In the last few years, Ximena Sariñana has already achieved what many craving artists starve for: a breakthrough, fire-selling debut, three Grammy nominations, and the creation of a “portable home” (not to mention, snatching a Mars Volta guitarist as a boyfriend, whom we also recently grilled).
The Mexican bilingual singer is about to release a “bigger and better” sophomore album, her all-English debut Ximena Sariñana. What’s more, she’s gearing up for upcoming festival performances at Lollapalooza and Outside Lands, and an upcoming USA/Canada tour with Fitz and the Tantrums.
Regardless of the superfluous lifestyle that comes with stardom for any accomplished celebrity, a chat with this multi-talented artist reveals her sense of connectedness with her roots and the people part of it. Whether it stems from Mexico, the U.S., or a loving family, Ximena surely affirms (with “cheesy” self awareness), “Home is where the heart is.”
In this interview, Ximena draws back on her life and musical inspirations, expresses her love of tacos and other Mexican delights, and discloses some surprises about her highly anticipated album.
How have you been enjoying your time in New York City? Any fun parties or events you’ve attended in the last few days?
I’ve been having a great time, and I love New York. I came here to be part of a private event, but I’m taking advantage of the situation. For example, I’ve been going to a lot of concerts. For one, a friend of mine played with her band, Elizabeth and the Catapult. We recently shared a tour with Sara Bareilles and have all become really close. Elizabeth and Sara both live here. We’re still sort of on that tour hype so we wanna be together every day and hang out.
Much of your family is involved in the film industry and you did pursue acting. What inspired you to move into the music industry?
It sort of just happened, the same with the movie industry. I liked doing films while I was growing up. I never really considered it a career, and it was the same with music. When I was 15, I wanted to study music in a more serious way so I got into music school. Then suddenly that became my life. At that time, it was more of a hobby or a way of thought, per se. I didn’t think of it as a career. Nothing really turned into a career until about five years ago when things started to get serious. I got signed to a label and this thing that was my hobby became my career. I’m very grateful for that.
Any plans to continue acting in the future?
I love acting. It’s something that I will always do or find a way to do because it’s so much fun. Right now, I don’t have any plans to go back to it, but I’m open for anything that comes my way.
Your track “Frente al mar” was part of The Twilight Saga: New Moon soundtrack. Do you have any other songs that you’ve been pursuing to have in movies?
Not yet. I haven’t had any recent propositions. I’ve been very linked to movies and music, of course. It all started with the Amar te duele soundtrack, which featured three of my songs, and with my band, Feliz No Cumpleaños. Then there was “Como Soy” on the Niñas Mal soundtrack, and “Frente al mar” on New Moon. It’s a cool way to do music—to have a theme or a visual to inspire you.
BEING ABLE TO UNDERSTAND TWO DIFFERENT CULTURES,
YOU’RE ABLE TO SEE ANOTHER PERSPECTIVE OF WHERE
THEY COME FROM. IT MAKES YOU MORE RECEPTIVE, OPEN,
AND NON-JUDGMENTAL ABOUT PEOPLE.
You were born in Guadalajara, moved to LA at a young age, and are now living in Mexico City. How did your transnational migration play a role in your music development?
In this new record especially, immigration did play a really important part in the lyrics and in the general feeling of it. For example, while I was recording it, I was living in Mexico City and LA. Every song had to do with that—from the feeling of being uncomfortable and out of place to feeling very strong and empowered by it.
What are your favorite and least favorite things about being from both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border?
My favorite thing is the fact that I know two cultures. I think that’s always positive, that I’m able to be a part of these two worlds. The hard part is to understand that people don’t always agree with you, and don’t always know where you’re coming from. It’s very hard for us, as you must know, that we Latinos have an acid and dry sense of humor. We’re not politically correct, and that’s very hard for some Americans and other cultures to understand. So, I think you just have to be very aware of where you are. It’s also really amazing to be proud of that. You have a different perspective in life by being part of two different cultures. There are no negatives, only positives. The more you know, the more prepared you are for life and to understand other people. It’s like here in New York City. While I was with my Japanese friend in a cab, the taxi driver from Ecuador starts making jokes [in Spanish] about my friend. I understand these jokes because I come from Latin America, and I know that we make every single racist joke possible. Maybe my friend would be offended by those comments, but I think that being able to understand two different cultures, you’re able to see another perspective of where they come from. It makes you more receptive, open, and non-judgmental about people.
So, where do you consider home?
Mexico City will always be my home because that’s where I spent most of my life growing up. But the more you tour, the more you know of the world and how the world works. Well, this is like the corniest line, but home is where the heart is, that’s that. If I’m in LA and my family is there, then that is home to me. I don’t have to be in Mexico City to feel like I’m home. If I am comfortable with where I am, of how I’m living, and my entire situation, then I have to create a portable home. That’s the toughest thing to create. That is why so many musicians and artists are constantly removed from themselves and feel like they’re lost. But if you manage to create your portable home, then you can do it.
You’ve definitely made your mark in the Latin pop scene globally since the release of Mediocrein 2008. It got you nominated for several Grammys. How is it to have such success?
Great! It was a lot of fun and also to be recognized by so many people and that they are all agreeing on something. In this case, they’re agreeing about how great you are, or whatever, so that’s always really nice. But when it was happening, I tried not to really think about it that much, it sort of just happened. I was more concentrated on what I was going through and what I wanted to do more than anything. It was of course honoring and flattering.
Why did your debut Mediocre come before Ximena Sariñana?
Why did I choose that name? It was mainly because of the song “Mediocre.” It was a really important song for me and I think it sort of outlined the general theme in the record where I would tend to go really high or really low, emotionally. It was an emotional roller coaster. At least all the songs were like that. I realized I was super scared of the midpoint, and I was so judgmental about it. I think “mediocre” is a very judgmental word. It was really striking for me. That’s why I decided to use it as the title of the record. It was a bit sassy and ironic because what the song “Mediocre” talks about: after him deciding not to be with me or after feeling rejected by someone, that made me feel mediocre, more than actually hating that person. It was just a lot of things piled into it that made the title so obvious to me.
So it’s autobiographical.
Totally. The entire record and all the lyrics. Ximena Sariñana is also autobiographical. I actually haven’t gotten into a point in my music where I can say, “No, this is a theme record.” All my records up to now, including this upcoming one, are completely autobiographical.
Mediocre definitely has an intense, jazzy, and soulful feel to it. What can we expect from this new upcoming album?
Well! This upcoming record…my jazz influence is always going to be there. That’s what I studied and it’s what gave me the tools to express myself. It also has a lot to do with the music that I listen to. I don’t always listen to jazz. But my ear developed in a way where I don’t find certain sounds “weird.” The range of my pop ear is way longer than of somebody who only listens exclusively to pop music. I hear things differently because of jazz. Though, this new record is way more electronic and way more produced. I went crazy with the tools that I was given. I had the opportunity to work with an amazing producer, Greg Kurstin. He’s a genius in his production, and an amazing pianist and sound engineer. He is so multi instrumental and multitalented. I definitely took advantage of being able to work with someone like that, so I went crazy with how big I can make it sound. Sometimes in Mediocre, I felt a little bit contained because there were limited resources, but that’s also what I wanted at that time. But after playing that album live for so long, I began to crave something more: bigger and better. In this record, I completely went the other way—incorporating the electronic and singing in English. This was a huge change.
Any recent influences you had for this specific record?
Everybody who I was working with, and who I was close to at the time of producing my new record, was an influence. Greg Kurstin was definitely a big influence for the record, as well as the other producers like [TV On the Radio’s] Dave Sitek and Natalia Lafourcade. Also, being able to see Omar Rodríguez-López work so closely really inspired me. He influenced my music greatly in just seeing him work, in terms of his ideas, his music knowledge and influences. Even the music that he turned me on to was obviously a massive influence for this record. Also living in Mexico City has been very inspiring for my music. Though, it’s hard not to get distracted because there are so many things going on and so many people. But if you stop for a little bit and you really listen to the city and open your eyes, you realize how crazy and surreal everything is. That has also definitely influenced my music and my sound.
Are there more collaborations underway with Omar Rodríguez-López?
Not any at the time. We are both focusing on our own stuff.
You just played SXSW. How’d you like that?
SXSW was amazing! It was so tiring because it was four days of intensity. We played about five or six times so that was pretty crazy. I got a chance to see cool bands that I really wanted to see, like James Blake and Gepe, which I was really looking forward to. I also got to see Le Bucherettes, Tahiti 80, Rey Pila, Owen Pallett, and Casiokids. They’re all really good!
MY EAR DEVELOPED IN A WAY WHERE I DON’T FIND CERTAIN SOUNDS “WEIRD.” THE RANGE OF MY POP EAR IS WAY LONGER THAN OF SOMEBODY WHO ONLY LISTENS EXCLUSIVELY TO POP MUSIC. I HEAR THINGS DIFFERENTLY BECAUSE OF JAZZ.
Any other place in the world you’d love to tour?
Europe. I did once with the Omar Rodríguez-López group, and that was amazing, but I’m dying to showcase my own music, of course we’re all so self-centered. I’d love to go and play my music. So Europe for me would be the next step. And of course, I’d love to tour in other places in Latin America. I’ve only played in Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. I’d love to perform in Brazil, Colombia, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Venezuela…I’m dying to go play there. Every time I go to South America, or Latin America, I feel connected with the people.
If you had a friend from elsewhere visiting you in Mexico City, where would you take them and what would you recommend for them to eat?
Oh man! The food list can go on. Tacos. I’m craving them right now. El Villamelón serves great tacos as well as El Güero, which are at the Condesa. Then there is Califa, which is a bit more high-end. Any sort of Mexican food is ridiculously good. If they’re more into the high-end cuisine, then there’s Pujol, which just made it to #49 on The Top 50 Best Restaurants in the Word. I’m a big follower. There’s also seafood. I love Los Navegantes. I’m all about food. I also love walking around la Roma. It’s less crowded then la Condesa, which is more of the “Soho” type of place. Yet la Roma is a bit dirtier and grittier, it’s so cool. Then there’s the center of the city, Zócalo. Everything around there is amazing. Coyoacán, Polanco…it’s such a rich and cool city. They should also definitely check out Lucha Libre.
Any other words for your fans on Remezcla?
Well, I hope they all like my new record, and I really hope to see more of them in my concerts.