Sandra Velasquez has worn a number of different musical hats -- the leader of the multicultural rock and dance band Pistolera, one-half of the duo SLV, and most relevant for this neck of the woods, the driving force behind the duolingual band (and Pistolera alter ego) Moona Luna.
But as you'll see in the interview below, Velasquez is as passionate about travel as she is about music. To my ears, the recently-released P A N O R A M A, Moona Luna's third studio album, is the band's most personal-sounding record, and after talking about travel with Velasquez, it's clear to me why that is. Read on for Velasquez's memories of her favorite travel spots, how travel informed the making of the new album, and pictures from Velasquez's own camera.
Zooglobble: What are your first memories of traveling?
Sandra Velasquez: First memories of traveling are with my family to Mexico. My mother is from Guerrero and we would go visit her family. Part of her family lives on a coconut plantation. I have distinct memories of watching people climb coconut trees barefoot with a machete strapped to their belt and cut down coconuts for everyone, then cut off the top, make a hole so you could drink the water. It's a real skill! I also remember the first time I felt humidity. I was lucky in that my parents took us somewhere every year. We went to Hawaii, Canada, Europe. I blame my family for my travel bug!
Did you travel more to cities or "scenic" areas? Did you like one more than the other?
Definitely more scenic areas. My mother is from the countryside of Mexico. In fact, where she is from no longer exists. It was washed away by water. I suppose I never really thought about it, but I have a leaning towards scenic country settings when I travel now. I like to be in nature as much as possible. I'm going to Lombok this summer and can't wait.
Do you visit the same places over and over, or do you generally prefer exploring new places?
Always someplace new if possible. I might repeat some places only to show them to my daughter. I have a list of places I want to take her now she's older and can enjoy and remember them. Every year I try to go somewhere new. I've been to Costa Rica, Australia, all over Latin America, and I'm looking forward to Indonesia and Lombok this summer! [And I] am dying to get to Vietnam and Thailand. Maybe next year....
Do you think that desire to visit someplace new if possible extends to your artistic endeavors -- music in particular?
I never thought of that either, but yes! I suppose my wanderlust extends through all of my life! It's not about getting bored so much as being curious and always growing, once I feel like I'm not growing anymore then I move on. This is why there hasn't been another Pistolera album for many years. I feel like I took that sound as far as I could g(r)o(w). And I can't fake things. I've seen people who are "stuck" in their successful band churning out the one sound people want to hear from them for decades. I don't want that. I need to create things that I want to create. Otherwise music becomes another day job.
What new sounds or adventures were you aiming for on your new album P A N O R A M A?
As someone who grew up in California, and by that I mean in car culture, I love me a good driving album. I really wrote the album and ordered the songs in order of taking a journey from one place to the next. I used my own memories of traveling extensively by bus through Central America as visual inspiration when writing. Each song is truly connected to an actual experience I had. I did a lot of traveling alone in Latin America, which allowed me to really blend in with whatever town I was in. Those solo adventures through Guatemala, Honduras, and El Salvador really shaped who I am. So to answer your question, I hope I am giving people the soundtrack to their own journey, whether they've taken it yet or not.
Are there any tracks that are more meaningful to you because they're associated with particular memories?
The first three tracks I associate with specific memories as well as tracks 6, 7 and 10. It's not that the others don't have a visual for me - they do - but they are imagined...
The title track - "Panorama" - I have many memories that insprired this song. First, going to Tikal in Guatemala at dawn. Climbing the pyramids and seeing nothing but jungle on the horizon. The only sounds were of monkeys. It was pretty magical.
I also think of being on the bus (I was on the bus a lot) where you are winding through dense mountains and there is no civilization for as long as the eye can see. Latin America is filled with tiny chapels at the tops of steep hills. It's almost like an olympic sport climbing hundreds of stairs. But then once you do, you have an eagle eye view.
Note: I did all of these travels before the iPhone. so my pictures are with a [expletive] disposable camera (I never travel with expensive gear).
Those are lovely photos! (Also: I think Instagram should add a "[expletive] disposable camera" filter.)
Track 2 - "Happiness" - this is basically is a "grass isn't greener" song. I love to travel, don't get me wrong, but I do feel that Americans often feel they need to go FAR away to "discover" new things/feelings/people, and actually there's alot right here! There are still pockets of New York that I haven't discovered! The Bronx is vast. The song is not only about finding physical spaces, but also about just finding yourself in your own life. Sometimes we do need go somewhere else and get lost to learn about ourselves. and sometimes we learn that those things were inside of us all along.
Track 3 - "Espejos" - I have lot of family in mexico still. I don't get to see them very much. It's almost a little overwhelming to have a big family in one place. because if you go there, you HAVE to see family. [Anyway,] when I did go to Mexico with my family when I was younger it made an impression on me. I saw where certain physical traits and even vocal tones came from. Isn't it a trip when you look at, say, your great uncle and you have their eyes or their shoulders? You know what I mean? It's quite intense to see how people that all come from the same lineage turn out. I have cousins that look JUST like my grandmother even though their mother does not. This song ("Mirrors," in English) is all about how we see ourselves in each other.
In discussing "Happiness," you mention finding out things about yourself while traveling -- what have you found while traveling?
The reason I love traveling is because of how it puts me in my place in the world. This is if you are truly traveling, not vacationing. When you truly travel and engage with the community you become aware of all of the things you take for granted. I should also interject that I have mostly traveled in Latin America. One might not have the same feeling after travelling in Scandanavia where health care is free!
Mostly what I have learned from traveling is how lucky I am, how many resources I have at my fingertips, and that I have a LOT to be grateful for.
In the end, what do you hope listeners take away from P A N O R A M A?
The album takeaway - I want it to be a soundtrack to your next adventure. maybe that's just a road trip three hours away, or maybe it across the pond. I love soundtracks, and if I can make one for someone else, that makes me feel like I've done my job.
Photo credits: Shervin Lainez (top), Signe Schloss (Moona Luna) Sandra Velasquez (all others)