Somewhere between being the most buzz-worthy Mexican singer-songwriter and blowing up into a full superstar lies the Tecate native Carla Morrison. Morrison began her musical career with the Latin indie band Babaluca in Phoenix, where Carla began to make a name for herself as lead singer. But after a successful time with the group Morrison began to feel homesick for her northern México City. So she returned to Tecate, began to load songs on MySpace and quickly a buzz began to grow around her. I first stumbled across Carla Morrison though a breathtaking and sublime cover of Manu Chao’s “La Despidida“. It only took one listen to understand that I had came across something hauntingly beautiful and someone with boundless talent.
In 2010, Carla’s career really began to really take flight with her debut album Mientras Tú Dormías. With help composing from Mexican pop singer Natalia Lafourcade, Morrison curated a stunning collection of songs that displayed all of her talents. With a heart-on-your-sleeves approach to songwriting, and her organically retro-folk sound that is both fresh and contemporary, Carla Morrison proves that she could very well be the present and future voice of the Mexican indie music scene.
Carla Morrison made her South by Southwest (SXSW) debut this year and based on the rousing response to her performance at the Naco showcase, it looks like she has made some more fans. I had the opportunity to chat with Carla Morrison during SXSW. We talked about her music, her rise to stardom and whats next for the “Tecate Sweetheart”.
What made you decide to leave Babaluca and pursue a solo career?
Morrison: Well I decided to go solo two and a half years ago. When I was with Babaluca, I learned a lot of things as far as arrangements and composing. Shortly thereafter, I realized that there were a lot of things I wanted to do that were different from the group. I wanted to make music in Spanish, so after three years I decided to leave the band. It was kind of hard since I didn’t feel like I was ready to go solo yet, but I felt it was the right time.
You have a more minimalist/folk sound than what you were playing with Babaluca. How did this sound come about?
Carla: I’m not really sure. People tell me I have a really Mexican taste, but I don’t feel like I had planned to make this type of music, but rather it showed the melancholy I was feeling living in another country and how much I missed México. It came out and it was kind of weird, because that wasn’t my intention, this folky sound. I never actually played the guitar really. I have only been playing it for a year now, me cagaba jugar el guitar cause it word hurt my fingers. For me, it was the keys that I preferred playing, but I liked the way the guitar sounded so really the sound came very naturally.
When you initially decided to go solo, did you have the goal of going at it professionally?
Morrison: Well, it all came out of my despair. I was so tired of living in Phoenix. Before I decided to leave, a friend of mine who had a studio told me we could record something so if I ever wanted to play at a coffee shop I could say “Hey this is my CD”. I was very hesitant. I felt very broken and I didn’t want to record until I decided it would be good. I told him just record me but I didn’t want him to help me with production. When I put up my first son on MySpace people started contacting me, and then I met Cosmica Artists that helped me with more of an official release. Then when I came back to México more people started contacting me and wanting me to do shows. I was okay with it but I didn’t want to charge because it was just a hobby. I really didn’t take it as a serious thing until my mom started telling me that I should start charging for at least gas. I was somewhat embarrassed until I decided to start charging. Thank God that I haven’t had to work, so it went from a hobby to a full-time job.
Tell me about the process of making Mientras Tú Dormías and what it was like working with Natalia Lafourcade.
Carla: Well, one night I opened for Natalia in Mexicali. After the show she told me that she wanted to help me out with the production. I was surprised and thought “This is too weird”. I really didn’t have a clear concept at the time when we recorded the album in her house. It was really nice obviously, but her studio was really unique. We recorded in her room, the drums in the kitchen and vocals in the living room. It was very organic.
Sounds like it was a very personal process.
Carla: Yes it was. Natalia as producer was very different from other producers that will tell you “This is the right way and the only way”. Natalia was different as she gave me options and said “You choose the one right for you because in 20 years I want you to say ‘This is my CD’ and be proud”.
Carla: More than anything, I learned to have more patience when making a song and that every song should have its own personality. I learned to see the song and see all the different ways of changing the song and not just doing the song all at once. Maybe that’s the way people are used to doing it but sometimes it’s good to step back and view things in a different way. I can already tell you that with the next CD I will have more patience.
Your songs sound very personal. Do they always come from personal experiences?
Morrison: Some songs are born from specific moments from my life but others are from friends. I will see a friend and she’ll tell me her experiences. I’m an emotional sponge so all the bad and good I take very personally so I have to be careful. There are other times when the songs do come from my own personal experiences. I let the song come naturally. I don’t sit down and write a song. I write a song when I begin to feel like how you feel before you are about to get sick; you sneeze, you’re tired and feel like you are not yourself. For me, it’s like when you get the full blown flu. That’s when the full song comes out all at once in one day. It’s weird but I try to keep it as honest as possible, what I can say is that the next album is almost entirely mine in the sense that they are personal experiences. Although my songs can be very melancholy, I always like to leave a little light.
So if there is a song on this album that best represents your personal philosophy of love, which would it be?
Morrison: [Laugh] Well there are a lot of different themes in this album, like love and losing love. The one that would be the best representative of my view of love would be “Compartir” because esta muy clavada.
With only 8 songs, Mientras Tú Dormías seems somewhat short. What was the idea behind that?
Morrison: The first EP was 6 or 7 songs because that’s how it came out. This one was 8 songs because that’s that’s how me and Natalia (LaFourcade) wanted it. We didn’t wanted to have a song that you would skip able or just be a filler. We wanted to leave people wanting more and in the third CD have ten or twelve songs. It was intentional because we wanted to the best songs out there and leave people in love with the album.
The album seems to be well-received and You’ve performed at a lot of sold-out shows all around México. Where you expecting this reception?
Morrison: Yes and No, I knew it would be good but I really couldn’t imagine it or touch I have never been though that, I don’t really pay attention to all that, I carry it with my heart but only I give it the necessary importance because at the end of the day I’m a musician in progress. All this is overwhelming and beautiful because I don’t know if it will happen again, I can’t really describe it in words.
I know that you toured in the U.S. this year with Julieta Venegas. What was experience like?
Morrison: Well people are always nice to me but obviously they are more rowdy in México. Often times here (U.S.) people tell me they don’t understand my words but they say they like my voice. So even though they don’t understand my music they still feel a connection and that’s beautiful.
Do you want to tour more here in the U.S. or do you prefer touring in México?
Morrison: To be quite honest I prefer México, but I also like playing here because it’s like a new challenge for me; I have to prove myself again. In Mexico it’s more fun because people know who I am and know my songs. Coming to the U.S. is like starting all over.
What are your long term goals? Where do you see yourself in say 2-3 years?
Morrison: Well, that’s thing I most I most avoid. I hardly look to the future. What I can say I want to do later this year when I have more free time is to start writing my new CD. I am currently planning to make a poetry book that will have unedited lyrics to songs that I never really composed entirely. I want to release an acoustic EP for my songs that aren’t acoustic from the last two albums. I also have a documentary that will be coming out. Really it is whatever comes out or happens as I really don’t plan too much because life gives you twist and turns. I’m really excited right now because more shows are coming and I’m not even expecting them.
Watch Carla Morrison’s music video for her new single “Yo Sigo Aqui” from Mientras Tú Dormías below: