It’s been a busy year for Julieta Venegas, one of the leading female voices in Spanish language pop. The Mexican alt-pop darling is nominated for best pop album in the upcoming Latin Grammy awards, which will take place in Las Vegas on November 21st.
Just last week, Julieta wrapped a two-month stateside tour in support of her first album in three years,. titled ‘Los Momentos,’ which was released in April.
This past summer she headlined a triple-bill featuring singers Carla Morrison and Alex Anwandter at New York City’s Central Park Summerstage.
The day before the performance, Julieta stood calmly in a corner of a frenzied press room in midtown Manhattan. At that point, she was over 30 dates into a lengthy multi-legged tour that had her crisscrossing between Europe and North and South America since January.
But that humid afternoon, Julieta, easily the biggest name in the room, was the definition of grace as media members lined up to pepper her with 10 minutes worth of questions. They asked Julieta about her two decades in music. They wondered how motherhood had changed her and whether it influenced ‘Momentos.’
The 11-track effort, co-produced with Hello Seahorse and Los Bunkers producer Yamil Rezc, took close to a year to complete, the singer-songwriter recalled. “I started to write it around February  and March; we began to record in May, and we were in mixing it in September,” Julieta said in Spanish.
The new record does illustrate changes in her world since releasing ‘Otra Cosa’ in 2010. She dedicated “Hoy,” the bright album opener to her daughter, Simona. The three-year-old can also be heard in “Un Poco de Paz,” the final song on ‘Momentos.’ (Julieta has also said she’s composing children’s songs for an animated movie slated to premiere in March 2014.)
For the first time, Julieta recorded the entire album in her own studio, which is adjacent to her home in the Coyoacán neighborhood of Mexico City.“I sat at the piano and drum machine and wrote in my studio,” Julieta recalled, “which was also different [this time] because it gives you a lot of peace and independence to be able to work in your own space.”
‘Momentos’ also addresses increased violence and bloodshed in Mexico but Julieta rejects assertions that songs “Vuelve” and “Tuve Para Dar” are social critiques.
“More than anything it talks about Mexico—about my concerns for Mexico—but it’s from an emotional standpoint,” she explained. “I’m not narrating things from a place of protest. I’m simply expressing the elements we’re living under.”
“We live with more fear. We live with more violence. That filtered into some of the songs but it’s not necessarily a protest in form,” Julieta continued.
The mood on ‘Momentos’ is more sober than her previous albums. Heartbreak, loss, and betrayal are its most pervasive themes. But even Julieta’s darkest moments tempered with optimism. Her voice refracts joy and sorrow into cool but ultimately pleasant hues.
The songs are also more sparse and electronic than ever before. ‘Momentos’ favors synths over string instruments, and synthetic beats to accordion-laced balada tempos. It was a necessary departure from her folkier past, she says.
“I’m very much about finding opposites in music,” Julieta explained. “When I’ve utilized something a lot, I like to see what happens when I take it away. If something’s too familiar, I like to pivot elsewhere because I’ll know that the starting point is different.”
Julieta’s sonic departure was most evident live at Central Park the next day. The alt-pop singer artist led with singles from ‘Momentos’ and followed them up with more buoyant hits like “El Presente,” “Canciones de Amor,” and “Me Voy.”
The annual Latin Alternative Music Conference (LAMC) has caught the singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist at vastly different stages in her career over the years.
Julieta was a bicultural musical upstart at her first LAMC in 2000. Born in LA, raised in Tijuana, and weaned on rancheras and Anglo pop, the Mexico City transplant had borderland ska punk in her distant rearview and artful rock-pop on her mind.
Eight years and two hit albums later, Julieta returned to LAMC and made her Central Park Summerstage debut as a platinum-selling, award-winning Latin American pop star.
In 2013, more 15 years after her solo debut, Julieta stood on Rumsey Playfield’s stage an alt-pop icon and godmother of sorts to newer Latin American indie- and alt-pop artists.
At the concert, she invited Argentinean musician Sol Pereyra onstage to guest rap on “Eres Para Mi.” Julieta also dueted with both of her concert co-performers during her set. It was especially poignant to watch Julieta sing with Carla Morrison, who’s herself a bicultural norteña singer-songwriter now based in Mexico City. Though both performers are very different stylistically, it’s no stretch to credit Julieta for illuminating a bluesier path in pop for Carla, and other alt-pop singer-songwriters like Ximena Sariñana, Francisca Valenzuela, and Javiera Mena.
Back at the press room, Julieta reflected on the ways music has evolved throughout her career. “I think that all music is becoming somewhat alternative,” she began. “The industry is changing a lot and there’s no mainstream to define what’s heard. We artists can record in a different manner. Before you needed the support of a big label and money to record. Now all that’s changed and it’s generated a creative independence that’s very strong.”
“But promotion has also changed,” she continued. “You have to find other spaces and ways to reach people.”