Chilean pop star Javiera Mena is no stranger to U.S. stages. The indie pop titan has performed in the country over the past few years at festivals and one-off shows, most recently in Los Angeles and San Diego in 2016. On July 8, she kicks off her first full-fledged U.S. tour, which takes her to cities like New York, Philadelphia, Seattle, Los Angeles, and San Francisco, including sets at this weekend’s Ruido Fest and New York’s LAMC.
The “Espada” singer is bringing a couple of dancers from Spain and Amanitas’ drummer/singer Natalia Pérez to treat audiences to high-energy live shows, powered by synchronized lights and visuals, through which she turns venues into memorable dance parties while flying through the best of her back catalog.
Mena is embarking on this nine-date tour only days after announcing her signing to Sony Music for her next album, which she’s already working hard on. It’s her first project without Cristián Heyne as a producer in 10 years. After almost 15 years as an independent artist, Mena is going major.
We got on the phone with Mena and talked about her experience with fans in the U.S., her major label deal, and her upcoming album.
After doing things independently for over a decade, you recently announced your signing with Sony Music. What is it about working as a major label artist that you’re attracted to?
Many different things related to strengthening my career. It has to do with that, and also with seeing how, when you’re independent, there is only a number of things and places you can reach, and they weren’t enough anymore. That, along with having a good relationship with the people who approached me, created a level of trust before starting to work together.
In Latin America, you can do things independently – I did it for four albums – but I wanted to reach a broader audience, and also try a different structure…They believe in my project, also, and value who I am and don’t want to change me; on the contrary, they want to improve my way of doing what I do and are giving me absolute creative freedom, even to choose who I want to work with.
“I’m signing the deal at a time when I’m a complete adult, and when my sound and goals are defined.”
You’re no stranger to pop music, and this signing actually makes sense. But are you subconsciously worried about trying to fit in the mainstream sound just because you’re now a Sony artist?
No, not at all. I’m signing the deal at a time when I’m a complete adult, and when my sound and goals are defined. Something I think about all the time is not to frame my music [based] on a trend, because I know I’m going to see that when I’m old and think, “Oh, why did I do that then?” Obviously, you’re going to have slight strokes of what’s going on [in music today] – that has happened on my records – but I want to make albums that age well. Those are the ones that search for deep sounds that don’t have anything to do with current trends…That’s why it’s a good time for me to sign, because I think I am level-headed, which Sony values a lot.
The configuration of your live shows has changed over the course of your career, but in the past few years you’ve come up with a setting that seems more in line with Pet Shop Boys or Grimes than with a classic band, which aligns more closely with the type of music you make. What was the journey to get to your current live show like?
It’s all about trying. I’ve tried it all: bass, guitars, many different configurations. I tried playing with a band for several years until, like you said, watching Pet Shop Boys and even Daft Punk and other electronic music and electro-pop bands, I realized there are two ways of tackling a live show: one is translating everything to a live band, which is something that could work, and the other is adding something extra, assuming that there are a lot of backing tracks and pre-programmed things that come out of the computer. Even if you can move them and give them an organic feel, it’s complicated.
I like watching DJs who, even though they may have everything pre-programmed, are very dedicated to doing a live show; they aren’t just playing the tracks as they are on the records, there’s production work [behind the shows].
“I have to find a new formula.”
While giving it thought, I came to this [idea] of adding dancing and giving visual content to the show, so it can transform something that can be so static, as electronic music can often be. [I did that] little by little until I met Tuixén Benet, a Catalan choreographer who has worked on many music videos and shares my vision and feelings towards choreography, and we started working on the show. To me, the way I’m doing things right now is what really makes me happy out of everything I’ve done throughout all these years.
I also like bringing the rhythm section to life with drums or percussion; that works very well for me. I’ve tried things on stage with and without drums, and I really feel better and communicating more when there’s a rhythm being played than when there isn’t.
This is your first proper U.S. tour, but you’ve played in the country a couple of times before. How has your experience with Latino audiences in the States been? Do you find it different from Latin American crowds?
I’ve encountered plenty of people who speak Spanish because of their parents but have never lived in a Spanish-speaking country, and the reception has been great. It’s different, because they live in the U.S. and they’re looking for sounds that are more “Latin.” I’ve also played with bands who revive the “Latin” element but aren’t from Latin America. People have even come to me after shows who ask me to keep singing in Spanish, because they treasure that a lot, and they tell me they’re looking for something different than what the American independent market can offer them. So that makes me want to keep singing in Spanish even more.
How’s the new album coming along?
In electronic music, when you start writing, you start producing at the same time, so I’m already focusing the sound. I’m learning how to work with the Monomachine from Elektron, so I’m discovering a new way of programming; it’s been hard for me because I’m all about Ableton [Live] and Fruity Loops, but working with a hardware sequencer gives you a lot of tools. I’m focusing on that and on trying to come up with a new sound, and I’m also thinking about working with another producer, so every time I go to bed I spend time thinking about who to work with. There’s a lot of people whose sound I’m interested in, so I’m a step away from choosing who to work with and finally taking the music out of my computer and into the studio once I get back from the States.
It’s also your first album without Cristián Heyne on board in about 10 years.
Yeah. I have to find a new formula.
It’s always good to shake things up once in a while.
Of course. I’d also like to work with different [producers], not just one person on the whole album, but to have the common thread myself and look for minds that can chip in on every song.
Javiera Mena plays Chicago’s Ruido Fest on Saturday, July 8. To purchase tickets, click here. Keep an eye out for Javiera Mena’s upcoming album in early 2018, and catch her on one of her U.S. tour dates below.
UPCOMING JAVIERA MENA U.S. TOUR
July 8 – Ruido Fest – Chicago, IL
July 13 – LAMC Highline Ballroom – New York, NY
July 14 – Tropicalia – Washington, DC
July 15 – DROM – New York, NY
July 16 – NuevoFest – Philadelphia, PA
July 18 – Nectar Lounge – Seattle, WA
July 20 – Brick & Mortar Music Hall – San Francisco, CA
July 21 – Teragram Ballroom – Los Angeles, CA