There isn’t only one Juana Molina. You think you see only one Juana Molina when, among cables and pedals, the Argentine singer-songwriter’s slim, black-dressed, golden-haired figure appears onstage, firing up loops while singing and playing the guitar. But no, that is part of a bigger structure.
There’s Juana the child, daughter of renowned tango singer Horacio and Chunchuna — actress, architect and femme fatale — who was brought up in a musical home. There’s also Juana the actress, whom many remember from her legendary stint in early ’90s TV. That is the same Juana that used the idiot box not as a vehicle for immortality, but to be able to record music since 1996.
There’s Juana the artist, slightly misunderstood at first, but with time, elevated to global recognition: records published in Europe and Asia, annual tours on both continents, reverence from groups such as Radiohead, Feist and David Byrne.
There’s Juana who walks rapidly, her eyes on the ground, as if her life depended on it. There’s Juana who can’t escape her charming theatricality. Juana the woman, annoyed that a few humble neighbors in Pacheco can’t fish anymore because of the land planning in a nearby country club.
There’s Juana the vulnerable, who is moved to tears by a line written by Silvina Ocampo. And there’s Juana, the one that has just edited her seventh record, an opus of brainy keyboards, plenty of layers and cold textures, a few kilometres away from her usual electro-folk.
With a bit of luck, you might get to see them all, together, fighting for a place in only one chair throughout two hours in a Recoleta café. Shamanic wisdom, obsession, sensitivity and sincerity. Welcome to the multiverse of Juana Molina, as she opens up to Billboard Argentina about her latest record, Halo, and more:
Did you have a different working mechanic for Halo?
Before, I’d record guitar a lot, then another thing, and as the different arrangements surfaced, the instruments or ideas, it started giving shape to the song. It was some sort of gradual composition. Now it is different: We started it all simultaneously. That’s what happened with Wed 21 (2013), which was what I looked for because I felt I could do a thousand records like I did until Un Día [One Day] (2008).
And when it comes to translating it to a live setting?
A lot of trial and error. First we try and solve it theoretically, which is a mess and then when we try and play it, all of a sudden, it starts working. We divide things between Diego [López de Arcaute, percussion], Odin [Schwartz, keyboards] and me, but sometimes we think he’s going to play something, but then I end up playing it. I’m trying to rid myself of technical things I used to have, the live to do list. I do 150 million things onstage.
I want to do a little less and be more relaxed. There are a few mishaps that I’d like to avoid, but I like it because it is like an acrobat’s job. I like it to have a certain vertigo, but not to a point it ruins a song. For instance, I’d need someone to deal with effects. For that they have to get in my looping machine, so it’s quite a system.
How do you do so as to not lose the freshness, given that everything is so precisely
No, no. It has to be calibrated in a way that you can move. If I want to do something longer, and the soundman set up something that he didn’t have to just because I changed my mind, there… well, that’s the thing. It happened to me in previous records, where there were songs that I couldn’t really play on my own. When I write a song it’s exactly the same. I hear it 200 times and change things. I listen to it again, and if I feel that there’s nothing missing or that I can’t come up with something else, then I say, “That’s it.” Either way, I promised that for the next record…
You’re already thinking on the next album?
Yes. For the next one, I want to half-finish, not listen to it for a month, and then listen to it. And then take the last decisions. I need to stay at home, where I edit. There I really see things. A few days ago, I discovered that sometimes, if you polish too much something, it’s as if it lost some sort of… is it the atoms? The valences! Molecules have free valences: it’s like they’re saturated, and so they cannot mix with anything else.
I think it’s necessary for molecules to always have a valence to connect with other instruments, If you polish it too much, that vanishes and it ends like something isolated, that doesn’t belong to the song. Besides, when I go setting things… I explore possibilities. When the next thing comes, “the thing” gets into a spot it knows there’s space. There is some sort of architecture and civility.