Gustavo Santaolalla never stops forging into new territory. The Argentine producer of seminal Latin rock artists including Juanes, Café Tacuba and Molotov, composer of Oscar-winning scores for the movies Brokeback Mountain and Babel and co-founder of the tango-fusion group Bajofondo has a host of new projects in new genres including a dance musical, a video game, an animated film — and a winery.
We caught up with Santaolalla on Friday, before he and Bajofondo closed their latest tour with a concert at the North Beach Bandshell for the Rhythm Foundation’s Heineken Transatlantic Festival.
Q. Tell me about the new Bajofondo album Presente.
I think it’s the best work I’ve done in a long time. We are celebrating our 10th year of playing together, and this really consolidates Bajofondo as a band. Everyone sings, even me. We used a lot more strings, and we have woodwinds, brass, percussion.
The other thing is we wanted to make a concept album, but without a story, almost a journey that takes you to different musical and emotional landscapes. Last of all we really wanted to finish with the label tango electronica, because the music has mutated so much. We do have the DNA of tango, milongo, candomble – but we mix it up with rock, hip-hop, jazz, classical, funk. The people from Sony came up with “all genres in a single sound.”
Q. You’re working on a video game now?
I just finished [doing the music for] my first video game called The Last of Us, which is coming June 7 to Sony Playstation. It happens in a post apocalyptic America where a virus has contaminated most people. A young girl and a more mature guy escape from the quarantine section and try to find a cure. … I think it’s very different from the usual video games because the power of the story makes the game much more involved emotionally.
Q. Can you tell me about the animated film you’re involved in?
It’s a big film based around [the Mexican] Day of the Dead that doesn’t have a title yet. I did the songs and the score. It’s produced by Guillermo del Toro, and Jorge Gutierrez is the director. It opens in November 2014.
I’m also working with Guillermo on a live musical version of his film Pan’s Labyrinth. And I’m doing a dance musical that opens in January 2014 in Toronto. It’s based on Arrabal, a dance show I wrote several years ago about a young girl becoming a woman and finding her identity, whose father was a milonguero who was kidnapped and killed by the [Argentine military dictatorship], and her grandmother is one of the mothers of the Plaza del Mayo.
I wrote the story with [Tony Award-winning writer] John Weidman. The choreographer is Julio Zurita, and the director is Sergio Trujillo, who’s very hot – he did Jersey Boys, Flashdance, Addams Family. It’s traditional tango dance mixed with modern and street dance. We’re working with this guy in Argentina who developed his own technique of break dancing mixed with soccer movement. So it’s very compelling.
Q. It sounds like you’re moving from music to more theatrical projects.
I think being a songwriter, which is how I started, is storytelling. I’m attracted to abstract things. But I’ve always been attracted to good narrative. I love good stories.
Q. How do you balance so many different projects?
It’s an ordered chaos. If I don’t see lots of stuff going on I get bored. I also have a small book publishing company in Argentina. I have a winery too, Cielo y Tierra, Heaven and Earth, in Mendoza. We specialize in premium malbecs, which I’m importing here to the U.S. Just to keep busy.