The only instrument you notice walking into Juanes’ sun-dappled home on Key Biscayne is an upright piano, covered with lesson books for his daughter Paloma, 7, who on this weekday morning is sprawled on a sofa, along with siblings Luna, 9, and Dante, 3, in pajama-clad, spring-break bliss. The 16 Grammy Awards, racks of guitars and other trappings of the 40-year-old Colombian rock star’s career are in his recording studio upstairs.
The studio “is the right place for them because this is my place for work,” says Juanes, sporting baggy shorts, a loose T-shirt and a smiling face full of stubble. “Karen [Martinez, his wife] and I decided to keep the house clear of all those kinds of things.”
Several years ago, relentless pursuit of “those kinds of things” almost destroyed Juanes’ music and marriage. He and his wife separated for months at a time, split by tension and his punishing schedule. His daughters would wail when he left on a continual round of concert tours and promotional trips.
Today, he’s confident that when he picks up his suitcases to fly to New York, they’ll take his departure in stride.
“Before when I traveled my kids would be crying at the door,” he says. “It was killing me. Now I tell them I’m going away, and they say ‘OK Papi, when are you coming back? Friday? Great.’ ”
He’s hitting the road now to promote his memoir, Chasing the Sun, which he launched with a signing at Books & Books in Coral Gables on Monday. In the photo-filled autobiography, Juanes details his boyhood and musical beginnings in Medellin, his rise to one of the biggest musical stars of the 2000s and the burnout at decade’s end that led him to retreat.
“I couldn’t look at myself in the press or in the mirror or listen to my music,” he says. “It was like I had this personage sitting on top of me. I was saturated, exhausted, empty. I felt lost.”
The breaking point came in July 2009 with the collision of major personal and professional events. His son was born just eight days before an enormous concert that Juanes had organized in Havana, which sparked a maelstrom of controversy and media attention.
“It was like a break in my life and my spirit,” he says. “Something in me changed. On the one hand there was the birth of my son, which I felt very deeply. Then the concert in Cuba was such a contrast, with so much happiness and hope and love — but I also had so many difficulties in doing it and encountered so much hate and rage.”
He broke with the manager who had shepherded his career, canceled concerts in Miami and Orlando and a Latin American tour, shut down his email accounts, cut himself off from the media and told his record label, Universal Music Latino, that he was taking a break.
He emerged with an MTV Unplugged album last year recorded at the New World Symphony, and now with the book. He also came back with a new determination to balance his career with a private space for his family and his music.
The change carries some risk. His current Loud and Unplugged acoustic tour brings him to smaller venues — including Radio City Music Hall in New York and, on June 27, Hard Rock Live in Hollywood — than the arenas he played on previous blockbuster outings. And Spanish-language radio and pop music continue to trend toward reggaeton, hip-hop and pop-dance music very different from Juanes’ classic-style, Colombian-influenced rock.