Juana Molina's 'Homemade' Sound
Musical exposure started early for Juana Molina. When she was 5 years old, her
father himself a musician bought her a guitar and taught her to
A few months on, they recorded a song together for Molina's mother for
Mother's Day. The Argentinian songsmith might've started being a
musician in earnest that early, if it weren't for a performative hitch
that stuck with her. "I couldn't play and sing at the same time," she
laughs. "I was playing and when I opened my mouth to sing, the fingers
stopped. But what really paralyzed me was the fact of having an
'audience'. I never could sing nor play in front of anyone until a few
years ago. I think that's why it took so long."
What "took so long" is Molina making the transition from at-home dabbler
to well-known performer. She'd become well known, in her home country,
for entirely different reasons, becoming, first, a popular comedian, and
then a sitcom star in Argentina. She'd been making music all along,
making homemade improvisations with her harp-playing sister, but grew
convinced that her music "had to be as every other music."
"I remember one day a musician a real one, a professional one! came to our home and asked me to play one of my songs," Molina recalls. "I
just couldn't play the song all the way through. I kept stopping every
single measure to tell him that chord could be a different one, and the
lyrics are not yet definite; things like that."
It was when she first bought a four-track recorder that Molina's
aesthetic started to take shape, her improvisations naturally forming
into compositions. On the strength of a self-recorded,
all-instruments-played-herself demo, Molina's debut album, Rara, was
released in 1996. But, after having a producer dictate things to her,
having other musicians interpret her songs, and having her celebrity
exploited by the music biz, she grew dissatisfied with her experience.
So, Molina left Argentina and holed up, anonymously, in Los Angeles. By
then, she'd discovered computers, whose infinite self-recording
capabilities cultivated her home-made aesthetic.
Her second album, Segundo, was initially issued in her home country in
2000, and re-released by Domino earlier this year. An impossibly
intimate disc, it finds the songsmith authoring soft songs whose sound
flickering programming, narcotic keytone, gentle acoustic-guitars,
Molina's languorous Spanish singing creates a dreamlike environment.
It's not surprising to learn that, often, Molina recorded these
late-night lullabies deep into the night, in a "half-asleep" state.
"It wasn't something I did on purpose; I was very, very into the
recordings and just didn't want to stop. By the end of the day I was
really, really tired but I was so soaked in the music that I had the
feeling of losing something if I went to bed," she offers. "The most
important thing I discovered, recording like this, was the greatness of
mistakes. And, also, the fact that my subconscious started to play a
great role. Self-consciousness and filters went far away, back,
It was, in many senses, the culmination of all that she'd been working
at for her lifetime; the conclusion of those early forays into
spontaneous childhood composition. A record that she "loved very much,"
Segundo ended up Molina's musical introduction to the world at large.
Which meant, for the perpetually shy songsmith, that following it up was
no easy task. Tres Cosas, her recently released third longplayer,
presents Molina's defined aesthetic with fewer opaque layers
draped on top.
The artist calls it a "more naked" presentation of her sound, and it's
an idea that extends to the songs themselves. Recording when the tunes
were still half-formed, in basic structure, Molina often kept things
open-ended. "Sometimes I have an idea, I run to the computer to record
it, but once I'm there, the idea is almost gone, and what I do is
something totally different," she says. She's also, again, working
with a lyrical repetition that works well within her music. "My lyrics
have to be capable of transmitting the mood and sense of the song even
if the listener doesn't understand the language." Luckily, for Molina,
music as beautiful as hers knows no such cultural barriers. Anthony Carew [Tuesday, December 21, 2004]