Here's the first of Club Fonograma's set of SXSW interviews. I want to thank the lovely Carla Morrison and her people with getting this set up and their friendliness. Carla in particular was a bit of a marvel in person, and even though she considers some of my reviews long-winded and too negative (if there is anyone else who feels this way, the line forms around the corner behind the shady-looking drugstore), it was a pleasure to meet and talk with her.
Andrew Casillas: How does it feel to be you right now? You are in an interesting middle space: not completely obscure, and you haven’t quite broken through, but you’ve received plenty of accolades from all the right media types.
Carla Morrison: I’m excited to be here, but I don’t really think about it too much. I mean, it feels different to be living from this, and it feels good to travel and do stuff I like and wake up late and be in some places that I never really expected to be. It’s weird and it’s fun pero I don’t put too much thought into “wow, look where I’m at right now!”
AC: You’ve worked with plenty of musicians who have already been in this game for a long time, and who have achieved a wide variety of success. Have you received any advice from them that have provided some sense of enlightenment as you’ve been going these past few years?
CM: The only thing I’ve been told is not to sign with a label, but I already had done that. It was nice to know, though, because it reassured what I was thinking about and it made me feel [more comfortable] with how I was approaching everything. I think what I’ve learned about this business is more about how time passes by and not to think “oh I should have/should not have done that.” I think it’s more important to just go with the flow.
AC: You’ve obviously fluent in two languages, and come from an area of the world where you can access English and Spanish language music pretty easily; how did you really make the choice that you were going to sing in Spanish, and would you be open to singing in a different language?
CM: I think that when I was younger I used to like more music in English than in Spanish, because when you grow up in Tecate or on the border, we get a lot of influence from the U.S. I liked the lyrics more—how easy it was to say “sad” or “I love you,” and you can play with words a bit better. I also like how my voice sounds in English, but when I started experiencing different emotions because of maturity and [the subsequent] evolution of your spirit and your soul, I realized that the English language couldn’t translate that. I also picked Spanish because I’m more comfortable with it because it’s my first language, [but there’s also] the romance language aspect of it; you can say so many things you’re feeling with so many different words that [will likely] break you to pieces. You have all of this variety with castellano, and it’s more precious and more of a challenge. To me it’s not like “I’m gonna sing in English so I can have a [bigger audience].” No, that doesn’t matter to me. I hate the line of thinking of “well I’m gonna sing in English and Spanish so I can have two [sets of audiences].” Are you doing it for yourself and the comfort of your soul or are you doing it for the money? If you’re getting into this business, you kind of have to know that you’re probably gonna be poor for life but I’d rather be [financially] poor than poor of my soul. For me it was a quick decision, maybe it’s not for somebody else.
AC: Perhaps my personal favorite songs of yours are your cover songs. What’s your process for picking a song to cover? Do you just pick songs you really love and feel you can do something different with, or do you pick the song and then find a way to make them distinctive to yourself?
CM: Well, [when I’m choosing songs to cover], I choose songs that give me “emotional earthquakes.” There are songs that you like and you’ll always sing to yourself or at a concert, but there are songs in your life that you listen to and say “Wow.” Like, the lyric could have nothing to do with me but there’s something about that song that makes me go crazy inside. So the songs that make me feel that sort of emotion that I can’t feel with all other songs, those are the ones that I cover. And I try to make them mine because I feel like that’s the way it should be. Every time you cover a song, you can’t do it the same because then it’s not you. Whenever I cover a song I don’t think about it too much and say “OK I’m gonna do this and that so it sounds different.” No, I just put my soul into it, and work with my heart rather than my head. When you make music you shouldn’t think too much about it because then you fall into a pretentious trap.
CM: I’m not a person who thinks too much about the future, but I do know that I want to do my next album myself at home. I want to go back to basics. I don’t really think about the “formula” that everybody follows. “OK, I had a great CD, now I have to outdo that CD,” no I don’t think that’s true. I think that’s bullshit. I’m thinking I have some songs for a new CD and it’s pretty much back to basics, but they’re not gonna be exactly like Aprendiendo a Aprender but at the same time it’s not gonna be like Mientras..., it’s gonna be in the middle. I want it to be in the middle because that’s the way I want it, and I do what I want.