La Ley Lay Down The Latin-Rock Law

Increasingly popular Chilean rock band, nominated for four Latin Grammys, envisions global career.

ANAHEIM, Calif.Alberto Cuevas has a "hunch." The singer for La Ley, the Chilean trio who recently picked up four Latin Grammy nominations, envisions a breakthrough for rock en español.

"What's happening now with Latin rock, I believe rock 'n' roll doesn't belong anymore to the Americans or the English," Cuevas said backstage recently at the Arrowhead Pond of Anaheim, where La Ley had just finished playing to a screaming young crowd of 16,000 at the all-star Reventón Super Estrella.

"I think rock 'n' roll is a global expression," Cuevas continued. "You see good rock 'n' roll in Chile, Argentina, in India, everywhere.

"And I think something is about to happen with rock 'n' roll, because we actually have a history in rock. We have a lot of groups that are no longer here, but they really left a legacy. And we kind of absorbed the education."

La Ley (whose name means "the law") are one of the more intriguing rock en español bands, and certainly among the more successful. The trio of Cuevas (better-known as Beto), guitarist Pedro Frugone and drummer Mauricio Clavería are headlining a free concert Saturday that also features Los Amigos Invisibles and Illya Kuryaki at SummerStage in New York's Central Park, the kickoff event for next week's first Latin Alternative Music Conference. And Cuevas will appear Tuesday in a songwriters' showcase at Manhattan's Irving Plaza, also as part of the LAMC. (Sonicnet.com is a SummerStage sponsor.)

The musicians have earned the spotlight. For awhile, in guitarist Frugone's words, "we're always going to be 'the Chilean band La Ley,' " they have become "a band of the world." Formed as a quintet in Santiago in 1988, La Ley have made many changes throughout the years, most dramatically after the death of founding guitarist Andres Bobe in a 1994 motorcycle accident.

'Aqui' To Stay

Now based primarily in Mexico City — Frugone also has a residence in Los Angeles, and Cuevas and his family have a home in Chile— La Ley topped the Mexican pop chart with their new album, Uno (Warner Latina), and the singles "Aqui" (Here) (RealAudio excerpt), "Tierra" (Land, touching on their connection to now-distant Chile) (RealAudio excerpt) and the current "Fuera de Mi" (Beyond Me) (RealAudio excerpt).

In the United States, where the success of rock en español isn't so easy to grasp, Uno has been at #1 on the CMJ Ñ Alternative chart. In Southern California, the hotbed for rock en español bands, La Ley jammed the telephone lines for an in-studio appearance at KSSE, the "Radio Super Estella" station that sponsored Reventón, and fans once had to wait up to three hours to see them at an in-store promotion.

And here at the Pond, the mere sight of the band prompted a teen frenzy, with fans shouting, "We love you!"

"That sort of thing's never happened before," said Allison Winkler, longtime director of Latin events for the promoter, Nederlander Concerts. (Now an agent for the Creative Artists Agency, Winkler will participate in the LAMC next week.)

"Maybe they saw you in Seventeen," publicist Diana Baron told the band.

The La Ley write-up in the August issue of Seventeen magazine compared them to contemporary rockers Bush, but their romantic, dramatic, even cosmic style seems to owe more to an earlier era.

For example, when naming his guitarist influences, Frugone lists the usual suspects — Paco de Lucia, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page — and then singles out a less familiar figure, Warren Cuccurullo: "He nows plays with Duran Duran," Frugone said, "but he used to play with Missing Persons."

Past And Present

La Ley's '80s-rock orientation is prominent, especially in concert, where they could be seen as a more serious, thoughtful version of Duran Duran. And during "Aqui," Cuevas even interjects a shout taken straight from the long-forgotten Big Country.

Tellingly, Cuevas co-wrote "Aqui" with another '80s icon, dance star Aldo Nova, who also co-produced Uno. Nova was playing some tape loops for Cuevas when the two were in Montreal, where Cuevas had lived for 11 years when he was growing up. (La Ley albums consistently include some lyrics in English and in French.)

"He had two chords, and then I started with the sentence, Na na ni na, na na ni na. Then I went na na, na na na na. And then Aldo Nova said, 'That sounds like right here.' 'Yeah, it actually sounds good, right here, but it could be in Spanish: aqui," Cuevas recalled.

"And then from that word, aqui, which means 'here,' I wrote a song that talks about the importance of the present. You know, we usually drag things from the past or are preoccupied about things that belong to the future, and we forget about things in the present. About breathing and thanking maybe God or whoever.

"And that's what it talks about, the real things now, right here."