Juan Pablo Vega’s credits as a composer, arranger, producer and singer are impressive and he’s well on his way to becoming one of the great performers of his generation. Mastering guitar and other instruments as a teenager, Vega came to the attention of producer Julio Reyes Copello in 2008, who brought Vega to Miami to make an album. Since then, Vega has revolutionized the Latin American Alternative pop scene with a dynamic style that's all his own but has its roots in all styles of music-- from Slash to the Beatles to great Argentine artists like Seru Girán, Fito Páez and Charly García. Vega's new album, Nada Personal, was also produced by Copello and is sure to be a GRAMMY favorite in 2015. The Bogota, Colombia native spoke with Epiphone about his life, his music, and his ever-present Epiphone ES-295.
You’ve been an Epiphone fan for a long time. Tell us about your guitars.
Two of my favorite guitars that I travel with, play live, and record with, are my Les Paul Studio and my Epiphone ES-295
How did you get your ES-295?
This guitar has an amazing story. I have to admit that part of the relationship between the guitar player and their guitar is that there is an aesthetic aspect that obviously compliments the sound one is looking for. When I first saw it, I was listening to a lot of jazz, blues and rockabilly. I saw it in a store in Bogota, and it was love at first sight. I felt it was unique. I loved the body and the sound. Aesthetically, it’s very beautiful--the color, the adornments, the pickguard, the sound, and obviously the Bigsby. For me, it is the prettiest of all the styles of guitar that have tremolo. In some songs, I can play open chords and with certain movements to the Bigsby create very beautiful notes. It has a spring system that allows you to play with a combinations of sounds that are very hard to find with other guitars. It gives me color and a special touch to the chords. It’s one of the guitars I use the most when playing live because it’s very versatile. In one song in particular, “Now You Are Leaving Me,” it has become the perfect compliment.
It’s also a model with a great history.
Yes, after I bought it, I started doing some research and found some beautiful stories about this guitar. For example, it’s a reproduction of Scotty Moore’s ES-295 guitar, the one he played with Elvis Presley. He recorded many of Elvis’ songs with that guitar, it’s part of rock history that goes way back to the time when Elvis recorded with Sun Records. Scotty was one of the most respected guitar players of that era. He had a special sound and technique.
It’s a very versatile guitar, too.
Yes, too much. Let’s forget about its history for a second--which is no easy task, If we talk about its sound, it is very versatile. You can have high tones, medium tones, and low tones. The sound of the guitar just surrounds you. Its body is big and the archtop style gives it a very particular tone. The P-90 pickups are very warm and for that reason, you are able to create jazz, blues and rockabilly with precision. Besides, I also feel its unique because it’s not currently available in the Epiphone catalogue.
How does the Epiphone ES-295 compare to Gibson archtops?
Well, I’ve played the Gibson 335, which is a complete machine with incredible sounds--tone, sustain, stability, security. But they tend to be heavier. The Epiphones have a lot of magic. It’s no accident that models like the Casino, the Sheraton, and the Joe Pass have such history and can be heard on so many recordings. So many guitarists have made great music with Epiphones-- John Lennon, Noel Gallagher, Keith Richards, and newer guitar players such as Ezra Koenig from Vampire Weekend, Gary Clark Jr
. and Nick Valensi from The Strokes. And all of them have used a hollowbody or a semi-hollow Epiphone.
What acoustic guitars are you using now?
Lately, I’ve spent a lot of time using a 12-string. It’s a good exercise to spend time with them. And I’ve also been really impressed by the Epiphone Masterbilt.
Julio Reyes, my mentor, friend and producer of many hit records, has one in his studio and it’s amazing. It has special tones, it’s comfortable and it inspires a lot of possibilities. When it comes to acoustics, the body makes no difference. To me, the size doesn’t really matter if it’s jumbo or small. I believe each acoustic has its magic and that Masterbilt that Julio has inspired a lot of songs. It really stands out.
You’ve written with artist from many different genres--Marc Anthony, Alejandro Fernandez, Kany Garcia and Alejandro Sanz. What is your writing method?
Very messy (laughs). In my case, there is no method or formula. I riff off a groove, some lyrics, a title, or even a very generic idea. After it flows I just keep writing. There isn’t a particular moment. That’s why I try to always be near a piano or a guitar. I record melodies on my cell phone and I am thinking about it constantly as ideas come to mind. However, sometimes those ideas don’t come to fruition. And when I talk about messy, I talk about a creative mess. When an idea comes, I feel the need to work on it immediately. Just to give you an example, the song “Despedida” was born from an idea of a basic idea. I like The Beatles and in that moment, I was thinking of the words to “Hello Goodbye”:
You say yes, I say no
You say stop but I say go, go, go
And from there, the initial idea for “Despedida” came. That creative rush made me sit down at the drums, which is one my favorite instruments, and then work on the line that was dancing around in my head, and then finally I went to the guitar, the wind instruments etc. That creative “mess” helps and I believe it’s part of our personality and style.