04 JunComposer Interview: Juana Molina
Also posted on Urban Modes
I have been a huge fan of Juana Molina ever since I first heard her on WNYC’s Radiolab Podcast in May 2009. I was drawn to her beautiful melodies, compelling rhythms, and endearing musical quirkiness.
One thing leads to another, and I now find myself performing with her this summer as part of ETHEL FAIR: The Songwriters — an exciting evening of musical collaborations that will kick of this year’s Lincoln Center Out of Doors Festival on July 28 at 7:30.
I’ll be arranging a couple of her songs specifically for this event, so I sent her a few questions just to get to know her a little. We’ll be working together (mostly by Skype) over the next few weeks.
Dufallo: Can you name some of your musical influences?
Molina: As a young girl I was particularly attracted to drones. The first one I remember was in the elevator at my grand mum’s. When she sent me to get something at the market I always, always, always hoped there was no one in the elevator — so i could travel those nine floors on my own, singing along with the note the old noisy elevator made. When it stopped, the noise was gone, and I would awaken from the trance. I had never realized this fact until people started to ask me about my influences!
Then, I guess, all the music my parents used to listen to must have somehow gotten absorbed by some kind of osmosis. Musicians like Joao Gilberto, Sergio Mendes, Sonny Rollins, Bill Evans, Maurice Ravel, Franz Schubert, the Beatles, Ella Fitzgerald, Eduardo Mateo, Maria Elena Walsh, among hundreds of others that were in the air every day.
Dufallo: What is your creative process – what comes to you first, and how do you develop the initial ideas into songs? Or each song a completely unique process?
Molina: In general I start messing around with the guitar or keyboard until something (a form, a sequence of chords, a sound) catches me completely and hypnotizes me. Then I play that for hours and hours. Suddenly I realize I am going to lose what I just caught if I don’t record it immediately, so I start the recording process… but sometimes, when I have finished getting ready, the idea is long gone. Other times I get luckier (i.e. I am already plugged and ready to go) and record that for a few minutes, (I’d say way more than a few…) when I awake from the trance I improvise an ending and stop recording. Then I listen to it and play or sing something else and so on. At the end, once the structure is ready, all the sounds in their place and the melody where it needs to go, I write lyrics to fit the melody (melody always rules).
The whole process involves many many listening sessions, and each time I work on pans, EQs, volumes, and — most importanty — deletes!!! If the song manages to survive and I can still bear it after a few weeks, then it probably will go on the next record.
Dufallo: Can you talk a little about the songs we’ll be performing together — El Pastor Mentiroso and ¿Quién?
Molina: The first line of El Pastor Mentiroso came along with the melody “sigue llegando la gente sola” (“there are still people coming in alone” – more or less) so I started thinking: who are these people, where are they going, why are they on their own? Then I decided that they were going to a church. A kind of evangelic church where desperate people go — people trying to find an answer, to solve their problems by listening to a “priest” that, in the end, only asks the faithful to give him money (saying it’s for God).
¿Quién? has two parts. The first one was written in 1998, while thinking about a week long trip I had made two years earlier. I had left my daughter with her dad and when I came back I saw in her eyes that I should have never left (“please mum, never go away again,” says the chorus). I’ve played this song for a long time and I’ve never gotten tired of it. While rehearsing at home, I added a second part that I only played live, so when I recorded my recent album Un Dia, I decided to add it there and called it ¿Quién? (suite).
Dufallo: Do you have any advice for young musicians?
Molina: To experiment as much as they can with what they think (them and not the others) is good!