“Por más que dejemos que cosas ajenas o extrañas a nosotros decidan las cosas que hacemos o no hacemos, nunca hay que dejar que el miedo nos detenga de hacer algo que queremos hacer,” declares Julieta Venegas right before playing the keys to “Vuelve” at New York City’s Irving Plaza. This is a heartfelt ballad off her new 2013 album Los Momentos, and an ode to her beloved Mexico, but to others, unfortunately, a fear of the unknown and misunderstood. This is also a song in the album that is accompanied by French-Chilean poetess Ana Tijoux and Mexico’s icon Rubén Albarrán of Café Tacvba. These three masters of song complete the message of not letting one be fooled by panic and its greatness. The above statement sums up Julieta’s fierceness and perseverance as a comprehensive artist. However, throughout her twenty-year music career, Julieta has in fact been many things to her followers: an emo-punk rocker, a songstress with a cult following, a critic’s darling, a countercultural singer-songwriter gone way too pop, an MTV/Latin Grammy/Grammy winner, and a sophisticated, multi-dimensional musician. She has also been another thing: misunderstood.
A Blossoming Julieta: From Classical Music to Songwriting
Born Julieta Venegas Percevault in the city of Long Beach, California, she is the spawn of Tijuana, Mexico, where she spent her childhood years to early adulthood. But for nearly twenty years, Julieta has been living in Mexico City, and maybe she never thought she would settle there when she began making music in Tijuana.
At 8 years old, Julieta began to develop her own identity via the piano. She is a twin so in a way, it was her approach seek out her own individuality from a “chaotic family” of five siblings and photographers. “I found a sort of refuge having and playing the piano to myself,” she tells Austin Vida. From the moment she laid fingers on the keys Julieta knew that she was destined for a life in music. She recalls, “My wish was to study classical piano in a conservatory, and eventually, become an orchestra director.” Later, when Julieta reached her teenage years, she started composing original songs.
Consequently, she began to lose interest in classical music when her high school friend invited her to play in his band called Chantaje (meaning blackmail) in the early nineties. “There, I discovered a different direction in music: songwriting, performing onstage, and improvising. [Chantaje] opened up another door for me and that’s when I realized I didn’t really want to pursue classical music.” For the next two years, she remained a prominent figure of the group, until Chantaje transitioned into the social-politically outspoken band Tijuana No!
On the Edge: Punk Rocker to Pop Princess
By many, Tijuana No! was considered one of the most notorious punk-ska bands of its time in the north of Mexico. Julieta toured with her new-named band for a short while, but sought another outlet. “I felt that I was very personal when it came to writing and [Tijuana No!] wasn’t really into personal writing. They wanted to do political stuff and I wanted to do something else. Since they were going to record an album, I thought it’d be better for me to leave the band,” she tells us. Shortly after, Julieta traveled to Mexico City for a vacation trip and settled there. She describes, “It’s a crazy city, a metropolis in every sense, which is basically everything I’m attracted to.” There she found a new music hub and befriended fellow musicians from Café Tacvba to Fratta who helped her kick start her career. Consequently, she released her solo debut Aquí (1997), produced by the Argentinian music guru Gustavo Santoalalla, which brought her a cult following throughout the country. Three years later, she dropped the also Santaolalla-produced Bueninvento, an album so praised in the indie Latin alternative scene that made her the mistress of it. Later, when Sí and Limón y Sal came along in the mid 2000s, now produced by Argentina’s Cachorro López, Julieta found enormous success unlikely for an artist of her background.
Going Mainstream Yet Misunderstood
As an artist with her remarkable songwriting skills, gorgeous music composition, and unique sweet timbered voice, it was no surprise that Julieta would reach high levels of success, especially with new albums that have a strong pop agenda. But, many of her indie cult followers wondered what had happened to that emo punk rocker and why she appeared to be much happier in her videos and albums. It’s fair to say they felt she turned the other cheek by going too pop and becoming too famous. It’s also fair to say that Julieta was misunderstood by them, because, as we would see, she was heading towards her own artistic visions with new love stories to tell and their heartbreaks. All the while, she kept evolving and never letting any criticisms get in the away of her creative development.
A Return With A Vengeance: Los Momentos
“Si vez que todo se termina y eso en la vida es algo natural, el viento todo se lo lleva nada carga el peso que lo anclará. El mundo es una marea que siempre te lleva y te traerá. Abre los ojos, suéltate un poco y déjate llevar,” sings Julieta in “Por Qué?” off the new album. Like the song’s ever-evolving essence, Julieta’s career in a way also has had a free spirited approach. She never stuck to one thing, one image, one label, one genre, or one identity. She also never let anybody tell her who she is and what she needed to be. Instead, she wrote and chronicled those moments in life that made us listeners feel, relate to, learn to understand, and make our own personal stories out of her songs.
This is her seventh album, to some extent Julieta has boomeranged back to her indie rock alter, but to a fuller, and more comprehensive manner. This time she worked with a different producer, Mexico’s Yamil Rezc, who also produced Zoé and Hello Seahorse! “I wanted to collaborate with someone who can change the way I perceive myself,” she explains. “The whole album came out differently [then the previous one, Otra Cosa (2010)]. I didn’t really use that many acoustic and folk instruments. There’s less accordion and more piano and synths.” She also claims a hodgepodge of influences from many literary authors and musicians: “I always come back to José Alfredo Jimenez and Caetano Veloso. There are also young songwriters like Chile’s Gepe and Argentina’s Coiffeur whom I obsessively listened to while making [Los Momentos]. Literature-wise, I was reading a lot of Joseph Roth, who’s an Austrian writer. Borges’ poetry is pretty present too as well as Alejandra Pizarnik, an Argentinian poetess. I love classic Russian writers like Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Aleksandr Pushkin.”
Motherhood and Music
Besides her well-rounded influences and her return to rock, there’s another big distinction in Los Momentos: she’s a mother of a three-year-old girl named Simona, who inspired her lyrical composition. “Having a baby makes you feel things differently. It opened up my radar and I started to see things in a different light,” she expresses, “I’ve always been into stories that tell an emotional situation like amor and desamor – basic stories about falling in the route of love and all of its different forms. Now that has expanded to other ways like loving the world, and loving other people. It’s not about these very passionate stories. These are other stories, and yes, I do think it grew into something else.”
Going on Tour and Future Plans
Julieta Venegas is currently venturing on a U.S. tour singing songs from Los Momentos, but also her older songs and crowd favorites like “Lento,” “Sería Feliz,” “De Mis Pasos,” “Limón y Sal” among many others. Before she makes her way into Texas, we were fortunate enough to catch her in New York City where she played for a large, intimate crowd with her five-piece band. Donning a sleek burgundy dress, the artist was surrounded by an audience of all types: alternative, fresas, families, couples, etc. We witnessed a woman of excellent showmanship. We listened and sang along with the narrator of those moments that made us feel the spark of young love, and maybe even sadness and despair at times, but also helped us get through those moments of struggle and realize to accept all of those moments.
Right before she began this tour, in a phone conversation she reflects, “Finishing an album and listening to it is like looking at yourself in the mirror, so I try not to listen to my music too much [laughs]. I enjoy playing the new songs live, but also playing the older ones too for the people who know them. They have a different interpretation, you know, they’ve gone through things with my songs.” We also asked her if there was anything else she wanted to accomplish that she hasn’t yet done, and she replied, “I’d like to produce other people’s music and see where that goes.” During this tour it was announced that Julieta has been nominated by the Latin Grammys for “Best Contemporary Pop Vocal Album.” All of these indicate to us that there will be a bright future in Latin music for years to come.
Below, check out her take on “Vuelve” featuring none other than Chilean pop sensations Gepe and Javiera Mena.