Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade is enjoying a profound moment of musical maturation. The spotlight she’s commanding is somewhat familiar, with her 2003 eponymous debut garnering the then-teenager critical praise and Grammy nominations for songs like “En el 2000.” Now a 32-year-old woman, Lafourcade is feeling out the apex of her creative talents following the release of Hasta la Raiz last year. The collection provides mostly light bossa nova musical moods that serve as a perfect backdrop for the warm timbre of her vocals.
A masterpiece of sentiment in song, Hasta la Raiz accentuates tales of heartbreak. It also marks a triumph for the singer who persevered over a period of artistic atrophy to deliver anthems deepened by excavations of her emotions. Lafourcade worried that her audience would have trouble connecting with the new and intensely intimate material, but their response to the artist they’ve been able to see grow as a musician and a person over the years has been immense. The effort also earned her five Latin Grammy awards and the Grammy award for Best Latin Rock, Urban or Alternative Album. Lafourcade is taking it all in while readying to tour the United States for the first time in years.
The Weekly spoke with Lafourcade before she returns to Santa Ana this Saturday for a show at the Observatory.
OC Weekly (Gabriel San Roman): Your first album was a great success but you couldn’t fully enjoy it. How has the experience been this time around with “Hasta la Raiz?”
Natalia Lafourcade: It’s been great. It’s one of the best experiences that I’ve had recording an album. “Hasta la Raiz” has this special vibe and power. It goes to the places it wants to go and it connects a lot with people. When I was recording this album, it was challenging for me because before I recorded this album I was working with Agustin Lara’s music. His songs are so amazing, I really wanted to write good songs. When I was working in the studio, I put different people together whose work I love and also that are close friends of mine. It was a great experience being at the studio, recording music and trying to do our best. At the end, finally, I came to have an album that I love. I didn’t care if the people liked or not because I really liked it. But then, before we released the album, I was very nervous. Finally, importantly, the people love it and now I can connect a lot with them in concerts on tour.
You mentioned your cover album of Agustin Lara’s songs. How was it transition back to writing your own songs and how did Lara inspire you lyrically if in any way?
The process of writing these songs was amazing to me. I was very inspired. I also broke up with a boyfriend that I had. I was so sad and had so many things to say. The process went through many different moments. First, I didn’t know how to write a song again. By the time I was working with Agustin Lara’s music, at that specific moment, I didn’t feel much inspiration. I was worried and thought I wasn’t going to be able to write a song again. Eventually during the tour, I started pushing myself everyday so I could write something. If it wasn’t a song, it didn’t matter, I just wanted to see if I could write about anything. Then I just started connecting again with my heart and my feelings. I started collaborating with other composers and that helped me a lot to find different ways of writing music. I had this thing of not playing any other instrument but guitar, piano or my voice.
My favorite song on the album is “Lo Que Construimos.” What is the backstory to that very bittersweet song?
The music of that song is very sweet. The meaning is super sad. It’s probably one of the saddest songs on the album. It’s about when you realize what you’ve built with a person that you loved is over and you cannot keep that relationship. It’s like saying goodbye to a person that you loved and saying goodbye to a story and a cycle that you had with that person. When I wrote that song, I was super sad. But there are other songs on that album that aren’t that sad.
What’s your feeling on the tremendous response from the public to “Hasta la Raiz” as well as all the Grammy awards it has won?
I was impressed. Of course, I was super happy. I didn’t know all of that was going to happen. The thing that was most important to me was connecting to the audience, to my fans and followers. That was the thing that scared me the most at first. I didn’t know if they were going to understand “Hasta la Raiz” because it is such a personal album. All of the stories were connected to a very personal part of me. I was hoping that people were going to like it and then they did. That was amazing. And then suddenly, all these things with the nominations, Grammys and awards started coming! I am very happy because of all the work that my people put into the album. The team I put together was an amazing team. We were very good friends and musicians. They were people that I trusted to build this album and music. Of course, we were very happy and excited about it.
You’ve talked about “Hasta la Raiz” being a very Mexican album. How did your roots influence the music and the writing?
Working with Agustin Lara songs made me realize how much I wanted to connect with Mexico. That made me realize I am a Mexican singer-songwriter from Mexico. Seeing how much music he left, I was so impressed that I just wanted to try to do the same thing with my music and my style. That made me start listening to some genres that I didn’t listen to before. It made me want to connect with the folk part of Mexico. “Hasta la Raiz” is just the beginning of that part of my music. I wanted the album to sound like something that comes from Mexico. When I write songs, I think a lot about images. I’d love the music to sound as if you were watching something, seeing a landscape or colors. I was thinking a lot about Mexico and I was trying to make that connection between pop music and folk music from my country and all the things that lets people know that the music comes from here.
After all this amazing success, what’s next for Natalia Lafourcade?
I ask that question everyday myself [laughs]. Most of the time I say, “Okay, what am I going to do now?” First, I think the most important thing is to enjoy what is happening to me. I’ve been working for years. I am about to celebrate 15 years of my career. I know that I’m going to be working with music for many years to come because I love it. But for now, I’m going to have a lot of fun at all the concerts. Finally, I’m having the opportunity to go to the United States and play for all the people who come to the shows there. I’ve been waiting for that for years and that makes me super excited. I’m writing whenever I can write a song and looking for new things. The only thing that I don’t want to do and have the pressure of is doing something similar to “Hasta la Raiz.” Nothing will compare to that again. I’m just going to try to do something new and keep doing what I do, and that’s the thing that I love the most.
Natalia La Fourcade with Las Cafeteras at the Observatory, 3503 S. Harbor Blvd., Santa Ana, (714) 957-0600; www.observatoryoc.com; Sat. 8 p.m. $30. All ages.