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When Julieta Venegas released her first album, Aqui, in 1998, the California-born and Tijuana-raised musician was labeled a Spanish language alt-rock singer/accordionist with some pop tendencies. Five years later, on her third album, Si, she took a slightly more straightforward pop approach and became a star throughout the Spanish-speaking world.
With her latest album, Los Momentos, Venegas, who plays the Fillmore tonight, has taken a new route, using more synthesizers and serious lyrics while retaining her lullaby-like melodies. She still plays the accordion at times, incorporating a rhythmic approach drawn from traditional Mexican norteño music and American rock acts like Los Lobos and Tom Waits.
One major change since the release of 2010’s Otra Cosa: Venegas had her first child. It meant she had to spend more time recording demos at home rather than in a studio. But she also felt a creative shift. “I felt I needed a change,” she says. “I went back to the piano and the keyboard and I took out all of the wind instruments and the other acoustic instruments I was using a lot on the last album and the one before that.” Using keyboards and programmed rhythms isn’t something completely new for her, though, she says. “I have always loved synthesizers. In all my [studio] albums I have always had synthesizers.”
Venegas also recruited a new producer for Los Momentos. On her early albums, she worked with Latin alt-rock producer Gustavo Santaolalla, and for her later pop successes she collaborated with Argentinian producer Cachorro Lopez. For the new album, she chose to work with Mexican indie producer Yamil Rezc after enjoying his work with Mexican synth-rock band Hello Seahorse. “I liked the sound that he had. It was a very fortunate decision and we’ve been doing other things together,” she says, referring to the music they’ve created for a play in Mexico City based on Mark Hadden‘s novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time.
On several cuts she works with Brazilian arranger Jaques Morelenbaum, who provided string arrangements for her MTV Unplugged release. On “Vuelve,” a moody song that urges people to overcome their fears of going to Mexico, Venegas is accompanied by Café Tacuba rocker Ruben Albarrán and Chilean-French rapper Ana Tijoux, who worked with her on an earlier hit, “Eres Para Mi.” “I thought it would be great if she could come in and add something to the story,” Venegas says of Tijoux, which she does with rapid phrases that contrast Venegas’ pretty vocals.
The multi-instrumentalist has always had eclectic taste. “I grew up listening to a lot of norteño music, especially Los Tigres del Norte. They were always present in my house. There was a lot of banda music also,” Venegas says, referring to the rural style she says is particularly enjoyed by “teenage guys in trucks.” She also has embraced varying styles of rock. “Since I lived near the border, the rock I listened to growing up was mostly in English. As I got older I listened to rock in Spanish and other contemporary music.”
For her appearance tonight Venegas will make one other change—-she’ll perform with a five-member band instead of the eight-piece she’s traveled with in the past. The setlist, she says, will emphasize songs from the new album but include older ones as well. “I do have a set of songs I enjoy playing live, and each tour I do a cleaning out of songs that have to go,” she says. “But when I find a setlist that works, I like to keep it like that.”
Julieta Venegas performs at 8 p.m. tonight at Fillmore Silver Spring, 8656 Colesville Road, Silver Spring. Tickets $43.