Interview: Sergio Lara

Dan McAvinchey: Sergio, what were some of the things that influenced your musical tastes and led to your picking up the guitar?

Sergio Lara: From a very early age I was very intrigued by the guitar itself, by the
instrument. I remember opening a classical guitar case for the very first time
and smelling it and seeing the woods and the strings and getting very excited,
almost in a daze, so it was love at first sight, my first seduction. I loved the romantic sound and wanted to discover everything about it.

I listened to various forms of music on the radio and on records when I was a kid,
from Latin and flamenco music to rock and pop music and the guitar was what
I was always interested in - from the acoustic rhythms of flamenco, The
Beatles and Crosby, Stills & Nash to the distorted lead guitar solos of John
McLaughlin and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, Jimi Hendrix, Al Di Meola, Jim Croce,
Norman Blake, Jorge Strunz, Paco de Lucia, Tony Rice, you name it. I was trying
to listen to and discover every guitar music that I could possibly find.

So I started with a guitar instructor when I was about nine and he showed me
all the basic chords on a nylon string guitar. I also learned many of the fundamental Latin rhythms and some standard Latin folk and Spanish tunes. Of course soon after that I wanted an electric solidbody to plug in and play loud rock & roll and blues and then a steel string acoustic guitar to play American folk and bluegrass . But I was always more in love with the guitar than with the music itself.

My original interest was, and still is, the acoustic guitar, mainly the nylon
string but I also play the steel string acoustic. Later on I started playing around Mexico and the U.S., put my first band together, and played around clubs and festivals for many, many years. Also, before I met Joe Reyes and signed with Higher Octave Music, I had released three LP albums independently under my own name on my first small label - Supergrass Records. The first one was entitled "The New One" and the second one "Sergiology". Both of these were recorded in Mexico City. The third one, with the title "Fusion Acustica", was recorded in Nashville, TN.

Dan McAvinchey: How did you originally meet Joe Reyes and begin playing together?

Sergio Lara: I had moved from Nashville, TN to San Antonio, TX in 1987. After being in Nashville for a few years, where among other things, I recorded some demos of my original instrumental music, influenced by flamenco, jazz fusion and
bluegrass, that I later released under the title "Fusion Acustica"; so in San
Antonio I decided to do some radio with my new demos to promote myself.
One day I was invited to do an interview by a mutual friend that was a DJ at
San Antonio College radio station KSYM and she was the one that put us in
contact with each other.

Dan McAvinchey: How many albums did you release as a duo?

Sergio Lara: We recorded and released our first two CDs independently and we shopped for a label for about three years. After a few offers we decided to sign with Higher Octave Music and we sold them the first two CDs. So we released six CDs on that label.

Dan McAvinchey: Which one do you consider your favorite?

Sergio Lara: My favorite? Well, each one has a special meaning for me, but I
think our last one "World Jazz", which is the one that got the Latin Grammy
nomination for Best Instrumental Pop Album of the year 2001, shows a maturity in
the production and in the compositions, so that one would be a favorite
because it is what I consider our best work.

Our third CD, "Exotico", is another favorite, because of the music, and it
also reminds me of a time when we were working a lot, playing all the time on
tour and our band was very well rehearsed and hot.

Dan McAvinchey: What do you consider to be the main advantages and disadvantages of working with Highter Octave Music for twelve years?

Sergio Lara: We had a good contract, originally we signed for a four album deal, so the advantages in the early years of course were that we had good budgets for the albums and that included an advance on royalties, promotion on radio, ads in
major music magazines, a few shows with some of the other artists on the label
like Craig Chaquico and others; it also gave us the credibility to play in
many festivals and share the bill with many artists that I love, like Al Di
Meola, Bireli Lagrene, Strunz & Farah, Ray Charles, Larry Carlton and Stanley
Clark, to name a few. So for us, since we were more of a strong regional act but
practically unknown in the US and around the world, it was a very good deal.
Another advantage was, and still is, that we are included in over two dozen
New Age, New Flamenco, World Music, guitar samplers, and compillation CDs of
the label as well as many CDs from other lables around the world; this is of
course licensing of the songs. Another advantage was worldwide distribution and
promotional ads.

We always were our own producers and arrangers and we never had any direct
kind of pressure to record anything but whatever we decided was within the
concept of each album. So no problems there. After the four album deal ended, we
signed for another four albums.

The disadvantages are that we don't own our recorded music. We are the
composers but the master recordings of Lara & Reyes belong to Higher Octave Music, so they can do whatever they want with them. That is OK to a certain extent
because there is a chance of getting some more licensings of our songs, but
for any musician it's much better to own your own music 100%.

Unfortunately after the years passed, the label grew and signed many other
artists and then it was bought by Virgin Records, so many of the original
people that were working at the label that we used to deal with left and many
things changed in the relationship. Also, we had an exclusive contract with them so, as you know, you can't do any outside recording projects with anyone else while you are signed, even if months pass between CDs and the label is not ready for you to start a new recording. So there were times after promoting whatever the 'past CD' was that I would get anxious to work and record and do other things.

Dan McAvinchey: What were your feelings after being nominated for a Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Pop Album?

Sergio Lara: It is a big honor to be nominated for a Grammy Award, it is something that stays with you forever and it makes you realize that all your hard work, which is being recognized by the Recording Academy, is important and is worth

It also gives you credibility among your peers and within the industry, but
most importantly I think you learn that every new project needs to be just as
good or even better than the one before.

Dan McAvinchey: What led to your decision to become a solo act and start your own label, Fusion Acustica Music?

Sergio Lara: Many reasons. After being an exclusive artist for twelve years with Higher Octave Music and releasing six CDs with Lara & Reyes, it was time for a change. On my last six CDs I'd always been a partner, and I enjoyed the partnerships
but I realize I do like being the boss; I do like saying what goes. The biggest
difference is that I'm producing and doing it so there's less discussion,
obviously.I enjoy that process. I feel a lot more comfortable.

After the Latin Grammy nomination and after September 11, 2001, the economy
went downhill and instead of pushing with the marketing and the promotion of
the nominated CD, the label decided to wait longer before we started
recording a new project since we had two more albums to finish in our contract, so I
pushed and pushed for them to either let us get in the studio and start the
new record or release us from our contract and let us go and continue with
our careers.

So I talked to my lawyer and the label and we decided that the best for
both, the label and the artist was to end our recording contract.
At that time I felt the need to continue my career on my own, with my own
name and my band and do my own thing. I talked to a few labels after the record deal ended and I came to the conclusion that I don't want to go back to dealing with a record company or publisher, since I believe that they are prehistoric in their approach and like many musicians, I also feel that anything is better than the current structure, so the regular "usual" record deal is no longer attractive to me. Radio has
changed, labels are more interested in making money fast than developing an
artists' career.

So this way, I can produce and release as many CDs as I want a year and work
on different projects that I am interested in. Also, now I own my own music masters, which is a much preferred scenario for any musician. With my small company Fusion Acustica Music, I have people I can trust who really care about the music and spend time and attention to help market the CDs.

Dan McAvinchey: Tell us a little about your new CD, "Con La Lluvia".

Sergio Lara: This new album has some ideas and compositions that have been in my head for many years. The whole production was done in my own studio, "L. Studio", at home in Satelite City, Mexico, and took about a year to complete, from the time I started the preproduction until the final mix and mastering were done.
I play many different guitars; Spanish flamenco nylon string guitars and
acoustic steel string guitars, as well as the Roland GR-33 guitar synth with my
Godin Multiac SA nylon which I love, also acoustic and electric mandolins,
ukulele and assorted percussion.

I have a rhythm section that plays on the album with Charlie Honc on bass
and piano, Cesar Bravo on drums and percussion and a few guests like Lalo
Olivares on electric violin, my daughter Katia on electric mandolin and Alejandro
Junco on acoustic guitar.

The whole project is what I would call an acoustic fusion of Latin rhythms
and World Music influences like flamenco, jazz fusion, rhumba, and bluegrass
with lots of improvisation and strong melodies. I am really proud of it and I think it is what I consider my best work to date.

Dan McAvinchey: Do you use commercial recording facilities exclusively, or do you record in a project studio as well?

Sergio Lara: I have a home studio were I do all the preproduction and do most of the tracking with the guitars, mandolins, bass and some percussion, but I also use a commercial studio for some overdubs, mixing and mastering.

Dan McAvinchey: How do you typically compose your music?

Sergio Lara: Composing is mainly quiet time with guitar in hand, but some ideas would arrive to me suddenly out of the blue. Melodies are very important, so when a good one arrives you better be ready to save it somewhere to be able to develop it.

Composition is a process of collecting ideas and then what I do is catalog
them. I do this mostly in my head but there are so many ideas that fly through
(some are good and some are not so good) that I have to either tape them or
write them down. You pick and choose and then you chain these ideas together
in tempo and key. Then I arrange them until I have each one more or less

But my rule is that I can continue rearranging the melody until I record it,
I mean, preproduction and the arrangements are very important but with a
home studio you have the advantage to refine melodies until you are completely
satisfied, because sometimes in the studio while you are recording and there
is no pressure, magic happens and you might get inspired, your imagination
grows, and the whole melody might improve tremendously. So essencially the melodies are not completed until I record them.

Dan McAvinchey: Now that you are an independent artist, what do you consider the benefits and challanges?

Sergio Lara: No pressure! No partners! I mean, when you are in a partnership and with a label you have certain deadlines and other things like meetings, meetings, and more meetings, etc. When you are independent, you are the boss, and you have to learn how to stay focused to be able to achieve your goals.
It helped me to be with a label for that long period of time because I
learned many more things about the whole process of putting an album together,
from writing the tunes, arranging, producing, finding the right musicians for
the recording and for playing live, then the recording process, mixing,
preparing the whole concept of the art and the cover, and then the promotion,
interviews, marketing, etc.

Of course the big challenge is to make the right desicions, because as an
independent artist I have final saying on everything, but to me the music is
the most important part. I think that if you are satisfied with the recording and the whole production and you are true to your music and you act like a pro, have a well
rehearsed band and develop your musicianship studying and learning about all aspects of the business of being a professional musician, artist, producer, label
head and band leader, even if you never hit the Billboard charts, you can rest
assured that at some point you will see the light at the end of the tunnel.
Also, you have to find time to practice!

Dan McAvinchey: How are you approaching marketing, publicity and promotion for your new CD?

Sergio Lara: Right now I am doing as much radio, TV, interviews in magazines and the internet as I can. Also doing a few in-stores and showcases. I have major distribution and it is also available on line on my web site.

Dan McAvinchey: Are you getting opportunites to perform live?

Sergio Lara: Sure, right now the live performances are mainly promotional in support of the new CD. I also have an endorsement with Shure microphones and I have been doing a few clinics for them. But like I said I am doing a lot of radio and TV shows and there are some where besides the interview I bring a couple of musicians
and we play live.

We are planning a tour for the summer, but as you know things are very slow
right now and being on the road is getting more expensive each year. I am
also in talks with a new agent and I might be going on tour, sharing the bill
with a very popular established act. We will see.

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Dan McAvinchey: How would you counsel a young, aspiring artist hoping to make a splash playing original instrumental music?

Sergio Lara: There are many aspects of musicianship that need to be learned, from choosing the right guitar with the right strings and the right pick in the right style, to learning how to develop your style and how to market yourself.
Learning the instrument, learning different right hand techniques and exploring the fretboard is important and you will never finish learning, nobody will, but a career in music is way deeper than knowing tons of technique, millions of chords or fast playing.

I would say that originality is the key. It is OK to be influenced by all
your heroes and to learn all their licks and songs but if you want to get the
attention of the industry and be respected by your peers you have to bring
something new and original. A blend of your influences mixed with who you are as a person on this planet, where do you come from? What are your roots?
Well, that is a very tough question to answer. You have to look within
yourself and learn who you are as an artist.

The way I see it is that there are many guitarists that are attracted to
different styles like, for example, Latin rhythms, flamenco and Latin flavored
music and want to get into that style because they are influenced by those
cultures, but they are not necessarily from those cultures, so it can't have the
depth and it's going to sound superficial. Music is a cultural expression and it does have roots that are important and so it's not going to sound like the real thing. I am not against players exploring music from other cultures, but most of the guitar music that I hear on the radio that has a Flamenco or Latin flavor, sounds very superficial to me.

Having said that, there are still some great guitarists out there pushing
the envelope and contributing to instrumental guitar music in a very deep way,
so I think that the real artists will keep releasing great new projects in
the future and the other ones will just get on whatever the new fad is.
Some of the best advice that I got many years ago as a young player was by
my dear friend, the great mandolinist Sam Bush who told me, "Find your style
and stick with it.".

Of course besides the music, there is another very important part of your
musicianship, which is to learn how to market yourself. It all starts with acting professional, being on time, learning your parts. Learn to ask for advice when you need it from players that have more experience than you. If you want to be a recording artist and want to get a record deal, find a good lawyer that is a fan of your music, work hard and don't let your musical dream die.

Dan McAvinchey: What does the future hold for Sergio Lara?

Sergio Lara: I just finished a new CD of traditional Mexican and American folk tunes played entirely by myself on guitars and mandolins with the title of "Entre
Guitarras y Mandolinas" which means "Among Guitars & Mandolins". It will be
available on my web site ( in a few

My main project this year is to release the "Sergio Lara Live Concert DVD".
I will continue with the promotion of the new CD "Con La Lluvia" and there
will be a few concerts that we will record and film for the DVD. I hope that
it will be ready and available for the summer 2004. I play and work every day and I already have about eight new ideas that are almost finished for an upcoming CD.
There are a couple of artists that I will be producing for my label and all
the latest news, dates and projects can be checked on line on my web site.

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For over 20 years, guitarist Sergio Lara has been respected and considered as one of the best artists in acoustic contemporary instrumental music. His last recording with the well known Latin guitar duo Lara & Reyes, "World Jazz", received a Latin Grammy Award nomination for Best Instrumental Pop Album in 2001. His music belongs to what is known as Latin Jazz and Flamenco Jazz, which falls under the category of Contemporary Instrumental Music and World Music. Lara is now reinventing himself again as a solo act, he's starting his own label, and is releasing a couple of new CDs.

Dan McAvinchey asked Lara about his early years, his twelve years with Higher Octave, and his current and future projects.