International singer-songwriters Juana Molina and José González share a language—Spanish, as both are of Argentinean descent—and on Monday, June 19, at Neumo's, the two will share a stage. Just don't ask them to share a genre.
Both artists produce hushed, private, and haunting lullaby sighs that substantiate the concept "quiet is the new loud." Molina crafts emulsions manipulating Brazilian, Uruguayan, and Argentinean traditions and sings in her native tongue; González, who sings in English, garners comparisons to Nick Drake, drawing on flamenco and bossa nova (though his wistful cover of "Heartbeats" by fellow Swedes the Knife has so far earned widest recognition). But when connected by conference call, both Molina, at home in Los Angeles, and González, touring in Liverpool, spend the initial stretch of the exchange establishing what "folk" music means, and in what ways to them the term is meaningless.
"For us, 'folk music' means country music from America, which is certainly music we don't belong to," reveals Molina, who's originally from Argentina, but lived as a teenager in exile in Paris as well.
"If you talk about Swedish 'folk,' it's with violins and dancing," interjects González, born in Sweden and still based in Gothenburg.
"And Argentinean 'folk' music is also totally different, and different from what we do," continues Molina. "I have always thought of 'folk music' as that music that belongs to a place, but there are no more tribes separated far from each other. These past three decades, all music has been shared so much it's hard to have your own thing, and America has been the creator of much of the music people listen to. I grew up listening to American rock, pop, even country, while you probably didn't know our music. I am stamped in all sorts of music, so to me music doesn't have a country. And just because we use acoustic or Spanish nylon guitars it doesn't make our music 'folk.'"
Following the conversation on "folk," there is another word whose translation and meaning is called into question. This is the Portuguese word saudade, a type of melancholic longing that's not mired in the fond remembrances of nostalgia. Saudade is a word that refers to the future, and coincides nicely with the naturalistic, expressionist aspects of Molina and the bleaker bent of González's work, seeing as how both continually look forward in their appropriation of formative themes.
Both Molina and González began their careers under much more kinetic circumstances. Molina was a television star known for her comedic versatility, while González played bass in several punk, hardcore, and indie bands. But both discovered that their inspiration rang much truer when they were out of the public eye. Within this periphery, both found their resonance—as if in a children's story where a fairy comes and touches you and suddenly a preexisting mold awakens, describes Molina, who often speaks in flourishes. The seemingly mystically roused mantras, however, were absorbed and adapted best in solitude, and expressed with a similar quiet.
"I see now that as a younger person I was really shy and protected," says González, previously always the sideman. "What has happened is that as I grew I became strong enough to fight fears and for my own thoughts to be expressed. But this does not mean I want to overwhelm anyone else."
Molina agrees that the type of music she and González instinctively express helps counter how overwhelming day-to-day life can be. On their respective albums—the field-recording-flecked Son (Domino) and stately-while-stark Veneer (Mute)—Molina and González make detailed surveys of pensive landscapes. Harmonies and melodies are the constant signposts throughout Molina's smudges and González's sketches. As they unfurl, the songs of both gain heft through an air of introspection over mere added instrumentation.
"Some flowers, if you just water them, they have their own color, but put ink in the water and they have other colors, too; and the plant doesn't know," says Molina. You can't force your rules to work in a different place. You observe, be quiet and little by little you are yourself with additional manners. José and I were fed with so much, and it filters through us to become us, and we choose not to pretend to be anything else." Including firstname.lastname@example.org