[eng]Silvia Perez Cruz: “I feel like I’ve done things from the heart, I’m at peace”
Translation by:Aurelie Mckellican
The Catalan singer is bringing out her fourth album, a work that is borne of “courage, craziness, and a lasting memory”. We spoke to her in Fontainebleau (France) where she gave a performance of her most loved songs. Just Silvia, her voice and a guitar.
For Silvia Perez Cruz (Palafrugell, 1983), life without music is meaningless. Ever since her first (paying) gig at age thirteen, the singer has been going at her own speed, sometimes accompanied, other times alone. She has filled theatres in big cities, but also in small towns in all four corners of the world. She has received two Goya film awards for the best original song (Blancanieves; 2012, and Cerca de tu casa, 2017) and in 2014 Spain’s Rolling Stone magazine named her best female solo artist of the year. She’s dared to sing lyrics from Federico García Lorca, Edith Piaf and Caetano Veloso, and many more, not only in Spanish, but also in Catalan, English, French and German. She’s experimented with Jazz, Flamenco, Habaneras, Fado, and classical music, seeking to find her place in an art form that is “unreachable, like air, which never runs out”. But, at 34 years of age, this feat, which she says she is not “at all aware of” is perhaps not her greatest achievement. What really comforts Silvia is being at peace with herself. “I’ve tried to do things truly from the heart. This makes the process slower, but in the long run it’s worth it. I don’t want people to talk about me, I want to make a living out of this. I sing in theatres for a thousand people but also for thirty. And it makes me just as happy”.
After graduating in jazz singing at the Superior Music School of Catalunya (ESMUC) and after several years of artistic projects with groups such as Las Migas and singers like Javier Colina or David Goldschmidt, in 2012 she released her first solo project, 11 de Novembre, followed by Granada (2014, with guitarist Raúl Fernández Miró), Domus (2016) and now Vestida de Nit (2017). Little by little, her strong voice, melancholy and free, has been seeping into the ears of her public, and has become so recognisable that it couldn’t be mistaken for any other. Silvia loves to do things “well”, and with awareness of why she is doing them, and has decided to “slow down the pace and dedicate more time to each thing”. After many years of working without a break, she now chooses which concerts and interviews to give. Even if just for this reason, this late-March afternoon will not soon be forgotten.
cafébabel: So, how is it to live in peace?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: (Smiles) It’s very existential. This last month I’ve had this peaceful feeling inside of being very happy with what’s happened. Even when it comes to problems. It’s a feeling of having done things from the heart, of being calm. Of not needing anything more. Even if, well… it just lasts a moment, it’s not eternal either.
cafébabel: Many people of all ages and backgrounds come out of your concerts changed (and with a tear in their eye). What’s your secret?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: Of course none of that is planned. Even though you think a lot when preparing your set list, on stage you’re free, animal, emotional. I think the trick is - if there is one - emotion and the mirror effect. If you and I are speaking, and I’m enthusiastic when I answer, you’ll answer with even more enthusiasm. If I open up, people will open up and will be confronted with their own feelings, even though, of course I don’t know what happens to each individual.
cafébabel: The German poet Reiner María Rilke said that a piece of art has to have been borne out of pure necessity to be good. Do you agree?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: Totally. Singing is my life. It’s when I feel most free. If I don’t sing, I get dirty. It’s a way for me to communicate, to share and to be. That’s why I don’t like to say “my career” because it’s my life. It’s like eating. I’m not going to be an idiot. I can’t do things just for the sake of it or for money. It’s pure necessity and it’s real. Some people will like it, others won’t.
cafébabel: You once said that you didn’t sing about your sorrow or of mine, but rather of everyone’s. Is it necessary to sing sad songs to be happy?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: For me, to sing about sadness is like a cleansing process. I want to make a happy album but up to now the songs that have moved me or that I’ve wanted to sing have been really intense, just like I am in life. These songs allow me to move through different emotional states and forget my body. My singing comes from there, from that place where all sorrows come together. In an abstract and universal way.
cafébabel: Do you think that music can cure a tormented soul?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: It can even remove physical pain and make you forget your body for a few moments. There are songs that accompany love, hate, births and deaths. Once I went to sing at a psychiatric hospital and at the end a man came up to me and said: “Today you’ve done something very important”. Then the nurse appeared and told me that that man hadn’t spoken for a couple of months. That’s pretty big, right?
cafébabel: So why, if music and culture in general are so powerful, are they always the first to be affected by cuts?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: It’s true that you can get a lot through art, lots of information, I guess it’s like when they used to burn books, right? The other day I was listening to the French ambassador in Madrid talking about artists and I almost cried. He said that we’re visionaries. In Spain it’s so difficult to stand up for culture… Of course there are more important things like health and education, but culture is crucial to remind you of who you are and to keep you being, dreaming and searching.
cafébabel: How have you managed to figure out who you are?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: My mum, who had an arts school, always gave me resources, freedom and confidence. And I had piano, saxophone, painting, voice, sculpture classes… These things help you to work on your way of doing things. It’s something that we don’t do a lot, neither at school nor in life. You always copy or search for a reference for things to like from others and even from your parents. You have to think about what you are, what you’d like to know. You have to be brave to become what you’re meant to be.
cafébabel: Brave enough to record an album (Vestida de Nit) in two days and live with a string quintet without sheet music. How did it turn out?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: Vestida de Nit, which is also the name of a song by my parents (musicians Gloria Cruz and Castor Pérez Diz) which had never been recorded on an album, is made up of songs that I already know, but in a different format. It’s more of a musical experiment which I’ve always wanted to do ever since I was studying at ESMUC. The quintet is classical and I wanted to break that mould, so we took away the sheet music, its protection, to get pure emotion. This album is real. It has a beat. It’s alive. We broke the clichés.
cafébabel: Speaking of clichés, you are 34 and that makes you - just - part of the millennial generation, which buys tickets on the internet but then prints them. They say that we’re more independent, more technological, more precarious… What do you think?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: (Laughing) I love that about tickets. It’s great. I think this is the generation of experiences. We want a lot and we want it really fast. I feel it on an emotional level, for example. We’re kids of the first divorcees, we’re a bit of a test, and so also a bit of a disaster. On the other hand, on an artistic level, I think that we’re quite brave and we have a fighting spirit. To be 40 now is very different to in the past.
cafébabel: So, to be a millennial and to have a dream is not incompatible…
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: In the music world, for example, it’s really difficult to make a living. There are so many cuts in funding, lots of event spaces are closing down. But I don’t believe in luck, anyway. My point is that it’s not a dream that I’m going after. It’s something internal that’s in line with my own self. On an artistic level, I don’t feel the pressure of trends, or of trying to become anything. It’s also true that I’m very hard working, but that’s because I’m passionate about it. I’m a positive person and lots of things motivate me, but I’m also very existentialist and chaotic, I have my daughter (she’s nine) and my life isn’t easy either.
cafébabel: Does being a mum change your perspective of things?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: It’s really taught me to make the most of time. It’s made everything a bit harder but also more worthwhile. I don’t know where I’d be if I didn’t have my daughter. Also when you give birth you stop fooling around. Now I always do things properly, otherwise I feel really bad. For example, if I were sitting here doing this interview with you just for the sake of doing an interview, I’d feel terrible.
cafébabel: With Domus (2016), the album you produced for the film Cerca de tu Casa (At Your Doorstep, in which she also had the leading role), you made a soundtrack for a drama, one about the evictions in Spain. Was it to reawaken awareness?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: I sing to cleanse, to bring about an emotional revolution which awakes us to defend ourselves from everything else. People often repeat what others say, but what do they really think? I don’t want to say anything I have no control over or which I don’t profoundly feel.
cafébabel: You’ve often attended international cultural events, like, for example, the voices of the Mediterranean concert in the Human Rights hall of the UN, a presentation in the French Institute in Madrid or in a concert here in France organised by the Ramon Llull Institute of Catalan language and culture. Where do you feel like you’re from?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz:The only time I’ve had a strong sense of identity was in the Ampurdán countryside (in Catalunya), where my village is. I saw it and said: I am from here, but not because of a specific way of being or a flag. I also feel like I’m from the world.
cafébabel: Living in Catalunya, with the backdrop of the independence process, have you ever felt like you’re being used to support certain people?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: I’ve never allowed myself to be used. Some parties have asked me to do certain things… but I’ve always said no. I have preferences, of course, but on an artistic level, which is a language that I speak and that I like. I only had one problem in Madrid where I sang a repertoire in the Mallorcan language and a man stood up and told me that in that place I could only sing in the language of the nation. People laughed, he got up and left. I don’t mind. I’ve gone through lots of different states in relation to this topic (independence), but I’ve never been nationalist. Lots of people are. It’s a reality. I wish people could listen to each other. The main thing a person wants is at least to be understood… To be honest I think we’re all very lost.
cafébabel: Is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Sílvia Pérez Cruz: I think it’s difficult, I don’t know. I really am not interested in separation but I understand that there are a lot of people that want to leave. And I respect them. Sometimes I like to think that if we were to vote, the majority would come out just so that it could be taken seriously, not so that there would be a yes vote. In my mind I have my vision and I sing to unite. But to unite with love, not with balls.