Julieta Venegas - LA ENTREVISTA: Part 3

A few days ago, Club Fonograma had the privilege of interviewing Julieta Venegas for the second time. Once again, we dispatched “the World’s First Julieta Venegas Scholar” to the historic Aztec Theater in downtown San Antonio for an interview about motherhood, the rise of the Mexicana singer-songwriter, and her legacy. For a refresher on our first Julieta Venegas interview from 2010, see here (Part 1) and here (Part 2). Also, don't skip out on her latest video, "Tu Calor," below.
by Andrew Casillas

Andrew Casillas: How has motherhood changed your work?

Julieta Venegas: In a lot of ways. [My daughter] has pretty much made me change my logistics and I’ve become more disciplined in some sense. Now I have a certain schedule that I like to respect, and it’s 9-5. I know it sounds silly, but it really works for me because I know that I have those hours and she knows that I have those hours, so in that sense I have become more disciplined. With touring, I think I pause a little bit more. I don’t do long trips and I don’t really feel like doing them because I want to really be around. It used to be that music was the center of everything and I’d work around making music. And now music has been put to the side and there is a five year-old girl sitting in the center now, and she’s the most important thing for me.

AC: What happens then when it’s 11 at night and you have an inspiration but she’s crying or making noise?

JV: Well, I skip the idea. I’ve also become really good at just grabbing the phone and going, “Lalalala” whatever, and just getting to the crying girl. And I do get ideas even when I’m with her. When I start writing, it seems like my brain starts working in that direction so sometimes a lot of ideas will start coming up when I’m with her. And I’m not shy with her, I’ll just grab the phone and record the idea and then later I’ll work on it, during my office hours.

AC: Has motherhood affected your songwriting or approach to storytelling, now that you have another perspective to draw from you? Or are the things that you write about still entirely personal?

JV: I think my vision has changed and [motherhood] makes it bigger. It’s definitely influenced my writing. Because when I’m with her we’ll just improvise a song and we do a lot of improvising. I sing more than ever when I am with her. Never before was I at my house and then start improvising a song out of nothing, you know? I’ll be making a salad and I’ll go, “Oh, let’s put the lechuga” and [everything] and she will sing along or she will make up her own verse and we play with it a lot. I didn’t used to do that. It’s just that music is also another element in our daily lives and that definitely influences the way that I work. In many ways, I’m just really natural about what I write. I’ve always sort of been natural but now it seems effortless, in a way.

AC: I’ve been slightly obsessed with the circumstances around your song “Explosión.” It definitely has a political bent to it that most of your songs do not. And in a sense, you’re kind of speaking directly to a segment of your audience, but not in a positive way. Did you think about that when you were putting that song together? Did you wonder if that chunk of your audience would understand the message? I mean, because you knew they were going to hear it…

JV: It was hard for me to write it because I don’t usually do songs that are politically inclined, because I wouldn’t call it political, but explicit about something so present [in Mexico] right now. I’m just writing about something that is really painful for me, and I think for a lot of people, definitely. You see your country changing so much and you could just write about other stuff, you know, write about love and other, easier things. But for me, I thought maybe I should just try doing this song that is bugging me, because I had this feeling that I didn’t know how to explain, and it wouldn’t go away while I was writing about other things. The song is just asking a question. Because if you don’t start by asking questions and you keep acting like nothing’s going on, then nothing ever changes, you know? It’s not that I became an idealist now and I think that one song is going to change the world or anything, but the song communicates what I was feeling at that point. I think that song came from the same place where love songs come from. It’s all connected to my emotions and I have a profound sadness and frustration for what I see going on in Mexico.

AC: You’ve been in the music game for about 20 years now. And, we’re at the point where people like Natalia Lafourcade are winning Grammys; not just the genre awards, but Big Time awards. There is a generation of artists, who are now part of the establishment, that obviously feel that they are in your debt—they admit that you’re a large influence. Do you feel like an elder stateswoman? Do you feel some sort of connection to this new wave of serious pop stars?

JV: Yeah, I feel really proud of them and I feel like that, not just because I was around before Natalia or Carla [Morrison] or anybody. Do I feel like I should get more credit? Not at all. I think that it’s part of a process and maybe I helped in the industry to kind of normalize the fact that a woman can be a songwriter and have her own ideas and have her own aesthetic and just not follow. She maybe doesn’t want to tell somebody else’s stories, you know? And maybe, that kind of pushed it. I think it’s pretty healthy also, for music to have a different vision, maybe a feminine vision; not necessarily a songwriter who does songs for a woman to sing them, or whatever. I think it’s just healthy for someone to tell their own stories, and to be around, and I think the more female songwriters there are, the less we talk about it, and it’s more like a natural thing.

AC: So, I want to talk a little bit about your legacy, then; because the U.S. has a history of independent female singer-songwriters. But in Latin America, let’s be honest, it’s only a recent phenomenon for female musicians to feel comfortable playing to strict gender roles. Do you feel like that’s part of a legacy that you and others like Ely Guerra have led to, or do you not think that’s something you could take credit for? Like that would have happened even if you had not come out with a nose ring while wearing plain clothes and makeup 20 years ago?

JV: {laughs} Yeah, I think that I don’t take credit for that. I mean, I definitely feel it’s a process, and it’s natural, that things will always change and they evolve, and I was just part of it. That doesn’t mean that I caused it. It was going to happen anyway. It always happens like that. A new generation always brings something different, and that’s the way it is. You can’t keep looking back and wondering how you’re supposed to do things. You just do it the way you feel like it, and especially in music, you know. You have to do whatever you feel, and that means, dress however you want, and it will be recognized as something normal . . . eventually.

AC: So we’ve been talking about your legacy . . .

JV: YOU call it my legacy {laughs}, I don’t call it that.

AC: I’m not saying it because you’re retiring or anything!

JV: No, no, no, I just mean it sounds really big, like [gestures], you know what I mean?

AC: Well, it kind of is, right? You’re what we’d call venerable… And that means that your music has thoroughly evolved into something distinctive. You have a sound essentially, by this point, right? Do you feel that you have a sound, or do you think that you’re still finding new things that are completely different with each record?

JV: No, the thing is that I think I just work intuitively; so I don’t have a conceptual sense of what I do. I don’t write a song, thinking I have to break everything that I’ve done before to do something completely different. I’m just so involved with the craft of writing, that I really enjoy it. Whatever my intuition leads me to do, whatever direction I might want to go, I’ll just take that direction. I think the writing part is still, and it’s always been, where I feel that I keep finding new directions. But maybe it’s subtle? It’s not like I completely transformed, because I do definitely like to work on songs. I consider myself more as a songwriter, and I enjoy that, and to me, the story, the lyrics, that whole thing, is why I work at it so much, because I really think that’s the center of everything.

AC: Is there any particular person or band’s career arc that you say, “I’d be happy if my career was like this person’s 20 years from now?”

JV: I think Caetano Veloso’s career, definitely. He’s been amazing for such a long time. And while she’s [more of a contemporary], Marisa Monte is someone else I admire. I think she’s amazing, the way she works, everything. She’s totally inspiring for me. Every time I see the way she does things, in every sense; her making records, and touring, and everything. I’m just a really big fan of hers. I mean, I think I really admire longevity. I just feel like you get to a point where, I just feel like it’s still new. I don’t feel like I’ve been doing it a long time. I mean, I’m not really counting the years that I’ve been around, or anything. I feel like I still have a lot to learn, and I hope I have enough time.

AC: So you don’t feel like the Rolling Stones, where you’re just playing the same 15 songs every single time you go out there? You’re still able to do the new stuff.

JV: I kind of need to do the new stuff, you know? I need to change the songs around. I’m not going to say that I don’t love playing old songs, because I love playing and seeing the audience singing along. When I go see a show, I like to sing the songs that I know. I love that part. But I also love winning them over again with my new songs. And it’s not an ego thing; like, “Ooooh, we have to listen to this new one. It’s all going to be about the new one.” No! It’s going to be like a party.

AC: So, speaking of old songs, do you see yourself, at any point, going back into the Aquí or Bueninvento well? JV: Here we go! {laughs}

AC: I know we’ve talked about this! I know the last time we talked, you said, “That’s a different person, and it’s hard for me to go back to that, because it’s like singing and pretending to be someone else.” Is that still true, or do you think that there might be a point where that person might want to come back and you want to share that feeling with other people?

JV: Well, do you mean doing a record like that?

AC: Either doing a record or even just playing those songs in concert. I know that you said that it was hard to get behind a piano and play “Casa Abandonada” because the person who wrote that song isn’t really inside of you anymore.

JV: Yeah, I don’t know. Maybe I will find a moment when I go back and try to like como asercarme a esas canciones otra vez. For now, I don’t think I’m even playing any of those songs for myself. 

AC: Really?

JV: Yeah, I’m not. I don’t know, maybe I will at one point. I don’t really think about it that much, because there’s something about the structuring, and the lyrics, and everything that sounds so far away from what I think or the way that I feel right now. But, maybe I will. You never know.