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So, Argentinian electro-folk-chanteuse (sorry, that’s a bit of a mouthful) Juana Molina is, apparently, going to be performing at Iota tomorrow evening. That may only be news to me, though. I’ll admit that I completely spaced on this one, otherwise I would have made a much bigger deal about it on the blog earlier in the week. Luckily, I’m prepared. I did this Q&A with Molina last year a few weeks prior to the release of her most recent record, Un Dia, and then, for various reasons, never had the chance to run it…until today.
Juana Molina @ Iota Sat., 2/28, 7 pm (early show), $15 2832 Wilson Blvd, Arlington VA
Washington City Paper: Un Dia is a pretty dense record, and you made it all by yourself at your home studio, how long did it take to put it together?
Juana Molina: It was written and recorded in one day, then I finished details and stuff for a week or two. But the whole thing was there and working in one afternoon.
WCP: You use some weird, slightly out-of-tune notes and harmonies. What appeals to you about those sounds?
JM: I don’t know. They are disturbing and very musical at the same time.
WCP: The songs on Un Dia are all six or seven minutes each, pretty lengthy. They’re also fairly repetitive. What appeals to you about stretching things out that far?
JM: They are really long, aren’t they? I don’t know. They don’t feel long when I record them. If it was a regular song [a song with a verse and a chorus] you can’t repeat the two verses and choruses that many times. But since this is a linear melody, it’s like traveling. You’re on the same road forever but the trees change, the houses change, but you’re on the same road. I don’t have a prepared answer for that question. They are long compared to pop songs, but they are short to compared to classical things.
WCP: You made this record almost entirely by yourself, does that get a little bit lonely?
JM: The lonely part comes when you have to tour on your own. But I always try to travel with someone. It actually makes me more focused, being on my own. With other disciplines like painting, they don’t need collaborators to finish their paintings and in classical music [composers], they also write on their own. I don’t think it’s that weird. I wish I could have a band, it may be more fun, but it would be something different. Maybe better? Who knows?
WCP: On your last several records the songs have been very heavy on repetition, they aren’t really verse/chorus oriented. What made you decide to write that way?
JM: No particular reason. It’s part of my nature. On my first record from ’95 I had that [repetitive] structure for the songs. I had all of these very long songs and I forced myself to cut parts and insert parts to make it sound like a regular song. My first record would have been done the same way as the last ones, but maybe I didn’t trust myself to do what I wanted—that it wasn’t good enough if I did it that way.
I really don’t know why I write this way. I don’t consider myself a singer songwriter. I just do music. A singer-songwriter has something to say—they describe that thing in the verse and then say main thing in the chorus. I really don’t work with words until the very end of the song because I want to avoid singing nonsense all the time. Maybe it comes from the fact that I grew up listening to foreign music so I didn’t get that part of the song. Or I was listening to classical music and jazz where there are no lyrics at all, maybe it comes from there. WCP: You sing in Spanish, but a good part of your audience is in the United States and Europe, where not everybody speaks the language. Does it bother you when people can’t understand the words?
JM: No, I don’t really mind that. Sometimes I fear a little bit—especially if I’m opening for somebody else—that it’s kind of a barrier between the audience and myself. In English speaking world you are very spoiled that everything has been written in English, so you understand right away. That fact subconsciously affects the way you listen to things. Many people go to concerts because they like the lyrics and they connect with the music through the lyrics. If you’re that kind of listener, you don’t have a handle, you could feel lost if you don’t know who that person is or speak their language. That’s something I have to deal with because I’m not going to sing in English. I would feel silly. It’s a borrowed language. I use it only to be able to communicate with people like you. In songs where you really have to communicate and be you, unless you have amazing ideas—which I don’t—you could tell them with any language. I feel language makes you who you are.