In Los Angeles, singer Beto Cuevas enjoys a degree of anonymity unthinkable in his native Chile or anywhere else in Latin America.
Outside the U.S., Cuevas is a major music star thanks to his 17 years as the frontman of one of the most well-known alternative rock bands in Spanish, La Ley (The Law).
“I fell in love with L.A. from the first time I went there with La Ley in 1993,” says Cuevas by phone from Mexico City before catching a plane to head back to California, where he’s lived since 2002. He plays Friday night at Staples Center as part of the Reventón Súper Estrella , a show that also features Café Tacuba, Los Enanitos Verdes and Hombres G.
“For some reason, I always had something like a fixation with L.A.,” adds the 44-year-old father of two. “Because of the industry that’s there and because it’s also close to Mexico, where a lot of my activities take place.”
Mexico was always one of La Ley’s strongest markets, and it continues to be so for Cuevas. In July, for example, he signed on as a coach for the second season of the Mexican version of “The Voice,” “La Voz … México” on the Televisa network.
When La Ley disbanded in 2005, the former members of the trio, which also included drummer Mauricio Clavería, and guitar player Pedro Frugone, went their separate ways. Cuevas then embarked on a solo career and in 2008 released the album “Miedo Escénico” (Stage Fright). The singer-songwriter also turned to acting, appearing in the movies “La Mujer de Mi Hermano” (My Brother’s Wife) in 2005 and “Borderland” in 2007.
For almost two years, Cuevas worked on tracks for his long-awaited second album as a solo artist, “Transformación,” recorded in Los Angeles and scheduled for an international release by Warner Music Latina on Sept. 25.
The first single, “Quiero Creer” (I Want to Believe), is more radio-friendly than previous La Ley fare, more pop-sounding, with some electronica and even a rap from Flo Rida. Cuevas has duets with several other artists, and co-wrote with his son Diego and with Sharon Stone (yes, that Sharon Stone). But Cuevas’ dreamy sound is all there thanks to a mellifluous, lush voice that is unmistakable. The video for the second single, “Goodbye,” was just shot in Malibu.
“I think Beto’s last record [Miedo Escénico] was a transitional record, a record that he needed to make at the moment. With this new one, he should be able to take his next step as a solo artist,” says Tomas Cookman, a music industry veteran in Los Angeles who managed La Ley during the time the band released two of the albums that consolidated it internationally, “La Ley MTV Unplugged” in 2001 and “Libertad” in 2003.
“Transformación” features songs produced by Detroit’s Jared Lee Gosselin , who has previously worked with Macy Gray and DMC from Run DMC.
“I love, with a big L, African American culture,” says Cuevas. “Their history, the struggle, the music. How instrumental they were in the birth of musical styles such asrock ‘n’ roll. I believe in mixing genres because that’s the only way to keep the energy flowing and eventually coming up with something new.”
Something new is precisely what Luis Alberto “Beto” Cuevas Olmedo contributed to the rock scene in Spanish when he joined La Ley in 1988 after being invited by band member Clavería. Andrés Bobe and Rodrigo Aboitiz initially founded the group. In 1994, Bobe died in a motorcycle accident. Then Aboitiz and bassist Luciano Rojas left, and Cuevas rose to center stage.
Tall and lanky, Cuevas brought a new, more glamorous sensibility to the group and to the usually macho world of rock in Spanish. He sometimes wore eyeliner and painted his nails. This, of course, turned him into an object of derision for many.
“Rock ‘n’ roll in Chile in the beginning, in the times when La Ley started, did not have a connection with the image,” says Cuevas. “For some reason, if you were a rocker you had to look dirty. You had to have long hair, you had to wear a lot of leather. We were attacked by the press and the critics. They attacked us basically by saying that this is an image band, this is not a real band, this is not real music.”
Even when La Ley came out with “Invisible” in 1995, an album Cuevas considers a milestone for the group, reviewers pilloried them.
“Beto has always been very avant-garde,” says Dániza Tobar, a Miami-based Chilean music journalist who grew up listening to La Ley and has covered the music industry for two decades.
“The spirit of La Ley really came into being when Beto arrived,” Tobar says. “Towards the end of the 1980s, we were coming out of the Pinochet regime, and there was this whole protest movement taking place. La Ley emerged with something different, more sublime, strong but ethereal. Beto added all that … and this shocked some people.”
Cuevas isn’t out to shock as much as he is to add a new facet to his career with “Transformación.”
“The title may suggest a transformation of appearance or of the sound, and even though there is a little bit of that, I think that it’s something much more profound,” he says.
“Those who don’t know who I am, I just want them to know me as a new artist, doing his best to express himself in a truthful way, with a lot of passion and good intentions.”