Charismatic, uplifting, and full of soul, Natalia Clavier’s songs are the kind that make you feel feelings, and a lot of them. The Argentinian singer-songwriter expertly incorporates elements of all different styles of music on her new album Lumen. You’ll find hip-hop beats, jazz instrumentation, soulful lyrics, South American rhythms, and gorgeous piano harmonies alongside Clavier’s brilliantly bold vocals. On this release, she shows off her wide range of musical talents, from crafting a captivating electro-pop track (“Trouble”) to serenading us with somber, impassioned tunes (“Every Time”). We can’t stop, won’t stop listening to this record so we called Natalia up to see what’s next for this multi-talented lady.
You just got back from Buenos Aires. How was that trip?
I played my first solo show there which is kind of crazy. I performed there with Thievery Corporation at a festival in 2010. I performed there before I left Buenos Aires in ‘99 but I wasn’t writing my own songs back then. This was a very interesting experience for me to perform for the first time in my hometown. I got some really nice features in the two biggest newspapers. They were very excited about it and it was a full house! It was great and very special because I played with my brother for the first time. I worked with him on both of my albums. He did some production and keyboard playing but we’d never played live together. He actually was the director of the band: he hired all the musicians, he made all the arrangements. We also recorded the show and hired an engineer to do this. The idea is to release a live album. Next week my brother will start mixing the songs. He was already checking the recordings and he said it sounds really good. There’s a 99% chance of releasing this album. The show felt really good sound-wise. Hopefully it’ll be out on Nacional Records, the same label that put out Lumen. What I can’t tell you right now is the release date because we still have to go through some logistics on it but I'm guessing early spring.
That's really exciting! Now, you’ve experimented with so many different genres of music over the years and combined them well on Lumen. How would you say this album compares to your past work?
This is my second studio album and the first one was my solo debut. Although I was not super young I was still very insecure and kind of unsure of pretty much everything. My first album Nectar that came out in '08 was produced by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation. It was a true blessing to have such a producer for my first album. That was incredible. I'm very happy with the results. It's a pretty good first album. But Eric has a very distinct taste for female vocalists. For example, one of his favorite singers is Astrud Gilberto and she has more of the whispery, velvety voice. I have that in me but I also have, as you might be able to hear on Lumen, other colors or ranges. So for the first album I feel like because I was so unsure and at the same time so happy to work with such a producer I pretty much followed his lead and did pretty much whatever he was suggesting. Vocally you hear a few styles on Nectar but it's a lot more shy. On Lumen I worked with Adrian Quesada, who is an amazing producer as well with lots of experience. Of course, there are five years between the two albums so I definitely evolved and gained more confidence as a singer. Something that really helped me gain confidence as an artist was touring with Thievery Corporation because I got to perform in front of thousands and thousands. Like really huge crowds at festivals like Lollapalooza and long tours around the world with such loving fans. That's the best training you could possibly imagine. When the time came to record the vocals, on one hand I felt more confident to try different things and on the other hand Adrian has a different taste. He likes all kinds of stuff, not just velvety voices. He encouraged me to go forth and get myself out there. Any idea that I would present to him he would say yes and want to try even more.
I really love how soulful “Every Time” is. In the past you’ve mentioned that every song you create had a vision behind it. Can you tell me what vision was behind that song?
Yeah, I definitely still have this thing where I not only hear but I see the songs. With "Every Time" I remember I was pretty melancholic the day I wrote it. Or I'll say the day I heard it. I rarely sit down to write music, I just hear the music in my head, which might sound kind of crazy but it's the way it is! Most times I hear the whole thing, even the instrumentation, the beats, the bass line, the keyboards, if there are strings or not, and most times I even hear the verse, the melody of the verse, with the lyrics and the chorus. I don't have a clear vision but it's more like a feeling. I remember I was feeling pretty melancholic and I have this black and white, old film in my head when I was hearing that voice.
I’ve heard you say that the title of your album (which means “light”) is such because you believe in the healing power of music. Could you recommend an artist who you feel does this very well? Someone whose music is uplifting and healing to you personally?
Hmm. The thing is pretty much every artist that I like or choose to like does something healing to me and inspires me. When I feel inspired by an artist, I think that's the first sign of a healing process. Something is happening there, something's unblocking, something's opening. I cannot tell you just one artist. It has to do with the time frame and the phase that I'm going through. I can give you a few names like Lhasa de Sela. Unfortunately she passed away at a very young age. She definitely inspired me a lot. Massive Attack as well, for example, I feel that way about some of their songs.
I know you’ve said your mother played music as you were growing up. What kind of music was it and how do you feel it influenced what you’re creating now?
It's probably my mother's fault that I like so many different styles and genres. She has this record collection that was so eclectic. She would play Argentinian folklore, the Beatles, Bob Dylan, ABBA, classical music, you freakin' name it! Spanish songwriters...She would play music for me to fall asleep to…Pretty much all day long there was music playing when we were home.
What was the recording process of Lumen like?
We recorded most of this album in Austin, Texas in between Level One Studios, that is Adrian Quesadas' studio, and Public Hi-Fi, that is Jim Eno's of the band Spoon. That studio in particular was incredible. It's a beautiful place with amazing gear and it was the first time for me to record with like, an $8,000 microphone. It's pretty crazy, I was like "Oh my god, I think I can sing!" Anybody can sing on this mic! [Laughs] That was a great experience. I love going to Austin to work. I just love the vibe of the town and there are so many musicians who are so talented. Adrian is surrounded by great musicians. It was very easy. Like, I had an idea and I said, "I hear a timpani on this song" and he said, "Okay, my neighbor actually plays the timpani!" "I hear a string arrangement here." "Okay, my other neighbor has a string quartet!" It was so great, everyone is a musician in Austin. The other really great thing about recording this album is that I got to feature the Echocentrics, a band that Adrian Quesada has that I'd worked with. We released an album in 2011 called Sunshadows and I did four or five songs on that album. All of the musicians in this band are Austin-based and they're amazingly talented.
You covered “Tu Que Puedes Vuelvete” by Atahualpa Yupanqui on your first album, Nectar. Are there other, maybe lesser known Argentine folk musicians you find inspiring or influential?
Unfortunately nobody who is currently alive. Mercedes Sosa was the Argentinian folklore songstress. I listened to her since I was a little girl. I was lucky enough to see her performing live at a festival in Córdoba, which is like the Colorado of Argentina. They do a summer festival there for Argentinian folklore music. I saw her a couple of times and she was amazing. Definitely a true inspiration. There are new artists that utilize Argentinian folklore in their music that I really love. I actually think it's brilliant the way they do it. Juana Molina is amazing. She was a former TV star comedienne who decided to quit at the peak of her fame and career to do music. Which is a crazy thing to do because the music she makes is extremely quirky and experimental and she makes electronic music with Argentinian folklore and other stuff. The Argentinian audience was super tough with her at the beginning. The New York Times, for example, was raving about her albums but in Argentina nobody was going to her shows. Fortunately that changed with the last album she released. It's called Wed. 21. So, funny enough, she chose an English title. Finally the Argentinian crowd got it. I went to her show right before I left and it was a huge venue and a full house.
What’s a reggaeton guilty pleasure of yours?
I don't know if it's reggaeton but there's this song that's very dance-y and super popular from a band called Calle 13. And the song is “Atrevete-te-te.” It means "go for it!" or "dare to!"
It’s impossible to not move your body when listening to Lumen. Do your live shows get pretty rowdy? What’s the best show you’ve ever put on?
It really depends on the venue and the crowd. Unfortunately or luckily. It would be pretty boring if there was always the same reaction. It just depends on the situation. But there's a highlight so far in my career for sure: SummerStage in Central Park this past summer. On July 11th, if I remember correctly. I opened for Lila Downs, a Mexican-American songstress, a multi-Grammy award-winning artist. She's very popular so it was a pretty huge crowd. The response from the crowd was great. It was a huge stage and I had the biggest band. I played with a lot of great musicians, including the drummer for Brazilian Girls. His name is Aaron Johnson and I think he is one of the best drummers I know. Also Federico Aubele played keyboards with me, which was great. He's actually my husband. That show was definitely fun. People were dancing and responding to the songs and clapping and cheering.
You have a really great, unique style. How would you describe your fashion sense?
Hmm. Well I definitely love fashion. I always have, I like dressing up. I go through phases. I have my super vintage, '50s kind of phase. Then a little bit more avant-garde, then a little bit more tribal, urban…The starting point is my mood for the colors of whatever outfit I'm wearing. I get inspired by that and then I work on the makeup which I usually do myself for stage purposes. Not so much for photo shoots because I don't trust myself that much. But for stage purposes I like to go all over the place. I use my creativity and come up with patterns and I draw stuff on my face and I do masks. And I change my hairstyle all the time because I get bored pretty easily.
"Rock Dreams" is an ongoing series of interviews with amazing female musicians we love, and is sponsored by Sock Dreams.