When Mexican singer-songwriter Natalia Lafourcade launched her eponymous first album at the age of 19 in 2003, it hardly seemed like the sort of contender to top the charts.
For one, Lafourcade was not the typical Latin pop tart, decked out in high heels and cleavage-enhancing ensembles. Instead, she rocked bug-eyed sunglasses, black nail polish and ironic pink frills in the video for her hit single "En el 2000" ("In the Year 2000"). Her sound was experimental — fusing acoustic guitars with everything from jazz to pop to bossa nova. And her lyrics had bite, poking fun at girls who like Ricky Martin and stating that she looked for "an intelligent brain that doesn't get drunk on Fridays."
The album went to No. 1 in Mexico — and Lafourcade has regularly appeared on the charts since. In the process, she has racked up four Latin Grammy wins.
As the title implies, Lafourcade's new album is about going back to her roots.
"It was about being very connected to Mexico, to my origins," she explains. "I wanted to connect with Latin America. The album really is made up of two parts: One of them is the very blue sound — it's super melancholic. And there's this other part about connecting with Mexico and the Mexican public."
This doesn't mean that the new album is filled with wailing trumpets and frantic Spanish guitar riffs. LaFourcade is too subtle a musician to just mimic tradition. Instead, it's more about channeling a mood while fusing a variety of disparate musical styles with her pixie-ish vocals. (The singer is frequently compared to musicians such as PJ Harvey and Björk.)
Lafourcade began to compose the songs on the new album as she was touring for the last: a tribute album to the Mexican singer-songwriter Agustín Lara titled "Mujer Divina" ("Divine Woman"), which was released in 2012. Lara was a legendary early 20th century lyricist and performer, known for producing a range of iconic ballads both tragic and romantic.
"He was a super emotional artist," says Lafourcade. "When I was trying to sing his songs, I realized that I had to get into their meanings. If I wanted to sing the songs because the songs were pretty, that wasn't going to work. I had to really go deep and try to connect with the music somewhere in me."
In the middle of this, the artist split from her boyfriend.
"I was super heartbroken," she says. "But at that moment, I was able to connect to Agustín Lara's music. From there, I started to write new songs. And I went to this part of myself as a songwriter which I had left for a long time."
The result is an album that feels intimate — full of heartbreak and pain, but also moments of regeneration, in which life is beginning anew.
"Nunca Es Suficiente," ("It Is Never Enough") one of the album's breakout songs, with its bouncy bass line, chronicles a relationship in which one partner remains committed while the other has one foot out the door. "Lo Que Construimos" ("What We Built"), which leans more into torch song territory, has lyrics that tell a story of resignation and acceptance: "What we built has ended / The wind has taken it."
After Los Angeles, the artist heads to San Francisco, then will return to Mexico for a tour that will take her around the country's historic theaters.
"It's something I've been wanting to do for a while," she says. "We'll be all over the republic, in theaters that are more than 100 years old — looking for my roots."