Alex Lebron Torrent – a musician for these times
What we need in times like these is some good news, a silver lining and the bit of perspective that makes things seem a little brighter.
That’s why we respond to those viral clips from around the World, opera singers in Italy, and in Barcelona an impromtu concert – one guy on a balcony playing piano and another guy hanging out of a window playing sax.
It went completely viral a couple of weeks ago and got picked up by TV news channels locally and as far afield as the USA. You’ve probably seen it, and you’ve probably seen this guy in commercials for beer or vans – or my favourite for a phone company, his face on the back of city busses.
This is a guy who was always going places, and this may have just given him the boost he needed. He’s since had a profile in the biggest local paper and online. Front Page News has the inside track on up and coming Barcelona musicians though – he’s a close personal friend and we’ve known him for years, playing in and around the Barcelona music scene. I sat down with him and asked him for his story, his music and influences, tips for musicians trying to make it and his opinion on the growing Barcelona music scene. Typically, he didn’t hold back and gives it to us straight.
Early days – Colombia, Sweden, Catalunya
So Alex - where are you from?
I was born in 1985 in Cali, Colombia, and was adopted by my Catalan father in 87, Pere and my Swedish mum, and we moved to the Swedish countryside – Häggenäs. It’s about 7 hours North of Stockholm, a farming community of only two thousand - a rough start for a little black kid. I was one of 60 000, and when I say 60 000, that was only when we moved into the city when I was 5 after my parents divorced.
Do you have any early musical memories?
Growing up there, it started with me lip-synching to an Elvis Presley cassette given away free with our car- it was the greatest hits, I had no idea what I was singing, maybe that was for the best ha!
I have a lot to thank my father Pere for, because through him, well he played a lot of classic rock, older music was never frowned on, it was always appreciated – it was a broad variety from Elvis Presley to the Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd, Eric Clapton – you know - the who’s who of rock music basically. And then there was Miles Davis, the Jazz king, Queen has to be mentioned and Rod Stewart – a broad variety as I said.
And then, I’d say that was Dad, and approaching high school, while you know, getting a bit older and spending more time with friends, they influenced what I was listening to – that was more in the realms of pop, different kinds of pop, and then in my latter school years, because during my gymnasium (Swedish college) years, I was studying music but I was more of a jock, but I always had music lingering on the side.
Those years, it was back to a lot of old stuff, Jethro Tull and Jeferson Airplane were some of my favourites, you had The Inkspots as kind of a wild card, not too many people my age listened to The Inkspots. So, I tried to.., I realised very young that I loved music, it’s not like a particular genre I grew up with – I just loved music. A song that I loved, I loved, whether it was like a Japanese jingle for a Japanese TV show, or this piece by Mozart – it doesn’t really matter if it makes me feel good. I’ve always tried to compile as much as I can because I realised the more I listened to and the wider my vision when I listen, the more I stand to learn when I, myself, start to write my own songs. So that’s why and it would only broaden my perspectives even more.
Which instruments do you play and how did you learn?
Right now I’d say I play, the soprano, alto and tenor saxophone – I play the piano, I dabble with a little bit of bass guitar (mostly ‘cos I get it for free from playing guitar, so a Bass player would know that I’m not actually a bass player, but if I’m asked to carry a bass line in a song, I can basically figure that out from my tab with rhythm and melody) so I throw bass in there if given a chance to work it out…
The guitar I’ve mentioned and then there’s the drums – that’s the one instrument I’ve taken classes in – I started taking classes when I was seven years old. Then we have the xylophone and vibraphone – I picked them up when we had a big show in high school and we were just asked “Who wants to try these instruments?” and I was just like if I say yes, and they choose to have me in the show, that means I’ve gotten to learn this instrument for free… so I just say yes and they ended up picking me for the show. So my idea came through – I learned to play them for the show in my second year at gymnasium.
Other than that, what do we have? The djembe and general percussion all round, also the harmonica, which I start to have a little bit in my own music now, when I try to produce, you know I just try to again – since I’ve been listening to a lot of blues growing up and rock, if you will, the harmonica is utilised in so many different ways, as so many instruments – so I figured the more instruments I can dabble with at least, the more inspiration and you know the more I can add to my own vision. Different melody lines, for example, maybe don’t sound good on the saxophone in that particular song, but it will if you hit the melody on the harmonica in the very same song – it can be like the timbre or the tune of the instrument that can be like the factor X, in those situations so – you never know… so I’m just trying to be open-minded.
“A straight bridge into someone’s heart or someone’s feelings”
What made you want to be a musician?
Well, that one is kind of easy. There is nothing in this World that makes me happier. And tracking that back to being a kid, you know, going back to lip synching at 5 or 6 years old, when I hear those songs again – it just makes me have to stop whatever I’m doing, stop and just listen to the song with my entire being and you know – if I’m able to, I just try and play that song on repeat until I’m like sick of it, and I can leave it behind me to pick it up later again – as a normal person. I guess it’s because I have to just clear my system of that feeling of complete awe – of complete WOW! which happens every now and then when you hear those particular songs.
It’s you know, probably, the opportunity to evoke that in other people - that feeling, you know like love or sadness – or just this pure, straight bridge into someone’s heart or someone’s feelings, it’s just amazing this connection you experience when you’re up on stage performing.
and you know… the only profession I’ve realised lately that can compete for me with music or being a musician or performer or whatever, personally is acting, because I’ve never even thought about myself as an actor until last year, when I managed to get cast for a movie and it’s the protagonist role in a pretty big, substantial movie (). And I managed to get that straight on my own, you know, self-belief and conviction that this is what I’m meant to do – either music or acting would make me happy, but music will always be in my deepest, deepest core. I mean I have tattooed on my right lower arm - the quote from Friedrich Nietzsche that:
“Life without music would be a mistake”
and on my left lower arm, my motto:
“Music is life, life is music”
which I believe to be true, both of them a thousand percent.
To tie it back to the connection you feel with the people when you’re on stage, I remember when I was a kid seeing this band in the annual music festival in Sweden called Storsjöyran, I for the first time experienced that awe that I explained a little earlier, that was etched deep within me and so ever since that moment I knew, and I’ve always known, that I want to become – and that I will be an artist or a musician, somehow, somehow I’ll get there. There are many obstacles to overcome and there are many, many more in my past – but I am more sure than ever that I’ve got what it takes and that I’m willing to do the work that it takes to get there.
The USA and music college
When did you first feel like a musician? Good question …. I think in my mind and in my layman’s terms, and being a millennial kid, you’ve wanted call yourself a musician since forever, you know because you’ve been playing music but looking back on it now, honestly, I, think I became a real musician after my years in the US.
I moved to the US between 20011 and 2013, and while being there, during those years, I developed tremendously through all the connections, through all the magicians – when it comes to their instruments, what they do and their craft - and that just forged my own inspiration and forged my own belief that I’ve got what it takes. So ever since being around those people, and hearing constantly that other people of their stature see ME as a musician – see me as a fully-fledged musician, that made me believe that what other people had been telling me up until that point – that
“Ok, you’re a good blah blah blah, but you’ll never be a musician, you will never be an artist … because you’re not on TV, you’re not making millions”, that instantly fell off my back, like a rucksack you take off and you get rid of the weight. So ever since then, I’ve felt that no-one can take this away from you – you are a musician.
Always make them remember you
What were some of your early influences?
Early same as now, because the criteria has always been – show me that you love what you do for real… you treasure this like nothing else, so that when people see you perform when they hear your songs, they can’t help but feel what you convey – they can’t help it.
For example, Freddy Mercury - you have a more current one - Matt Corby, whenever I hear a Matt Corby song, he brings me to tears because his melodies, his compositions, his everything is amazing, you can tell that he loves what he’s doing.
Jackie Wilson another one – one of the best performers ever, rest in peace, because when you saw him up there, he had that child-like smile (which I know I have myself when I’m performing). That is what I take with me now, that feeling that I would die to be up here – #alwaysmakethemrememberyou is my hashtag – now I’m trying to get bigger on Instagram, and another one of my mottos (I’m about to get it tatooed) and it basically means with whomever, whenever, however – if you’re in a room – and you’re performing around amazing people, with respect of course and the right way – but when that audience is leaving that night, they WILL remember YOU – always make them remember you.
So, those are the performers that always represented that “always make them remember you” feel that I’m now searching for myself. It is always my goal when I’m on stage. Those are my early influences and they will always be my influences in the years to come. Who do you consider your mentor and why?
Interesting …. Well, I’ve never had that many close mentors because I’ve always been kinda angry with where I was. The first mentor that I felt I had was my music show producer / producer / friend Dominic Camardella in Santa Barbara California (the owner and founder of Santa Barbara Sound Design and an Emmy award winner). He was just a man that had his stature in the right way, nobody argued with him, and when they did – he just put them in their place in the right way. It was amazing to see someone who’s just got their stuff together and, again, showed with their entire being that they loved what they did. So whenever I was around that man, I just – I became a sponge of everything he said, erverything he did and everything he stood for, because I felt that if I could become half of what he was at his age, I’d have done alright in life. So, Dominic Camardella I think is my biggest influence in life, as a musician, as a man, as a person – everything.
Which musicians do you most admire – past or present?
Again, same thing – the musicians, the artists that give it their all, so that when they’re on stage you feel they’re treating this moment like there’s no tomorrow - Matt Corby, Jackie Wilson, Freddy Mercury to mention a few and a new one that might be the second coming – his name is Jacob Collier – his show last year was the best show I’ve ever, ever seen. Before his show, it was Tank and the Bangas show that we went to. When I saw him, he instantly became a mentor in his being in his pure sense of himself, that he lives breathes and eats music daily.
What styles inspire or resonate with you? What’s your style?
No particular styles – more the feeling the melody and rhythm transports me like it could’ve been written for me.
My style? My producer Dominic used to say, and David Paich from Toto (when I played the one song I wrote on piano for him in 2012), also said it’s a good song but that I needed a direction in my writing.
Lyrically, I’m pretty angry when I rap – because I’m trying to reflect my story to be honest about what I’ve lived through, so I’d say it would be pretty dark and angry.
Melodically, I’m still trying to find myself. Then, it’s just a broad mix coming from the different styles I’m listening to, if it just gives me that feeling, or it’s got those melody passages, that amazing lyric or both…
If it’s about groove and focus on the melody – Masie Parker If it’s about the lyrics – Mos Def, KRS-One, Nas the more conscious and poetic style, not the misogynist / gangster styles that I don’t find very interesting.
What style would you want to achieve then?
My own – straight up, it takes one second for people to place you – “you look like … you sound like …” but no, I’m trying to find this new thing. Maybe I’m not as close as I thought I was, but I’m feeling now, at the age of 35, I’ve found my recipe – the groove, the melody, sprinkle on a little rap and playing the instruments I do, I can do the soloing and delegate to the band and I don’t think there are too many others doing that right now.
Tell me about the gear you use – is it important?
I’m all over the place, whenever I had the money to decide for myself and went to a music shop, I’d come home with something. So, I have a bunch of guitars, a bass, a piano, 4 saxes, a djembe, various harmonicas an Irish tin whistle.
It means I can jump on an idea, translate a melody from my head without having to wait around – that was my purpose, so it’s not an obstacle. It’s proved very helpful, I can just hone my craft when I want to, which is kinda all the time. I’m proud to own a Forestone RX – the flagship model, whereas it was always about the instrument not the brand before, I realise now that sometimes you put the money into it and you get the difference in the sound. So now I pay attention to how the instrument is going to make a difference to what I’m doing. What’s the craziest or most challenging show you’ve ever done?
I’d have to think…. Maybe Hairspray in Santa Barbara, because that was the first time I’d acted, sung and danced on stage. ‘Cos I’d done some theatre, played lots of shows but never done them all together and at that level.
It was quite funny, we had a singing class, voice and diction (think Glee episode where you perform in front of people and they give you notes). This demon piano player, who played from sight, approached me, and said you have big energy and he asked me to audition. I got a part, which was amazing, we rehearsed for six months and we had four sold out shows at the Lobero theatre, Santa Barbara and I think that to this day – that was the most challenging thing I’ve done. Since that, even the bigger shows I’ve done more recently, I felt safe.
What was your most rewarding show or project?
My current projects, commercial shoots and potential movie are exciting. The Music Now shows in Santa Barbara – put on by Dominic because the music school had won awards and had great resources. John Douglas, the school director, invited great musicians to do workshops for us with people like David Paich (Toto) Dave Crosby (Crosby, Stills and Nash). It was great to hear their stories and listen to how they went for their craft, they weren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. As an aspiring artist, that gave me so much that I’m carrying with me till this day.
Living the life
What’s the hardest thing about being a musician?
I’ve shifted focus, it frustrates me that with millennials - if you have a guitar in your hand you call yourself a musician, take a dance class and you’re a dancer – I feel like maybe my generation is watering down these expressions so I’m trying to become a musician, actor and so on, but balance “fake it ‘til you make it” and being true to where you’re at in reality. In real terms, it’s the economics, but that’s kinda my chaotic approach – but I’m making strides in the right direction.
How does your musician personality reflect you most?
Energy – I think if you ask people who Alex is, they’d probably say high energy, melodies, passion – just happiness with a little edge. People cross me and I won’t give them a second look, but if you’re a friend to me I’ll be your best friend – it’s just a balance like that, because it can also take a toll on you.
Also looking for the clarification or affirmation, being adopted from Colombia to a super-white country like Sweden- maybe the idea that I’m doing something good that shines through me, because I’ve been missing that – just to be accepted for who I am – so when I get that feeling from what I do – it’s such a nice feeling that it resonates with my personality a lot. I’ve never really thought about it that deeply, but I think that makes sense. Part two of our in-depth interview with Alex Lebron Torrent- diving deeper into the Barcelona scene and what his experience has taught him… Barcelona - I always knew I loved the city
How long have you been in Barcelona?
It’s a total of 5 years now …
2010 was chaotic, I moved to get out of Sweden – but took a lot of hard blows and I was going backwards really, so, after nearly a year I moved back. Super depressed, I only stayed for 6 months before moving to the States. After that I moved back to Barcelona, because I always knew I loved the city and I wanted to come back and do it for real, see what you can do when you give it your everything.
It’s not the easiest city to make it as a musician, but I wanted to prove to myself and friends that you can do it here if you try hard enough, so I’m trying to be kind of an inspiration to those aspiring musicians around me. It’s a thing that you can’t do on your own, so we’re all working together and eventually, it’ll be a better climate for musicians and artists.
My adopted father is Catalan, born and bred in Blanes an hour North of Barcelona on the Costa Brava, which is where I spent most of my summers growing up. So Barcelona and Catalunya have always been a natural pull, and the links that I formed as a kid drew me back despite not fully having the language. It’s a natural choice in many ways, the Sun and the character of the people have always been really important to me – it’s kinda like the LA of Europe.
Any other reasons you moved here?
To escape Sweden. Three hours of sunlight in the month of November for one thing, but also the way I was treated. You can experience racism all over the World, but it’s different up there, I experienced it for 23 years and I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s different up there. It wasn’t in your face, you know what I’m trying to say? They’d be racist behind your back but they wouldn’t hide it – so if you talked to people, you’d often hear them talking shit about you while you were walking away. So, they wouldn’t really do it in front of you, but they wouldn’t really hide the fact that they were talking about you behind your back… kind of a weird situation that had me pretty crazy for a while… when I realised that I couldn’t stand that mix of weather and behaviour - I had to leave. On the other hand - it gave me this big heart and helped make me who I am.
I still carry some of the anger, but I love the vibe in Barcelona, the people I meet here and I’m taking things more seriously – I guess it’s get of your high horse, you can’t be so angry all the time and giving yourself excuses to fuck everything up – that’s not what it’s about. Just do your shit and shit will come to you. So, every time I get an opportunity, I turn it into gold, I’m making people realise they have to work with me. I’m so happy about this realisation, I’m taking this blessing, because I call it a blessing, to have realised what this is and working for that – I’m forever grateful.
“We see the obstacles - but we see them as just a means to get there…”
You mentioned some cool collaborations in the city…
There have been loads over the years. Realising you’re working from ground level up, trying to collaborate as much as possible, but also earn enough to maintain myself doing only what I love.
So I was part of a SuperTramp tribute act for 3 years, playing with Catalans. I’ve been in many shows, either as a guest or helping promote them myself. I’ve played with lots of people you meet at the open mics around Barcelona, which also gives you a lot of opportunities and invitations to play in other places.
I’m also an aspiring TV / commercial actor – think the TV show entourage… and the everyday life struggle trying to make it. I always wanted to see if I could make it in acting as well, so I’ve been working really hard with the networking to get people to say - this guy’s fire is burning really brightly, we’ve got to give him a chance. I think they feed on that, that energy and I think that’s what sets me apart, because I’m well aware that I’m not the best aspiring musician, dancer or actor – I’m not the best anything in the room, nor will I ever be. But what I do know is that I’m a monster mix of everything that can lead to a good final product, so if and when, given the chances in life to actually do this, I’ve shown to myself numerous times in different projects that I can do this without the training and knowledge. Because my approach, when seeing something I can’t fathom like a hiphop dance battle – if my mind says “You can do it” then I know in myself I CAN do that. I’ve proved it to myself so many times that that notion is true, so don’t fight it, don’t excuse yourself, just stand for it and tell people, in a humble way, this is what I’ve done and this is why I have this confidence – so if you give me this chance – you will not regret it. So far, despite being small parts, they’re getting bigger and I’m being asked for around town.
I met this guy who gave me the part in his movie: Airways and after a few meetings, I’d convinced him that I had the drive and passion for his baby, the movie. After a while he got on board with me and he’s said
“You were absolutely right – people like us- we don’t stop, we see the obstacles but we see them as just a means to get there. We’ll overcome them and it’ll be even better in the end”. Paying your dues – advice on trying to make it
Tell me about the musicians you work with
I’ve never had the luxury of choosing the musicians, when I was young there were never too many people to choose from. And sometimes, even now, it’s enough to run into someone who just likes to play music, and that’s in every aspect.
These days, I just go with the people who straight up inspire me, those are the people I wanna work with, as I mentioned before, I get asked to join and play with people on an almost daily basis. I’m very proud of that because, I’ve been doing it for free – going around and building a name for myself on the Barcelona open mic scene – which now leads to the invitations.
I’m super happy about that, but right now I don’t wanna waste my time, you know I wanna progress, and come to a place where I can take care of people around me, feel safe and not describe myself as an aspiring , musician, but look people straight in the eye and say “Yo, I’m a musician” and it’s not a picture, it’s not a dream.
So, in that way I’m trying to have people around me that are further ahead than myself, people who are way better, because like that, and acting like a sponge in those situations you get better. Don’t excuse yourself, or give yourself a reason no to, just suck it up, ask their story, find out how they got there, ask yourself - do I have something to learn from you and what is it? I’m sure whatever I’m doing is not the first time it’s been done, in some way, but not exactly in MY way because it wasn’t me doing it. It’s the fact it’s the first time it’s been done through me, with my personal quirks, that forges my final product.
It differentiates me from people like Jackie Wilson back in the 60s acting, singing and playing a lot of instruments and being an entertainer and that’s basically what I’m trying to be. Others like Jaimie Fox, acting, having sold out shows and then suddenly he’s recorded music and the next thing, he’s shooting a movie- a performer in every field.
So, I’m trying to work with people who aren’t clouding their minds with bullshit, but just having a go and they’re working for it, which is something I really respect. It’s something Dominic told me, you can over-work in the wrong direction: if you’ve been working and nothing is happening, you try to work harder but maybe what they should have done is changed their ways.
I realised when I was in California, that it wasn’t just the fruit of the labour from my final year – I asked myself “What have you achieved in this last year that is different from the previous 20 years when you were just treading water?” And the difference is that I started to listen to people around me who had gotten to places, and find out how I could do that for myself. And even if I fail trying that, I’ll get something I can use to further myself. That’s what I’ve been doing now throughout the last few years, and this idea is etched deep within me now. If I’m looking at people playing or acting well, it all ties into this feeling that, yes I can do it, it takes a lot of work, but you’re not afraid of the work and you surround yourself with people who tell you how they came through. That’s why I’m working with those people I choose to work with right now.
I’ve heard it so many times in interviews and documentaries, you’ve got to have that conviction – the almost crazy conviction, the sort that almost makes people tell you to slow down and back up. I see nothing else, even though I always knew I was talented and so on, but I’ve never been here before, I’ve never had this conviction that I have right now, the conviction I’ve worked hard to get. Which makes me really happy and it stands to contribute to those around me with a similar mentality.
How has this change of attitude paid off?
For the last 2 years things happened that lit a fire in me which made me up my workload and to see my networking differently. I started to invest more in my ability to network, so now after that, I see the benefits I’m reaping which are going to open new doors and they already have. I get meeting with directors because they’ve heard I’ve had meetings with other directors, it’s like I tell everyone – doors open doors, you’ve just gotta convince people somehow instead of making excuses, which I’ve done a lot in my life and I’m not doing anymore, and that’s the progress. I’ve showed myself that I’m right and things are starting to move in the right direction – even doing this interview is a sign for me that I’m doing things the right way. The fact that I got contacted by La Vanguardia (the biggest local paper in Catalunya) and they’re writing this big piece about me right now, the fact that I got cast in this movie , the fact that I’m shooting various TV commercials and so on. I realise that I’m lucky to have all this, but I’ve been working for it and I’m gonna work even harder for it. “Convince people with your own conviction and they will keep hiring you”
What does the future look like then- what’s your artistic direction?
The conclusion I’ve some to lately, is that it doesn’t really matter. When I was younger I saw no alternative to music, but now, slowly but surely, as the “acting” (I can’t really call it acting, it’s just been commercials and so on) has come along, the act of trying to present a persona on screen has woken me up to the fact that – yo – you love this. I knew that I always loved the media and movies, I mean I watched 2 or 3 movies a day for ages, and that’s another thing that can give me that awe, can bring me to that place, when you see an actor nailing a role, or a movie that’s so amazing you have to watch it again straight away.
This a medium in which I feel that if I le