Madrid's award-winning rockers Vetusta Morla have embodied the "do-it-yourself" spirit since the beginning of their career. Their sound, though initially influenced by Radiohead, Pulp, Blur, and Sigur Ros, has become a signature meld of cinematic indie rock, neo-psych, progressive pop, and folk, buoyed by elaborate yet intricate production. For nearly a decade the award-winning sextet played street festivals, dingy clubs, and music competitions, and even performed on national television, before ever releasing a proper record. Since the release of their debut long-player, Un Dia en el Mundo in 2008 on their own Pequeño Salto Mortal label, they've placed titles on the upper rungs of Spanish, European, South American, Mexican, and even North American charts. The 2011 multi-layered space rock of Mapas — initially released through the band's website — went to number three, while the mutant garage rock offered on 2014's La Deriva topped streaming charts at home and placed well inside the Top 40 in Brazil and Mexico. Touring is also part of Vetusta Morla's core M.O. and is largely responsible for their international success. Years-long jaunts are not uncommon; they regularly play dozens of Spanish cities before going abroad. In 2017 the band released Mismo Sitio, Distinto Lugar, the first entry in an ongoing partnership between their label and Sony. The agreement guaranteed bigger studio budgets and tour support without their losing creative control. The record peaked at two and remained on the charts for a solid year.
Vetusta Morla's moniker is drawn from the name of an existential turtle in novelist Michael Ende's Neverending Story; who believed in himself just enough to become nothing at all. The band formed in 1998 at the José Luis Sampedro Institute in the Tres Cantos section of Madrid. Its six members came from decidedly different socio-economic backgrounds and included vocalist Pucho (Juan Pedro Martin), drummer David "El Indio" García, percussionist and programmer Jorge González, bassist Alejandro Notario, and guitarists/keyboardist Guillermo Galván and Juan Manuel Latorre. They learned to write together in the school's music rooms and in dingy apartments. Early shows in the student union and at various off-campus spots netted few attendees. In January of 2000 they recorded their first demo, 13 Horas con Lucy, and entered it in the Hortaleza Musical Contest, placing second. The won the Rivas-Vacia-Madrid State Pop-Rock Contest and their prize provided enough money to cut a second self-titled demo. Through it all, Vetusta Morla continued playing venues on the Madrid circuit with increased attendance due to competitive successes and their electrifying stage show. The band began touring Spain constantly. They competed in Rock de La Elipa the same year. Although they didn’t win, they reached the finals and made the acquaintance of producer David Hyam, who helmed their third demo, 2003's La Cuadratura del Círculo. The relentless touring wore on Notario and he left the band. He was replaced by bassist Álvaro B. Baglieto. Vetusta Morla's demos had been brutally rejected by virtually every major and indie record label (the indies said they sounded "too commercial"), but their performances at RTVE's Radio 3 concerts, and the International Anti-Crisis Festival in Beirut, Lebanon as representatives for Spain won them an international audience of rock fans.
In January 2005 they released their official debut, the seven-track Mira EP on their own Pequeño Salto Mortal label. While it didn't chart, it did get into record stores and received airplay across Spain and in Brazil. Their non-stop endless touring took them into South America and North Africa. Vetusta Morla were interested in longevity; they deliberately concentrated on gaining an international fan base, one show at a time. In what has become typical operating procedure, they spent nearly three years on the road.
In February, after a decade together, the band issued their debut full-length Un Día en el Mundo. Proclaimed by Spain's rock press as "the best debut album from a Spanish rock group in history," they took home awards for best single, most creative video, and new artist of the year, and placed second on the year's MTV best-of-year list. In February of 2009 they took home the Musica Premios award for best album, voted on by fans. The success of Un Día en el Mundo helped the band sell out a series of Radio 3 concert performances, and established Vetusta Morla as a major recording and concert attraction. Even so, not a single label offered them a deal, so they embraced and celebrated their independent status. They toured Europe, built a large, dedicated fan base there and in South America, and started getting major airplay in Mexico. In May of 2011, Vetusta Morla issued Mapas, their sophomore album. Initially presented on their website as a "pay what you want" campaign, it hit the charts almost immediately, peaking at number three when it was issued in physical form. That year, Rolling Stone Espana voted Mapas best album, and Vetusta Morla as best artist.
Two years later, between concert appearances, the band collaborated with video game producers Delirium Studios on a soundtrack for Los Rios de Alice; they issued it as a full-length on their label, and followed it just months later with the release of an audio and video concert collaboration with Orquesta Sinfonico de la Region De Murcia to benefit the rebuilding of Conservatory Narciso Yepes in Lorca, which had been damaged in an earthquake in 2011.
At the tail-end of 2013, after two solid years of touring, Vetusta Morla announced the imminent release of third album La Deriva. In February, the first single "Golpa Maerstreo" appeared, followed by the title track in March. In April, La Deriva was released with a streamed concert at Radio 3. The album registered as the band's first number one in Spain and, due to aggressive traveling, placed inside the Top 40 in Brazil and Mexico. The Spanish road warriors traveled across the Atlantic for the first time to play shows in Mexico City and a dozen other cities, as well as concerts in the U.S. at SXSW in Austin, Texas, New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Miami. The following year, a documentary film and soundtrack entitled 15151 were simultaneously released and entered the charts at number one. The package took the place of a best-of compilation. It re-created some of Vetusta Morla's recorded history, while the film revealed a live and intimate interview offering many first-person inside stories, including that of "the pact". According to the film, the group made a collective decision after the successful Beirut concert years earlier: to quit their day jobs and pursue music no matter what.
Sony Music Entertainment Espana came knocking in 2016. Their executives claimed no regrets for not signing the group earlier; nor could they have guaranteed the success that Vetusta Morla's independent path delivered. The band drove a hard bargain, but a partnership was agreed to. In exchange for the manufacture, promotion, and distribution of their music, they would continue to issue records on their own label. They insisted on — and received — better-funded recording budgets and tour support, and retained complete creative control of the finished product as well as their publishing rights.
While more than a few indie journalists delivered a premature epitaph claiming that Vetusta Morla sold out with the deal, they were too busy to pay attention. They holed up in Berlin's Hansa Studios with producer Carles Campi Campón, recorded an album, and returned to the road, playing summer festivals across Europe and Latin and North America. In November of 2017 they released Mismo Sitio, Distinto Lugar, their debut collaboration with Sony. Critics ate their words as fans responded by sending the set to number two during its first week of release (it reached the top spot at streaming). Vetusta Morla commenced touring behind it by selling out three consecutive nights at Palacio de Deportes in Madrid.
That tour lasted two years and eventually took them to North America and Germany at the end of 2019, and Spain in early 2020. In March, they had to cancel shows due to the virus. In May, Sony released MSDL: Canciones Dentro de Canciones, a Campón-produced, track-for-track remake of Mismo Sitio, Distinto Lugar in sequence. Issued on vinyl and streaming, the set employed more organic production framing radically different charts and instrumentation. The vinyl displayed an iconic fold-out cover by Spanish illustrator Gorka Olmo. The set's music registered with listeners. It entered the charts at number one, moving Vanity Fair Spain to crown the band, "the kings of emotional pop."
Unable to tour due to the pandemic, Vetusta Morla assembled a large group of artists to collaborate online, writing and recording a single whose proceeds would benefit — in perpetuity — the Higher Council for Scientific Research (CSIC), for its ongoing work on the SARS-CoV-2 that caused the coronavirus. Some of its participants included Alice Wonder, Andres Suarez, Sabina, Ivan Ferreiro, Santi Balmes, and Dani Martin (among a dozen others). Artists performed their verses backed by Vetusta Morla. Titled Los Abrazos Prohibidos ("The Secret Hugs"), the track was released digitally in May 2020, along with a black-and-white video that racked up millions of views in its first two months on YouTube. ~ Thom Jurek