If it wasn’t already, life is about to get very interesting indeed for Juan Zelada. Yesterday we heard about the hard work and good fortune that has brought him to the eve of the release of his debut album, High Ceilings & Collarbones, which drops next week.
In the run up to Christmas, life was getting a little hectic for Juan with last minute recording sessions being booked in around a nationwide tour that meant he had to travel to and from London from across the country. He showed no signs of fatigue when we met up with him in the midst of all the hullaballoo, though he did confess to looking forward to a rest with the family at home in Spain for a while. Since his return, the pace has picked up even more with promo appearance after promo appearance, gig after gig and another nationwide tour booked in for the spring. To top it all off, he even managed to come down with a bout of laryngitis during his break.
Luckily, the recovery is in full effect when we catch up with him, most probably due in part to the restorative powers of his favoured medicinal Greek brandy, Metaxa. In fact, it could almost be classed as a secret ingredient in his success, playing a significant role in the recording process, “(it was) very key, for the night vocal sessions that were going on,” he admits.
“if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”
Juan is his usual charming, gregarious self, as he prepares for both a radio showcase in the afternoon and headline show in the evening. He seems very happy and relaxed, with no outward signs of being under pressure. So everything is good post-Christmas and all set for the album launch? ”Everyone’s come back in really good spirits, and the band is sounding as fresh as ever so, yeah. I’m looking forward to it.”
So, brandy consumption apart, what was the recording process like? He alluded to pressure from the label when we met at the end of 2011, had they wanted to change much? ”No, to be fair to Decca, they’ve been really, really acceptable with us. They took in a project which was very near finishing in terms of all the songs that had been recorded and they really liked everything we’d done.
“So it was a case of like, if it ain’t broke, you know, don’t fix it.”
So what about these additional recording sessions? How had they come about so late in the day, and were they cause for concern? Thankfully not. “It’s just a case that throughout the year I’ve been writing other tunes, and there was like three that I had to squeeze into the album cause they were just making the album better. The manic thing about that was it was all between the touring schedule before Christmas that we had so we were trying to record three songs, mix and master them and edit them and so on whilst we were on the road and just making up whatever days we could to make up in London.”
”The vibe within the song is so organic and special.“
It’s no wonder he needed a break then. At no point when we met him in Norwich, or now as we speak, does he complain. The work ethic that has served him so well in the past is still quite clearly there and the three new songs, “Elsewhere” – a dramatic, up-tempo bass driven number which is stunning live, “The Boy With The TV On” – a delicate folk song inspired by a trek in the mountains of Nepal, and “Open Up My Eyes” – a more commercial pop ballad, were important to him as they represent where he and the band are right now musically.
There was another addition as well, as Juan explains, ”I was really glad that they (Decca) would also include a live recording that we did at East Coast studios called “Don’t You Hold Me Down” and that was a great sort of result I reckon because it is basically the band jamming out a song, at the time not really thinking it was going to be part of an album, not really thinking anything, just having a good time.” It’s a great idea, with his live sound being so energetic, even when compared to the radio edits of some songs, it gives audiences the chance to feel what he is all about.
Conversely, it also gives something to those fans who have previously only seen him play live and who may be surprised by the comparative leisurely feel to the album. Something Juan acknowledges, “the vibe within the song is so organic and special and it was worth while sticking in the album because it was a snippet of what we like, and the feelings that people get when they go live. So we could foresee the problem of people seeing us live, going and getting the album and going ‘it’s not quite what we saw live’ so we kind of wanted to answer that.”
It may sound contrite, but it is symptomatic of the genuine affection he seems to have for his audience, certainly when playing live and now also as a recording artist. He is such an amiable person, even when he doesn’t want to answer a question, he still does. Case in point, our conversation turns specifically to the album title, High Ceilings & Collar Bones, and its meaning, but Juan doesn’t want to go there. ”I kind of prefer to keep a little bit of a mystique around it,” he says, “because it is such an open ended kind of a title.” He can’t help himself of course and proceeds to explain precisely where it comes from, thereby ruining the potential for any ‘charming, good looking, young Spanish man adds mystery and intrigued to his repertoire by refusing to reveal details of album title’ style headlines.
We won’t go into much detail as Juan does his best to retain some semblance of ambiguity, stating ”It suggests many different things to me, so I mean, kind of make of it what you will…” but dreams, aspirations and appreciation for the female form make up much of his thinking around it.
” I’m very proud of what we’ve done in terms of the recording side of things.”
Moving away from the title, what about expectations? He has had such success over recent months, with a great deal of national coverage, does he let himself get carried away with what could happen in the next few weeks? How does he expect it all to go? As befits his down to earth personality, his is very much a pragmatic view. ”We’ve got high expectations in terms of what it can do, and what we can do, however, I don’t expect it to be doing amazing results just on the back of the Radio 2 exposure because we’ve always had more of a slow burner approach with things.”
So it will be more of a gradual process then? Not a mad dash for week one chart placement followed by fingers crossed the second week drop off isn’t too bad?
“It comes out on the 6th of Feb and there’s not that big ‘hoorah’ about it, you know? There’s not that big campaign around it, I think it will be in crescendo and gradually, February, March, building up to the time when we’re mostly touring in April and, you know, I think that’s when it will become a bit more.”
“I don’t have the expectations of it blasting the charts or anything anytime soon in February or anything like that, I don’t. As long as we’re (doing) the right things live and, you know, I’m very proud of what we’ve done in terms of the recording side of things so, as long as we’re doing our job right, it should be a bit of a slow burner really, that’s the idea.”
It makes sense when you think about it, a guy whose musical influences are from the 60’s and 70’s, taking a more traditional and measured approach to success and expectation. Despite everything, his feet are still firmly rooted on the ground, his work ethic is unbroken and his humour and charisma remain ever present. We don’t doubt that the album will be a success and that this is just the beginning of some big things for Juan Zelada for, as charming as he undoubtedly is, he has the talent to back it up as well.
Pictures: Adam S