Rozalén shares her inspiration
With a new album out and a Goya Award nomination, Rozalén can’t wait to return to the stage this spring. In the meantime, the Spanish singer-songwriter tells us about her passions for music and travel.
You’ve described your latest album, El arbol y el bosque (The Tree and the Forest), as your most introspective. Which side of Rozalén do you reveal in its songs?
I stood in front of a mirror. For a long time, I’ve been trying to make sense of a lot of things. And, although the previous album was perhaps my closest because I talk about my roots, my family – there can’t be anything more intimate than that – this one asks more existentialist questions. I look for how my life makes sense. How did I get here? Why are there things that I don’t do well? In that respect, it’s totally an inner journey.
Musically, you cover a very broad spectrum of styles. How do you describe it?
I like lots of different music. I grew up with the traditional folk songs that I played with a bandurria as a child, my mother used to sing coplas to me, and I’m heavily influenced by singer-songwriters. I love rock, punk, rap. And all the team – the band I’ve been with forever – love well-played music. But we don’t have any prejudices, and we’re not into labels. In this album, we wanted to take plunge and dare to try out a style we hadn’t yet played, but we’ll continue to evolve and learn.
Why the title?
The tree is individual, the forest is collective. I turned the usual phrase around and said, “Let the wood allow you to see the trees”. There is a lot of self-care on this album, and questions about what comes first, the chicken or the egg, but in terms of individualism. You have to take care of every little tree so that the entire forest is healthy. The forest is a synonym for the collective, for the noise, for the system and for everything that prevents us from seeing people as something very valuable. It’s like an invitation to take care of the tree that each one carries in ourselves. And it’s also a nod to Aute. I heard the idea from him and stole it.
Besides this nod to Aute, you include a version of a song by Silvio Rodríguez. Are they two of your biggest influences?
Although I’m influenced by many, many styles and I love all music, it’s the male and female singer-songwriters who move me most. In fact, what I like best is for someone to tell me that I’m a singer-songwriter. For some time, since the second album on which I covered Aute’s La Belleza, I’ve believed it’s important to continue singing the great songs of my teachers, and Silvio is one of them. This way, many younger generations who listen to us can also get to get to know the artists that I believe everyone should know about. I could mention lots of names, but those two are definitely among my guiding lights.
One of the songs, Que no, Que no, which appears in Icíar Bollaín’s film Rosa’s Wedding, has earned you a Goya nomination, and possibly even award, for Best Original Song. How did you take the news?
I shared only a part of how I felt on social networks, because I was crying for hours. I’m intense. I cry easily. Everybody already knows that. But right now, since there is so little good news, I grab on to any that I get... I feel as if I already have the Goya, because – for me – winning it is of little importance. To be nominated is an adventure and a beautiful experience, standing out among so many people. The rest is a bit of a lottery. And when things take a lot of hard work, getting a pat on the back is really nice.
Cuando el río suena (When the River Sounds) took you to the stages of London, Miami, Santo Domingo and Santiago, Chile, among other cities. Are there plans for an El árbol y el bosque tour?
Yes, please! We’ve put all our energy and enthusiasm into the spring of this year. I think that people have never hoped for so much from spring. Theoretically, we’ll begin to tour in late May. I hope that, as soon as we can, we’ll be able to leave the country to play in all those cities you’ve named and many more. That’s what I enjoy most about my work.
Do you miss travelling?
It’s what I miss most. When I was little and people asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I always said that it had to be something where I could travel. Because travelling opens up your mind, it makes you keep your feet on the ground. I always say that it makes you a better person, and I really do think that. Because the more you get to know other realities, the more you understand human beings and the planet we live on. Travelling makes you more empathetic. That’s what I miss most: packing my bags to go far away and get to know other people and other places.
You were one of the most active artists during confinement, and your song Aves enjauladas (Birds in a Cage) made us all dream of being better people. Do you think we are?
No [laughs]. I prefer to live in a utopia, but I think that what this situation has actually done – although I used think it was going to make us better, as is often the case in critical times – is expose who we really are. It’s abundantly clear that most people are good. That’s why, right now, people who are good are giving more to others. But the noise is very destructive and you see more of what’s bad. I think that life is worth the effort, and that people are, too. And, even though I don’t think we’re better, we’re the same, just more extreme.
How has music changed because of the health crisis?
Culture in general is what is suffering most, especially with live performances. I am gradually releasing songs and it’s one way of working. But a lot of people who make a living from performances are having a really bad time. All my technical team, my musicians... Anything to do with bringing together thousands of people is very difficult, and this is having a big effect on music. Let’s see if we can start flying again soon.
Do you think, in personal terms, that you’ve changed as well?
Inevitably. In the moments of decline, of chaos, of suffering... if someone doesn’t change, it’s because they haven’t stopped to think a little. Being in silence and calm observation has to change you. I now know a bit more about myself and about what is around me, although that doesn’t mean that we don’t have to continue to change and improve.
It would be hard to understand your music without the activism it often expresses – from feminism to historical references and even the inclusivity you express by having Beatriz Romero, a sign language interpreter, with you on stage. Do you think artists have social responsibilities?
Everyone chooses their own path, and I respect and understand (increasingly) anyone who doesn’t want to get involved, because you really don’t know how much energy it drains from you. But I can’t conceive of my life and my work – everything – without having ideas and without the freedom to express my opinion. In my music, I have some love songs, but love takes many forms and I think it’s important to talk about what is happening in the world. Almost everything I sing about has a personal story behind it and I think that’s one way of getting people to think, to create empathy. I don’t have any absolute truth, but I believe that, through stories, you can think, “I understand this kind of opinion”. Songs with a message humanise things a bit, and that inspires me, although sometimes I have lots of doubts. It’s a decision that I took some time ago and, as long as I have the strength and the energy, I’m going to talk about anything that doesn’t seem fair to me – with a lot of affection and respect, but I’m going to talk about it.
What do you hope for in 2021?
If culture could return to the place it deserves, if we could go back on the road to sing and perform on stage, it would mean that everything related to health would be fine. So, I’m asking 2021 to put me back on a stage in front of a lot of people, and that those people can hug and kiss each other, and dance and sing. I know it’s a lot to ask, but I am strongly wishing for it.