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By Shea Serrano
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By Michael E. Miller
When Argentine artist Marcelo Lupis says his music is experimental, he means that in all senses of the term. Pop his first solo CD, Shhhh, into the player and out sprays a hyperactive but skillfully concocted array of jazz, classic, rock, and blues, all overlaid with Lupis's operatic scatting.
Even more startling than the wham-bam, doo-wop introduction, "El Primer Tema del Disco," is Lupis naming all of his music skills in one breath: "I sing, I sing lyrical opera, I play violin, marimba, saxophone, piano, bass, and drums, I produce, I record, I used to have a heavy-metal band, I played rock, performed in musicals."
If that's not enough to drive an uncomfortable wedge between Lupis and all of us cadet band drop-outs, then get this: The smattering of sounds on Shhhh, released on Lupis's own SCAT.WAV label, come from the many styles he picked up while contributing as a musician and sound mixer for some 30 other albums, as well as TV jingles, movie soundtracks, orchestras, and plays. Shhhh's theatrical tone might just bend your ear to the point of contortion, but that's part of Lupis's mission to develop music appreciation in areas where a listener -- himself included -- previously had none.
"I'm interested in things that I don't like," he explains enthusiastically over the phone. "I want to know why I don't like them, because that takes me to places I'd never have imagined possible."
Since, for example, Lupis says, he never really liked the opera, he figured that was reason to commit three years of study to the subject. The opera training, which he picked up along with studies in violin and guitar at Buenos Aires's Manuel de Falla Municipal Conservatory, helped him develop his lungs and project his voice. It also lent a theatrical touch to the harmonic pop crooning he emulated from the Beatles, not to mention the heavy metal he thrashed into head-first as a teenager. All of these styles were further solidified with studies in sound and recording technology at Argentina's National University of Lanús.
"I've listened to Revolver so many times that I'm pretty sure I could go into a studio and play and record the whole thing by heart," Lupis says. Not surprisingly, the song "Dejaría" reflects that later Lennon/McCartney psychedelic sing-song sound. But Lupis doesn't linger there too long. The track "Inmigrantes" do-si-dos to a South American hoedown before twirling into a classic tango, while "Dando Vueltas" delves into Uruguay's slave roots with some traditional candombe. "Ombligos" vacillates between modern pop, classic movie musicals, and hard-driving rock. But prominent throughout the album-turned-theater-musical is a loungy blues and jazz influence, most obvious on tunes such as "Caracol" and the English-language duet "Int's Lullaby," which also features vocalist Elconora Eubel.
In an era of so much musical fusion, it's difficult to simply refer to Lupis as "eclectic," but he says, "I try to make sure the songs have a personality, that the drive behind them always sounds like mine -- it has a Marcelo Lupis sound," he says proudly. Kinda makes you wanna smack him for being such a smarty-pants, but he's confident you'll keep listening even after you do.
"It's very pop. Once you hear the first song on the album, you're going to stick around," Lupis assures, which is why, he says, he hasn't bothered to pen any major record deals. "I don't want to wait around for two years with my music in the freezer," he explains. "Being independent ensures me artistic freedom on my time." However, he is in discussion with an international record company that would sign on as a coproducer, giving Lupis his desired freedom while assisting him with promotions.
Meanwhile he is already making inroads into the United States' growing Latin alternative scene. This past June 23 saw him performing at Univision and DirecTV's Premios sin Límite (Awards Without Limits) ceremony, and his East Coast tour has taken him through New York's high-profile alternative club the Knitting Factory. In addition to two South Florida concerts, at Churchill's and the Wallflower Gallery, Lupis will make an appearance at Miami's massive Festival Argentino. Given that trajectory, he's hardly concerned about how to market his rare eclecticism.
"I don't want to underestimate myself," he concludes, "nor do I want to underestimate my public."