Posted November 25, 2018 by Jeff in Tunes

Aterciopelados: Evolving to Sound Like Themselves


Essentially a collaboration between vocalist/guitarist Andrea Echeverri and bassist/arranger Héctor Buitrago, Aterciopelados has recorded eight albums since the duo originally teamed up in Bogotá, Colombia in the early 1990s as Delia y los Aminoácidos. Buitrago came from a hardcore punk background, heading up a group called La Pestilencia, while Echeverri had been drawn into the music scene by her art school friends. “When I was young I listened to boogaloo by Richie Ray and later stuff like Led Zeppelin, Deep Purple and Yes,” says Buitrago in a press release about the group’s new album, Claroscura. “The first time I bought a bass guitar, I’d never had one in my hands before. I began to write songs by ear.” Echeverri spoke to us via phone from her home in Bogata. The band had just returned from playing shows in Mexico and Spain, and the album, the group’s first studio effort in a decade, recently received two Latin Grammy nominations.

I think your mother was a singer. Did you start singing when you were child?
Si, but not professionally. My mother still sings. She can be found with an acoustic guitar at every party. We would get together at Christmas and New Year’s Eve and even weekends. We would all sing. That’s the way I started singing, not with singing lessons or anything like that. It was naturally.

How did the two of you first meet?
We met partying when we were young and crazy. We had a friend in common. He asked me if I sang. I said, “Yes. In my family, everyone sings.” He asked me if I wanted to go to a rehearsal. I said, “Okay. Let’s go.” We went, and it was in Hector’s house. Then, we started meeting in the same dancing place.

What were your initial influences and how similar or different were they to Hector’s?
He had a hardcore band called La Pestilencia. But then, he grew a bit tired of the violence. Every time they had a gig, people broke chairs and fought. He wanted something different. I think that’s why he asked me. I was an artist studying art at the university. That’s how we started something different. We took influence from my mother and her singing, which was more bolero and ranchera.

Was there a good music scene in Bogata?
No. There were bombs every few days. It was an intense time. Nightlife was big, maybe because of that. You felt like it could be your last party. We got together and we had a bar where people used to drink and dance. That’s how we started playing. We formed a band, Delia y Los Aminoácidos, and we started playing there. There was no music scene at all. There not even concerts because it was a dangerous city. A couple of years later, bands like Caifanes were becoming very big. The record label started signing local bands, and that’s how we were lucky. We had songs that were played on the radio and that’s how we got signed to BMG and becoming big and professional.

El Dorado marked a shift in your sound. Can you talk a little about that album?
We had one first album prior that was very successful in Colombia. El Dorado was successful all over the place. It was successful in North America and South America and even in Spain. One of the things was MTV En Espanol. We all watched that, and that was how we knew about bands that weren’t from the U.S. The radio just played American and English bands. With MTV in Spanish, we could see Panama and Venezuela and Pall those places, and that became very important. That’s how we started traveling and playing in Argentina and Chile and Ecuador. We started to mix all those influences — punk, bolero, rock ranchero, and all kinds of things. The idea was to extract our identity in the lyrics we used and the way we dressed up. We tried to be ourselves.

What was it like to then record your next album in London with Phil Manzanera?
That was because we did a tour with Héroes del Silencio.They’ve very big in Spain. We did a tour with them. He produced a few of their albums. He traveled to Madrid and that’s how we got to know each other. He saw our show. He speaks Spanish because his mother is Colombian. That was good too. I can speak English but I’m not confident about it. He’s experienced and speaks Spanish and the band traveled to London to do that album. We couldn’t believe it.

It seemed like the band continued to evolve with every album.
Si. Definitely. Hector is like a producer and even when he doesn’t produce, he works with the producer. He guides the sound. He always wants a modern or different sound — modern but opposite of now. In terms of songwriting, we both write songs. We don’t want to use a formula but we want to try new things.

So why has it taken years to follow up Rio?
After Rio, we played a couple of years and then we got separated. We had a fight. Hector was working with Conector and I was working on Ruisenora. Those were three constructive years. Each one of us learned to do what the other one did in Aterciopelados. Hector sang. He was the frontman at the concerts. I learned to produce. Those are good years. Each of us made an album from beginning to ending. In 2014, an important festival in Bogata was celebrating its 20th anniversary. They wanted Aterciopelados to play. They started making phone calls to Hector and me. That made us talk about the fight and everything. Finally, we did play the festival. After that, we made a live DVD.

When you started working on the songs for Claroscura, did you find them taking you in a specific direction?
What we found was that it was important to sound like Aterciopelados. There was pressure from the record label to sound like reggaeton because that’s what people are buying. There was certain pressure, and they wanted us to work with those Cuban composers. We said, “No.” We wanted an album that represents our sound.

We wanted to sound modern, but at the same time, we want you to feel that we’ve been playing music and constructing important concepts about ecology and human rights and feminism. That’s what we wanted and that’s what we did.

Talk about the album’s title.
It’s like two comic characters with humor and exaggeration. Hector is Claro and I am Oscura.

The design is a delicate and elegant magical-surrealist and shamanic art made by the Bogota collective Comes Cake. What’s the story there?
We talked a lot. For the art, what I always said is that we don’t have to invent anything because we are two characters with aesthetics around us. We wanted to reflect that. They did this painting, and I think it’s very pretty. I do ceramics. That’s what I studied in the university. I made the names in clay and they photographed them. The album name is also in clay.

You worked with the award-winning Argentinian musician ‘Cachorro’ Lopez at Audiovisión Bogotá and Mondo Mix Bs Aires and the remaining 7 songs were produced by Hector Buitrago (ConEctor) at Groove Estudios Bogota.
‘Cachorro’ Lopez produced five songs. He has produced everyone. He’s like a Bible for Rock en Espanol. Hector did the other seven songs. They were made in three time periods because we played a lot. We have families and we have two kids each and it’s important to be around them when you’re not touring.

The opening track, “Play,” is really infectious. Talk about working with Ana Tijoux on it.
She’s from Chile. It’s a huge coincidence. She had collaborated with Julieta Venegas on a very famous song. That song was produced by Cachorro Lopez. When we were doing my song and thought that someone else could sing a bit on it, and we mentioned names. Someone mentioned Anita, and we all said, “Yes, yes, yes.” Cachorromade contact with her. She said, “Yes.” She was coming to Bogata for a few days for a concert. That was amazing.  It was a cosmic thing. She went to the studio and we talked about the song and she wrote her lyrics and she sang beautifully.

What was it like to work with Jorge Celedón on ‘Ay Ombe’ (Vamo’ a Relajar el Pony’)?
He’s very famous. The strange and nice thing about that song is that vallenatois machismo in English. It’s like a chauvinist thing but the song is very feminist. We’re doing a feminist song and getting a male singer to say, “Today, I put my head down to the greatest of women.” I think it’s brave.

“Duo” is another one of my favorites. Talk about how that song came together.
That song is an autobiography. It talks about how we met and fell in love and started making music, and then we had a fight. We keep changing, and we are now almost opposites and in that difference there’s a positivity.

What has kept the band going all this time?
I don’t know. I guess it’s just inside of us.

Image from The Music Joint Group




Jeff started writing about rock ’n’ roll some 20 years ago when he stood in the pouring rain to hitch hike his way to see R.E.M. on their Life’s Rich Pageant tour. Since that time, he's written for various daily newspapers, alt-weeklies, magazines and websites. Feel free to comment on his posts or suggest music, film and art to him at [email protected]