By Kyle MacKinnel; photos by Marcelo Setton on December 17, 2013
[Skype® signals an incoming video call.]
Juana Molina: Oh, there you are.
Hi, Juana. What have you been up to lately? Are you touring?
Not at all. I’ve been playing here in Argentina quite a lot, but every show was the last one before the new record came out, then I had another offer and I just played again. I had to tell the same thing to the audience: “OK, this is going to be the last show until the next album.” I kept saying that for months.
I’m curious about the title, Wed 21. Does it refer to a specific date?
It’s exactly a date. It’s the day that I made that song. It wasn’t that I did it on purpose, but when I finished the record that song was still called “WED 21” and I couldn’t find a different name for it. I’d seen it so many times with that title that anything else was like changing your own name. Then my daughter came and said, “I think that’s a cool name for a record.” I had other titles, but they didn’t convince me, so I preferred to have one that didn’t mean anything. I don’t think in English. I know it’s a date, but I don’t see a date.
As a multilingual artist who’s lived in different places across the globe, do you find that cultural mixture harmonious or combustible?
I wouldn’t be able to tell what would have happened if I hadn’t lived in those places, if I hadn’t had those influences. You can’t tell what you would be if you weren’t you. So as I lived in France as a little girl, I’m positively certain that I had many influences from French people, from French culture. Not much from French music. All the music I grew up listening to has influenced what I am now, and I think what I heard when I was a kid influenced me much more than anything else that could have come later, because it’s the thing that forms you, shapes you.
What are some examples of influences that you found really formative?
Well, King Crimson, for instance. The first period, before Adrian—I don’t know how to pronounce that name, Bil-ieu, Bel-ieu, Belew. Before him. But, I liked the yellow one with the thing like this:
[With her fingers, Molina forms a rounded capital-H symbol resembling Peter Willis’s cover art from King Crimson’s 1984 album, Three of a Perfect Pair.]
I thought it was amazing, but I already had my opinion when I heard that record. I already had an eye that was judging...you know what I mean? I wasn’t pure. I wasn’t receiving influences without thinking. That’s why I think the real influences are the ones that get you when you are a child. I think the music of a commercial can influence you if it makes something you already have inside vibrate.
You refer to your lyrics as secondary to the music. Do they articulate what you imagine the music would say if it could talk, or are they two different things?
It’s two different things, but at the same time, they need to be one thing, together. So it’s not the same process as writing music, because music just... I think everything flows, and I’m just there in this tunnel, in this trip that I love to be in. But then “lyrics” is a separate work, like an office work. “How do I do to have these three nice words that sound so good in the melody, to make them sound accurate in a story, or something that is not too silly, and make sense?” So mind intervenes a lot in lyrics, and music—I mean to keep consciousness away. I don’t try to pass a message, because I really don’t have much to say beyond music.
Can you talk about the dream you describe in “Final Feliz”?
It’s made of different images from different dreams; it’s not a real dream. I made the music, and I thought it was so joyful that I found it was a happy ending for a record. That’s why I had the title of the song before the lyrics. The song was called “Happy Ending,” so then, what could have a happy ending? And then I thought, A dream could have a happy ending. To have a nightmare, and then waking up would be happy.
I dream a lot and I write my dreams. When I read, I immediately remember them only by two or three words, and I am already in that image. There’s an image in that song: I was walking in some kind of hall with columns, and… What’s the word for charcos? When there’s little bits of water in the ground?
Puddles. A hall with puddles and columns, and it was pretty dark, and there’s this man that comes with no arms, but it was all an invention that I needed to fit in the melody. All the attributes to that man correspond to the syllables I needed to fill up. If it had been a shorter melody, it would have been just a man, maybe. I found that these things happen in dreams a lot, where you have lots of people coming and staring at you, and you don’t understand, as if you have done something wrong—and you didn’t do anything. All these dreams of guilt and despair that are horrible. If you tell them to somebody else, it doesn’t sound like a nightmare, because there’s nothing really awful, but it’s all in details. And then you wake up, and the dream is as if you had lived it. Somehow, you have.
I’m glad you woke up. It’s been five years since your last album, Un día. What circumstances led you to the decision to make another?
Well, I went to New York last year and I bought an electric guitar. I bought some pedals and I started to experiment with totally different things. I started to record some stuff, and then without noticing, I was making a record. Then I said, “Well, finally, I’m making a record. I want to have a record again.” I didn’t feel the [prior] need nor the will; I didn’t have any inspiration at all. There’s acoustic there, too, but it’s the first time I’ve used an electric.
Wed 21 is a very dynamic, complex record. How did you become such a skilled producer, working alone most of the time?
This is my fifth record done this way. If you hear [2003's] Segundo, you can tell the difference about sound. Segundo is one of my favorite records because I think in Segundo is the seed of everything else. You can already tell what is going to be. But the sound is so thin; everything’s so little, and everything’s so poorly and badly recorded, because I really didn’t know.
So I played with volumes and pans in order to make things sound more or less...understandable. Then when someone wanted to put it out, they said, “Maybe we can work a bit in the mastering session, because it’s a bit boomy.” If I hear that version now, I would hear everything. It’s like your ears become to digging...no, there’s another word…
[Molina makes a clawing motion with her hands.]
Like, chk, chk, chk...Carving. So, that happens with time, or someone makes you notice something that is wrong, and then all of a sudden you hear it. Something that was there always, but your mind is paying attention to just what you want. It’s exactly like this: When you know you’re going to find a mirror, you immediately and consciously put on a face. If you’re walking in the street and find a mirror you didn’t expect to be there, and you see yourself in that mirror, you want to die. You want to drop dead in that very second.
I still don’t know how to use a compressor. I use the tools that the technology gives you in ways that help me, but I don’t know if it’s the right way to use them. Because I prefer to work on my own.
Juana, you learned music at a very young age, but began your career as a comedic actor. What led to the decision to act?
I was playing music all the previous years before acting, but people just didn’t know. My parents lived in France, but I came back [to Argentina] before everybody else. I went to my grandparents’ house for a while. I was 19. So I stayed there, but it wasn’t very nice to live there because they were very strict; I couldn’t stay out after midnight. I really wanted to have my own place, and I thought of a job that was able to give me enough money to pay my rent, and my guitar lessons, and still have time to play. And I thought, thought, thought, and I said, “TV. TV’s gonna do it.”
So I knew I had the skill to impersonate different characters. I had that before; it’s a family gift that I’ve inherited. I watched TV for a month or so, and then I found the right program for me. I just knocked on the door, and I explained to them and gave them a videocassette with five characters. And they took me.
But it went too well. Two years later, I was working in two shows, and I was already having only a couple of days to play guitar, and then three years later I had my own show. I totally forgot about music. And then, one day I just realized, “What am I doing? This is not what I wanted to do.” Seven years had passed by and I had been caught in my own trap, because what was the excuse to be able to play music became my career. So I decided to stop everything before it was too late.
Was it a moment of clarity that brought on this decision?
Yes. The actual thing is that I got pregnant, and I had to stay in bed. All of a sudden, thoughts started to fall on top of each other, and some others emerged, and it was like resetting my mind.
[Lightning strikes in the Argentine suburbs of Buenos Aires.]
Ooh! I just saw a big, big lightning. Ugh, it’s gonna come...
[Modest thunder clap.]
Oh, it wasn’t that loud. Did you hear it?
Yeah. That was a long time; it must be far away.
Far away, yeah. So it was like resetting my mind. I hadn’t stopped acting in a long time, so I didn’t have the time to think. It’s not that I thought in the middle of acting, “What am I doing here?” It’s because I had the chance to rest that I thought, “No, this is a mistake, this is not what I want to do.” And I never went back to TV after that.
I had all of the media, everybody, against. The public was against, the audience was against, my family was against: “How are you going to leave this career? You’re just crazy!” I was very popular and I left at the top of my career. But, at the same time, for the past two or three months, I was not inspired as I was at the beginning. I was realizing that the ideas I had weren’t that good, and I wasn’t having so much fun. So maybe the pregnancy was a thing that I unconsciously looked for so I had a reason to stop. I don’t know. I wonder.
Did your “inspiration” to return to music turn out to be the same daughter who inspired the title for Wed 21?
Yes, yes. That was her. F