María del Pilar could barely muster a song from her creative soul two years ago, much less plot an ambitious trilogy of albums. The former energetic frontwoman for Latin Alternative indie rockers Los Abandoned had lost nearly all enthusiasm for the craft as she was mired in a deep, unproductive funk. “What I saw myself go through was this huge writer's block, which was a part of my depression; a dissatisfaction with my music career on the business side of things,” the Chilean born, Los Angeles-raised singer says.
The charismatic performer dubbed “Lady P” left her former band a year after it finally signed with Neil Young's Vapor Records and released its first album Mix Tape in 2006. A few months later, the songstress began her solo career as “Pilar Díaz” though creeping doubts entered her mind afterward about music as vocation. “I started really questioning if this was something I wanted to keep doing in my life,” she confesses. “I needed to really drastically switch the tape in my head and put in a new one.”
María del Pilar finally found affirmation in her talent as one that helped people communicate their emotions through songs that they otherwise couldn't. After breaking through her creative impasse, the crucible for her next album Songs + Canciones I would not be in Los Angeles, though, but in her native Santiago, Chile. “I was really missing my home, my friends, my family and culture. I was there for four months,” the musician says. “It was perfect timing. It was the perfect place for the rebirth.”
As part of her artistic pilgrimage, she collaborated with Chilean DJ Vicente Sanfuentes who has served as producer for artists like Francisca Valenzuela and Gepe. On the other side of the world, the time and place felt right to leave the artistic identity of “Pilar Díaz” behind and go by her full first name instead. “It wasn't really a name change, just a name swap,” the songstress jokes. Together with her producer, they set out to forge a new sonic identity as well, largely leaving behind the ukulele, her signature instrument.
"What [Sanfuentes] and I talked about first was having a more congruent sound where we could hear the style throughout the record.” They looked to Grace Jones, Donna Summer and Sade for inspiration. “What we were going for just those very strong divas with funk and edge,” she adds. María del Pilar hit that note perfectly with “En El Dancefloor,” an irresistible groove that could entice the stiffest wallflower to start tapping their foot. When Songs + Canciones I isn't busy chronicling the risen phoenix, it dabbles a bit on the ashes, as in the spiraling “Things Are Falling Apart,” one of the strongest vocal performances on the record.
Despite being in Chile, the album isn't exactly a direct reflection of the vibrant contemporary music scene there, but as María del Pilar's father retired from working, she reminisced about his influence on her life dressing up as a huaso (Chilean cowboy) and performing folk music to put food on the table as an immigrant to the United States. “When I was a kid, he wrote a song for me. It was time for me to write a song about him,” she says. Gepe, an indie Chilean star, was tapped for the duet dedication “Huaso de los Angelitos.”
With the creative flood gates wide open, Songs + Canciones I is just the first installment of a planned trilogy. So long, writer's block. “Shit, I have a lot of music. It's really a prolific time and I have a lot to say,” María del Pilar eagerly exclaims. “I'm ready to go for the next one!”
María del Pilar performs with Echosmith, Dead Sara and others at the Port of Los Angeles Lobster Festival, Ports O'Call Village, San Pedro, (310)798-7478; www.lobsterfest.com. Sat., 1-9 p.m. María del Pilar stage time, 5 p.m. $10. Children 12 and under, Free. For more information on María del Pilar, visit www.maria-del-pilar.com