A Q & A with Carrie Rodriguez
by Kelly McCartney (@theKELword) for FolkAlley.com
Having bridged various cultural gaps her whole life, singer/songwriter/fiddler Carrie Rodriguez feels right at home constructing the same sort of unifying structures with her music. Rodriguez does so by reaching back into her family’s history and her culture’s heritage to find the perfect bilingual voice to inhabit the recently released ‘Lola.’ Her open-armed, heartfelt artistic vision was brought to life with help from producer Lee Townsend, bassist Viktor Krauss, drummer Brannen Temple, and guitarists Bill Frisell, Luke Jacobs, and David Pulkingham.
Kelly McCartney: You’ve said you kind of imagine “Lola” as an alter-ego or a character you step into. What are the primary differences between you two? What freedoms does that shift allow?
Carrie Rodriguez: Singing in Spanish requires me to tap into a different part of myself, especially when I’m singing some of these dramatic, classic Ranchera tunes. The lyrics are so heavy duty that I need to sing with as much raw emotion as I can muster or the songs just don’t work. So when I refer to “Lola” as being an alter-ego, I’m drawing inspiration from the great Mexican artist Lola Beltran who was not only extremely expressive with her voice (and would often cry in song), but also with her hands… so beautiful.
Some of my songs in English, especially the ballads that I do, are quite understated. They require me to get inside of a song in an intimate, quiet way, which can be very moving, as well. But yes — in terms of freedoms — when I become “Lola,” I’m definitely wearing my emotions on my sleeve for all to hear… at full volume… and there is a lot of freedom in that kind of expression!
How deeply did you dig into your great aunt’s work — and other, similar artists — to tease out that side of your artistry?
I’ve spent quite a few years (probably over a decade) listening to my great aunt’s music. I would especially love to put it on when I was alone and sing along while dancing around the house. But only in the past couple of years did I start discovering some of the other artists of her era… both singers and songwriters. Agustin Lara and Cuco Sanchez are two of my favorite writers. As for my favorite vocalists… I’ve shed many a tear sitting on the couch listening to Chavela Vargas — not many singers are brave enough to be as vulnerable as she is. So raw and emotive. I’ve also learned a lot about the art of singing from listening to Lola Beltran, Javier Solis, Pedro Vargas, and Lucho Gatica.
“Z” proves that inspiration can truly come from anywhere. What’s the most surprising place you ever found a song?
On a frozen lake in Minnesota.
Considering the current divisiveness in America, do you feel that releasing a bilingual record with political leanings is risky, reflective, or somewhere in between?
I didn’t set out to make any kind of political statement with this music; it is simply a reflection of my own personal journey of growing up as a half gringa/half chicana fiddle -laying country singer. That being said, if this record spurs on a few uncomfortable conversations, I see no risk in that. I think music is always going to be a uniting force, and we need it more than ever during these times.
The Sacred Hearts band… those are some real-deal players. How did it feel to have that kind of musical support for the project?
I had dreamed of this particular group of musicians playing this music from the very beginning, and to have it all come to fruition was nothing short of magical. In the recording sessions, everyone had their ears and hearts wide open. We ebbed and flowed. We played off of each other and, as a result, all the performances we used are entire live takes. In fact, I never even had to redo any of the vocals. That’s a first for me. I was also six-and-a-half months pregnant when we recorded, which added an extra layer of mojo. My baby would be dancing around in my belly every time I had the headphones on and the band was grooving.
‘Lola’ is out now via Luz Records and is available at iTunes and Amazon.com