Els Amics de les Arts have recently released their long-awaited sixth album, Allà on volia (Pistatxo Records), with eight new songs, including the already advanced Citant Mercè Rodoreda and De córrer per tot Nova York. Produced, just like Un estrany poder (2017) i El senyal que esperaves (2020), by Scottish producer Tony Doogan, Allà on volia arrives after the band’s huge success with their first theatrical project, the musical comedy Pares normals, of which there were 99 performances at the Teatre Poliorama in Barcelona. Here, we talk with Dani Alegret, Joan Enric Barceló and Ferran Piqué about their album with the most collaborations – Andrea Motis, Marco Mezquida and Eva Amaral – and the first published completely on their own, with 18 years of experience as a group. “In the current times, singing in Catalan for so long has a certain merit, don’t you think?”, they say.
Between the play and the album, you had a very busy year, didn’t you?
Yes, we’ve been multi-creating for a year, but this has helped us feed from all sources. Writing a musical like Pares normals also helped us rethink how we wanted to make the record: it allowed us to do different things in the two projects separately and discard others, in order to make the record the way we wanted. In addition, we also wrote two carols, which we could have put on the record, but didn’t in the end. Because more than the length of the album, the important thing is to know which songs make sense together, because they breathe the same way and have a connection.
Is it a sad, nostalgic album? Because from the cover...
But the cover is perhaps also a hymn to recomposition: a photo that’s been ripped apart by someone who’s then tried to put it back together, aware that it will never be the same again. But with the tools he had, with adhesive tape, he tried to bring these two people together again, even if it was in a metaphorical way, and that’s cute. And with regard to the song Allà on volia, if you stick only to the phrase “I will never reach where I wanted”, you may be left with a certain feeling of sadness, but in reality, it’s a cry to define a new objective. The character in this song understands that what he wanted is no longer possible and that’s when the redefinition of the goal begins, he decides to follow another path and feels somehow freer.
Seen like this, it’s not so sad.
Also, there’s one thing that makes it less sad: there are two love songs. We’d never made two songs so clearly about love: Cada cel is a beautiful declaration of love as we live it now, which is not the euphoric love of youth, but perhaps is the most essential, the most true. And then there’s Un dia com un altre, which has a different point of view, more playful, because you don’t know what it’s about until the end of the song. But we’d never dared to speak so clearly about love before.
What about the theatre experience?
It’s been quite hard building a musical theatre project in Catalan from scratch, with people who believed in it very much. We started working on it in November 2018 and it’s been a titanic effort on our part, the people of Minoria Absoluta and the whole team of 70 people who’ve worked on it, but we think it’s been really worth it, and now we’re thinking of doing another play, because the public’s reaction has been wonderful. One of the highlights was the karaoke part – it was amazing to see the whole theatre singing along, blurring the line between a musical and a rock concert. And now we keep getting messages asking if we’re going on tour or if we’re going to do a play in Barcelona again, but it’s not easy, because it depends on the availability of a lot of people and it’s a large-format musical.
This is your third album in a row with Tony Doogan. Does the cycle end here?
A trilogy is a nice thing, yes, but that’s not how we work. We went to talk to him, without having decided anything about the production of the album, because it seemed logical to us to do it after two albums and such a long and close relationship. And right there he convinced us when he told us: “Guys, if we work together, we have to do something very different. We’ve already made two big albums together; now, if you want to work with me, I’d go for the simplest and most direct, for the melodies and the voices, that is, to make everything a little minimalist.” Now, you’re asking if we’re done with it? We just don’t know. We’ll talk to him again, for sure, because we really want to learn alongside him. In addition, we’re in this dynamic, meaning that maybe next year we’ll release another album. We’re working like mad and there are already many new songs that we like that haven’t been released yet. But we still don’t know if we’ll finish them with him or if we’ll do something hybrid, working with several producers, as many people do.
Did you go to Scotland or did he come to Catalonia?
We recorded the album between La Casamurada, in Banyeres del Penedès, and Estudis Ground, in Cornellà del Terri, but then Tony did the mixing in his studio. The pandemic taught us how to work remotely, and it also helped that we already knew each other quite well.
Has the sound really changed that much from the previous two albums?
It’s still us, Tony and the two musicians who accompany us, Pol Cruells and Ramon Aragall. Unlike previous records, there are very pure elements. It’s the record where we have most pure piano and a lot of acoustics.
Another distinguishing feature is that there are more collaborations on this record than on all your previous records.
Yes, it’s true. In Bed & breakfast there was the voice of Judit Neddermann, who wasn’t yet known at the time and did it out of friendship. And the Mèlt Quartet sang in Casa en venda and Salvador, from Un estrany poder.
And why have you now gone in search of three such powerful names as Andrea Motis, Marco Mezquida and Eva Amaral?
This is a record where we felt very free to do what we wanted and what the three of us liked, whether it was a super simple refrain or a denser moment harmonically speaking. And the same with collaborators. For example, we decided that at the end of Estimeu-me, a fade out piano solo would sound great, and we said: who’s the best pianist in the state? Marco Mezquida.
And Andrea Motis?
She did the Louisiana o els camps de cotó and has taken the song much further than we have, playing it around the world as if it were just another song in her repertoire, and that’s something that makes us very happy. We had also collaborated live and we’d always said that on the next album we’d suggest doing a song together. Dani, who’s her neighbour, proposed this song to her, Cada cel, and she accepted it immediately. Also, her son’s name is Cel, but we only found out about that later.
Why did you go looking for Amaral?
We said to ourselves: we need a person who made hits when we were younger and who can understand what the song is talking about, who’s reflected in it. She got very involved, with a Catalan friend of hers helping with the pronunciation, and the result is spectacular.