The Quietus - A new rock music and pop culture website

A Quietus Interview

The Art Of The Control Freak: Juana Molina Interviewed
Erin Lyndal Martin , November 18th, 2013 09:37

The Argentinian TV star turned singer-songwriter tells Erin Lyndal Martin about the evolution of her sixth album Wed 21

Photograph courtesy of Marcelo Setton

A 34-year-old comedic actress from Argentina risks her career in television to try out one in music and ends up becoming an indie darling around the world. A ludicrous plot line to be sure, but it worked out rather well for Juana Molina. In fact the former star of Juana y sus hermanas has recently released her sixth solo record, Wed 21.

Though the album isn’t likely to shock anyone familiar with Molina’s music, it still presents a masterful display of her ever-evolving skill as a musician. It is also the first record which finds her experimenting with an electric guitar, something she tells us she should have done two decades ago. For Molina, who plays all the instruments on her records, that change was the start of a great adventure and a new romance in her music, the love of pure sound.

I had been curious about how you found the path you ended up taking. How did this album begin for you?

Juana Molina: The first thing I did was to buy an electric guitar. Last year I bought an electric guitar and some pedals. I used to have some after-effects on my guitar, something I've used a lot in the past but I didn't know these existed on pedals. I thought they were just sound effects on computers; I never thought they were emulations of real effects. When I learned I could buy those effects in the physical form of guitar pedals, I went crazy, crazy, crazy! So I bought the guitar and also a few pedals to work and play a little with. From there, I found new sounds immediately! I found out that I should have bought an electric guitar maybe 20 years ago. Plugging a guitar that you play really gently into an amp, and you have this huge sound - that was a big shock. A great surprise. I felt full of energy and full of the desire to play very loud things and to make very loud noise. I [was aware of] that world of noise bands, a world that's been going on forever, but I didn't understand that world until I was in it myself.

You've talked about seeing images as you're writing. Do you use visual art to capture those images?

JM: No, because I already have those images inside me, so it would be like dating two boyfriends at once. These images can't come on their own. They come simultaneously with the music, and they are fixed. It's not something I can change. Every time I hear a sound, I will have one of these images.

Where does the album title come from?

JM: It's a very silly story. It's not interesting at all, but I can tell you. I wrote that song, and I had a power cut, and before the power went off I had to save everything quickly. I probably looked in the computer and saw Wed 21 as a date, but I didn't realise it was a date because my mind was so somewhere else. The next day when I opened my computer I couldn't find that song, so I sorted by date and there it was. I forgot that I had named it that quickly. I kept working on it and every time I saved it as a different version: Wed 21 1, Wed 21 2. After that time, there was no way to change the title. It was everything. When I saw those letters together, it wasn't a date for me. It was just an abstract name. It was that sound that I was going to hear. So those letters represent that sound. Every other title I tried to find was too heavy or I was trying to be meaningful. It was not from me but from my daughter that the idea came - [starts doing voices] "Why don't you just call it Wed 21? It's a date. What do you mean it's not a date? In English, it's a date..." Even if we just changed a letter and it didn't mean anything, it lost something. We all loved the name so.

I was reading an interview with you recently in Rookie where you went back to the time when you first canceled your comedy show and decided to be a musician. Was it something about becoming a mother that led to that decision?

JM: It wasn't being pregnant per se, but I had to stay in bed for two months when I was pregnant not to lose the baby. I realised that a long time had passed by and I was going to become old, and I would die without doing what I always wanted to do. I knew it was already late for me to start down the path of music and that the big stars of rock were already younger than I was. But I preferred to do it [rather] than dying with all this hate inside because I didn't do what I wanted to do. We have this saying, "to die with your boots on", to die in the middle of a battle. If I was going to make the big mistake of my life, to leave this career that I had that was so big and so successful, to leave this career was a risk I was going to take. I think these nine months of pregnancy are a gift nature gives you to get you ready to be a mother. You couldn't be a mother without thinking about it. You want to be ready. Of course that influences you, but in a way I can't really explain.

You play all the instruments and pretty much do everything yourself on your records. Was it hard to get that kind of creative control from the start?

JM: I started recording on a two-track, the one everyone had a few years ago. Then I heard about this thing where you can record four tracks. That was revolutionary for me, so I started just to play around. The main reason is I just didn't dare to play in front of anyone else. I didn't feel comfortable with someone else in the room. If someone else was in the room, I wouldn't feel comfortable doing what I wanted to do. I would try to play something that the other person or people would love or would like, at least. Nothing was true because I was not playing what I wanted, and they were not listening to anything that was coming from anywhere true. I think that was the beginning of me becoming this kind of control freak. I'm awful! It doesn't give me any peace. I know so well what I want. I wish I could be different, but I know so well what I want. I think I could only do it this way if I found the perfect partner where everything [we] created was the sum of something new. Neither them nor [me], but the sum of us. I think that's the only way working with someone else is worth it.

Does being a control freak extend past your music?

JM: I'm a horrible control freak. It's awful! I'm nice, but if someone is folding some sheets while I am playing the guitar, I keep one eye on the way that they are folding the sheets. I try not to say anything and I say to myself, "I'm not going to say anything, I'm not going to say anything..." before saying, "Why don't you fold them the other way because then they will fit better in the shelves?" I try to refrain, but I just haven't learned yet. At least I'm aware, but that's not enough.

Can you tell me anything about the upcoming tour for the new record?

JM: Now we are touring only Europe and we end the tour in Hong Kong and Japan. I've never been to Hong Kong before, so I want to be shocked. I went to my computer and googled it to see some photos and then I saw two or three and I didn't want to see anything else. I think I prefer to have that shock when I am there and then see the photos and recognise what I've already seen. This is not a big tour, it's just a coming back because I haven't played in a very long time. It's like putting the engine to work. It's a small tour but I'm glad it's happening because it will put me in the mood of doing this again.

Wed 21 is out now on Crammed Discs