Mexican singer-songwriter Julieta Venegas stays as curious a musical curator as when she first began two decades ago. The prolific musician with quirky eyebrows and an accordion slung over her shoulder returns to audiences with Algo Sucede, her seventh studio album released in August. Since captivating critics with avant-garde Latin alternative songs earlier on, Venegas explored morphing her music with pop influences that propelled her to commercial success and Grammy awards. On the musician's latest work, a balance is struck between '80s new wave, ranchera and piano ballad sounds. Venegas remains a pensive lyricist penning personal tales of childhood nostalgia and feelings of outrage over mass disappearances in Mexico.
The Weekly interviewed Venegas ahead of her performance this weekend at La Tocada, a stacked lineup transforming The Observatory into a Mexi mecca of rock en español.
OC Weekly: (Gabriel San Roman) How did you explore and pinpoint what you wanted this album to sound like?
Venegas: Each song starts to dictate the sound. I write all the songs on solo piano and when I start building them, they sort of direct themselves. When I wrote "Esperaba" for example, I thought it had to have synthesizer and had to go towards the '80s. For me, it's a song about being a teenager and about not wanting to be where you are. The image of listening to music at a friend's house is a very nostalgic way of looking at it. People now listen to everything on headphones.
You've always been an excellent lyricist. What is the songwriting process like for you and where did you find your inspirations?
My writing process is very meticulous because I take a few months to write everyday in front of a piano from 9-5. I like to sit down and explore all ideas that come to my head. Inspiration comes from everywhere but I like to read a lot. I do like working on the lyrics, but they usually come out with the music. I don't do it like a separate experience. I let the melody dictate the way I want to fix up a lyric. I like to take my time with that. A few songs will take me to another song. For the six months it took me to do this album, four months were about writing. That's really the essence of the album.
Where do you situate 'Algo Sucede' in your long personal and musical journey?
As I make more albums, I've always felt more like a songwriter. I enjoy all the other parts, but definitely it's more about the stories. The songs to me are like new musicals. The sound is always guided by the song itself. It's always about curiosity, still. It's a process. I can't really say that I'm in a place where I want to stay at because I'm always moving. For me, it's always about the song.
Let's talk about some songs off the new album. Is "Buenas noches, desolación" a personal goodbye to that feeling or a more universal sentiment?
It's one of the few ideas I ever picked up after a long time. First, I like the phrase "Buenas noches, desolación," and just the way it sounds. I was never able to finish the song and so I went to Buenos Aires to write with my friend. When we sat down, we were looking for something to talk about. "I have this idea that's been going on in my head for a long time," I said. We tried it out and finished it in one sitting. The song really expresses the idea that if you want to get out of a really tough situation, you have to get up and finish it off instead of waiting until its over.
It's been a year after the 43 student disappearances of Ayotzinapa in Mexico. "Explosión" is another noteworthy song. What compelled you to write it and what are you trying to convey with it?
I needed to write about what I'm feeling. I always write from my emotions. I don't usually write so explicitly about anything. What's happening in Mexico is very painful. It's very easy to look the other way and act like nothing's happening. That's basically what the song says. You have to face things and try to talk about them. Maybe writing a song like this isn't going change anything but I felt the need to write. What happens with justice in Mexico, the absence of it, is the most painful part. I'm talking about Ayotzinapa but also about los femicidos, women disappearing. Nothing happens. You can't believe that after a year of this, we still don't even know what's happening. You feel impotencia and it's so dark. What do you do with that? I wrote a song about not looking away from it.
What are your hopes for Algo Sucede as you take it out across continents?
I want to share and play it. Writing and recording the album is one part. The other very important part is playing it live. For now, we're going to tour Latin America and Europe for a couple years before going on to the next one. [laughs] I enjoy this part too. For me it's part of the cycle of the album.
Julieta Venegas performs La Tocada with Caifanes, Natalia Lafourcade and more at The Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com. Sat., 2 p.m. $85. All Ages.