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Noah Caldwell, Christopher Intagliata, Ailsa Chang |
NPRThursday, June 1, 2023
NPR's Ailsa Chang speaks with Chilean musician Alex Anwandter about his new disco-influenced album El Diablo en el Cuerpo.
AILSA CHANG, HOST:
As Chilean musician Alex Anwandter was putting together his latest album, he had a simple test to see if the songs were danceable.
ALEX ANWANDTER: It was the middle of COVID. I didn't have, like, a dance studio - in my bedroom using a yoga mat (laughter) and wearing my AirPods, just, like, trying it out in front of the mirror.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX ANWANDTER SONG, "EL DIABLO EN EL CUERPO")
CHANG: That's right. It was a one-man bedroom mirror dance party. And that requirement - danceability - was crucial here. Anwandter was set on making a dance album or, maybe more specifically, a dance floor album.
ANWANDTER: To me, as a queer person, it has always functioned as some sort of, like, safe haven, I suppose.
CHANG: The result is an homage to dancefloor culture and the liberation it provides, a disco-infected album called "El Diablo En El Cuerpo" or "The Devil In The Body."
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "EL DIABLO EN EL CUERPO")
ANWANDTER: (Singing in Spanish).
The album is a bit abstract, but it's also about the way we communicate with the body. And it's a lot about desire as well and pursuing desire and the effects of pursuing desire and societal norms around pursuing desire. So I think when I'm saying I have the devil in my body, what I'm saying is I want to communicate my desire through my body. And I don't care if that goes against certain social grain or whatever.
CHANG: So what happens when you give yourself over to desire?
ANWANDTER: Well, for instance, it might go against what is perceived as, like, true love, say, only being sexually with one person for the rest of your life. But also it's - for me, desire also is extremely related to self-image...
ANWANDTER: ...And how we want to be and how we communicate that. It's a very, like, complex web of desires that we act upon or repress. And somehow, I think the nightlife kind of dissolves all of that repression and those rules. And that's why I kind of set the themes of the album in the dance floor, so to speak.
(SOUNDBITE OF ALEX ANWANDTER SONG, "UNX DE NOSOTRXS")
CHANG: I want to ask you about the song "Unx De Nosotrxs"...
CHANG: ...Which is about growing up queer in Santiago, Chile. What was your childhood like? I know that's a huge question.
CHANG: But paint some broad brushstrokes for me.
ANWANDTER: Well, for starters, I grew up in the middle of the dictatorship. I was born in '83. The dictatorship of Pinochet ended in '89. And it was such a different country - like, very strange, politically silent. There was nothing to be said about any social issues. It was a pretty conservative society, and growing up queer was a little weird, I guess. Going to gay clubs or something wasn't, like, something that was very accepted or even, like, common. I remember in 2011 - so not that long ago - I put out a song. It was kind of a love song directed to a boy, a guy, and it was all over the news. Like, it was a first in Chile.
CHANG: It was revolutionary to be seen...
ANWANDTER: Yeah, it was...
CHANG: ...As something like that.
ANWANDTER: ...So weird. Like, I didn't even think about that - like, that there hadn't been any, like, love songs - like, same-sex love songs before I wrote that.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "UNX DE NOSOTRXS")
CHANG: Well, I wanted to ask you about the juxtaposition between the lyrics in "Unx De Nosotrxs," which are heavy, but the song - it's kind of upbeat. It's...
CHANG: ...Got this classic house feel. I mean, one of the lyrics is, I've been hiding from others for a while. Friend, I don't want to feel life is broken. Was it purposeful to dress up such a difficult story inside such a happy beat?
ANWANDTER: No. It's kind of a thing I do, and I really like it. I find that, like, brilliant music tends to go very well with dramatic lyrics. This is something that I feel is very Latino.
ANWANDTER: But also, I think the feeling of ecstasy that a beat or, like, a dance song can produce goes really well when you're trying to be vulnerable and connect emotionally. And it produces a sort of a deeper elation, if you will, when you're dancing and at the same time thinking about something that's kind of profound.
CHANG: Right. Well, can I also ask - one of the lyrics in that same song is, take me to the Blondie, which is...
CHANG: ...A dance club in Santiago, right?
CHANG: Was this a club that meant something quite important to you when you were growing up there?
ANWANDTER: Yeah, for sure. It's like almost a rite of initiation going to Blondie discotheque. It's still there. It's an institution. Now I go do shows mostly there. But I can't go because there's too many people that listen to my music, so I can't really go, like, incognito.
ANWANDTER: Once I wore, like, a bandana around my face, and people still recognized me. It was like, how...
CHANG: Could ever...
ANWANDTER: ...Do you know it's me? Like, it was so weird. Anyway, it's a great place. And I remember my first time there. I don't know exactly what I was wearing. I must have been, like, 14 or 15. People go out really young in South America.
CHANG: I love that.
ANWANDTER: And someone pointed at me and said, like, oh, the little Boys Choir of Vienna or something. I was like, what (laughter)? Like, I thought I was dressing, like, super-cool.
CHANG: Well, you are now based in New York City, and it made me wonder, do you miss the dance floors of Santiago?
ANWANDTER: It's a great question. I do. And at the same time, I had to say goodbye to them before leaving Chile. Not to toot my own horn, but I'm more famous there than I am here, obviously. So I couldn't really go out dancing that much - as much as I wanted.
CHANG: Ah, but you enjoy the greater anonymity in New York City that you have...
ANWANDTER: Yes, absolutely.
CHANG: ...When you go out dancing.
CHANG: OK. So, Alex, when you are seized with the desire to go and dance, please tell me you go further than your yoga mat.
ANWANDTER: (Laughter) Well, the yoga mat was my COVID - it was a COVID restraint. So yeah. I like disco, actually. I like dancing to disco music. And there's great disco parties here in New York, so that's my go-to, I think.
CHANG: That is Chilean singer, songwriter and producer Alex Anwandter. His new album is called "El Diablo En El Cuerpo." Thank you so much. I so enjoyed this.
ANWANDTER: Thank you.
(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PRECIPICIO")
ANWANDTER: (Singing in Spanish). Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.
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