Tommy Torres, who is Puerto Rican, is a Grammy Award-winning talent who's written and produced songs for many artists such as Ricardo Arjona, Ednita Nazario, Alejandro Sanz, Alicia Keys and Ricky Martin. Recently, however, he delivered a music spectacle in 12 Historias, which is now available in stores.
12 Historias features 12 tracks, including collaborations with Arjona, Nazario and Martin on top of Nelly Furtado. The album debuted at No. 1 on the Latin Album charts. The songs "Querido Tommy", "11:11" and "Mientras Tanto" have already been released, as the record continues to spark positive talk all over the music spectrum.
Campus Circle conducted an interview with Torres. Here's what he had to say:
Campus Circle: How did the concept of this album, 12 Historias, originate?
Tommy Torres: After my album, Tarde o Temprano, I went out to promote it. Generally, a lot of time passes in between albums, so the creativity does not come immediately. After I promoted the album, I produced an album for Alejandro Sanz called Paraiso Express, among other things. When the time came to make a new album, the songs that move me weren’t coming to me. I don’t like to repeat myself, so I felt I had to live a little before starting. During that process, I ended up really taking a liking to songs by songwriters from the '70s, such as Bob Dylan, James Taylor, Paul Simon, as well as Elton John’s early works. I really like the manner in which they told stories with their songs. It’s different from the way most contemporary music is written, which is mostly about seductions. It seems to me that in that era, songwriters were better observers. They often wrote in the third person and told stories not just about themselves, but of others as well. They also wrote about a variety of subjects, not just love. Finally, I was ready to work on the new album, and that style of songwriting just came to me naturally. This is why the new album is titled  Historias. It’s something more literary, simple and appropriate. The album is based on two stories, each with their own characters. I’m a character as well.
CC: Regarding the collaborations within 12 Historias, how do you come to an agreement with other artists? How do you communicate with them, and how do you get them to participate?
TT: I already have established relationships with the artists I collaborated with in this album because I’ve worked with them in the past - with the exception of Nelly Furtado. I’ve worked with them either as a producer, a songwriter or done tours together. That part is easy, and they were all very open to doing something. All this is more like cameos than anything else, which is also reflective of that era I mentioned. Nowadays, duets are a lot more structured and planned out. We didn’t even let any of our respective record labels know what we were doing. We just recorded, and let them sort the rest out amongst themselves. In this instance, it went well for us. I met Nelly Furtado through my producer, Dan Warner, who’s worked with her before. He had also mentioned she liked my music. So we sent her the song and asked if she wanted to work with us on it.
CC: You mention Dan Warner. How was your experience working with him on this album?
TT: It was super. I’ve worked with Dan since my first album as guitar player, then as co-producer in my second and third albums. In this album, he’s also producing, but this time around, I gave him a lot more freedom as a producer so I could concentrate more on the compositions. I really didn’t want the specifics of arranging and producing to distract me from songwriting in this album. We’ve known each other for so long now that he can tell when I’m being a bit too obsessive and lets me know it. He knows me. He knows I’m a perfectionist. He’s the perfect person to stop me when I’m going overboard.
CC: Was there any one thing in particular above others that inspired you for this album?
TT: The lyrics were the main focus. We didn’t do any arranging before going into the studio. We recorded here in Los Angeles and put together a band of very talented musicians. The goal was to have that sound of playing a song for the first time. In the last album, I made arrangements prior to going into the studio. I spent two weeks on each song, and everything was set by the time we began to record. This time around, everything was a bit more spontaneous. Everything was done at the studio.
CC: "Mientras Tanto" is a lovely song, but it's a bit difficult to discern. Can you talk about the lyrics and your chemistry with Ricardo Arjona?
TT: The song talks about a man who’s about to make a toast before people who have long faces, so to speak. People are not in a lively state. The people are a bit distressed. I wrote it as a metaphor to the world we live in. I wouldn’t call it pessimism, but I wanted to convey a sense of uncertainty for the future, the economy and when things might change for the better...not just here, but in our Latin American countries as well. I have noticed that I often focus on solving problems and thinking about the future. And when this happens, I tend to not see what’s in front of me. This is an invitation for me to focus on what’s in front of me: in things I can be doing, to have fun. And these things are not complicated; it can be just sitting on a beach or having what I crave for breakfast one morning. If I don’t keep these things in mind, I will let them pass me by. I’ve worked with Ricardo before, and we always listen to each other’s songs, even before finishing them. In the song, he’s a friend who interrupts my toast, and we finish the song together.
CC: How about the song "El Abrigo"?
TT: I was watching a news report one day about how many students nowadays have finished their studies and obtained their degrees, but cannot find work in their field. Some can’t find work, period. After I finished my studies in music, something similar happened to me. I worked at a studio, but I started off working as a receptionist, then in the mail room; so, I was able to identify a bit with that. However, nowadays that’s the norm, not the exception. Nowadays, there is no guarantee that work will be available in the field you study when you graduate. So, I wrote the song from the perspective of a recent graduate who writes a letter to his father. In the letter, he tells his father that he did everything necessary to finish school and obtain a degree, but that so far it was for nothing. He tells his father he’s working at a restaurant bussing tables - that he’s not writing to complain, just to let him know what’s going on. In the song, the student expresses a desire to vent and get away from life for a bit - that he wants to surround himself with his friends and just have fun, just for that moment. Almost all of the songs in the album are like that; they present a situation not in a socially critical manner, but as commentary as if to begin a conversation about a subject, something that’s important to me. I’ve always felt that education is very important for any country. The songs, in general, also aim to discuss these subjects in a light manner, with focus on the positives we do have.
CC: What about the track "Sin Ti"? Can you talk about the lyrics and also about what Nelly Furtado brings to this song?
TT: "Sin Ti" is a song I’ve had for about eight years. It’s a song that has a kind of folk feel. It’s not a traditional ballad. I had not been able to include it in previous albums. It might have fit in the first two albums but definitely not the third, because musically, that album was more pop. However, in the new album, it fit perfectly. I’ve always loved Nelly’s voice ever since her first album, and Dan had already mentioned she liked my music, so I figured we should send her the song to see if she liked it. She called us at once, and we met up in with her in Canada to record. There’s something in her voice that makes her sound very honest. Despite having an amazing voice, she doesn’t sing to show that off. It’s intense, but full of youth. This appeals to me a great deal. Also, I’ve always liked that in my duets, the two voices are distinct. Our voices are very different and that creates contrast, which to me is very cool.
CC: Your album debuted at No. 1. How does that feel?
TT: I’ve been on a cloud all day. It feels great, especially because I spend so much time working on every album. I was nervous, thinking about what people will think of the different style and composition, and the literal aspects, which are different from the pop people are accustomed to. I feel lucky that my fans allow these changes, and that they don’t demand any specific style. I feel lucky that they let me use different ways to express my emotions and still relate. I’m also very happy because this means they all went out the first week to get the album. This tells me there was a sense of anticipation for it.
CC: Will there be a tour next year in 2013?
TT: Next year, perhaps. Promoting takes a long time. We’ll be in Mexico for a month and a half, and we have more travelling to do. The album has been released in all Spanish-speaking countries digitally, but the physical albums have only been released in the United States and Puerto Rico.
CC: As a child, how did you discover your passion for music and decide to pursue this career?
TT: No one in my family is a musician. I began taking violin lessons when I was 10. A friend of mine played, and my father thought it would be a good activity for us to do together. I stopped playing instruments until high school when I began playing a friend’s electric guitar. Then I played keyboard. I realized it was very easy for me to replicate songs I heard on the radio: chords, etc. I spent my afternoons trying to play along with music and learning every little thing I could. In high school, people tend to realize what they’re good at, and I was good at this, so I began to play shows with bands. I had been accepted at the University of Puerto Rico to study accounting, and at the last minute, I surprised my father and told him I wanted to study music instead. I’m sure he thought it wouldn’t last, so he didn’t oppose. I went to Berklee [College of Music], and instead of losing interest I liked it more and more, and I graduated. I’ve always been in love with what I do. There are times when I enjoy it as if it was for the first time.
CC: Tell us about your experiences at Berklee College of Music. Was it very competitive? How is it you were able to succeed and graduate with honors?
TT: I didn’t go there to learn singing, composing or producing. I went there to study guitar. I was shocked when I arrived; I started playing when I was 16, but there were students who had been playing since they were 5. I just knew how to play by ear, but most of the students also knew how to read music and had a more technical background. Eventually, I began to steer away from that; I moved on to study sound engineering and production, and also arranging. I really liked the concept of being able to write music for different instruments, so I had two concentrations. When I graduated, I went to work at Sony Studios in New York, which no longer exists. But at the time, it was a popular place to go record. Artists like Michael Jackson, Mariah Carey and Michael Bolton recorded there. As I mentioned earlier, I started as a receptionist, then worked in the mail room. Eventually, I worked as engineer assistant for several years. That was my Masters education; I got to observe sessions by very big stars and learned something new every day – not just about engineering. I observed how every artist has a different type of session and the dynamics that went along with it. Eventually, I became more and more interested in the creative aspect of music, so I began writing songs and would record them at night in the studio. As my writing got better, I moved to Miami because my songs were in Spanish, and the Latin music industry was very big there. I began passing out demos, and one thing led to another. Artists began using my songs and liked my demos, so they asked me to produce. I recorded an album with Sony, then another independently, then two with Warner [Music]. This came out of nowhere. Ednita Nazario, a very well known and respected Puerto Rican artist, gave me an opportunity to produce for her. Then Ricky Martin heard what I did with her, liked it and asked me to work with him, and from then, more came. There was no plan to have a career in producing; it just happened. Ever since I began my education, I’ve flown wherever life has taken me. I never tried to force any one career in particular, but I’ve always wanted to be in the industry. That was not negotiable...To this day, I’ve enjoyed all facets of my work – I can be an engineer in one album, sing or produce in another, and I enjoy it all.
CC: Who have been your musical influences?
TT: Paul Simon, Elton John, The Beatles and Billy Joel, among others.
CC: You’re very active in social media. What does social media mean to you?
TT: From my point of view, it’s very cool to be able to connect with fans and to have a platform in which to discuss my work. I often post blogs discussing my songs. I have shared songs right from the studio through Twitter. I feel that direct contact with fans, which once upon a time was impossible, is great. It’s almost as if I were performing live, except I can’t see them. It gives me peace knowing my fans are paying attention to my music. I do need to unplug when I’m composing, though; I need to be in my own world. Once I move on from composing, I become very active in social media again. I feel social media was key to the new album’s success, because it helped build up anticipation.
CC: Any words of advice for music students out there who might perhaps want to follow in your footsteps?
TT: You must open up your horizons and have a broad vision about what music really is. It’s not just about singing and being famous. There are engineers, composers, producers who are just as big a part of the industry. To be successful, you must keep your options open and not dwell on just one thing. You can’t demand things from life, but life will bring opportunities your way. You just have to be open to them, and go with them.
For more information on Tommy Torres, visit www.tommytorres.com.