Contact Agent : Paul Sloan
Nubes De Papel (Paper Clouds), the second album from Spanish guitarist-singer-songwriter Jairo Zavala, is, at its heart, a series of reveries from the road. States Zavala, who has adopted the moniker of Depedro for his solo performances, “I had been touring for two years straight. I was in different cities, different hotels, different countries, yet every night I would have really, really good dreams.” Dreams were a constant in the peripatetic life of this solo artist and always-in-demand sideman for such acts as Calexico and Andrew Bird, and from his dreams came these quietly intense, emotive, yearning songs. His music, balancing the traditional and the experimental, is rooted in sounds from Spain, Mexico and Latin America, yet it suggests a place all its own. The seductive landscape of Depedro is easy to enter but not on any map.
In keeping with the borderless nature of his songs, Zavala purposefully chose the name Depedro because it was both evocative and vague: “Kind of Mediterranean, kind of Spanish.” His 2009 self-titled debut helped to inaugurate National Geographic’s expansion into record-making, an effort that has steered clear of travelogue-style world music in favor of material that’s more sophisticated and adventurous, international but not anthropological. On a personal level, Depedro was a turning point for Zavala, the culmination of years of writing and stockpiling his own songs while devoting himself to more collaborative efforts. The Madrid native had fronted Spanish rock band Vacazul and the more blues-oriented 3000 Hombres; Zavala had also written for and played with Spanish surf band Los Coronas and, most notably, Spanish singer Amparo Sanchez’s brash, genre-juggling band Amparanoia. Working with Sanchez brought him to the attention of the influential, Arizona-based alt-country band Calexico, who, in 2004, offered Zavala a guitar slot for a Spanish tour and, not long after, a permanent place in its touring lineup. The band subsequently gave Zavala the use of its Tucson studio to complete Depedro, with founding member Joey Burns producing and his fellow band members sitting in.
Burns is once again behind the boards for Nubes De Papel, but, says Zavala, making his sophomore album turned out to be a very different experience — less rushed, more carefully considered. It was literally a journey, from Madrid to Tucson, with stops at hotels and homes along the way, as inspiration struck. As Zavala recalls, “With the first record I didn’t know what was going to happen. I had a collection of songs that needed to be expressed at some point, to be on an album. I had the guys from Calexico help me make it and it was completely improvised. The second record followed a different path. I drew from the experiences I’d had in the last few years, like having the chance to play with wonderful artists like Andrew Bird and, of course, Calexico. I’d also played several world music festivals, where I met artists like the Cuban guitarist Eliades Ochoa. It was a great environment to draw inspiration from. In New York City I discovered interesting bands like Forro in the Dark [now his Nat Geo label-mates]. This album is more like a trip, a road album, and the other was more like choosing the songs I had to make a collection.”
Nubes De Papel has a more intimate feel than Zavala’s previous disc, with the focus on his expressive voice and virtuosic guitar playing. The arrangements are often artfully stripped down, subtly blending acoustic and electronic instrumentation – though some tracks, like “Tramuntana” swell dramatically with soulful, south-of-the-border horns and strings. All of them are infused with bittersweet emotion, perhaps most dramatically on the aching “Diciembre” and the English-language “Empty Fields,” co-written with Burns. Explains Zavala: “Easy doesn’t have to be simple. I tried not to overdo the arrangements or effects. I like the sound of a lot of jazz records from the forties, fifties and sixties. I like the warmth of them and I wanted to add the flavor of that. In that era, the music had to be real. They only had two tracks or four tracks to record on and tried to spread the emotion of the songs with minimal elements. That’s a big challenge for me. I try to do that always. You need space to hear the truth of the songs.”
He paid particular attention to his mostly Spanish-language lyrics, which balance emotional candor with a kind of magical realism, especially on the title track. Zavala admits, “I’m so proud of the songs on this album. I spent a lot of time writing and rewriting the songs, again and again. I like to spend time choosing the right words to help the music come out. I don’t want to change the world or talk about big things; I’m talking about common things that happen to all of us every day and to the people that we love. I put a lot of love in the lyrics. With the previous album, I had the music for a long time, but the lyrics came out quickly. This time I thought about them more.”
If one were to make comparisons or look for antecedents beyond Calexico, Zavala’s mash-up of Spanish and Latin American elements with a kind of stark indie rock recalls the adventurous Latin Playboys-side of Los Lobos. His vocal delivery suggests at times the endearing rasp of M. Ward; at others, the alternately sensual and playful approach of Brazilian icon Caetano Veloso, particularly on Zavala’s brilliant transformation of the Velvet Underground’s “What Goes On.”(Zavala had previously tackled the percolating funk of Brazilian soul man Jorge Ben Jor on Depedro.). It was a surprising, telling and smart choice that came about, Zavala explains, because “I always play Velvet Underground records at home. My older son Mario started to sing along to ‘What Goes On’ and he gave me the idea — why not do a cover of that song, but make it feel like the old soundtracks of the sixties, like West Side Story. You can imagine these guys putting the song in that film. That’s the result. People are always asking me, is this your song? Everyone knows the lyrics but they don’t expect where I take the song musically. It’s like my homage to the Velvet Undergound, a gift of thanks to those guys for inspiring me.”
It is now Zavala himself who is doing the inspiring with Nubes De Papel, This constant traveler, who has traversed continents musically and geographically, offers us a beguiling new world to discover. Muchas Gracias.
“The fetchingly hoarse-voiced balladeer makes his move from Spain to border badlands sound the most natural thing in the world.”—Telegraph UK “Hailing from Madrid, Spain, this acoustic folk rock band will get you to sit up and listen… Depedro is certainly a band to take notice of.”—CMJ DePedro, the indie-folk project of Spanish singer/guitarist Jairo Zavala, is gearing up for the release of his sophomore album Nubes de Papel. Due October 26 on Nat Geo Music, the new release marks DePedro’s follow-up to 2009’s eponymous debut, which was applauded by Billboard as “one of this year’s left-field delights,” and praised by Hollywood Reporter for its “romantic street café tones, with accordion and minimalist percussion.” The 13-song collection features Spanish-influenced melodies and acoustic guitar enhanced by subtle horns and evocative string arrangements. Zavala alternates singing in English as well as his native Spanish on the album. Already a celebrated recording artist in Spain, Zavala formed DePedro after years of writing and performing with several renowned artists, most predominantly with Calexico as their touring guitarist and frequent songwriting collaborator. Zavala recorded Nubes de Papel in Calexico’s Tucson, AZ studio with the band performing on the album. Calexico’s Joey Burns says “The world of DePedro is one of those rare and beautiful mixes of genres, gorgeous melodies and soulful songs…Zavala’s music is classic, timeless and intuitive.” Zavala grew up in Madrid listening to both the pre-WWII songs his grandparents used to play and the music his Peruvian father brought back from his travels to Latin America and Africa, as well as the rock from the 70s and 80s. He credits these various influences for helping to shape his own style of guitar playing, one that is pulled from blues, folk, flamenco, Afrobeat, Latin and rock.