Draco Rosa on Vida, Cancer, Success: "I'm Doing the Best With What's Been Given to Me"

Draco Rosa was born to make music.

The former Menudo idol grew up listening to a mix of classic rock tunes from the Beatles and Led Zeppelin and the fast-paced descargas of salsa. And for over two decades now, the Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning singer, artist, writer, and producer has been pursuing his passion.

After two years of battling cancer and working on his latest album, Vida, Rosa is finally back in action, cancer-free, touring the Americas, and bringing his rock ballads and Latin beats to the Fillmore Miami Beach this Saturday.

Crossfade spoke with el cantante who revealed how he discovered his musical passion, how music helped him cope with cancer, and how he's lived his life as a vagabundo.

See also: Draco Rosa on His Latest Album, Vida: "It's Like a Celebration Of Life"

Crossfade: Where are you calling from?

Draco Rosa: I'm talking to you from a little cafe in Los Angeles called Froma. It's so good. If you're ever in L.A., you need to try it.

So your new album, Vida, it's pretty much a mix of your greatest hits. It was recorded two years ago after you were diagnosed with cancer. Would you say the album is a celebration of life?

It definitely is... It was suggested we would consider doing this album because there was so much uncertainty as to where I would be right now, either dead or alive. The album was initially about that, so it's essentially about a celebration of life.

This is your first tour since you beat cancer. How does it feel to be able to do what it is you love again?

Oh, incredible. There's nothing more beautiful than spending a night with fans at the gigs I just love it. We've just only started, but I'm very excited to be back on stage, keeping it eclectic, keeping it melodic, with a little bit of darkness.

Are you excited about coming to Miami?

Oh, in a big way. I'm excited about going to the Fillmore. The last time I played in Miami, it was a two-day sold out show at a restaurant. Now, it's a whole theater. It's a whole 'nother level.

You grew up listening to rock from the Beatles, Led Zeppelin, and '70s funk with your mother and salsa with your father. It looks like music was pretty influential in your life.

Definitely. I think starting out my life that way early on was influential. When I first started making music, it was confusing how to market and sell what we were doing. Folks were always confused. 'Does he do rock? Ballads? I don't get it.' It's real confusing, but for me it's the way I grew up.

How was it working with Ricky Martin and the rest of the Menudo crew back in the day?

It was a long time ago! I'm sure at the time, it was awesome. It was a lot of fun and like all things, we moved on. It's hard to remember all those years, but I have a lot of footage and it looks like I was having a real good time.

You left Menudo in 1987 because you wanted to write songs. What made you realize that writing was more of your thing than just performing?

The fact that I was growing up. At some point, maybe at 17, I was reading a lot of poems and thought I was going to write and sing, hopefully write beautiful things. There's still a long way to go, but the idea was trying to get something beautiful on paper and recordings. I'm sorry I'm being so rude, but I'm eating this delicious gluten-free cookie. It's so good. I wish I could give you half.

No worries. Enjoy it. So after you left the group, you went on to pursue a solo career in Brazil and released two Portuguese albums. You must have done a lot of soul searching there. What did you discover about yourself?

I think I discovered, at the point, I'm gonna pursue my passion, which was trying to get the grasp of the production, the songwriting, and the playing on these records. I went first with [my former band] Maggie's Dream. That was exciting at the moment, but I still felt tied down with what the perception of what music should be. And then I went off to pursue what I wanted to do. I learned to try to pursue my dreams. Life is weird. It hits you hard and it's scary out there. And once in a while you have a win, but it's still scary, you know? You just handle it better. I'm a little older, a little wiser now.

You also had a short-lived film career. How did that go?

It was great. It was exciting, I was young, but it wasn't engaging for me, because I wasn't making something. I did Salsa: The Documentary and another, but I was bored. I was too young. I've come to appreciate it now that I am older. The pay is good, but other than that, I didn't know it was gonna be fulfilling for me, because you're always playing someone else and not living your own life.

The idea of music is you can walk into a room with nothing and walk out with something. I think I found that satisfaction there. It's been very exciting to experiment. I love having the freedom of making record and going on stage, and the jamming that goes on. It's rare we just follow what's on the setlist. One song might last 15 minutes because we start jamming within the beat itself. If you're the kind of person that goes [to a concert] for just one song, one hit, you're not gonna leave satisfied. But if you're into music, then you've come to the right place.

Speaking of one-hit wonders, do you think radio has kinda taken over?

Radio is one world, and then there's another reality. If you sit in on the mainstream, your reality is in that cocoon. The same goes the other way around. I don't think one is better than the other. We're somewhere in the middle -- there's a mainstream appeal, apparently, and we do what we wanna do most of the time. Most people are just not informed about certain things, so the mainstream is easy, but at the same time, beautiful things happen in little niches that add beauty to your soul.

In 1993, you released your first big Spanish album, Frío, with Sony Records. Would you consider that the breaking point of your career?

The good thing is I am a roble, you know? Whatever it is that's happening, I think it's been over time. I don't know what that is, if I've ever come across the breaking point.

Your second album, Vagabundo won you many awards including Spin Magazine's 1997 Top Ten list of "greatest rock en español records of all time" and made it on Entertainment Weekly's It List of the 100 most creative people in the entertainment industry. What do you think made Vagabundo so successful?

I don't know because the reality is that, early on, the album wasn't successful. The record label didn't support it, but it's become somewhat of a cult classic, which is awesome. I'm astounded by what the album represents to people. When I made it I was in many of my existential crises. I didn't know it was gonna become such a great piece. It's one of those things that are beyond my imagination.

Tell me about Phantom Vox Studios. What made you want to start your own multi-media recording studio?

I didn't know what I was doing, frankly. I still don't know. But back in the day, I wanted to play and rehearse and have a place to have a good time. The place is awesome. I am very proud of it. I'm actually here right now. Do you have Facetime? Sorry, went on a limb there.

[Laughs] That's ok. So you've used different pseudonyms for some of the songs you've written, like Ian Blake and Dolores del Infante. What's up with the mystery?

Listen, that was in my earlier years. I'm just trying to clean house and keep it to Draco Rosa. I was writing all the time and did that out of fear of failure. I'm comfortable now in knowing that I can go for it. I'm not as confused as I used to be.

Music aside, you're a pretty savvy business man. You've created your own line of rum, Ron Vagabundo, clothing, Vagabundo Clothing, among other investments. Do the names have any connection with the album that introduced to the world of music at large?

I think the correlation is that when I left home, I was 12 years old. I had two uncles, one ex-military and the other a business man. I stayed with them and never ended up coming home. I spent time moving from one place to another and lost all the Menudo money and I think the whole theme of Vagabundo was the lifestyle. Even when I was married, I spent all my money recklessly. I was a vagabundo with a little bit of estilo until the money ran out.

Writing award-winning music, touring, you're kinda living the dream.

Yeah, I would say I'm doing the best with what's been given to me and I've tried to offer it in its purest. There are also a handful of great people around me. Till this day my mentors, sort of godfathers, most of what I am and what I'm about, I have to give thanks to them. I would like to tell you that I am awesome, but I'm not. I am an extension of these people.

Draco Rosa. Saturday, October 26. Fillmore Miami Beach, 1700 Washington Ave., Miami Beach. The show starts at 8 p.m. and tickets cost $43.50 to $93.50 plus fees via livenation.com. All ages. Call 305-673-7300 or visit fillmoremb.com.

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