Now, Guti is entering what might be his third evolution as a musician. He recently moved to Barcelona, where he's just built his dream studio in an open-plan loft. His first project there was his second album, Rompecorazones, and while it's of a piece with the music he's released in the past, it marks a serious departure from the dance floor. The album is flush with organic textures and moody atmospheres, with his new piano, the acoustics of his studio and his years spent playing and listening to jazz forming the basis of its sound. Rompecorazones was at the heart of our wide-ranging conversation, which covered mic placement, keyboard addiction and the importance of always pressing record.
I wanted to start by asking about Rompecorazones. It's a bit different from what I've heard from you before—not completely from leftfield, but it's definitely a new sound.
I wanted to do this album for a couple of years now. Then finally when I started to record it, it came out like this. So it wasn't like, "Hey, let's do a piano album." I didn't know what was about to happen. At the same time, I finally bought this beautiful Yamaha AvantGrand, and I started to spend more time with the piano again. When I quit the band and came to Europe—now it's already like seven years—I stopped being a pianist, you know? I was travelling and making house and techno, and this was, like, the comeback—to come back with an old love, or something like this.
Was this always a dream, to have a real piano in your studio? Had you ever had one of your own?
The last time I had a piano in my house was like ten years ago. Then the neighbors in this country [Argentina] made sure I couldn't play, calling the police every time. This is the first time I've had a proper studio—a proper place, a bigger room to play piano. This of course affected my music, too. So the process [for Rompecorazones] was really natural: first, I sat at the piano and came up with these melodies that were really strong. I recorded the whole album just on the piano, but I decided maybe most of the songs shouldn't stay like this.
It's not like your earlier music didn't have the same feel or the same elements. Your first album, Patio De Juegos, opened with a tune that sounded a lot like that Rompecorazones material.
Yes, totally. When I recorded the first album—I think it was 2010—I felt it was right to include this part of my sound, because this is me: I do club music, but also I tend to have this emotional, introspective—whatever [laughs]. It's always around, you know? I did this song for Cadenza a couple of years ago called "Maayancholy" that was more clubby but also super melancholy. It's something that is always there, and I thought it was the right time. Also, I'm five years older than when I recorded the first album.
So this is music that's always been there, but you finally had the chance to really explore it in full.
Yeah, and now I have the advantage that I can do whatever I want, you know? You can always do whatever you want, but now I have the respect when people listen to this album. Maybe if I released this five years ago, people would say, "Hey, what is this?"
You also have a studio now that can accommodate this kind of project. Was this sound something you had in mind when you were putting it together?
It's a recording studio, you know? It's not a techno studio. When I started to build the studio from scratch, I was really careful of details. I recorded in really big studios with the band, when I was a Warner Music artist. I've been through really small studios to mega studios, and I know how that can affect the musician. So the priority in the studio was to have a place where the artist—me, or friends coming for collaborations, like now I'm doing something with Francesco Tristano, he came the other day—is to have an environment where people feel right away comfortable.
So your influence with this space wasn't the sort of electronic-music production spaces a lot of your peers make tunes in, but the sort of environments you'd come across as a rock artist.
Totally. I had it in my mind since I came to Europe, and now I have the money and the time to do it. Finally I have the chance to have bongos and drum machines all connected and everything. When I'm in the studio, I need to feel good, I need to like everything. Details can affect my mood. So yeah, now I'm in a loft in Barcelona, and the whole house is around the studio. It's not just the room—the whole house was built for this. The whole loft is rooms I use to record. I can put some mics wherever and control them from the studio.
The place is all open design, so you can expand the studio out from the main studio space?
And I also have two extra rooms so I can invite people to record.
Is the whole house wired for recording? Can you plug in one room and have that go to the main control room?
Yeah, it's in the process to be perfect, but now you can plug in some cables.
Just to bring it all together: the goal here wasn't just building a gear palace—it was to make a space where you thought you could do really creative work?
Totally, totally. I am also like this in everything gear-wise. If you asked any other artist about his favorite six or eight things in his studio, he would say compressors, limiters and that. I would talk about keyboards. You know, like my most precious things in the studio are instruments. I grew up like this, and I think it's good when Francesco Tristano came last week also. It was perfect, because he wants to play all the time and to have 15 keyboards all connected. He was like a kid.
Sounds like you're sorted keyboard-wise. What else do you have going on in here?
I want to learn more about sound, and I'm starting to get sound gear. I got this new Avalon that's warming the sound, and some Neve preamps. Because now I'm realizing, when I recorded the album in two phases—the pianos I recorded here, and I did some experimenting with microphoning like in that song "Desesperado." I wanted to explore the reverb, the natural reverb of the room, because it's a really high ceiling, big living room. But then I went to Germany, and I mixed it in a proper super-studio, and yeah, it was crazy. I realized how having all the instruments—and good musicians playing their instruments—how good the audio can get, you know? With the right treatments, it's crazy.
How much of the album did you play yourself? Did you work with studio musicians as well?
I play almost everything. I mixed the album first by myself and then I worked with an engineer. In techno, I never work with anyone because it changes your music. But in rock and all these things I did before, I always work with producers and engineers. So I found this guy in Germany, King Brain, and it was crazy. The album is the same, but it just sounds so much better.
What else did working with an engineer change about the process? Did you do some things you might not be able to do on your own?
Everything changed. First I was executive producer of the album, too. I was the producer, I was the writer, I was the composer, the person who did the arrangement, played the piano. It was really cool to move to the artist part again, you know? What's cool is you could do a plan on paper: "OK, this song is like this. I want to be a bass player, I want to be a drummer, I want to play piano." My friend Miguel came from Argentina to play Hammond on the record. And then to go to a proper studio, to a guy that's not interested in—like I think the guy doesn't even like music.
He doesn't like music?
[Laughs] He's really into frequencies, you know? It was cool to find a non-musician, a proper geek of sound.
After doing this project that really gets away from the dance floor, is it going to be tough to go back to making club tunes?
I hope not, because it's what pays my bills.
What can you take from this project and bring into the stuff that puts food on the table?
That is a good question. People tell me, "It's not electronic music," and I think, "Yeah, it is electronic music"—you know, the album. So I think it was like the culmination of the process of how I was doing electronic music; it just made much more sense with no club music. I'm really looking forward to the next club music that I start, of course, my next house/techno stuff. Now I know more things about recording that I didn't really know before, so hopefully that helps.
Something that you mentioned before is that you were doing a lot of experimenting with mic placement to get some interesting natural reverb. Was there a particular sort of reverb that you were trying to get, or were you really just exploring your studio?
You know, the problem with me and my own music is that I have no plans, no system. I don't know what I want to get. I had that song "Desesperado"—the song is really intense and emotional, and I wanted to get a tone like it was playing in the next room but you can hear it. So I started putting microphones everywhere until I liked it. This is the good thing about doing your own album in your own studio. You have that time to experiment. For example, if you hear the first song, "To My Latest Love," that was a proper classical microphone, you know? The sound is super clear, super beautiful. The other microphone was, I don't know… one was in the kitchen.
Even before you were in a rock band, you were playing jazz, right? So I imagine you would listen to a lot of jazz recordings and heard a lot of that natural ambience. Was that something that influenced the process?
Yes. One of my favourite pianists, Oscar Peterson, he has 2,000 live recordings. Every recording sounds different, because it was just concerts with the guy, with different guys putting mics in a different way, with different mics, with different gear. And this is kind of what gives the character to the recording. Sometimes it's not just about the best, of course. The first song [on the album], we recorded properly in the studio. Yeah, it's a beautiful song, it's perfect, but the character of the song depends a lot on how you record it.
How about outside of the studio? You play live in clubs—do you see Rompecorazones as something you'll be able to perform outside of the studio? Will it transfer?
Yes, yes totally. What I want to do is give the material a bit of space, so people can experience it and make it their own, and yeah, I'm going to perform it live next year. The thing is also, the album has a quality level, and how it was performed. I want to replicate the same thing. So I'm not in a rush to go out and do things.
It would sound like there was something missing if instead of having this interplay between the live instruments, everything got quantized and warped.
Totally. And also, the whole album was recorded live on take one. "Bed Time Stories," "Magia," all these songs were played in one take, with Miguel on the keys. It makes no sense to do a tour with just myself and machines and a keyboard. I want to do it right. I play as Guti—well this is Guti, too, but the club part of me plays four or five times a week. So I decided to put the album out to see what people think and do a tour next year.
You mentioned how often you're touring as Guti. I imagine that takes you away from the studio quite a lot, and then when you're back from playing on a weekend, it probably takes a day or two to get up to speed. How do you find the time and the energy to keep producing?
It's really weird. I go through, like, attacks. I come back, and I can be four days in the studio making music 24 hours. Then some weeks you come back and you don't want to do anything. So you just come back and play piano. What I try to do is to get new gear all the time to be inspired. You get a new machine, and you go to the studio, you set up the machine and you start trying how it works, or you have a new keyboard and you just play, and you're into it again.
Now is so difficult. The industry is what concerns me more. For example, I made this album last year—I finished in March of last year. Now it comes out a year and a half after. Then there's the remixes album, which is coming out on Defected, and then it's like, eight months that is the album. And so I know when I sit in the studio to make new music, it's something that will come out at least eight months ahead. That's why I started this project, because I was signing records in advance. So I would look forward and have one year full of releases, and then it's like, "OK, what should I do now?" So I started playing piano again.
You say new gear is a big inspiration. What's been inspiring you recently?
Now I'm using the new [Native Instruments] Maschine Studio.
The big one?
Yeah, yeah, yeah. It's totally cool. You can use it offline, you don't need to be in Ableton or Pro Tools or whatever you use. So you can really spend time sampling things and going around your drums. This I like a lot. I also got a new Nord Stage 2. I had the Nord Stage 1, and it's just such a crazy keyboard. So yeah, I spent a lot of time with that lately.
Tell me about that Nord keyboard. It's like it's a big stage piano, in a way, but also a synthesizer. How are you using it?
It's the ultimate. Yeah, it's a synthesizer, it's a Hammond... It's freaky because you have these three models on the piano, so you can control the Hammond and the piano and the synth simultaneously. You have all these parameters, and you also can mix the three of them. It has no end. It has no end, and as a keyboard, it's—to play on stage, has everything you want. The Rhodes settings are amazing, the pianos are crazy, and you have all these draw bars for the Hammond. It's really easy to get control of a perfect sound. I wish I had this keyboard in the band that I was playing in. I had a big Roland KR-7—that was the Hammond—and I was playing with a piano, I had the Fender Rhodes. I had, like, 80 kilos, 100 kilos of piano with me for nothing.
You said earlier that if you were to name your top five pieces of studio gear, they'd all be keyboards. What are some of your favorites here?
The Hammond SK1. The Nord Stage 1 and 2. The [Dave Smith Instruments] Prophets. I have the 08 and 12. I really like the Prophets, because they're totally from what I'm used to working with, so I can get really weird. It's not a keyboard where you think in notes—more getting whatever comes.
It's my first approach.
Do you enjoy playing around with sound like that?
What I enjoy the most is that I don't really know how it works. This is what I look for in gear. If it was for me, I would keep buying pianos, Hammonds and Rhodes forever, you know? It's what I love, and it's what I have been playing for 20 years. I think the next step is to fool around with things that I don't know how to use, because everything I learn by myself with the same approach. When I was a kid and I bought the first Hammond, I was like, "OK I love the sound that I hear on the records, but I don't know how to use it." Back then we didn't have Google or YouTube or nothing, so it was just you and the instrument and hours of trying to see how it goes, and it's kind of the approach with everything now, because I have this experimenting background. I like it.
Are you starting to get the hang of synthesis, though?
I'm getting there. And also, what I do in my studio, as a rule, is I record everything. Everything I do in the studio is recorded. This is the good thing about synthesis: that you get things that you could not plan.
I'd imagine that some of the best stuff you get is the stuff you wouldn't have gotten if you weren't arbitrarily recording.
I learned this when I started my first album with the band, which was still on tape—and that tells you how old I am!—but really you need to be focused and save the performance. You had only [space for] two takes or something like this, you know? So you have to play really good. When you record an album for a band or something, it's not just about the recording or the sound or the processing; it's also the musician performing under pressure. This plays a big role for everyone. Even when you're by yourself, you know, you have the melody, and you say, "OK, lets record it," and you play it wrong. It's going to happen forever because pressure affects you. So to have everything recorded, you relieve this sense of pressure. When Francesco Tristano was here, we finished a song. It was six minutes, but we recorded 96. You can go and choose, and everything feels more natural.
But if you always have the tape rolling, are you perhaps less likely to take chances?
I try to. I'm 34—it's not like I'm 64. I try to tell my other producer friends, who started to make music in this age of computers but this, you know, [older producers'] records were better, I think, because the whole process was so conscious, you know? So you really need to be good musicians, because they were the ones able to deliver on that one or two takes to record the parts. Now it's like you can record forever and choose, like a digital camera. Before you could only take a couple of pictures, now you can take 3000 pictures.
You've got some other stuff here that's getting you out of the computer. I see you've got a number of SSL channel strips, and a stereo summing amplifier. Do you think having everything come together in the analog domain instead of on a computer makes a big difference in the sound?
It makes the sound more three-dimensional. I think it's good to give things their own space in the mix, and—what we were talking about before: if you have good instruments and good musicians, it's good to try to capture the best quality that you can. In the end, what makes the difference in a recording or on a record is the sound of all these little details. Then of course with processing you can clean things and make things better, but if from scratch the process is clean, and it's cool, and you have a good instrument with a good musician, it makes a difference.