has a way of creating chaos while keeping focus on what needs to be done. I’m hoping that we get to work together soon for my next project, only I hope this time she won’t tie me up again to her kitchen sink and make me eat gallons of plain yogurt.
We know you are finishing an album? Tell us all about it, releasing date, what album number is this, what inspired this one, does it have a specific concept? And which one is your favorite song?
Yes thank you, I am just finishing up an EP of 6 songs called "Borders". This is an all acoustic album with strings It is very organic and pure sounding. This album is inspired from my recent divorce and all the feelings that one goes through when something that powerful happens to you in your life. My favorite songs on the album are, "I’ll Be Gone" and "Already Dark". It is a very personal project and it stems from a live performance that I did last year. It came across so strong with me on acoustic and vocals and violinist-Belinda Ho; cellist – Lisa Espinosa, and producer/guitarist/co-writer – Aaron Fishbein, that after we performed like this in this format live, Aaron suggested we record an album just like that and we did.This album should be completed by mid-February.
I’m also working on 3 other projects at the moment: my long play album and follow up to my Grammy nominated 2007 Album (Individual), with Brendan Buckley (Shakira’s Drummer); La Musa (an electronic/Belly Dance EP); and the musical, "Tanto Amor" (with play-writer, Christopher DePaola). All these projects will be under construction this year and out hopefully in 2011 as well.
Dando Vueltas – (Directed by Milcho)