Interview: Natalia Clavier

On May 28, 2013, Natalia Clavier proudly released her second solo album Lumen with the help of grammy-winning producer Adrian Quesada of Nacional Records. Her first album Nectar was produced by Eric Hilton of Thievery Corporation after he heard her demos for Federico Aubele's second album Panamericana.  Her demos impressed the D.C. producer and Hilton ended up signing her as the first female artist on the Eighteenth Street Lounge  music label.  Now she travels all over the world with Thievery Corporation, to whom she attributes much of her confidence and artistic growth.

On Clavier's sophomore album, one can hear jazz and classical influences intertwined with dub, soul, and rock to deliver a unique blend of sounds, both in Spanish and English. Clavier’s haunting and intoxicating voice instantly invites listeners into the mood of any song she sings.

In a warm and lighthearted interview filled with laughs, the charming Natalia Clavier shares stories of her growth and accomplishments as a singer, her defining musical figures, and provides a window into her evolving artistry as an international musician.

IW: I wanted to first congratulate you on the new album Lumen.  How has your album been received so far?

NC: Thank you. I’m pretty happy so far. It’s still very recent since the album came out, but so far, so good. It debuted at #1 and #5 on a couple charts including MP3 charts on Amazon.

IW: Excellent, so glad to hear. So, your first album Nectar was produced by Eric Hilton and you worked with Grammy-winning producer, Adrian Quesada, for Lumen. How did the opportunity to work with such high caliber producers present itself to you?

NC: Yes, I definitely feel very lucky and blessed to be working with these guys. The first opportunity came…well, Eric Hilton himself heard some of my demos on MySpace. Yes, this is MySpace era.  He approached me. We were in the studio recording vocals for Panamericana, Federico Aubele’s second album. He came and told me he heard the demos and there were a couple he liked and asked what I wanted to do with them.  I told him that I want to finish them and put them out.  He then offered his production skills, and he was the one signing me to the label. That’s how he got me with ESL. And actually, it was Eric Hilton who sent some tracks from Nectar to Adrian Quesada at the time because he thought we’d be a good match.  Musically speaking, we kind of spoke the same language, Eric said.  Later, Adrian contacted me to be part of The Echocentrics, one of his projects. And the rest is history.  Eric Hilton has a lot to do everything.

IW: I wanted to ask about The Echocentrics. I know that they are featured on your new album.  Can you talk a little bit about that musical project?

NC: Yes, Adrian Quesada started this project in 2010. The first album is called Sunshadows.  Around SXSW in March 2011, we did a few shows for the Thievery album and did a Texas tour.  So, then I got to meet the band. I had never even met Adrian. We had done everything through the internet, exchanging tracks back and forth. It’s a pretty common practice these days.  So yeah when I went to go perform live with them and met everybody, I couldn't believe how amazing these guys were! Everyone in the live band was just incredible.  And then Adrian had this idea of me writing Spanish lyrics into a traditional Turkish song.  Now it’s called “Adios.”  So we did that originally just to perform the song live with The Echocentrics and we loved it so much that we thought to keep it for the album.  So of course, everyone on The Echocentrics had to be on the album and we did everything close to the way it was played live. So yeah, that’s the story.

IW: Okay. Going back to your albums, can you describe your experience recording those albums and the personal growth that you've gone through in making those albums?

NC: First of all, it’s been a pretty big gap from the two albums, about four years between the albums.  That’s a long time and there’s the natural growth that comes with that crazy amount of time, regardless of whether I want to grow or not.  Luckily, throughout these years I have been writing songs and making attempts to make this second album happen. Actually, this attempt that you hear now is the full version of a second album.  It’s kind of crucial. In most careers, it’s the “make it or break it” album. It was a rocky process, but it was all worth it.  I feel like, at least I hope people can hear it, but I hear and see a pretty clear difference, even in the way I’m singing and the way I’m presenting myself. Lyrically speaking, there is an evolution.

I've been touring all over the world with Thievery Corporation and that’s definitely major when it comes to artistic growth. I feel I’m a little more confident when it comes down to singing the way I want to or the way the song is asking. With the first album I’m more of the Eric Hilton, Thievery Corporation kind of vocal. I was definitely way more insecure and in a way, I was trying to please the producer’s taste.  He wanted this kind of whispery, velvety sound which he asked me to do, and I did throughout the album.  He developed a sound that he liked throughout all his years and experience, so he was particular about it.  He knew I could sound like that so he went for it.

IW: And you were the first female artist that was signed with ESL and one of the few women that tours with them.  What’s it like being part of a big family that is made up of mostly men?

NC: It’s fantastic, actually. I was the first chick on the label, so I’ll always be proud of that. You know, it’s really a man’s business in general.  I feel very comfortable.  I don’t know with other bands, but in this big family and circus that we call Thievery Corporation, everyone is super nice!  Last year we did the tour with five or six male singers and two females. Last year we did the European tour and for logistics, I was the only female person for the summer tour.  It was very smooth and actually, I think they knew that I was missing my partner in crime, the other singer, Lou Lou, and I think they were just extra nice.

Natalia with Thievery Corporation, Summerfest 2012

Natalia with Thievery Corporation, Summerfest 2012

IW: Good, I’m glad they’re supportive.  Clearly your involvement with Thievery Corporation has probably changed your life and impacted your musical career in such a positive way. Can you pinpoint some of the biggest moments in your musical career?

NC: I can definitely name three big musical moments in my life.  And I’ll say my adult, professional, singer life.  I have other stuff, but we’d need like 2 hours for this (laughs).  Yes, those three moments are definitely the day I met and started to work with Federico Aubele.  Right after that, because of him, I met the Thievery guys and started to work with them.  And definitely Adrian Quesada.  These three figures are what have defined, so far, who I am today, artistically speaking.

And talking about Thievery specifically, I recently saw a little clip of the first show I did with them in 2007 and if you look at that clip and a clip from Governor’s Ball – which was one of the latest shows we played in New York City – it’s pretty incredible. It seems like I’m two different people! The first show, even what I’m wearing and the way I’m moving… Actually, I’m not going to give any names but there is a Thievery guy who was calling me the Argentinean nun! He thought I was super shy (giggles) and I was wearing these long dresses and barely moving and singing more like a chanteuse. And then if you see what I was wearing and how I was moving at Governor’s Ball, I was wearing neon pink leggings and platforms, wearing crazy make up and jumping around. I owe all of that to Thievery for sure.  First, they gave me the freedom to do what I wanted. They never told me how to dress or anything. They gave me the total freedom to make the songs my own, to move the way I wanted to move, to dress the way I want to dress.  And they put me in front of amazing crowds of thousands and thousands. A hundred thousand here, twenty thousand there…it can’t get any better than a performing art school such as this one.

IW: I've watched you perform with Thievery and I’ve noticed you do move very freely. You have your own style and you seem very comfortable up there. It’s great that the band trusts you and that you feel comfortable leading with your voice.  I've also noticed the makeup! You always have very beautiful and artistic makeup on and eyemasks.  Do you do your own makeup and is that another talent of yours?

NC: Oh, thank you! I have what I call my little makeup artist milestone.  I’m an actress and I was always interested in theater and artistic makeup.  Centuries ago in Buenos Aires, I took a course on how to make people look older, younger or from this era, that kind of thing. I decided I’d have fun with it and I thought I’d use some of the stuff I learned from that course and add some new stuff.  I never plan anything.  I just look at the palate of the outfit and create something on the fly.

So, if I remember correctly, we did a tour last year in South America and we coincided with Lollapalooza in a couple countries like Chile and Brazil. We were traveling with a few bands that I know and admired.  In Santiago, Chile, we just played Lollapalooza and we were at this elevator. This girl comes up to me and said she loved my makeup and asked me who had done it and that it looked so professional.  I told her I did it myself and asked her who she was with. I thought to myself, she didn't look like the girls from the flyer because I had met all of them.

She says, “I’m with Bjork.  I’m actually Bjork’s makeup artist and I've been her makeup artists for the last 16 yrs.”

I had to hold the elevator wall so I wouldn't faint! I mean, it can’t get any better. The compliment! I was like, this is Bjork’s makeup artist! I absolutely love everything she puts on her face, on the videos, on the shows, she did all of that. So I thought I’d keep doing what I’m doing.

IW: That’s awesome! It looks fantastic. I've seen you with some really cool make-up and eye masks. I like it a lot.

NC: Oh, thank you.

IW: If we could just switch gears for a bit, I was curious about how you initially developed your musical relationship with Federico.  I know he’s your husband and I am wondering what it’s like to work and create with your partner.

NC: Yes, well the music came first, definitely.  We met through a friend in common because Federico was looking to hire a singer to tour Europe and South America.  So this friend gave Federico my number and he called me and we met.  We became friends immediately.  You know, when you meet someone to give them a demo, it’s usually a 15 minute meeting.  But it ended up being a two and a half hour conversation over tea at a bar and talked about everything, astrology, music, and life.  We were in relationships at the time, so I was living with my boyfriend at the time and he was living with his girlfriend at the time.  So, it was a very honest relationship, definitely from my end.  I really liked his stuff and I was like, let’s keep this super professional, seeing as it was a project that I wanted to nourish and take care of. It was important to me.

Close to two years after that we broke up with our respective partners at the time.  We came to the states and I don’t know if it was because of the heat in Austin or what happened there that changed things, but I thought maybe it’s not a bad idea to give this guy a try (laughs). It was before we played at Austin City Limits in 2006 and something happened and the romantic thing started.  We were already on tour, we were super close friends, almost best friends. So it didn't feel a big change really.  Dynamics were pretty much the same on stage and off stage. Our friendship didn't change and we made the same jokes.

And it’s not easy to do everything together.  You work together, you live together, you travel together, and you cook together.  But at some point I got overbooked, literally, and I had to do a tour with Federico and at the same time I had to tour with Thievery, and I had to choose.  And I obviously chose what was more enriching for me and what was going to make me grow and what was going to give me more exposure as well.  With Federico, I was more and more taking the more background vocal instead of the lead because I was pushing him to sing more and to be the leader of his band. It definitely helped that we started touring separately because we had a chance to miss each other.  It gave us a nice break and distance to appreciate what we have and to miss each other.  So I don’t think it’s extra difficult because I think every single relationship takes a lot of work.  This is as much work as any other.  You just have to work on it on a daily basis. It’s like a plant that you water and you’re conscious about it and you work to keep it strong and healthy.

IW: Thank you for sharing that. I appreciate you sharing a personal story, especially because it’s your relationship. You stated that he’s one of the three critical figures in your career, so it’s great that you can support each other creatively.

NC: The whole this is interesting because now he’s working in my band.  He’s now the musical director of my live band and helps with the whole arranging thing and deciding set lists, making new versions of the songs.  He’s now playing keyboards in my band which is something that he’s never done before and something he’s really good at it.  I’m happy to have him on board. It’s new for me and it’s new for him because I've never had him in my band.  It’s a family affair.

IW: That’s great! So now what do you have planned for the summer and coming months with your various musical projects?

NC: The thing that I cannot wait for is Summer Stage in Central Park here in New York City on July 11th with the Latin American Music Conference. It’s my first solo show at that stage and I’m super excited.  I played there before with Thievery, but this is my first solo show. Adrian is going to come to play as a super special guest on a couple of songs.  I’m going to have my New York band, but he’s definitely going to come for the occasion.  And of course I have a few festivals with Thievery like Lollapalooza and big shows like Red Rocks.  Then I don’t have a steady schedule, but I’m going to be doing shows for Lumen throughout the summer but shooting for a full on tour for the fall.

IW: And does that include Latin America and a U.S.  tour?

NC: I want to play everywhere. I really hope I can play in Latin America. I also want to play Spain.  I’m going to keep lighting candles to see what gives. We’ll see what happens. ~ Gabriela Barbosa

You can buy her album on iTunes and Amazon! For more information, see links below.