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Interview: Louie Perez of Los Lobos

Los Lobos multi-instrumentalist Louie Perez is at a crossroads in his life. Though he enjoys those two hours on stage, he misses his home life as well.

"When you're up on stage, you realize, 'This is what I was put on this earth to do,'" said Perez, who handles drums, guitars and some vocals. "But it's the other 22 hours that beats the daylights out of you. After doing it for so long, it's starting to hurt. I'm not a kid anymore."

But, Perez said, he could look at his almost 40-year career two different ways.

"At this point in my life, I'm almost unemployable because there's only one thing I know how to do," Perez said in an interview with SoundSpike. "At the same time, I'm thinking, 'Boy, is there life after rock and roll?' At this point in my life, I'm looking at the sands of time falling through the hour glass. I stare at that mountain bike in the garage and I tell myself, 'I'm going to get on it tomorrow.' I look at the calendar and I've been saying that for five years.

"It's a struggle to try to really kind of look at what I want to do and what I need to do. It's an interesting time in my life. I don't stand alone. There's nothing special about what I do, really, when it comes down to the larger scheme of things. I'm just very fortunate to have one of the best jobs in the world. We get to travel the world with our best friends playing music. How good is that?"

Perez, whose band is still pushing its 2006 release, "The Town and The City," talked to SoundSpike about his upcoming acoustic dates with Los Lobos singer/guitarist David Hidalgo, missing home and working with Disney.

SoundSpike: A handful of your upcoming shows are acoustic dates with you and David Hidalgo. How did that come about?

Louis Perez: It's becoming almost an annual event. We started it a few years ago as a one-off thing because we wanted to do it. It was really great. We didn't do it for awhile, but this is probably our second year in a row now. We do it in the early part of the year. We do a run. It's not a whole national run. We'll do a good number of dates in February. Then we'll pick another territory and do that another time later in the year. It's a really great, great show. You have to rethink everything. It's not like playing the rock show.

How much time do you take to rehearse the acoustic show?

Well, like most bands, that's the "R" word. Rehearsal means you have to pry us away from our homes because we're working so much. It's hard to get us into rehearsal. When we first did the show, it probably took us a couple weeks [of rehearsal]. About one week of intense stuff that the band rehearses. Now, we go back and we rehearse for about four or five days, especially because we try to juice up the show every time--revitalize it with new songs. That requires a little bit of work. It's great. We started off as a rock band, but we spent a good 10 years playing regional Mexican music. From about 1973 to about 1980, that's when we made our way back to rock and roll.

Do you do regional Mexican music at the acoustic performances?

It's in three sections. The majority of it is Mexican folkloric music from different regions of Mexico. Then there's an intermission. We come back and do another 15-20 minutes of that. We finish up the show with Los Lobos songs, unplugged if you will. The show's two hours long. It's cool. A lot of work, but really, really gratifying.

I was looking at your tour itinerary and it looks like you have most of January off. What do you have planned for the month?

Theoretically, yes, on paper, as far as touring. But we have a lot of work to do. We're starting a children's record for Disney. That's going to be fun. We just left Hollywood Records, whose parent company is Disney. To fulfill our last obligation to them, we came up with this idea to do a children's record, which we wanted to do for a long, long time. Together with the A&R people at Disney, we came up with the idea to do a kids' record of all Disney movie songs, which should be fun. Songs, like, from "101 Dalmatians," "Lady and the Tramp," done our way. We're going to do our own thing to it. We start that in about the third week of January because we desperately need some time off. We get home on Sunday [Dec. 16], but then we get home right in the eye of the holiday storm. We won't be getting any real rest until after the first of the year actually. We've been gone for so long on this trip.

When did the tour begin?

We started this tour in late October and we're just finishing up this Sunday [Dec. 16]. We'll be doing the children's album in January through February. David and I are doing a songwriters' show--just the two of us. We came up with this idea a few months back. We're always giving us more stuff to do all the time. Not that I regret it. I think we knew that it was going to be real busy. But Dave and I wanted to do it for a long time. We kind of pitched this idea to our booking agent. He had this incredible response, and we just had to pick and choose what [shows] we're going to do. We're doing four shows in California, one in Colorado, one in New Mexico and one in Tucson [AZ] and one in Flagstaff [AZ]. Four shows in January and four shows in April. David and I with a couple guitars, just stripping the songs way down to just their essence. In a way, it's to celebrate--man, it's a scary thought--almost 40 years of writing songs together. So it'll be fun. We're going to do a Q&A after the show. Hopefully, we'll be able to keep everyone in their seats. We'll allow them to come up to the mic that will be set up at the base of the aisle by the stage and ask some questions. Believe me, it will not be academic in any way. But it'll be a hoot.

What other plans do you have in the pipeline?

We're wrapping up for the release of a DVD. We performed all of our record "Kiko" in its entirety a little over a year ago. It was filmed for DVD with a documentary that goes along with it. It's a really, really cool package. It's finally going to be released in the spring. We're going to do some touring to support that by taking that show where we play the record in its entirety around the country. There's always something to do.

Have you started thinking about a new album?

We're talking about it. If we get to the studio, it'll be in the fall--if it happens. I need a break. Right now, I'm laying in bed with the covers on. The prospect of going back home and doing a whole bunch of touring next year is daunting. We have got "Kiko" then we have a co-bill with Los Lonely Boys in the summer, which will probably be two months. The prospect of writing another record is just so daunting to me right now. For me, right now, it's just getting me from point A to point B. Once we get to point B, everything will be cool. Right now, it's just hard to even fathom any kind of work. I just want to get home to my wife, my dogs, my fish, my kids--not in that order. I put it in that order because my boys are out of the house now. One's out of college. One's in his last year of college and my youngest just started in August. Everybody's out of my house. I want to spend some time when my wife, and I can sit across the table and have a meal that's uninterrupted.

In September of 2006, you released "The Town and The City." How did you decide on that title?

Interestingly enough, I ripped that title from the first novel that Jack Kerouac wrote. He started it in his late '40s and finished it around 1950. I always loved that title.As this record started to take shape, when Dave and I wrote about two or three songs, it started to reveal itself. The record was taking on almost a linear sort of story, trajectory. We just kind of went with it. It became a story that has a beginning, a middle and an end. That story was about coming to a new place, being absorbed by that place, with all of the ups and downs, and finally finding yourself coming back home again. The record begins with "The Valley," which is kind of the arrival. The middle is the "City" and it ends with "The Town." There's no real protagonist. But, if you can imagine, the story is about a person finally making their way back to where they started, but completely renewed and tempered by the experience. Then, about a third of the way, I realized this record was really about coming from the small place to the big place and all the changes, and all of the experiences you go through. A lot of the press perceived it as a record that was about immigration. I said, "Hey I've been writing about immigration since the first record in 1983." It's a part of my life and that makes its way into songs all the time. There's no denial that the record is about that. But I think people can translate this experience into their own lives. For me, it's always leaving and coming back. Spending a lot of time away, and trying to reintroduce yourself back into [home life]. It's like living these two parallel lives and, somehow, the switch is always being flipped from one to the other. I feel like a migrant worker, who goes out there and works and is just looking forward to going back home and pulling that tattered photograph out of your wallet and just wishing you were there with the people that you love.

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