If you're not a Spanish speaker, you won't know precisely what Carla Morrison is saying when she sings --but you can feel it. The Mexican alt-pop singer and songwriter has built a reputation over the past half-decade as a master of songs about love and longing, and her new album Amor Supremo is no different.
Morrison joined NPR's Rachel Martin from Mexico City to talk about the new record and the path she's taken as an independent artist. Hear their conversation at the audio link, and read an edited version below.
Rachel Martin: So, let's talk a little bit about your journey. You grew up in Mexico, in Tecate, which is a city right on the US border. What did you grow up listening to?
A lot of Beach Boys — because my dad's a surfer guy, so he was all into beach stuff. A lot of ranchera, a lot of Rocío Dúrcal and stuff like that. But mainly it was a lot of Patsy Cline. She's one of my main inspirations, because my dad used to play her all the the time and I would think, "Who is this lady and why is she so hurt?" Because I was so young. I just kept listening and listening until I finally understood what she was talking about.
You've released several albums before this. Your songs, on those, are acoustic but fairly modern-sounding pop, with some threads of vintage bolero. This album has a different kind of vibe altogether. Can you tell me what you did differently with this body of work?
My first band was a lot about synthesizers, so I kind of wanted to go back to that. It was kind of like, "I don't want to be be completely attached to a guitar for all of my career." And usually, I always talk about the first part of a relationship or the last part. I don't really talk about the middle part, when you decide to be with this person besides all the issues that you guys can have, when you're saying, OK, I accept this.
[The Amor Supremo song] Cercania,' for example, is a song about fighting: You said this and I didn't listen clearly, you said this you didn't understand me, you used to say you love me but you don't anymore. You know, love has a lot of different colors. It's not only the extremes — there's a lot of gray area that is very complicated, that you've gotta kind of talk about, too.
Can I ask you about how place informs what you do? Because you sing in Spanish; you live and make music in Mexico City. And the names that tend to pop up out of the Mexican music scene tend to be really big pop stars, who have a certain kind of mainstream sound. Is there space for more alternative songwriting and music-making, the kind of stuff that you're doing?
I think there's space if you fight for your space, for your place. We kind of have to find it ourselves on social media, because they're not gonna put it on the radio, they're not gonna put it on TV. They're just not, and it sucks.
So when you say you've had to fight — can you give me an example of a moment when it felt really hard? When you were being pushed to compromise when you didn't want to?
A lot of times when I would be approached by labels, I would get excited. And then I would get the proposal, and everything was like, "We're gonna decide your art, we're gonna decide who you're gonna work with, we're gonna decide everything." And I would think, "Um, well, what am I gonna do?" So I just decided not to have a label.
There's been some times when people have put me down or talked down to me just because I don't have a skinny image, because I'm a girl, because I'm tattooed. If you're tattooed here in Mexico, it's like you're kind of gross, or you're just not professional. You're not taken serious, and I was a very serious chick. So you had this curvy, tattooed, pretty, sweet girl singing about love — and about real love, not about stuff that just sounds nice. A lot of people were not too happy about it — they were like, "Who is this?" But my fans, the people who actually buy my albums and go to my concerts, were liking it. They were like, "Man, this is so real! This girl is like me!" So, it's been hard, but I don't care. Anything that's really great is gonna cost you, and you're gonna have to fight for it. And the more you fight, the better it's gonna be.