Juana Molina is as strange and special as her music. The Argentine singer-songwriter speaks in metaphors and concepts, while her experimental folk/pop music reverberates eerie layers of repetitive synths, sounds, and vocals.
Molina's journey toward creating music is its own story. The influence of her parents — tango singer Horacio Molina and actress Chunchuna Villafañe — gave Molina her creative roots. After leaving behind an acting career and a successful Argentine TV comedy show, she put all of her energy into music. Her experimental tendencies flickered on her first album, 1996's Rara, and now they shine brightly on the 2017 album Halo, her most recent project.
The release of Halo has led Molina and her band (Odin Schwartz on guitar/synth and Diego Lopez de Arcaute on drums) on tours through Europe, Japan, and Latin America and even a series of shows in her hometown of Buenos Aires. "It's like being a teenager again," Molina says of her experience going on tour. She believes touring ignites her youthful spirit and eases her original dislike of being on the road.
Molina has found it easy to transfer the music on Halo from the studio to a live setting, especially when comparing it to past albums. "I find it inspiring to play songs in different versions," she says. Halo involves intricate synths and an array of instruments used in recording, so Molina worked with bandmate Schwartz to figure out how to play the songs live. "I don't mind if the song doesn't sound the same," she declares.
Halo is influenced by the folk legend of buried bones leading luz mala, or "evil light," which creates a halo that floats above the ground and scares travelers at night. Molina transforms this idea into an unusually playful concept, seen on the album cover, featuring an image of Molina's eyes superimposed on a bone. "Every album has a different start or impulse into what it ends up being," she says.
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Molina worked long and hard to write the lyrics for the album and surprised herself in the end with their quality — they're her best yet. "I don't like to use the word 'confessional,'" she says, "but I realized it was — not because of what I wrote, but because of people's reaction." Her songs feature lyrics in English and mostly Spanish. On her song "Sin Dones," which means "Without Gifts" or "Without Talents," Molina sings, "Cuando vi cómo viví y no me había dado cuenta/La claridad fue inesperada." These lyrics perhaps describe her sudden decision to quit acting to pursue music during a moment of reflection and clarity.
The album was recorded in her home studio in Buenos Aires and at Sonic Ranch Studio in Texas, where she worked alongside her current bandmates as well as Eduardo Bergallo and Deerhoof's John Dieterich, who appeared as a guest on some tracks. The Texas studio had a roomful of instruments, allowing Molina to experiment. "When you are facing a new instrument that you don't know," she says, "new things come."
Halo seems to be a turning point for Molina. She plans to improve her home studio to continue developing new songs once this tour has ended. No doubt her music will continue to be an ever-evolving array of experimental sounds.