Juana Molina is one of contemporary music’s true originals; with a discography going back to the mid nineties, Molina has finessed and evolved her artistry over the course of seven wildly inventive albums, boasting an eclectic brew of songs that range from dense electronics to airy, feather-light acoustics. 2017 has been a busy year for Molina, with May seeing the release of her latest long player, ‘Halo’ (reviewed here, Vinyl Corner here) and August bearing witness to the first ever vinyl release of her 2008 album ‘Un Día’. Despite her busy schedule, we caught up with Molina recently to talk everything from improvisation to her formative musical experiences.
Firstly, thank you for taking time out to speak to GIGsoup. I’d like to start by asking if you find that there are any challenges in bringing your music to a live setting? Do you change or adapt your music for the context of a live show or do you play your songs as closely as possible to the original recordings?
I start trying to play them as on the album, but as I go through the songs I realize some things are impossible, or I find better ideas. Some songs are born to be developed, some others are meant to change and grow and some poor little ones are never played live!
Your recent music seems to have transitioned towards a more electric sound than your often acoustic-based early work. Was this is a conscious decision and if so, what motivated that change?
I think the fact that I was playing an acoustic guitar made the whole difference. Then, the live shows forced me, little by little, to play louder, choose more up beat songs and the electric guitar gave some input to the songs.
Is there an improvisational aspect to your music either in the studio or on stage, or do you always have a song clearly mapped out in your mind before you play or start to record?
The recordings are always improvisations. Some times I get an idea from an improvisation and then make an arrangement from it. It’s not usual that I have something in my mind before hand. Except some melodies, that come to me all of a sudden and I need to run and record them before I forget them. Writing is not a choice. There is something about the interpretation that makes a melody worth it.
Your vocals are very melodic, which leads me to wonder if you write your lyrics with a pre-set melody in mind, or if you create a vocal melody to fit around words that have already been written?
Yes, I always, always, always write lyrics afterwards. I usually explain what I do by saying that the lyrics have to be disguised as the melody. Like when you copy a drawing by tracing it (a transparent paper on top of the actual drawing).
As a young child you recorded a song with your father and I’m wondering if that experience had an influence on your desire to make music as a career as opposed to a hobby?
That was rather a traumatic experience. It was a song for Mother’s day (“te regalo esta cancion”). My Dad never told me it was for ALL the Mothers. I thought was only for mine. We went to CBS studios and my dad had told everyone to be hidden and in the dark, so I thought it was just him and I (he knew I was not gonna sing if I saw some one else, I was only 5 years old).
A few weeks later, I was walking on the street and I heard the song coming from a record shop. I wanted to die! To be swallowed by the earth! I didn’t want to go to school anymore. I was so shy. So I’d say it made the opposite effect on me. For many, many years I couldn’t sing in front of anybody.
Were there any instruments that you took lessons for or have you taught yourself to play?
My dad gave me my first guitar, a very tiny one, when I was 5 and he taught me the first chords, but as a teenager I took lessons.
The video for ‘Paraguaya’ is really unique and interesting. Could you tell us anything about the making of the video and inspiration behind it? Is there any symbolism in the imagery used in the video?
We were actually planning on making the video for ‘Cosoco’. Then we changed our minds and adapted the story for ‘Paraguaya’. We wanted an old house and we went scouting, but the one we wanted looked too obvious. I was disappointed and then I saw that the stairs actually went to a second floor. I asked what was there and they said it was nothing useful, that the house was all rickety. I insisted and when I saw what I saw I couldn’t stop jumping so happy I was. It was exactly what we needed. We found these statues’ heads and plenty of forgotten stuff. Finding that place completed the idea of the video.
Your press photos and music videos always have very striking visual imagery; do you consider a strong visual component to be an important aspect of your work?
Yes. I’ve been working with Alejandro Pos since the beginning. He has made the cover of all 7 records. I consider him a genius. He is kind of a medium. What he does is always representing the person he is working with. I couldn’t say what would happen if I tried to make the art work with someone else. I totally trust him and so far it’s always worked very well. At this time, that people don’t buy records any more, I think it’s important to give them something else, something more. We always try to make an object that is nice to have.
Could you tell us about the thought process behind the cover art for ‘Halo’? It’s a very vivid image and quite humorous, I feel.
I’m glad you feel that way. I find it hilarious. We had a different cover for the album and although it was excellent, I thought we should change directions. So Alejandro took a photo of my eyes and this time he didn’t tell me what he was going to do (he was upset because I wanted to make something different). The next morning I received that image and I was shocked, surprised, in awe. I couldn’t understand what it was, but it had such an impact on me that I knew that was the cover. Then we started to play with it and add the shoe and clothing. So much fun!
Were you making music and playing live shows prior to your acting career or was it only when you moved away from that, that you started creating music in a more public way?
I had only played in other bands. and I wasn’t comfortable. The songs from my first album (‘Rara’) were written before my TV show. They were 8 years old when I finally recorded them.
Do you listen to much music by other people? Some musicians I’ve spoken to prefer not to listen to anyone else’s music as they don’t want to be influenced by it, is that the case with you? If not, have there been any recent records you’ve particularly enjoyed?
I don’t listen to many things either, but not to be influenced by it is not the reason why. I’d say it’s rather some laziness in looking for new stuff. I also feel that I have listened to so much music as a young person has filled me. I love discovering new stuff and I think it’s very good to get influenced, as I think influences are awakeners of what you already have inside. Not everything you like is an influence. You may like something a lot and it makes you feel like writing, but as soon as you start what you do it has nothing to do with what you heard. In those cases I call it inspiration. Music that makes you feel like composing.
‘Un Día’ was released on vinyl for the first time in August. Do you enjoy revisiting older works and if so, when you listen to them now do you find yourself thinking you would do things differently if you were to make those albums again?
Absolutely!!!! There’re always things you would have done in a different way. Some times you are so focussed on something, a particular instrument or melody that you forget the rest. Or you fall in love with an idea and do not realize there are others that should have been louder or better balanced.
‘Rara’ is your only album out of print on all formats. Do you have any interest in making the album available again?
I would! But it is the only album I don’t own.
Going by recent live clips, it looks like you only ever play with a Gibson SG these days. What is it that specifically draws you to that guitar?
For a start, touring with several guitars is a pain. And also I like it better to play electrics now because when you are standing the acoustic feels so far away from my body. I can incorporate the electric much more.
It seems like you use a lot of effects pedals when performing live. Mastering pedals is an art in itself, so was there a learning process for you using so many pedals during live performance?
No. Not at all! I started little by little with [each] pedal. But after having worked with the loop station for so many years now, [with] any other pedal it’s a children’s game.
Your music is very unique and often hard to classify, I feel. Do you view your music as unique/unusual and if so, do you deliberately create music that way or is it less purposeful than that?
Well, when I started writing songs, as a teenager, I found it was silly to write something that already existed or that reminded me of something else. I wonder if that has been the reason…who knows.
Once again, many thanks for your time Juana.
You’re very welcome.