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Fascinated by the chaotic chirping and squawking of birds, as well as other strange field noises produced by nature, Molina has tried to replicate their unpredictable communication and vocal expressions in her most recent Latin-influenced, free-flowing folk recordings. What's more, you can actually hear those birds on Son. "Some of them are in the recording, especially in the vocal tracks," Molina says. Microphones in her modest home studio - "It's almost nothing, just a computer and a mixer," she says - picked up their sounds as she was laying down tracks for Son. Her instincts told her to leave them in and it's that preternatural intuition she has for intermingling natural and basic musical elements that makes Molina's work so original and vital.
This newfound desire to connect song and beast emerged on 2003's well received Segundo and carried through 2004's Tres Cosas. But where those albums depended more on keyboards, Son is stripped down and intimate, and yet somehow more layered, with Molina's mesmerizing acoustic guitar work and her own luminous voice filling the void. "I thought Segundo was a departure from what I've done all these years," says Molina. "With Tres Cosas, the arrangements were less layered, but with Son, there are lots of layers," especially with regards to the endlessly converging vocals that cycle in and out of Molina's work. If you ask her if that's what she intended to do, she'll say that nothing she does is intentional. "I don't try to do anything. It just sort of happens. I like it when it becomes more and more free and there are less thoughts involved."
Relying almost purely on instinct in the studio, Molina is that rare breed of artist whose work sounds wholly fresh and new, and engages the senses in ways you might never understand. Even Molina isn't sure how it all comes together; it just does - naturally. And that's pretty much how Molina's life has evolved. Born into a family of artists, Molina got her first guitar from her father at age 5. "He taught me my first chords," remembers Molina. "I was self-taught for a while; then I had guitar lessons." By the age of 10 Molina had decided she was going to record her own albums, and just four years later she was making tapes of her songs. Though music always came first for Molina, it was her stint as a comedic television actress that gained her fame throughout South America. Modestly, Molina claims to have stumbled into acting by chance. "It was an accident," explains Molina. "I only wanted a job that would pay the rent so I could make music. I made a good amount of money and that gave me a lot of hours, a lot of free time to work."
The long hours and daily grind of being in a TV show left little time for music. Her pregnancy changed all that. Giving up acting for good, Molina turned her full attention to writing and recording. The advent of computerized recording technology allowed her to work at home. Admittedly, Molina was - and in many ways still is - an amateur when she recorded Segundo, which was separated by seven years from her first album, Rara. "When I recorded Segundo, I had no idea what I was doing," she confesses. "I learned how to record while I was recording it. I had to learn where to put the mikes, the amount of DBs needed, the exact range of frequency ... I just learned." Her education didn't come from books or from listening to other artists. "I have to admit, I don't listen to a lot of music," says Molina, "so I don't think I'm really influenced by anyone. And sometimes the music I listen to is not at all like what I do." So, most of the time, she just stops and listens to what's going on outside. "I'm so fulfilled with the sounds of nature. They're so perfect. No music is going to be able to match those feelings," she says. "I think if you're inspired by someone, either you copy them or you are yourself. I don't feel like I am like someone else."
That's because, to some extent, music is always going to be artificial. It simply doesn't behave like nature. "There's all this randomness going on in nature," Molina says, "and that also applies to the city as well. But it's more beautiful in nature than it is in the city." These days, Molina lives in a home caught between two worlds, on the fringe separating rural Argentina and the hustle and bustle of urban living. But she hasn't forgotten her roots. A tapestry sewn by her great-aunt adorns the cover of Son and Molina believes it reflects her music. "The spangles and everything are laid out in a random mode, so it reminds me of the randomness in nature. The tapestry is so thick and full, and shiny and random." Getting those qualities out of her live sound is something Molina strives for; however, the odd guitar tunings that appear on record are difficult to reconfigure in a live environment. "There are so many, I wouldn't be able to tune the guitar like that live," Molina says. "Either I'd need multiple guitars or I'd be breaking strings all over the place." The shows that she has done over the years, however sporadic, have had a direct impact on her recorded work. "I record a lot between tours ... and the spiritual energy of a live show is something I try to capture," Molina says. Playing live can be an adventure, but it's those moments when equipment fails that can lead to something remarkable. "Sometimes you might have a problem with a keyboard not working, but when that happens, that frees the vocals up," Molina says.
Happy accidents, birds, street activity and a muse that's working overtime - that's what Molina's Son is made of. "I feel when I'm doing it that I'm being taken for a ride. Any sound I choose, it's not me playing it. The sound is telling me where to go. It's a strange feeling, but I love it. I just feel I'm not doing it." SEE ALSO: www.juanamolina.com
SEE ALSO: www.dominorecordco.com
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he'll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.
See other articles by Peter Lindblad.
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