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Another Tune?

Christian Castro sticks with his Latin ballad image for now--but he dreams of a switch to rock.

September 28, 2000|ERNESTO LECHNER | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Think of Mexican pop star Christian Castro and you'll probably see images of sighing teenagers packing his concerts and swooning at the mere sight of the 24-year-old heartthrob.

You might also get a mental picture of his mother, veteran actress and TV personality Veronica Castro. Skeptics will tell you that the young singer--who headlines the Universal Amphitheatre on Saturday--owes his splashy success more to his family ties than to his powerful voice and a style reminiscent of the more famous Luis Miguel.

Think of his last album for the BMG Latin label, "Mi Vida Sin Tu Amor" (My Life Without Your Love), and you might see all the cliches associated with the tired genre of Latin pop--from inane lyrics of idealized love to arrangements dripping with hundreds of strings.

From now on, however, you can add a new association. Think of Christian (he uses just his first name professionally) and think of Tool, the Los Angeles hard-rock group that happens to be the singer's favorite band.

Accompanied by his best friends, Christian used to follow Tool with the same kind of passion that some young girls apply to him. He's seen them in concert seven times. He even has the band's name tattooed on his back.

"I admire and respect Tool to no end," says Christian. "This group created an entirely new way of being for me," he continues. "I know from personal experience what it means to be a good fan, and I'm certainly a fan of their music."

His Faves? Heavy on Rock

Ask Christian about his other favorite groups, and the list is also heavy on rock. There's little of the sentimental material the singer has favored throughout his own career.

"I like Ozzy Osbourne," he says enthusiastically. "Motley Crue, Rage Against the Machine, White Zombie, Korn, Machinehead. . . . I like classic British bands like Pink Floyd, the Cure, Duran Duran. And rock en espan~ol groups like Molotov and Soda Stereo."

The contradiction between Christian's taste and his own music is so glaring that the question pops up automatically: Why hasn't he abandoned the world of harmless Latin pop to dedicate his talents to the more experimental territory he so much admires? Why hasn't Christian the romantico become Christian the rocker?

"That's a commitment of a higher order," he explains. "To do that, I would need a strategy that's well thought out. A concept that would go beyond having good looks or creating an image for yourself. I've been trying to do something like that for a long time. I know that, eventually, I will find the right path."

It won't be easy.

"All these characters that surround me, the people from the record company and even my family, tell me not to take any risks," he says. "The only people that support me are my childhood friends, the ones who listen to the same music I do."

"It's obvious that BMG doesn't want to hear any of this," says Tomas Cookman, the most successful manager in the rock en espan~ol field, in a separate interview. "Latin labels are not exactly famous for selling rock records."

The label agrees with that comment.

"Rock might belong in Christian's private life, but it certainly isn't part of his professional life," says Rogelio Macin, BMG Latin's general manager in the U.S. "When we sat down to negotiate a contract with him, we were specifically looking for his successful track record as a pop solo artist. Christian is a young man, so I can understand if he develops new interests. From a business standpoint, however, I can tell you that it would be very difficult to sell him as a rock artist from one day to another."

Last year Christian sought Cookman's services with the hope that the unlikely association would help him move into Latin rock. But the singer's own hesitance to commit to a rock career brought a premature end to the arrangement, and the parties split amicably.

"I always saw him at odds with himself about what he wants to do," says Cookman. "It's like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. I think when it came down to changing his style, he got scared because his wealth and lifestyle depend on his talent for pop ballads. The fact is that if you want to be a rocker, you can't wear a three-piece suit."

Cerati Declines Offer to Produce

Through Cookman, Christian was able to get in touch with some of his favorite rock artists. He visited a rehearsal by funk rockers Illya Kuryaki & the Valderramas, and met ex-Soda Stereo leader Gustavo Cerati with the hope that he would produce his next album. Cerati declined the offer.

"Gustavo didn't see it as a credible proposition," Christian says. "And I understand where he's coming from. He told me that my desire to change styles couldn't be just a whim. If you switch sides, you have to switch them for the rest of your life."

The singer hopes that by the time he fulfills his contract with BMG (he owes the company one more album), he will have mustered the courage to follow his muse.

"In the beginning, nobody believed in me as a ballad singer," he says. "Even the company I'm with now turned me down when I first approached them. And I still managed to make it in the business. Maybe my real fans will be proud of me if I decide to be truer to myself."

BE THERE

Christian, Saturday at the Universal Amphitheatre, 100 Universal City Plaza, Universal City, 8:15 p.m. $44 to $69. (818) 622-4440.

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