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POP MUSIC | POP EYE

Really Southern Rock : The search for the Next Big Thing is shifting south--and going bilingual.

April 19, 1998|Steve Hochman

Several major U.S. record companies have turned their attention to Latin America, signing rock acts whose primary language is Spanish. These deals are not through the Latin-oriented subsidiaries that have generally handled rock en espan~ol releases, but with the mainstream labels themselves.

Capitol has signed Mexico City's Plastilina Mosh, whose sound is somewhere between Beck and the Beastie Boys, while MCA has just made a deal with hard-edged Puerto Rican band Puya. Both have albums due in June. Additionally, Luaka Bop, the Warner Bros. Records label owned by David Byrne, has just released an album by Venezuela's Los Amigos Invisibles, and Geffen has reportedly made a deal to sign rock en espan~ol stars Cafe Tacuba after the band's current deal with Warner Music Latin America expires.

The target is not just the growing Spanish-language rock market in the U.S., but also non-Spanish-speakers.

"What all these bands have in common is they're youth-oriented," says Kim Buie, the Capitol vice president of A&R who signed Plastilina Mosh. "Our whole campaign is designed to turn people on whether they're white, black, Mexican, Spanish-speaking or not. It doesn't matter. It's still good music and people are genuinely reacting to it. Yes, it speaks to people of their culture and Latin origin. But the music most of the time transcends that."

Indeed, an imported single of the band's song "Mr. P. Mosh" has earned weekend rotation at KROQ-FM (106.7). And that's a song mostly in Spanish. Nearly half the songs on the "Aqua Mosh" album are either completely or partly in English, a natural outgrowth of the international flavor of Mexico City's youth culture. And production on some of the album by Tom Rothrock and Rob Schnapf--owners of Hollywood's Bong Load Records and sometimes Beck producers--puts it sonically at the leading edge of alternative rock.

MCA vice president of A&R Tom Sarig, who signed Puya, says his band's album-in-progress--being recorded by noted Argentine rock en espan~ol producer Gustavo Santoalalla--will be half in English, with a sound "like Rage Against the Machine with horns."

But bridging the language gap might not be essential. Though all its material is in Spanish, Los Amigos Invisibles--which features a '70s-like funk-jazz sound a la Jamiroquai--will be facing English-speaking audiences this summer, touring as the opening act for New York band Soul Coughing in the East and England's Cornershop in the West.

The band's manager, Tomas Cookman, has been encouraged by the current tour of Fabulosos Cadillacs, whom he also manages. Audiences in such cities as Minneapolis and Cleveland have been as much as 85% non-Spanish-speakers, he says.

"When I go to Cleveland and see the two daily papers each with a big story on the Cadillacs, it's a real breakthrough," he says. "People have now done more than enough groundwork to know there's a market, and it's not just transplanted Latin Americans. It's all kinds of people."

BIG SCREEN GARTH

Garth Brooks' video for his new version of Bob Dylan's "Make You Feel My Love" will be shown in movie theaters as a trailer for the film "Hope Floats," whose soundtrack includes the performance. The video, shot in L.A. last Monday, will begin screening May 4 in theaters of the General Cinema Corp. chain, three weeks before the film's opening. This is the first such move since the video for Whitney Houston's "Exhale (Shoop Shoop)" ran in some theaters in 1995 to promote "Waiting to Exhale"--which was directed, like "Hope Floats," by Forest Whitaker.

"You work so hard for these kind of opportunities for the film and soundtrack to create awareness of each other," says Liz Heller, executive vice president of Capitol Records and the project's overseer. "But they don't come together like this often."

The recording of the song, too, proved a fortuitous match, says Don Was, who supervised the soundtrack with Whitaker. Whitaker had called Brooks a year ago about contributing, and in November the singer flew to L.A. with 30 unreleased songs to choose from. But when he saw an early cut of the movie with Dylan's recording of "Make You Feel My Love" filling the spot where his song would go, Brooks decided that he wanted to record the Dylan number instead.

"We went to Forest's office after the screening and Garth took a guitar and played the song," Was says. "We had a [digital tape] machine running, and he just nailed it."

Despite some audible background noise, the performance was so emotional, Was says, that it ended up in the film, with other instruments overdubbed. Brooks, though, chose to do a more "professional" version for the Capitol album, which also features tracks by such artists as the Rolling Stones, Sheryl Crow, Deana Carter and a duet of Bob Seger and Martina McBride. Release date is May 19.

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