A Conversation with Anthony De La Torre
Mike Ragogna: So am I speaking with Anthony or Jack?
Anthony De La Torre: [laughs] I never break character, friend. No, definitely Anthony.
MR: Thank God. Who wants to talk to a pirate anyway.
AT: I know man, he steals your girlfriend but you know, he’s a great guy. He makes you smile while he’s doing it.
MR: [laughs] Anthony, you must be out of your mind happy since the movie’s not only a hit, it’s huge. And you’ve become an established character in the world of Pirates Of The Caribbean as Young Jack Sparrow.
AT: Oh my gosh, it’s the coolest thing ever. Just from day one, when this whole thing started and I got the audition, this fire just got lit inside of me. I was obsessed with Pirates Of The Caribbean since I was a kid, and particularly the character Jack Sparrow. Dude, it’s unreal.
MR: On the music side, your band De La Torre has a new music video and I imagine there’ll be new fans based on you being in the new Pirates. So give us your music history already.
AT: [laughs] I grew up listening to everything from salsa to Frank Sinatra to Disturbed and Linkin Park, a lot of urban music too. I grew up listening to everything because my family’s Cuban-American and music was always playing. When I first started working with my producer Desmond Child about five years ago, we were actually started going in more of a Latin route. I went to Cuba a couple of times, I shot a music video there. It was really, really special to get to go because I didn’t think I was ever going to get to. That was an incredible experience to be there, where my grandparents were born and be in that culture and everything. Then when I came back to the States, we started focusing more on rock. I started a rock band about three years ago called De La Torre and we’ve just kind of been honing in on the sound and creating our own vibe. We started gigging about two years ago. We’ve only released two originals and we’ve done a couple covers. We recorded a song called “Ruins” and filmed a video for it in western Nebraska at “Carhenge.” We just released a new one called “Paradise,” and filmed the video in San Diego at the Viejas Arena March 5th when we opened for Bon Jovi.
MR: Since you’ve been working with Desmond Child for a while, what was his influence on the evolution of your music? Did he guide you?
AT: Yeah, absolutely. From the beginning, we’ve been writing together. You know, our goal was to just write songs we love and turn them into records that we’d both enjoy listening to. From the first lyrics and melody to the final mix… it’s a real partnership.
MR: And there’s a lot of influence from Desmond?
AT: Absolutely, how could there not be. Desmond’s a monster in the writing room, and I mean that in a really good way. He’s just incredible. He writes like a madman and it’s really inspiring to get to be a part of that process with him.
MR: What are some of your insights from your trip to Cuba?
AT: It’s hard to say, because I could probably be way more informed than I am. But as far as I understood it and how I experienced it, it would be fantastic for our two countries to be able to connect better and be at peace with each other. It’s tragic, everything that’s happened, but the people there are the exact same as we are. They are full of life and loved seeing a young Cuban-American like me and we had so much fun together. I even got my Cuban swag back. But it’s a real shame the way things are between our governments but it is what it is right now and I’m definitely no politician.
MR: Was it a life-changing experience?
AT: Oh, yeah. It was remarkable. It really was. Especially getting to shoot a music video on the rooftops of Havana was was truly life-changing. I’m so grateful for that time. I got to work with artist, producer and film director X-Alfonso who is just the most amazing dude. Last year he launched the ultra-hipster Fábrica Del Arte Cubano where people like Mick Jagger and Bono hang out. He took me under his wing for a couple of months and we recorded some really cool songs together. Like I said, I really thought I was never going to get to go there. Havana was beautiful, and the beaches are just gorgeous.
MR: Nice. When you were down there, you would think that one would come out with an even stronger desire to work on music of that tradition, but you took a rock direction. From your perspective, what has stayed or grown in your brand of rock because of your trip? Know what I mean?
AT: Latin music has a lot of genres including a strong rock tradition with rockero bands like Mana and La Ley. When I worked with X-Alfonso, he’s a total rock star and tours around the world half of the year with his band. He’s blends rock music and world music and sings in Spanish. That’s his language so why wouldn’t he? His music isn’t so genre specific like we have here and that influenced me big time and opened me up big time. So we had a local young rock guitar player come in and play on one of our songs that had a heavy urban beat and I started realizing, “Yeah, rock guitar, hmm, maybe we should start using more of that.” Then it just grew more and more from there. Once I got back home to Nashville, I started jamming and recording with a couple of guys… lead guitarist Johnny Prentice who was 17 at the time and drummer Landon Hall who had just moved here from Springfield, Missouri and we started DE LA TORRE. The first song that we released “Ruins” has a Spanish version called “Ruinas.” Some folks like it better… well at least my mom says she does. [laughs]
MR: What is the chemistry like when you’re working with Desmond in the studio or writing with him?
AT: It’s really cool because I look at him like a sensei. He’s had an incredible career for however many decades and just the experience, the wisdom, the knowledge that this guy has is just incomparable to anybody else that I’ve ever gotten to work with. Not that I’ve actually gotten to work with a lot of other people but you know like I imagine he’s incomparable to anybody else. [laughs] So I put on my student hat and just go in ready to learn something new every day, basically.
MR: Do you still feel like you’re a developing artist?
AT: Oh yeah, absolutely. And honestly, I’ll probably feel like that for a long time. I guess I’ll always feel like there’s more that I can improve on and ways that I can grow.
MR: So how has your band De La Torre grown?
AT: We have yet to release an album but we definitely have one ready to go… well we could have one ready to go. [laughs] We’ve actually been releasing singles for the last three years, so typically, a band would have at least two albums out by now. But we’ve kind of held everything close to the vest. We’ve just dropped a single here, dropped a single there testing the waters and gaining fans. It just continues to grow. We’ve worked with different co-writers and producers along the way explore different sounds for inspiration as time goes on. I’d say we’ve definitely grown. I’m also working with stupidly talented people in my band. Johnny Prentice, our lead guitar player is just insane. Just getting to be around these guys, I grow. It’s great. I’m blessed.
MR: Has the band changed members?
AT: Yes, we’ve mainly had to change bass players a couple times. I swear they’re the hardest ones to find. Most really great musicians have to play in two or three of bands just to make ends meet especially in Nashville so it’s hard to hold on to them without mega-success. We’ve kept the same lead guitar player and drummer though the whole time and recently added Nate Schwartz on rhythm guitar and new bass player Sonny Kennelly, both awesome dudes. We always say, even if we weren’t doing music, we’d all want to hang out together, because we’re all just like total bros.
MR: Getting back to that Jack Sparrow thingy, how did you react to Perez Hilton’s endorsement?
AT: I was blown away… You know he’s Cuban too! But that was the coolest thing ever because I’ve looked at his website so many times, and to read an article that was mentioning me was like, “What? Is that going to start happening now? I guess that’s going to start happening now, okay!”
MR: You’re from Bowling Green, not the first place one would assume a Cuban-American artist would emerge from. What’s the history there?
AT: [laughs] My parents met in Florida, both of my brother and sister were born there, and then around the time that I was about to be born, my dad got into Bowling Green State University to study psychology. So we moved there, and I don’t think the plan was to stay there forever, but then, unfortunately, my parents got divorced a little after I was born and they ended up just both planting their feet into the ground there. So I grew up there until I was eighteen and then I moved to Nashville when Desmond discovered me on YouTube.
MR: What has your Nashville experience been like?
AT: Wow. You know, my family came into town a couple of times and they were like, “Oh, you’ve got to take us to all the coolest spots!” I was like, “Yeah, you guys are going to have to Google the cool spots, because I literally never go out.”
MR: What? Interview over. Good day, sir.
AT: [laughs] My two destinations while I was there were the gym and the studio. I lived like a freaking hermit – every day, just go to the studio and work. We never took weekends off, we just did it every single day. I’m not exaggerating. That said, it’s been amazing, and I’m not just saying that. I love everything about this place; everyone’s so genuinely nice here. I love the pace of things like the nature… I love hills; I’m a big fan of hills. [laughs] And, obviously, the music scene is crazy. Getting to do a lot of writing sessions here; it’s a really great vibe. I’ve written a lot with one of Desmond’s Nashville writers, Levi Hummon. Levi co-wrote on a bunch of our songs and just released his own single as a solo artist “Don’t Waste The Night” and he’s killing it on Spotify and touring like crazy. He’s incredible. It’s really been a great experience here and I feel like I’m part of a real community of artists.
MR: And I’m imagining that your stock went way up after you introduced Nashville to Young Jack Sparrow.
AT: [laughs] Yes, absolutely. I went on Blair Garner’s radio show last week and was also featured on Ty, Kelly & Chuck Mornings. So Nashville definitely knows Young Jack has arrived!
MR: I don’t know if you’ve discovered it yet but young Nashville artists and songwriters aren’t like past generations. They’re feisty and much less dependent on the old school Nashville machine.
AT: Well, I guess there’s a “deep state” of Nashville music… I don’t really know about that but I’m open to whatever doors open. I’m happy to go wherever the wind’s taking me, whatever the opportunities are that come, I’m happy to do it.
MR: So Anthony, not Jack, what advice do you have for new artists?
AT: I think the key, where I feel like we really started to get into that kind of flow state was—and I guess this sounds obvious—when I made the decision, “Let me make a song that I would love to listen to.” Sometimes people aim to make a song that they think other people would want to hear. That sounds really simple and dumb, but it is something important to think about. This is something that I’ll still probably be figuring out, but you need to understand who you are and who you are in relation to the music and what your message is and what your archetype is. I hate to use this word because it’s sounds so music business-y and not artistic, but understanding your brand…
MR: Again, good day, sir…
AT: [laughs] That came out totally wrong… it’s understanding who you are and how you present that to the world and how that relates to music or acting and trying to stay consistent and truthful with all of that at the same time. Okay, that totally made no sense sorry. [laughs]
MR: Do you look in the mirror and go, “Who is that guy?” and then maybe write accordingly? I mean, you also are an actor who can take on different roles, which must be confusing at times, so how do you approach writing when it’s for yourself?
AT: When I say “writing something that I’d want to hear,” I mean sometimes I write something that’s a story that has nothing to do with me personally as well. But as far as musically and lyrically, “things that I would want to hear” is what I aim for, as opposed to thinking, “Oh, this might work, because this has worked for somebody else.” Okay, I already said all that before. I’m just trying to write something that I would really dig and jam out to. But I’m not writing the lyrics to myself. Like I’m not writing a love song to Anthony.
MR: [laughs] How about for Anthony’s girlfriend?
MR: You know the term “Stars With Guitars,” right? You had this huge acting gig. Do you foresee an intersection or an intertwining between your music and your acting?
AT: Yeah, totally.
MR: Are they parallel roads? Is it one road?
AT: Artistically, yes, and on the career, I side think I just see both of these things continuing to snowball and, hopefully, both build each other up. At the end of the day, I’ve got to do both of them, because when I’m done with one of them, I really want to do the other, and when I’m doing the other, I really want to do the other one. I’ve got to do both. I’m hoping that as each thing happens it opens more creative doors for both sides of my creative journey.
MR: Are you up for any new parts right now?
AT: Yeah, but I don’t think I’m allowed to say. But I continue to audition for more roles all the time. That’s the life of an actor.
MR: I imagine Jack helped get you in some harder to open doors.
AT: Yeah, and it’s also a great conversation piece once I’m in the door as well. If Jack didn’t open the door for me, he keeps me in the room a little bit longer.
MR: What’s your goal? What do you need to get to in order to feel fulfilled creatively?
AT: I want to be able to act, write and direct films and I want to be able to keep making music ‘til I drop. That’s the goal.
MR: Do you ever picture yourself a decade from now, where you want to be, what you want to get done musically? Maybe some big tours?
AT: There are so many things I’d love to do regarding music. As far as touring, Linkin Park, Thirty Seconds To Mars… I have a whole list of bands that I would love to go on tour with. I think about ten years from now all the time—where I’d like to be, where I’d like to be living. I probably think about that more than I should. I really should be more focused on the present.
MR: You mentioned Thirty Seconds To Mars. So if one of the Letos calls you to co-write some songs, you’d pick up the phone, no?
AT: Oh, oh, dude, in a heartbeat!
MR: Are there some other people you think it would be awsome to write with?
AT: Well, there’s Jared Leto; I love Linkin Park. I’d love to do something with them. I love all the stuff they’re doing right now. They’re really switching it up. I think Kanye West just produced their last album and it’s so good. It’s kind of crazy, it’s awesome.
MR: I’m always kind of confused by what’s going on with Chester, but that’s okay.
AT: [laughs] Listen. When you can scream the way that guy can scream and not make your vocal chords explode, I think you can pretty much accomplish anything in life.
MR: What did we leave out? What else do you want to throw out there?
AT: Oh, one thing I’m super-pumped about is my acting role in Ridley Scott and Jonas Åkerlund’s music-driven thriller Lords Of Chaos. Jonas also directed it. It’s the true story about the rise of black metal bands in Norway in the late eighties and early nineties and I play Mayhem’s drummer Hellhammer, who I actually got to meet in Oslo last Fall when we were there shooting. It’s going to be awesome. Rory Culkin is playing the lead; Emory Cohen and Jack Kilmer star in it too. They’re calling it the Trainspotting of the new millennium. It’s going to be crazy.