Mon Laferte on How Her Theatrical, Romantic Pop Draws Inspiration From Classic Boleros

Photo by Alberto Hidalgo

Chilean pop songstress Mon Laferte has come a long way since the early days of her career singing in Valparaiso dive bars. Now one of the rising stars of the Mexican music world, she has found great success in her home away from home, cultivating and growing a fan base and finding herself on a non-stop grind. She just wrapped up her first US tour, and is following the trip with festival dates all over Mexico and Latin America and an impending glorious homecoming as a performer at Festival de Viña del Mar 2017.

Mon Laferte’s dramatic appeal is irresistible. References to vintage pin-ups and rockabilly, coupled with a soaring vocal range, make her instantly marketable. She basks in the theatrical, vengefully cursing the lovers who have spurned her while also winking and flirting with the audience. The young diva credits all these flourishes to her rich bohemian upbringing. “I always go back to where it all started,” she says, “which is when I was a girl living between Viña del Mar and Valparaiso. I listened to my grandmother’s music: boleros, tangos, and very romantic music – so I feel it really stuck to me. My first concerts were playing borrowed songs. When I was just starting to sing in Valparaiso in a bar for older folks, they would ask me, ‘Which one do you know?’ and I would respond ‘Besame Mucho,’ and it was on!”

Though she cites influences ranging from Aterciopelados to Nirvana to Chile’s local punk scene, Mon Laferte’s music is every bit her own. “When I write, it’s very organic, but when it comes to recording a song, I definitely have the drama in mind. I always compose on guitar, but the accompaniment that goes into the final song brings in that dramatic adornment. I love super tragic horns. I also try to visualize what these songs will look like on a stage or in a video.”

Photo by Alberto Hidalgo

Mon is part of a recent trend of indie musicians relocating to Mexico to find fame and fortune, and one of the wave’s great success stories. “I think in Chile we have something really special going on,” she explains. “A lot of very interesting things are happening but it’s still very small, so sometimes it’s not enough. I feel like the quality of musicianship in Chile is at an incredibly high level, so people reach a point where there is nothing left for them but to leave and try and find opportunities abroad. I would say Mexico is Latin America’s music capital; it’s the largest and most influential country. That was the case for me. When I left nearly 10 years ago, there were barely any places to perform in Chile. It was very difficult, especially if you were trying to make it as an independent artist.”

Grateful for the success she has enjoyed abroad, one of Mon’s most exciting achievements is still on the horizon. “I’m going back [to Chile] in December to play Festival Frontera, and in February I will also be at Festival de Viña,” she beams. “That’s my home. I was in the audience many times as a child, and it was the only kind of concert I had access to, sometimes only through TV. I come from a working-class family, so going to these big shows was impossible for us. Having it on TV made it possible to see all these wonderful acts we loved.” Festival de Viña represents the pinnacle of success for most Chilean artists, a prize that is jealously guarded by their peers.

Though she’s been a big name in Chile for years, the singer’s international star rose with her most recent album Mon Laferte (Vol. 1), which earned her two Latin Grammy Nominations. “I never thought I’d be nominated for a Grammy,” she gushes, “let alone for this album! Recording this album was all a learning experience. I made it at home. I’d never worked alone. I didn’t have a producer. I recorded everything on my computer. It was like a workshop. I had to learn to use Logic, recording isolated drums into a little mic. It was all very homemade, so I never fathomed that I’d receive two Grammy nominations.” She adds, “I feel like music has super powers; I’m grateful it all worked.”

Photo by Alberto Hidalgo

Mon Laferte is a woman on the go. As she rode around the U.S. in a bus with her band and crew during her tour, she also wrote and recorded material for her new album, with no signs of fatigue or stopping in sight. “I love working this way,” she says with a big smile. “I’m one of those people that really enjoys working under a time crunch. I’m recording while on tour and I’ll have two or three days blocked for me to go back, compose and record, and that’s kind of how it’s been all year.”

“Bouncing between the tour and the studio non-stop drives the songs to mature,” she continues. “It allows me to digest and edit.” Reflecting on the end of the trip, which took her on a big bus across the country, she offers an apt comparison – a sign that she’s definitely made it. “I feel like Selena!”

Mon Laferte plays Santiago de Chile’s Festival Frontera on Saturday, December 3. For more information, click here.