Back to her Roots: Chilean singer and songwriter Mon Laferte is an absolute force of nature. Her music, which blends alt-rock and pop with traditional cumbia and bolero, is spectacular. But even outside of that, she’s hugely impressive. She emerged victorious from a battle with thyroid cancer in 2009, and that fighting spirit has seen her take on the powers-that-be and shine a light on repression and oppression. In 2019, at the Latin Grammys, she stood disrobed with the words (translated as) “In Chile, they torture, rape and kill” across her chest. Mon Laferte doesn’t mess around.
This interview was conducted over Zoom and with the help of an interpreter, which doesn’t sound ideal for flowing conversation, but she’s such a captivating and sharp personality that it barely matters. She’s funny and relatable, but there’s a glint in her eye that suggests that she won’t suffer fools gladly. And why the hell should she?
Now, Laferte is the most listened-to Chilean artist on Spotify worldwide, but it wasn’t always this way. She started singing when she was 13.
“I actually dropped out of school, and I started singing doing just covers, not my own songs,” Laferte says. “At the age of 16, I started doing my own songs and taking it more seriously. I started working on that.”
Her latest album is called SEIS, which is appropriate as it’s her sixth full lengther. Each album, she says, offers something very different.
“A new opportunity, and it’s something new that I like to explore each time so it’s kinda complex,” she says. “My new album is very different from all the others, because two years ago I was more into alternative music. More distortion and that sort of stuff. Since I’ve been living in Mexico for 15 years, I’ve had a lot of influence so this new record is going back.”
The album is partially inspired by a documentary Laferte watched about singer Chavela Vargas.
“It’s not that the whole album is a dedication or an homage to her,” she says. “But it was very inspiring after I saw a documentary on her. That’s what brought out that spark, that led me to write the entire album.”
Laferte started recording SEIS in June of last year, as the pandemic was in full swing. She started writing it the previous March.
“There was a lot of affectation because of what was going on throughout the world,” she says. “Since I spent a lot of time by myself, it was a very deep record. It was very introspective because I had so much time to daydream and to think. Since I’m living in this town called Tepoztlán in Mexico, I’m surrounded by nature and that influenced it a lot as well.”
Mexico, she says, offered her a better chance at making a living out of music.
“I left because Chile is a small country, and back then it was very hard to live off music,” she says. “At least back then. I took the opportunity – I wanted to travel, I wanted to know the world – so I kept thinking that Mexico is the Mecca for Latin music so why not? I was invited over by a friend, and that was it for me.”
Laferte still has a lot of musician friends in Chile but the country, she says, is basically at the end of the world. Beautiful, but small and cold.
“They say that Chile is a country of poets,” she says. “I think that is true because since it’s a country that is so cold, we have so much nature. When you go to the south, there’s a lot of nature and so you get inspired. There’s a lot of solitude in the south, and that also helps to inspire. But living off music is very complex in Chile because people still are more headed towards listening to foreign music or music from other countries and not from locals. Outside of that, I’m still very connected with a lot of my peers and a lot of my friends who are still musicians back in my country.”
Wherever she lives, wherever she goes, Laferte takes her passion with her. Sometimes that takes the form of frustration, anger and a desire to change things, as is the case with her political activism. All of it finds its way into her music.
“Everything around you influences the record, whether it’s the weather, the news, what’s going on around you, your friends, your insecurities, love,” she says. “So yes, I’m very influenced by my surroundings in my songs. They’re like experiences. Sometimes I look back, and I look at an old record, and I think ‘hmmm, this is what I was going through at that time’.”
Laferte is currently embarking on an extensive tour, which will include two shows in SoCal – the Wiltern and then at the Ohana Festival in Dana Point with Pearl Jam.
“It’s a tour that’s going around the whole country,” she says. “I’m very excited about the Ohana festival because it’s organized by Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam. I’m excited for that, to go back to the stages, to go back to playing, back to singing. I’ve had some colleagues that already had the opportunity to go back to the stage. But since the pandemic, I haven’t been able to go back to the stage. I’m very excited about that.”
The singer says that she grew up a Pearl Jam fan.
“My first kiss was during a slow Pearl Jam song,” she says. “I can’t recall the name. I saw them in concert when I was younger, it was raining, and I was jumping up and down.”
When the tour is over, new music is forthcoming. The lockdown, Laferte says, forced her to be creative.
“I recorded it this year,” she says. “It was because of the pandemic that I got very creative. I guess what I want to do most is go back on tour either on a bus or an airplane. I just want to go back to the stages.”
We can’t wait to see her.
Back to her Roots: Mon Laferte will perform at Kings Theatre in Brooklyn on Wednesday, October 13.
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