One of the most famous and successful musicians in Chile of the past ten years – fans queued for 12 hours to see her at The Cariola Theatre of Santiago de Chile – is virtually unknown in the UK – although she registered one small show at The Old Blue Last in 2012 – and to ensure that Arsenal footballer Alexis Sanchez is not the only famous Chilean export, we caught the Santiago-born superstar in the midst of her Otra Era tour that promotes her third album.
“Otra Era Tour is going really well. I have been in Spain in April, in Madrid, Barcelona and Valencia, and the audience was amazing, we had a really good time, it was magic. Last week I was in Perú, and it was also amazing. I have been there before, and I felt the crowd is growing so fast! Next week Im going to México, and then in summer time, I’m coming back to Spain to festival season. So my plans are to keep visiting Latino América (Chile, Argentina, Perú, México, Colombia, etc), and also USA and Europe“. Although she recently performed in Spain (Madrid, Valencia and Barcelona) and attempting to conquer Europe, her biggest fans – according to Mena – still lie in Mexico, USA, Spain and Peru.
Mena’s music is known for evolving round her cherished keyboard which create that sparkling 80’s electronic euphoria. “I have influences from different decades, but now that you are talking of my beloved 80s, I can say [I am influenced by] Modern Talking, Whitney Houston, Pet Shop Boys, Alaska and Los Prisioneros“. She goes on to explain how she translates the keyboard in her records into live shows: “Recently I have found a set [that is] very comfortable. I have been through many different machines, I love midi controller and on stage I use them, as I play with Ableton Live [Music Sequencer software], which allows me to be alone on stage. In Spain I perform by myself and also a group of dancers from Barcelona called Les Filles Follen, who perform a very special dance for my music. Where I don’t have the dancers, I play with musicians who play synthesizers and drums machine, and we look for the synchrony via midi and via human”.
Javiera Mena doesn’t come from a privilege family of musicians and has always been decisive about her career path in life: “I am the first musician in the Mena dynasty, and since I went out from school, I put all my heart in making music“. Her music videos show a love for pop culture that transcends different time periods like in the recent colourful video for “La Joya” and the sexually connotative “Espada” from Otra Era.
“It was an idea of the director, Luis Cerveró, of generating gifs reflecting the lyric of the song, what is exactly what you see.” Whilst in La Joya, she dresses up 1990s computer game icon Lara Croft, a media that has been incredibly inspiring for her music style: “The aesthetic of the computer games has influenced me very much. I consider it an influence in my music and in the visual that my music transmit. I don’t use to play games because I try to get away from the computer when I have free time, so I can relax and my back can rest“.
The pattern of videos that extends back to the Tron-esque “Al Siguiente Nivel” from her debut – has created a visual reputation for CGI adventures around multiplicity but this may be in coincidence of interpretation. “I work with artists who I admire and trust. Is for that, I feel that they have read my music very well, it seems that when they read my music, they see similar things“.
Otra Era (Another Era) ventures further away from her earlier romantic synthpop in Mena and intimate singer-songwriter folk in Esquemas Juveniles, to more accessible and infectious electro-pop territory that could be blasted out in nightclubs and bars. Although her set up hasn’t changed, she still co-produces her releases with long term collaborator Cristian Heyne. “For now, I want to make people dance, but I will keep making power ballads“, says Javiera Mena, when asked about the evolution of her sound and whether or not she would go back to the acoustic guitar of her debut.
From the promotional material, controversial album cover, music video and song lyrics, this next era appears to be her most fun and unrestrained. It’s not surprising that Mena is wearing anime glasses – alter ego has been an element used in her identity – but the topless artwork has caused some censorship issues especially in Europe but Mena explains the artistic rationale: “It symbolizes the visible face of the music, which is me. I wanted to transmit the image of a statue with no time, it can be from the past, the future or the present. There are different opinions about the cover, with censure of not showing the nipple of a woman. For us, its a calm image as the statues you can see in a square“.
The question mark over whether Mena will become popular in England is a still debatable especially as Mena is hesistant herself: “I don’t know UK market and I don’t know if they will be interested in Spanish music, but I would love to go there and explore the country“. England is famously intolerable when it comes to foreign language music, unless it comes ready made with a dance move like Las Ketchup’s “The Ketchup Song (Asereje)” or Los Del Rio’s “Macarena”. “For now, I stay making music in Spanish language, because Spanish is beautiful, but the covers, I would love to make an English one, it would be a challenge“.
Javiera Mena’s Otra Era is out now via Union Del Sur, purchase it on iTunes here.
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Interviewed by Matt Hobbs