When NME speaks to Mexican singer-songwriter Silvana Estrada over Zoom, she is in Las Palmas, taking a well-earned break from an extensive touring schedule which has seen her play a headline show at Earth in London and a whole host of dates in Spain. Rest is a lesson Estrada has had to learn the hard way: after eight months of touring her 2022 debut album ‘Marchita’, she hurt her back in the midst of a rigorous performance. Now, with frequent breaks, she says the main lesson she’s taking through from ‘Marchita’ to this next stage of her career is that “there’s no need to suffer in any artistic process. The idea of learning how to take care of yourself while you’re creating your project is key.”
Estrada grew up surrounded by music. Her parents make instruments (her mother, violins and violas; her father, double bass and cellos) and there were a host of musicians from different disciplines coming and going from their house all the time. She explains it as, “music was not only a job or a way to make a living but a way to be happy.” From being in the presence of so many musicians passing through that were all masters of their instruments, she learned to think of music not as a career path but as something that moved through her.
In this context, ‘Marchita’ is a soaring, sweet album that puts Estrada’s vocals at the forefront. She stretches the time signatures so that they bend and whip to her touch – the sparse acoustic backing very much taking her lead. She has a presence in her music that is magnetic, drawing you in until your encircled in her voice: there’s something of Lana Del Rey in her emotional sincerity, something old school in the orchestral swell behind her. Off the back of ‘Marchita’, she has worked with well-respected and big-name musicians like Helado Negro, Natalia Lafourcade, Julieta Venegas, Andrew Bird and AURORA.
Her latest single ‘Milagro y Desastre’ is a soft, climbing loop that builds on ‘Marchita’. Written with the other songs on the album, it felt too different to include because of its production style: it was made solely from looping samples of Estrada’s voice, with textures added later in the studio. It stands apart as a single for its gentle detachment in tone. ‘Milagro y Desastre’ started off as a love song about standing on the precipice of another new connection, wondering how this one could either hurt you or heal you – Estrada then realised that love is the main lens for how she views the world.
What was the the inspiration behind ‘Milagro y Desastre’?
“For me, it’s a song about love and how miracle and a disaster, with time and perspective can look exactly the same and be exactly the same. It started as a love song, and I was thinking about this idea of when you’re stood in front of this thing really big or deep, especially when you’re starting to fall in love with someone. There’s this moment of vertigo. But then, things have changed, and I feel like now this song speaks to me in a really different way.
“Now, for me it’s about how life is a miracle and a disaster all the time. It’s this pendular movement going back and forward from the disaster to the miracle. I think it has been helping me a lot to understand that some really deep, hard disasters with time and love and patience can let enough space to let you see also the miracles in your life.”
It seems like you think and feel very deeply about love…
“I feel like I’ve been writing about love for many years now, but then I feel like you can just use those words and those images and those songs to talk about many other things. Lately I’ve been feeling like no one wants to talk about love, it’s like ‘when are you going to do more about something else? Are you going to only write about love?’ Through love is my connection to earth and my own feelings. It’s the main force for me.
“The songs from ‘Marchita’ and the songs I’m releasing now, almost most of them are love songs, but I also come from a country where the culture is all about love and drama! [laughs] So I feel like it’s my way to connect with people.”
What is it about Mexico that makes you more perceptive of these contrasts?
“Mexico is beautiful and it’s so complex. It’s a really joyful and colourful country, but at the same time it’s a really violent country, and we have this really deep connection with death. We celebrate our deaths and the people we loved who passed, and death is so near to us all the time. I feel like that’s why Mexico is so intense. Nothing is just light. It’s not ‘yeah I’m just going to take a walk’, you can see really amazing, beautiful, ancient things, a lot of colours, you can see really rough situations, human situations. I think my work comes from that.”
You’ve collaborated with some amazing people for this point in your career. How did those come about?
“Your label will try to connect you with many people because that’s how the industry works now. But what I do in order to keep my essence and just my happiness is to get to work with people that I really admire, and people that I connect [with]. This person, if I can actually go for a drink or I can have tea at my house, then I will collaborate. That’s not a rule, but that’s my way to understand: what can I add to their work, because all the collaborations I’ve done are actually me adding something to a song or working on another artist’s song. That has really taught me how to work myself in other languages, in other types of musics, in other worlds.
“That’s so important, and brings you to a place that usually in your own music you will never get, which is just working for the music, not for you. You’re not defending the song that you wrote, you’re just there. In order to work for the song and for the music, it puts you in a position where you learn so much about the colours of your voice, the power of your creativity, the power of letting things go.”
You can really tell with the AURORA collaboration…
“That was insane really. We’re both on the same label [Glassnote], and I got to meet her, and we immediately became like sisters, somehow family. We got super close: we’re both really connected with nature, we grew up in the middle of the countryside, we both sing in this really organic manner bringing sometimes folklore or ancient sounds. I translated her song ‘Cure For Me’ so I did the verse in Spanish.
“I feel so grateful cos she allowed me to take her words and move those words into another world, the Spanish world, which is huge and vast and beautiful. I had so much fun and at the end, I think it was a really beautiful collaboration that worked beautifully. I’m looking forward to get to write with her and compose, doing more, because I think we both had such a great time.”
What lessons are you taking forward from ‘Marchita’ into this new era?
“Follow your instinct. I feel like most of the time, if you do something while you’re suffering, or you’re worried about what people are going to say and you’re trying to make everybody happy, it’s highly possible that you’re not going to be happy. So the lesson that I’m going to take to create this next album that I’ve been working on, it’s just listen to your instinct and design your own happiness and construct through that, through the idea of pleasure, of enjoyment and of joy.”