Juan Zelada


http://www.juanzelada.com
AFTER years spent striving to get his voice heard, now Juan Zelada has finally struck that elusive record deal the last thing on his mind is popping champagne corks or putting his feet up and savouring the achievement – for now.

As anyone who knows Juan would expect, after years spent relentlessly traipsing his keyboard around the acoustic circuit – playing piano in restaurants, bars, weddings, cruise ships,… anywhere and everywhere – the hard-working singer/songwriter is focussed on taking his music and his band to the next level in 2012 with the imminent release of his debut album High Ceilings & Collar Bones on Decca Records.

Juan giggly explains the album’s title: “It’s about as random as it comes! It evokes images of concepts I am very fond of, images everyone likes: the aspirations you can have looking up to owning somewhere with high ceilings and getting excited about the sensuality and appealing nature of a woman’s neckline!” Juan’s sense of humour has kept him and his dedicated band going through the highs and lows of touring the daunting London circuit this last three years – Juan: “There is never a pointless gig!” – where he was initially spotted by a restaurant manager Adam Low.

He recognised there was something different about this particular artist he booked to entertain his customers: “I had this old piano in one of the restaurants and would book performers through an agency who would play very boring ‘play it again Sam type stuff’ but when Juan came in I immediately noticed he was a great performer, clearly different from the others, with great charisma getting half the restaurant singing along. Getting 100 diners singing along is no easy thing!”

The first of several to offer Juan their dedication, commitment and conviction, Adam quit his lucrative job with the ambition of breaking Juan and – despite no previous experience – built a team around Juan and self-released material in a DIY operation which has elicited incredible results.

Juan’s debut single, Breakfast In Spitalfields, released in June, was A-Listed on Radio Two and a Record Of The Week where it remained on the playlist for five weeks. Moreover, at its peak it was the second most played song on the station – reaching number 29 on the airplay chart – behind Adele; a formidable achievement for any artist, let alone an unsigned one.

Yet this was no flash in the pan. The station’s faith in Juan didn’t diminish when it again playlisted Juan’s second single The Blues Remain in October. Asked why Radio Two took so well to his music, Zelada says, “Maybe the guys at Radio Two just thought it was radio-friendly? I understand people need to pigeonhole us and it’s hard but what I’ve always said is Paul Simon, James Taylor and Ray Charles have always been in my head. These are the artists I try to emulate.”

It is perhaps no surprise then that when Paul Simon’s record label Decca came calling Juan jumped at the opportunity to work with them. “The goal has never been a label signing as a finishing line, it’s been about getting the exposure. There’s no space or time to celebrate and the deal certainly takes it to the next level, but being signed to Decca, that’s what’s truly inspiring,… exceptional even.

The most credible label we liked, the history they love and represent, the artists they have – Imelda May, Jamie Cullum, Paul Simon,… legends! – it’s a real privilege to be on that label with that talent and for them to let us keep doing our thing. I’ll just keep doing what I do.”

Which for Juan means keeping on the road gigging, because that’s what he does best, having already performed sold-out shows built through word-of-mouth buzz at Hoxton Bar & Grill and Dingwalls in London, and to rave reviews leading to BBC London News tipping him as ‘One To Watch’ for 2012. Juan has played as a former keyboardist with artist Bryn Christopher’s touring band who supported Amy Winehouse on her infamous Back To Black tour. Then when Juan stepped out on his own in 2009 that line-up subsequently became his band which as a six piece features trumpet and sax courtesy of a brass section who used to tour with Lily Allen and The Maccabees.

Juan’s ability to get everyone from the back of the room to the front singing recently caught the attention of the Communion stable – co-founded by Mumford & Sons’ Ben Lovett – who took Juan on a tour out of London to the regions of the UK to terrific effect. More celebrated for championing folk artists like Laura Marling and Noah & The Whale, it’s not a pairing you would naturally expect, but as Juan explains: “If you are doing your job well, people come to you, you don’t have to be knocking on doors canvassing. Many people might think I am more mainstream but their audience love songs and I can do ‘folky’ pulling out the big numbers with the brass section. Fifty people turning up now means as much as 5,000 people in the future, they need impressing – and I was impressed and overwhelmed by their love.”

Indeed, for many who have joined Juan on his journey so far, it has been a labour of love with many people getting involved having to juggle other commitments with no expectation of return. As the demand to see Juan live has spiralled he has had to balance writing his album, which was penned entirely by himself and has been recorded at Metropolis, Abbey Road and Rockfield Studios in Wales co-produced by Matt Lawrence, the ex-chief engineer of Metropolis Studios (Ellie Goulding, James Morrison) and mixed by Danton Supple, best known for his work with Coldplay. Aside from his own album, Juan’s song writing ability has been much in demand leading to co writes with Noisettes/Mumford & Sons collaborator Josh Weller, new Duran Duran guitarist Dom Brown and pop writers Andy Murray and Lee Mac.

Its sound is still hard to pigeonhole – the closest anyone has come is “Ben Folds Five meets Dave Matthews Band” – but it’s perhaps what you would expect from someone who grew up listening to his parents’ record collection – Juan: “a lot of Americana music from the Sixties and Seventies” – of Jerry Lee Lewis, The Beatles, Ray Charles and Billy Joel; originally from Madrid, Juan travelled with them to live in Hong Kong before attending Paul McCartney’s Liverpool Institute Of Performing Arts (where the former Beatle personally handed him an award for his songwriting) and settling in London.

When High Ceilings & Collar Bones is released in January people will be able to decide on Juan’s sound for themselves, and he hopes, venture out to see him live. “People seeing us and enjoying us is great, they have done that for years, but people coming out specifically to see you is another thing, that’s what I am looking forward to in 2012. And the banter on the road,… And the hangovers,… But mostly I am looking forward to the unexpected. Anything can happen,…”

And with Juan Zelada – who won’t stop until he can view those high ceilings – it probably will.

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