Chilean guitar virtuoso, Nano Stern, is celebrating the debut of his new album, “Mil500 Vueltas” with a tour across the US. Chicago audiences can now delight in the sounds of one of the leaders of the Nueva Cancion movement when he visits our city this weekend performing at Old Town School of Folk Music on Sunday, September 27. Tickets available here.
“[Nano] may be the best young Chilean songwriter of his generation. With his lyrics, melodies, message, delivery, humor and heart, he gets my vote.” – Joan Baez
Nano Stern’s background and upbringing is culturally rich, immersed in magnificent Chilean musical ancestry. Stern’s classical and jazz training along with inspiration from legends like Inti-Illimani and Victor Jara- who suffered exile and even death during troubling times in Chile – have allowed him to magnify some of those traditional sounds and transform them into innovative and ultimately relevant compositions.
We had an opportunity to talk with Stern about his music, his new album which features artists like Jorge Drexler and Joan Baez, and his role in the New Chilean Sound movement.
For those unfamiliar with the term, what does “New Chilean Sound” mean and is it fair to attribute this term to the music you create?
Yes. I think terms and definitions tend to be forced into the arts by critics that sometimes feel a need to refer to things in a certain way. I personally don’t acknowledge any name for what I do. I don’t intend to be part of a specific movement or sound. I just follow my own creative path that, of course, is very much influenced by things that I have been directly in touch with here – especially within my own country – you know, our own tradition of music. I think there is a very powerful new generation of musicians here in Chile. Each one of us has a different voice with a unique and individual sound. Certainly, one can draw conclusions from that and identify certain things that appear across all of the characters. I think that has to do with the respect for the tradition. There was a previous generation of rock musicians in the 90’s that in a way were rejecting what came before. I think, because of a necessary historical vindication of what they were doing and to separate themselves from what came before – which had been so poignant and powerful in determining what the Chilean music was like. Now, it’s become a time in which we have all recuperated the beauty of that older tradition. That generation of Violetta Parra and her followers in the 60’s and 70’s including those who were in exile.
Last month was the US release of your new album, Mil 500 Vueltas, and you’ve been touring since and will continue to tour through the Fall visiting us in Chicago this weekend. From what I know, you’ve lived a life of certain experiences, especially activism and musicianship, that I believe in any other case would lead someone to perhaps feel hopeless and helpless because creating change is tough and being so full of love and courage, as in your music, is also a challenge especially with the way the world functions now.
Where does your sense of relentless hope come from and how do you maintain it fueled to continue creating such powerful music?
Well I think the motivation for what I do is love, really. This big concept of creating something that is both beautiful and a positive contribution to the world that we live in. It is a frequency and vibration that hopefully will enable others to resonate. I think that is all that we do music is nothing but a source a source of vibration that allows us to resonate in unison. That is one of the most beautiful things can ever happen to us as human beings. You know it can be achieved by many means and music is just one more of those. And also it is one that is very beautiful and inspiring and makes you move in the physical world. I don’t know, it is a constant source, it’s endless. Sometimes I get tired and unmotivated and I feel that I am far from that source but it doesn’t have to do with the fact that the source is running out just that you as a vehicle/medium for transforming that energy into music- you are out of tune within your music and this is personal work that you have to do everyday. And, how do you continue with this? This has a lot to do with the fact that audience gives so much energy back. So much more than what you give to them. It is really a privileged position to be standing in to be on stage and to be creating this music because you are feeding the crowd with an amount of energy that then gets multiplied and gets fed back to you so it’s only reasonable to keep creating and keep on becoming more powerful, I think.
You’ve mentioned that this album, and please correct me if I’m wrong, is a reflection on how our lives sometimes go around in circles and we spend time trying to find answers to things unknown. Ultimately, what is it that YOU are looking for through music?
I look for this state of communion, really – like what I was saying before. It is being able to achieve this very elevated vibration. It is an energetic state and I think that is really where the power of music lies. And then when you are writing songs, you open o=up to the world up lyrics and to the world of poetry. And it doesn’t just add up. I think it is an exponential combination. When you combine music and words – both gain such depth and a possibility of multiple meanings. And if you sing the same word in different ways or if you put different words to the same melody it can be a completely different thing and it can be many different things at the same time. And when you reach that area, well you open up to a very profound experience of resonance at different levels as well. And when you add to that equation the fact that there are people receiving what you are doing well then it is really infinite what can happen and what can result from this.
How do you choose what to write about when it comes to your more socio-political songs? (Las Llamas de la Impotencia, for example, from previous albums.)
I only write about socio-political issues when they touch me on a personal level, when they make me feel something honestly, it’s not like I open the newspaper and start selecting what issues I should be writing about. But we are, nevertheless, individuals that live within society. And if you are sensible to what is around you – as we all are in some way or another – then of course this has an impact on what you do. Whatever it is that you do, whether you are a baker or you’re a doctor or you’re an artist, this is going to be manifested in what you do. So I just try to be a sensitive as possible and be as open as possible and aware –actually I think is the key word. I try to be aware of what surrounds me and create from an honest point of view as an individual within society, not with the arrogance that is implied in wanting to be the voice of more people. I am just speaking for myself.
You have some great collaborators on this new album – is there perhaps a chance that any of the featured artists will make a surprise appearance at any of your concerts?
Well absolutely there is. In fact, already during the release in Santiago, we had Beatriz Pichimalen. And an amazing Mapuche singer from Argentina came all the way to be a part of this. And lucky me – all these people that recorded on the album are spread throughout many countries. I hope to be going to those countries and it would be fantastic if they would come and play. We are all good friends, so I am sure that can happen. And who knows, maybe Joan Baez will strike a song with us while we are in the Bay Area. That would be fantastic, and otherwise I would love to go and see her and give her a copy of the album and just have a good, good time as we always do.
On the technical side – is there new instrumentation/gadgets/elements contained in this album that you’ve never used before?
Yes there is. To start with, there are a lot of new musicians. Some of them are playing instruments that were not present in my albums before- like the trombone, flugelhorn and many others. And some are playing instruments that were used before but in completely different ways and with a different approach. I think the big change from album to album is the crew. It’s not just that I go and hire some session musicians – not at all. It’s that I chose to work and develop my music with specific individuals that each have their own language in music and that chose to contribute from that point of view. Also, technically this album surpasses any other album that have done so far. There was a lot more awareness from the first time we hit the record button until the master was finished. The whole concept of what we wanted to achieve in the abstract dimension and how that was manifested into the concrete dimension of sound. That was a whole new experience for me. And also the album was recorded in Chile, mixed in Buenos Aires and mastered in Los Angeles, California. So it went halfway through the world to sound as it does, which is a very interesting trip and it is a very satisfying result.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned musically now that you’ve released this fifth album?
I would say that the most important thing I have learned is to only listen to your inner voice and intuition. And, to work very hard to allow that intuition to become a powerful creation. There will be so many people telling you what to do. At this point in my career there are so many people involved with so many opinions. I was feeling a little bit dizzy with all of this noise around. Then I decided it was for the best to shut down every door and every window to allow myself to concentrate and to follow that inner sound and inner call for creation. And like I said before, this is a matter of intuition – of just being able to clear and make sight so that your intuition can speak clearly to you. And of course you must work very hard.
What does freedom mean to you?
This is one of the many questions of which I am still trying to find answers or rather that I am just accepting the fact that it is one of the things I will not really be able to answer with words.
Do you consider yourself a musical revolutionary?
Not really, because I think that revolution implies a destruction of old orders and I am deeply respectful of the traditions of music. And I love it and I think it should be caressed and taken care of and it should be respected and learned from. Of course, it should be taken to new places and this implies a certain amount of a rebel attitude. But that is different than being a revolutionary. A revolution implies destroying everything that was there before to establish new orders. This is not my trip in music.