“My father taught me that music isn’t about glamour, it’s a way of life that must come from...
Let’s travel back in time. It is the early 1990s and Juana Molina decides to give show business a try. But she doesn’t choose music. Drawing on the considerable acting talent that she inherited from her paternal grandfather, she opts for television. Her work as an actress allows her to move out of her parents’ house, rent an apartment and continue to study guitar. Things go well for her, very well. Soon she has the lead in Juana y sus hermanas (Juana and Her Sisters), a absurdly funny television show in which Molina plays a wide range of characters. There’s a Jewish woman named Judith, an infomercial host and the overweight tennis player, Steffi Grasa. But one day she decides that acting has taken her too far from the guitar and that she needs to go back to it. She composes several songs and records Rara (1996), thus launching a successful – if sometimes dizzying and unpleasant – musical career.
Today, Juana Molina is considered one of the most successful figures on South America’s independent music scene. She recently released her fifth album, Un día, which is more bare-bones than her earlier efforts. Her pure, intimate, moving melodies have captivated listeners all over again. “I was finally able to be myself with music,” she tells in magazine.
You studied architecture and then went on to become an actress. Now you’re a musician. What was that journey like?
“I started playing guitar when I was five years old. Music was always my greatest weakness and passion. Of course, I couldn’t express myself in front of anyone for a long time because I felt too exposed. So I started focusing on other things. I chose architecture as my major in college, thinking that it would hold my interest, but during my third year, I got bored. After that, I designed clothing for a while, but I was desperate to live on my own and continue to study guitar, so I decided to go into television.”
One of your albums (Tres cosas) made The New York Times Top 10 List in 2004, and you enjoy the open admiration of musicians like Feist and David Byrne. How did Un día come about?
“Despite all the fuss, I am always afraid that I’ll never have another new idea. That fear increases every time I start to make a new album. You may want to change, to do something completely different, but you can’t get too far away from yourself. ”
Was this new album different?
“No. Over time, I have attained more freedom, which is a logical consequence of having done other things. The filter is opening wider and wider, and I can take liberties that I couldn’t dare before. I’ve recorded things that I thought were crazy and set aside only to hear someone else put them out there a while later. Then you think, how is it that he was brave enough to publish something that I had shelved? I have an internal dictator and censor who torments me every day. Sometimes I have moments of great freedom, but then, when I have to decide whether or not to release something, I panic, thinking that it was all a rant and that people will think I’m crazy. I only put something out when I’m really sure of it, even if I really like it.”
You sing and play guitar, piano, percussion and synthesizers. Some people find it hard to believe that just one person can do all of that.
“That’s true, and what bothers me the most is that people think that I play pre-recorded music on stage, that I hit a button and play something that I did at home. The truth is that it’s like using an outline. It’s the same in cooking: there is only one list of ingredients for milanesas – bread crumbs, egg, eggplant, salt and pepper – but the final product is different every time. You can vary the quantities and combinations and come up with tons of variations.”
What did you find in music that captivated you so much and transformed you?
“I was finally able to be myself. When I was acting, I was everyone but me, and the characters were everything I am not. The difference between acting and music is that acting emerges from me and comes out and music comes from me and goes back in.”
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