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Juana Molina: Inspired by the World, Driven by Her Instinct

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Molina’s electronic pop-rock is deceptively simple, weaving hushed lyrics with hypnotic melodies. Molina’s accompanying videos are as imaginative and mysterious as her music.

Born into a musical family, Juana Molina’s passion for music has roots in her native Argentina. But she has a global spirit: she sings in alternating English and Spanish lyrics, and has spent time in Paris and in Los Angeles. Some of the most pivotal moments in Molina's career have happened outside of her home country motivated by political or creative soul-searching reasons.

“Eras,” the first song off the singer-songwriter’s sixth album “Wed 21,” is like a winding forest path with its stylistic turns and a light touch of folk. “The lyrics croon the existential question for many of us children of the bicultural revolution,” wrote Nadia Reiman in a “Sounds and Colors” review of the album.

The song’s video stars the “bichapong,” a blue, faceless character conceived by artist Alejandro Ros for the “Wed 21” album art. Ros has designed graphics for some of Argentina’s most prominent musicians, including Soda Stereo, Bersuit, and Babasonicos. Molina, who has worked with him for other albums, said his work is very much a reflection of his subject’s personality.

“I have to enter the universe of the other person. I don’t do what I want to do. Instead, it depends on who I have in front of me,” Ros said in a Recis interview.

The result of Ros’ immersion in Molina’s “Wed 21” was a “threatening and yet incredibly tender” creature. The concept emerged while Ros and Molina flipped through some photographs of Molina hiding behind her blond hair. She didn’t like these photographs but when he covered them in a blue tint and gutted out the eyes, they laughed and realized this reinvented version of Molina had a story of its own.

In the hands of director Mario Caporali, the bichapong comes to life. He shot the video in a house in Rosario, the birthplace of the Argentine flag and ‘Che’ Guevara.

“The house was sinister like the character: very creepy, not only depressing but with a past and with a purpose,” Molina said.

In a scene that’s aesthetically similar to the film “Pan’s Labrynth,” the bichapong hosts a strange dinner party in its dark mansion and prepares potions for its zombie-like guests, who walk around the mansion and dance to “Eras” while the bichapong spies on them timidly. The video gives a glimpse into the artist’s body of work, which has been compared to a neat room full of strategically-placed furniture; everything is in its place because that’s exactly where Molina wants it.

Juana Molina Q & A

What advice can you give to young people about believing in themselves and daring to break the mold, as you've done with your music?

It's difficult to not think about what people will say, about what others think. Personally, it took me a very long time to liberate myself. But luckily, I see that generations ahead of me already come with a liberty chip embedded inside them. It's important to know if one makes music because it's trendy or because one can't stop it from happening. Being unable to stop it will create an inevitable need to make what comes out, what one needs to express. The idea of believing in yourself won't cross your mind and if the idea does cross your mind, it will end up moving aside because music pushes more.

Your music has influences from around the world. What music did you grow up listening to and how did your musical family and the sounds Argentina and impact your music?

I grew up in a musical environment, yes, but I listened to music from everywhere and from different styles: classical, jazz, pop, folkloric, bossa nova, etc. I never liked something for its style, but for the artist. There could be a folkloric singer I love and another that I find creepy.

Your family fled to Paris, escaping the military dictatorship in 1976. Did living in Paris open the door to the world for you?

Paris opened the doors of amplitude for me. It widened my point of view like it would've happened in any other place outside of Buenos Aires. It actually took away that thing of worrying about what people say. I didn't know if I was going to return to Buenos Aires or not. I returned because I became disenchanted with a town that, at the time, I found cold and egotistical.

You've said you begin recording the minute you have an idea for a song to keep track of its "first trace." Do you have any other rituals while writing music?

I don't know if recording to leave the first trace is a ritual. I'd say it's the only way of doing things. Sometimes I like the first takes more because they have an attitude of search that is is lost in repetitions. Either way, live, you have to play everything a thousand times and life comes from another place; it comes from allowing music to traverse you to stay alive.

Which city has surprised you the most while touring internationally?

Every time I go to an unknown city, I'm surprised. But there is a moment when touring overrides curiosity and all I want to do is sleep well. Hong Kong struck me. I avoided looking at pictures before I went and it amazed me.

What are you listening to now? A. I hardly listen to music. Especially when I'm recording. It confuses me. It leads me down the wrong paths. Q. What can we expect to hear from Juana Molina this year?

With my fingers crossed, that I finish my new album.

What message do you want people around the world to learn from your music and from your video for "Eras?"

There is no preconceived message nor an intention of teaching anything. I don't seek to learn when I listen to something. I just expect it to move me, to make me feel like I'm going on a trip.

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