Interview: Natalia Clavier’s journey, from the beginning to ‘Lumen’

Thievery Corporation vocalist Natalia Clavier released her debut album 'Lumen' via Nacional Records.

Sometimes, things happen. They come together at times merely out of pure coincidence, but sometimes, it’s exactly what the universe had in store for you. Natalia Clavier believes that her journey is made up of many different coincidences. After listening to her new album Lumen, it’s hard to say that any of the occurrences that led her down this path were “just a coincidence.”

Natalia Clavier was born and raised in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Growing up in South America did not limit the kinds of music she was exposed to. Natalia recalls that her mother played anything from Argentinean folklore music by Mercedes Sosa to jazz to The Beatles. While Spanish was her first language, Natalia recalled her first experience singing in English.

“When I was about three years old, my mom was given an ABBA record for her birthday,” Natalia laughed. “I learned a couple of songs in English, which was really strange because I didn’t speak any English at that time. That’s when my mom found out I had some sort of ability with phonetics and stuff. If you didn’t know me, you’d assume English was my first language because I was singing exactly what you were hearing on the record.”

By age eleven, Natalia was performing as a soloist in a kids music and theater show and as a teenager she studied at a private school for independent theater. She shifted gears when she found that she gravitated more towards making jazz music, and then the coincidences began.

All that jazz, from Buenos Aires to Barcelona

A friend of Natalia’s was touring in Buenos Aires with a theater company from Barcelona when she played him a little demo of her performing “a couple of jazz standards.” Her friend told her she needed to be in Barcelona as soon as possible so he could introduce her to his contacts because he thought she needed to be singing. He wasn’t the only one. Natalia’s uncle, a famous industrial designer also from Buenos Aires who had relocated to Barcelona, shared a love of jazz music with his niece. He had started out as a jazz singer but left his dream behind once he realized his career as a designer would support his family. But her uncle had not lost his contacts from the Buenos Aires jazz circuit.

After hearing his niece sing, he set up a lunch with the owner of Clásica y Moderna, a venue that is a musical staple in Buenos Aires where artists of all genres play.

“The gig happened on my birthday,” Natalia said. “It was a coincidental and magical thing. It was my first performance as a solo artist.”

After that, her uncle would gift her what Natalia says is the best gift she’s ever received because it changed her life. Her uncle wanted her to move to Barcelona so that he could help her start her career, so he bought her a plane ticket and that’s when she began to grow as a singer.

An unlikely love and a gig in Austin

Natalia had always identified as an actress, not as a singer, which was why she was always insecure and shy about singing. That is, until her move to Barcelona. Starting off fresh, when anyone in Barcelona asked her what she did, Natalia would tell them she was a singer. She took a break from acting, which she admits was a bit of a relief at the time; the audition and casting situation that comes along with being an actor was never enjoyable for her.

Claiver performing with The Echocentrics at Pachanga Fest in 2011. Photo by Mari Hernandez.

Once in Barcelona, a friend of Natalia’s who was a promoter knew of an Argentinean singer-songwriter named Federico Aubele that was looking for a singer that knew Argentinean phonetics from Buenos Aires. She met with Federico and the pair were instantly friends. A 15- or 20-minute meeting turned into two hours of talk about music, astrology, spirituality—you name it. Natalia says that when they first met they were both in relationships and she felt like she blocked out any possible attraction to him because they were going to work together. Federico hired her to be the vocals on his tour across the world. She says she ignored a lot of signals over the next year and a half.

Eventually, those signals were too hard to miss, and after they each got out of their relationships, it happened. And it was right here in Austin, Texas. The two decided to date right before they played Austin City Limit Music Festival in September 2006, which would be Natalia’s very first gig in the States. Natalia shared that she loves Austin for many reasons and, obviously, this was one of them.

Before meeting Natalia, Federico had already released his debut album, Gran Hotel Buenos Aires, through ESL Music, an independent record label founded by Rob Garza and Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation. With Federico’s help, Natalia was introduced to “the family,” as she now calls them after all these years. Natalia was signed onto ESL in November 2006, becoming the first female recording artist on the label.

“Pride. That’s the only word I can think of!” Natalia said when asked how she felt after gaining that title. “I felt extremely, like I don’t know, happy and proud. You know, pussy power! Like yeah, ladies!”

Joining the ESL family

Hilton of Thievery decided to produce Natalia’s debut album, Nectar,and they began working on it the summer of 2007. One day, Natalia was in the studio with Hilton and ESL Music’s studio sound engineer Chris “Stone” Garrett, when Hilton mentioned that there were songs that Thievery didn’t get to perform anymore. He said that he and Garza hadn’t found a singer that had the exact range to perform these songs.

“So I asked what they were,” Natalia said. “And he said ‘Until the Morning’ and ‘Heaven’s Going to Burn Your Eyes.’ Another coincidence is that that is one of my favorite Thievery songs. I told him maybe I can try to learn them. He said, ‘Sure, let’s do it. I’ll call Rob and we’ll do a little audition.’ Of course, I was nervous out of my mind to learn the songs.”

But Natalia had nothing to worry about. Only halfway through the second verse of her audition, Hilton and Garza cut her off and told her it was enough; she was hired. Shortly after that, she performed her first gig with Thievery Corporation at the Merriweather Post Pavilion in Columbia, Maryland.

Nectar wasn’t even released yet and Natalia had already recorded vocals on Federico’s album Panamericana and had toured the globe with both him and Thievery Corporation. People were familiar with Natalia’s painfully gorgeous vocals by the time Nectar came out, and when the album was released, it was received well by the public.

New album a measurement of light

Almost five years after Nectar‘s release, Natalia has finally graced us with another album. Lumen was released May 28 on Nacional Records, an independent record label home to many Latin Alternative artists. The journey to Lumen was not an easy one. Natalia said that this was her third attempt in creating this album. She did a first version that was all over the place when it came to production. Her second version was done in more of an electronic point of view, “stylistically speaking.” It wasn’t until she met producer Adrian Quesada that she felt sure enough to go ahead.

“He’s so amazing. Super versatile,” Natalia said. “He was not even questioning how different my songs were. Never questioned that. He was totally enthusiastic about my songs. Sometimes, we would even think about the same arrangement without even talking about it, you know what I mean?”

Quesada helped her form an album that she wanted to be a representation of her journey. -It was a product of touring the world with Thievery and her now-husband, Federico, and her personal growth as a person, and as a woman. Natalia explained that she still writes from the same place. She never tries to write complex lyrics or poetry, and she doesn’t search for inspiration. When she comes up with ideas, she tries to record it right but usually she just goes for whatever comes to her, regardless of the language or the style.

The title Lumen meant something for Natalia. She said that she found it interesting that it was spelled the same way in different languages, specifically in English and Spanish. Also, the meaning of lumen is “the unit to measure the intensity of light.” Natalia found that the word had a very positive and healing message within it.

“I consider myself an eternal student, in the spiritual life. When I say student, I mean that I have a shitload to learn,” Natalia laughs. “My goal will really be to somehow help or contribute to the healing process of anybody, any living creature, through my music. Music is extremely powerful, and extremely healing. It happens to me, sometimes when I go to shows. My mood changes. Sometimes when you’re in a certain mood, you listen to certain music. There’s a clear and obvious connection there .”

LAMC and Lumen tour plans

Over six years after jumping into her professional music career, Natalia has a lot to show for her hard work. This week, she and Garza of Thievery Corporation, who is releasing his first solo album, hosted a double-album release show in New York City. She’s also signed on to perform at Summerstage alongside Lila Down for the Latin Alternative Music Conference. Natalia is looking forward to this performance because her mother will be making her first ever visit to New York, just to see her perform.

As for a tour in support of Lumen, Natalia believes that it will be sometime this fall due to her summer plans. And Austin is a priority on her list of cities.

“I have an amazing band in Austin, the Echocentrics. They are hungry to play this album,” Natalia said. “They were all over Lumen, for the recordings, and I would love to have them as my back-up band.”

At the end of the day, Natalia said that she can’t pick just one favorite part since beginning her adventure as a recording artist. She loves every aspect of it; from the studio work, working on songs, the arrangement, writing and going to the studio. But she did say if she was forced to pick, performing live would be it.

“It’s an instant connection and energy exchange that happens and when you see people connecting to something you created, there’s no other thing like that,” Natalia said. “No drugs will make you feel that or experience that. I have some memories of feeling so full from the audience’s energy. It’s incredible.”

Stream and download “Adios!” by Natalie Clavier featuring The Echocentrics below.

Natalie Del Castillo

Natalie Del Castillo's earliest memory is listening to the oldies station every day in her dad's Oldsmobile. He raised her on the classics and ignited her passion for music. Natalie recently graduated from Radford University in Radford, Va. with a degree in Media Studies with a concentration in journalism. She spent a summer interning for her hometown paper but quickly realized writing about town meetings wasn't her strong suit. While Natalie can't carry a tune or play an instrument, she can't go a day without discovering, listening and learning about music.

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