Words And Sounds

March 06, 2006

Last week, our favorite blonde Argentinian chanteuse, Juana Molina, dropped into the big apple. We had plans to stroll the Bowery, sip espresso, and bask in her/our overall satisfaction with springtime. And then the snow hit. So we headed indoors for some light conversation on her new album, King Crimson heatrocks, and our insufficient knowledge of the Spanish language. Read away after the jump.

I was listening to the "Salvese Quien Pueda" remixes a few minutes ago, how’d that project come about?

Well the one I made I just made a mix of one of the versions I had from the song and also, at the end, I played it again as I play the live version now. But the other two were made by Kieren [Hebden of Four Tet] and I have no idea how he made them (laughs).

Did he approach you about the whole thing?

We didn’t talk to much. We’ve met a few times and someone told me that he wanted to make a remix, and I said ‘Ok,” and then he did it. But he never asked me one word about what he had to do.

So what’d you think when you finally heard it?

I was very surprised at the beginning because I could barely recognize some sounds from the song. Actually there’s a couple that he kept for his own set, and when I see him live and I hear my sounds, I say “Oh that’s mine!” I like it when that happens. But its this whole new thing he’s doing that’s very noisy and – how do you say when it doesn’t flow? I don’t know, it’s interesting. I’m just proud that he made that with my song and I like him very much. But I may be a little bit out of this new genre of electronic music.

Has this new album Son actually been released in Argentina yet?

“Son?” No it definitely doesn’t mean son.

Son, sorry.

No no no, good, that was definitely one of my concerns, that people would read son as a child, my son. Son is a Spanish word to say a piece of music that is pleasant to your ears, and it also means “to be,” from the very to be, it means “they are.” There’s a song called “Son” and the song talks about how things are, about family. But its not released yet, no.

This one sounds different from the other albums.

I think the main change came from the fact that I played a lot live and I make the sounds in a different way now. Because before I used to play the whole thing with a guitar and put things in there with the other instruments. And lately I’ve been recording loops live and adding things live, so there’s a lot of things happening at the same time. And I think the fact of not having other musicians to play everything that’s in the record made me focus on a new way of doing it and to try to preserve the spirit of the song. I also had many problems in several shows, like having a keyboard that didn’t work. So that day I started to sing everything the keyboard was supposed to do and every chord, all the keyboard sounds, with my vocals, and that day I started to sing like my keyboard played. And that day I discovered a new way of singing, emulating my keyboard. Then, for the record, instead of playing the sounds I just sang as if I was a keyboard.

Have you worked on any tracks that are all vocal and no instruments at all?

Like Bjork? No. I just had fun doing that. When I recorded the record, if I had an idea, I just recorded a vocal. And sometimes I replaced it with a keyboard, but if I liked the take, I just left it the way it was. Also, the intention – I think this record is more direct, and that also comes from my live tourings. When I got back home from a tour, I only had four or five days to rest before I had to be there again. So I came home and kind of emptied myself with something, I didn’t know what it was. And when I sat down and started to make the record, I realized that I had a lot of songs already. I almost didn’t do anything to them, because they were already there, with all these live ideas.

Do you think there’s a common theme on the album lyrically?

No not really. I think the theme’s in the music and then the lyrics. The lyrics - all of them are like a whole piece, from my first record to my last one. I am always talking about family, relationships and behaviors. I think that’s my whole theme in general, in different ways of course, but its not like I’m talking about everything.

It’s interesting how the majority of your audience when you’re touring doesn’t speak Spanish, and yet they really vibe off just the sounds of things and not the lyrics as much. Does it bother you at all that there’s twenty percent of the audience that is getting the whole experience and the rest don’t get the lyrics at all?

That’s the way I grew up with music. When I was a little girl, listening to the Beatles or King Crimson or Weather Report or whatever it was, it was in English. Well Weather Report didn’t have any lyrics, but I listened to lots of music and songs, very pop songs too, and I didn’t get the lyrics. So I think there’s something beyond lyrics that you can transmit. But the fact that American and English people are so spoiled by having everything written in their own language and also, from foreigners and other people trying to get it in English too, makes it difficult for you to listen to things you don’t understand. But for me its very natural, because that’s the way I grew up.

How old were you when you started singing and putting songs together?

I always wanted to do this but I just couldn’t sing in front of anyone, it was something I couldn’t do for a long, long time. So I got my TV show and I was a famous star in Argentina for being a comedian. But something inside apparently was very frustrated. So when I got pregnant, all these things that were already inside me came out and said ‘You have to stop doing this and do what you always wanted to do.’ And it was really really a very extremely hard process to go through. At the beginning I couldn’t play, all my first shows were awful. If you were a fan that had been following me for a long time, you would have been proud to have been there, watching that, because I was shaking, my fingers couldn’t play, I couldn’t sing, my throat was closed. And little by little I had to touch the bottom of a deep horrible something, I don’t know what it was. One day I had the most horrible experience live that anyone could ever have. I was at soundcheck and all these people were there, and I didn’t know anything technical, so I couldn’t tell the sound guy what was missing and what was wrong. And the sound guy was also very very bad, so it was a perfect combination of bad things. And then I realized that all these people that were there were the audience already. And when I knew that, it drove me crazy. I barely could sing, and I finally said to everyone, ‘Ok, I’m going to put on a record so you can leave and leave me alone.’ And they left and everybody was totally shocked. From that show I started to get better. But I had to get to a horrible point where I had to break a barrier that was too big and too tough to break.

I know when you started your music was kind of on its own in Argentina. Has a scene emerged there since for your style of songs?

Totally, yes.

Have you been interacting with a lot of these new artists?

There’s a very bad habit in Argentina. If you are successful outside your country then they start to think you might have something good. I started to have an audience growing up, where I could do a theatre of maybe 400 people. But at the time that David Byrne asked me to tour with him, everyone in the music press was like, “What? What?” So all of a sudden I was invited to play a very very big theatre in Argentina, and I said ‘No way, I’m not playing there, its going to be empty.” And they said, ‘Don’t worry, we’re going to make it happen.” I had to play two shows that night, and it was full of people. Sometimes people need to be told what to like. If its something that you can’t really classify or you can’t really recognize if its good or bad, you need someone who tells you ‘this is good, this is bad.’ And fortunately I had somebody telling them, ‘This is good.’

Do you ever get tired of every article starting with something about how you used to be an actress?

A little bit, but I can’t deny it either, because it happened. I just think it was taken as a good story for press.

Do people in Argentina still consider you mainly as an actress?

Oh yeah of course, most of them.

Is there a sentiment that you should still be acting instead of doing music?

Well the people that listen to really easy pop music and don’t have a clue about what’s going on with music in general in the world, besides what they listen to on the radio, they don’t even want to know that I’m doing in music. In the supermarket – ‘Juana Molina! I can’t believe! Oh its been so long! What are you doing now?’ ‘Well I’m doing some mus-‘ ‘Oh yeah but when are you going to do your characters again? Oh you were so good!’ They don’t even realize that its been fourteen years since I’ve done that. People are weird and they want me to be an actress. But hopefully there will be less and less. And there’s a lot of new audience that doesn’t care about what I did.

Or didn’t even know about it.

Yeah, the youngest, they are kids. So I’m happy with the way things are going.

Do you think its easier now for your songs to get exposure, as opposed to four or five years ago?

Yeah. I remember a friend of mine, the one that makes all the covers of my records, after Segundo was out for maybe two years, he said, ‘Do you see that? The music you do is becoming fashionable!’ And I said, ‘What are you talking about?’ He said, ‘You’ll see, now you are going to work!’ He said that and he was right. So maybe things need to be settled down and accepted by a certain amount of people and artists to be considered by the audience.

Do you see yourself as part of a bigger movement right now in music?

I feel like I’m on my own, but I also know that I can be put anywhere, because people find their own similarities with the artists they like. I can’t say no and I can’t say yes either. I also know that there’s something floating in the air and some artists take it at the same time. There’s a Urguaian musician called Eduardo Mateo, he was an amazing composer. In ‘71, at the same time Nick Drake put out his record, he put out his. And there are so many songs that are so alike, and I’m sure that neither of them knew about the other. Its something floating in the atmosphere, the combination of things that happen that some of us take. I can’t say no I don’t have anything to do with similar artists. But I think maybe it’s the spirit that’s alike, I don’t think it’s the music that’s alike.

Was it stuff like Nick Drake that motivated you to start writing?
This guy - Eduardo Mateo - he was very influential. My father bought that record and left it among the other ones and I used to play that record a lot, but I also used to play that Larks Tongue In Aspic by King Crimson. Which has nothing to do – it’s totally different music. I think influences wake up what you already have inside. I remember when I was a really little girl, I used to go to my grandma’s house. And she lived in the last floor, in the attic. And there were ten floors and I always was wishing the elevator was empty, because it had a drone, and I was singing along, like that (a vacuum cleaner goes on in the hallway, and Molina starts singing). And I was in the elevator and I remember myself being in another world. I was totally floating. And then when the elevator stopped, all of a sudden I was there again. I also remember one day going to my mother’s friend’s house, and they were listening to Indian music, and I was totally enchanted by the music, and I didn’t want to leave the house because of the music. Those kinds of dissonances and guitar picking have been my biggest influences.

Now that you have a pretty loyal fanbase that’s going to be open minded to what you do, is there anything you’ve been wanting to try for a while now but haven’t done so far?

I want to be a drummer.

So you think you’re going to want to make more rhythmic music the next time around?

I always wanted to make more rhythm music. But I play drums on the record, and I discovered cymbals and metal percussion things that weren’t even in my mind before. And I wish I could become a good drummer, I know how to work a little bit on it but I really like it. I wish I could have a more rhythmic record.

That’s gonna be tough for the one man act.

Well I could maybe have somebody else doing it.

Yeah have you wanted to collaborate with anyone specifically since your second record?

Sometimes from a record I like, or even a record I don’t really like, I can separate a line that one particular musician is playing. I just got a few tracks from the band Bonobo. I didn’t know about them, and they sent me a few tracks to ask me if I wanted to collaborate. And there’s a bass player, I wish it’s a bass player and not a sample. But now I want to work with him! It was something where I said, ‘Ah! I want to play with that guy, right now!’ And also there’s a lot of musicians - John McIntyre from Tortoise – I saw them live with Tom Ze in Los Angeles a few years ago. I loved that show. I remember I was following one of the lines from the band, and when I opened my eyes, it was always him playing that line. So when I go to Chicago, I go, ‘Oh hey, there’s John McIntyre, I would like to play with you, get together without rehearsing or anything.” That wasn’t the best thing to do, but you can work with anyone if you both like each other’s music. But then again, I don’t know too much about musicians because I don’t listen to much music.


Like when there’s too much light you are blinded, when there’s too much music you are...So I mostly live in silence. But I just discovered two bands, but they are both very old. One of them is Spirit, I think its from the 60’s or 70’s, and then a friend of mine also showed me Mort Carson, who’s the most insane musician I ever heard in a long time. I’m going to buy some records to know him better.

Compared to what your life was like as an actor, is this entirely satisfying for you, putting out records and touring on a regular basis?

Well I think the only way I can do that is on my own. I’ve already worked in big studios, I’ve worked with producers, I’ve worked with musicians. And little by little I’ve been pushing everyone away from me. Maybe a little bit like a painter, I feel. You don’t have people putting a little bit of ink here or paint there, you don’t have five or six painters doing a whole painting. So maybe that’s the way I’m doing it now. I sew alot – have you seen this? [holds up cover] This is a tapestry my grand aunt made, this is a painting of my sister and I. So I’ve been growing up with all these kinds of things and fabrics. So I think maybe one day, if I stop doing music, I’ll do these kinds of things.

Posted: March 06, 2006
Words And Sounds