In his own words. Pete Astudillo talks about his songs.
By Chito de la Torre
Artists walk up to Pete Astudillo and ask him, practically beg him, for a
song. They know that his words really are gold. And although Pete began as a
Tejano artist, it isn't just Tejanos that ask him for songs. Grupero,
conjunto, and international artists all line up with equal enthusiasm, first
complementing him on his writing style then invariabley asking for a song from
him. But in spite of that, Pete remains relatively humble. All he wants is
for people to accept him and his songs. And they have. This year alone, he's
won more awards than many artists will ever win in their lifetime. For
example, BMI awarded him with Songwriter of the Year, an honor he shared with
Juan Luis Guerra. And for this interview, I was able to talk to him backstage
at the Pura Vida Awards, minutes after he was awarded the Composer of the Year
award last June 4th.
DOES IT MAKE YOU HAPPY TO WIN ALL THESE AWARDS?
It feels really good because that's something that I'm really proud to say as
a writer, that I've been recognized, and I've been doing it for a very long
time with some very good people that help me and that I've been co-writing
with. So it feels really good to be recognized as a writer. Because writing
is as important as my performing.
SOME WOULD ARGUE THAT YOURE WRITING HAS EVEN OVERSHADOWED YOUR PERFORMANCES.
I think they're both important to me. The only problem is finding time to
send off all the stuff. To me, it's a double blessing. Of course when I get
old and grey, I can just dedicate myself to writing So I'm going to take
advantage of both as much as a I can. But I love doing both.
WHEN DID YOU REALIZE YOU WERE A WRITER?
I never did! (He laughs). I guess I didn't realy realize that I could write
until I started working with AB and I wrote one song and two songs and three
and four. And I said "maybe I can do that." I mean, I used to write little
poems when I was a little kid, and I used to write songs. That was something
that I used to do, but I did it more for myself.
WHAT KIND OF POEMS?
I wrote little poems. It was a way to express myself. A form of expression.
I wrote love poems. I was about 9 or 10, but I never thought I could make a
living out of it.
HOW DO YOU GET YOUR INSPIRATION?
All the songs that I've written are real. Eighty percent of the songs that
I've written with AB are real. They've happened to me or people that I know.
All the songs that I feel are about the way that I feel at the time, you know
if I'm happy, they're happy. A lot of peopls say, "well you must be a very
sad person. All your songs are sad." Not all of them. There are a couple of
happy ones, but I guess I write better, I express myself better in a sad way.
Not that I'm a sad and gloomy person. But I've written some songs for my
girlfriend. I get alot of my ideas from being with her. The song has to be
real for the people to accept it.
WHAT DO YOU THINK ABOUT ALL THE PEOPLE THAT ASK YOU FOR SONGS? I COUNTED
FIVE PEOPLE JUST TONIGHT THAT ASKED YOU FOR MATERIAL.
I got a lot of people asking me for songs, and it's a really good feeling.
When I started writing for Selena with AB, you know that's a really major
star . Now people like Liberacion, Fugitivos , Ramon Ayala ask me for songs
, and there're people that I'm going to give them stuff in the future.
DO YOUR WRITE DIFFERENTLY FOR DIFFERENT PEOPLE?
I write all the time. I'm always writing. If the song is good, it fits
anybody. Like Amor Prohibido, it was recorded in salsa, cumbia, it could be a
I could be walking around, driving around. I do a lot of writing in my car,
traveling. In my head, I put everything together in my head. I usually
don't write it down. I think if it's good, and if it's meant to be, I won't
forget it. If I forget it, it wasnt meant to be. I'll dabble writing stuff
down, but most of the time, I dont write things down. Eventually I do have to
write it down, but initially it's all done in my head.
WHAT ABOUT THE MUSIC?
AB (Quintanilla) takes care of that. I do lyrics. Well I do songs, and I
can do melodies and arrangements, but we collaborate. We read each other
really well. He knows where to go.
YOU'VE HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO BREAK IN TO THE INDUSTRY BY GETTING IN WITH Q
PRODUCTIONS, BUT NOT EVERYONE IS THAT LUCKY. WHAT CAN YOU TELL OTHER
COMPOSERS WHO WANT TO GET THEIR MUSIC RECORDED?
You have to work hard Do get exposed as much as you can and that's it. It's
not going to happen over night. I takes a lot of work. just be persistant.
THERE ARE MANY SONG WRITERS. WHAT PUTS YOU ABOVE THE REST?
I don't think that I'm above anybody else. I think that I've been fortunate
working with Selena, AB Quintanilla, Ricky Vela. They're tremedous people.
I dont think I'm above anybody. I just thank God that I have people asking
for my songs.
I think that I'm a smart writer I like to do it correct. I like to think of
new ideas. I like to think of new ways of expressing the same thing. Maybe
this is the way that I can do it. Like "Estupido Romantico." If you had told
me to write a song that said stupid, I'd say you're nuts But it's a way of
looking at it. You have to think of an angle. I like to try as hard as I can
to look at new ideas, new angles, new concepts that people haven't thought of
before, and that makes it really hard. If you go that extra mile, maybe
that's what makes a difference. Instead of slapping something together and
saying "here you go."
HOW LONG DOES IT TAKE YOU TO WRITE A SONG?
I could go from 30 minutes to 30 days. It varies You start working on it.
You put it away if it doesn't feel right. You come back to it and you forget
An example of something that happened fast was that song that AB and I put
together "Baila Esta Cumbia." It's a song that we put together like
immediately. It took us about about 20 -30 mintues. I'm talking about just
melody and lyrics. But if you got melody and lyrics, you got a song.
"Amor Prohibido" took me really long because sometimes you don't feel it.
You have to, you got to get on a vibe. If you don't got the vibe, it's not
happening. You can't force it. I'd rather just put it aside than slap it
together. It just vaires.
I call my songs my babies because they all have their own personalities. To
me, even if the song isn't great, to me their beautiful, like you say "only a
mother would love that child." And they're my babies. One of them may not
be as good as the other one, or be different, but to me they're all good
because they're all my babies.
--30-- (printed with permission)