Words by David C. Obenour
Created during a time of personal and political upheaval, it can be easy to feel cynical about the trajectory of the world considering the state we’re in some months later on Hibiscus‘s release. However each struggle is unique, not merely a compounded of what came before it, and J Zunz’s sophomore album explores each new emotion and evolution.
The byproduct of additional time and rumination, J Zunz is the solo project of Lorena Quintanilla – more widely know as half of Lorelle Meets the Obsolete. Taking her approach down to the sparse basics allows the songs to brood and build – playing heavily with emotions in the space between sounds.
Off Shelf: How are you holding up? Have you been based in Mexico throughout quarantine?
Lorena Quintanilla: Yes, I’ve been at home in Ensenada. At the beginning of the quarantine I was holding up just fine. I’m used to work at home so I didn’t have a problem. Now after 6 months under lockdown I’m not so sure. I just try to stay positive.
OS: This is your second solo album as J Zunz. Can you talk about what initially led you to want to create music outside of Lorelle Meets the Obsolete?
LQ: I started this project right after we finished an album with Lorelle… Because of different situations I found myself having some extra time. This extra time and some stress messed up with my head and I felt a little lost but at the same time filled with ideas. I had the feeling that having another outlet to develop some music alone would help me out and it did.
OS: Although it happened over a year ago, you talk about how Hibiscus came to you during a time of “personal crisis inside and political crisis outside”. Do you hear the songs any differently now that you’re sharing them with a world that might be more able to relate?
LQ: The songs have different meanings now and I’m in the process of understanding new things but I don’t know if it’s because the album is out or just because the time has passed.
OS: Knowing the personal nature of the music, what led you to decide on Hibiscus as the name?
LQ: It’s a word very charged with personal meaning. I had a dream about the flower which helped me to understand a lot of things. It was an answer that came to me in an unusual way. And I think music works in a similar form. It’s like healing from the abstract.
OS: There are a lot of releases that are being delayed, some for promotional considerations and other for production limitations. Did you consider delaying? What was your mindset in releasing an album in the midst of this all?
LQ: I didn’t consider it and there’s also my label involved of course. Everything was moving slowly and there was a lot of uncertainty and confusion about the future. Still is. In May it was still a possibility to go out on tour in September promoting the album. Now that’s gone. I was just thinking about how to keep on going and adapting to the changes.
OS: The album makes a lot of use of space. Drawing and building out loops, constructing and deconstructing songs. What do you find engaging about working in a more minimal setting?
LQ: Working with less elements helps me to get into a state of mind where I find more clarity and intuition to develop the songs.
OS: From each tone and refrain, the music you make is very evocative. Broadly or specifically, do you have any visualizations that you relate to the songs in Hibiscus?
LQ: All this record is very inspired by visual arts, more specifically by abstract paintings. I was thinking, for example, in these paintings by Terry Frost where half circles are very close but never touching each other so I would apply that concept into sounds. Arpeggios playing as geometrical patterns, etc.
OS: Thinking more about tones and textures, as a musician were there any particular moments – either from production or performance – that stick out to you from the process of recording?
LQ: During the whole recording process, it was very exciting to transform concepts into sounds and textures. For example, the talking voice in the song Ouve – Me. I wanted that voice to give some space inside the song. Like if I was walking around saying all these things, which we – Alberto, the engineer and I – achieved by using some reverb and panning the vocals from one side to the other.
OS: Was it hard to determine the length for these songs? Knowing when a mood was established and to move on or when to allow a moment to brood? Are these parameters different for you in a live performance?
LQ: It wasn’t hard at all as it was all led by feeling. I wasn’t counting rounds or anything, I was just stopping when I felt it was enough.
The parameters are the same in a live performance and sometimes the energy of the audience can take part in this too. I can extend a part of a song if the audience is responding to it. That’s why usually the songs get longer.
OS: The press release also mentions how you were reading a biography of John Cage that presented some ideas that were very fundamental in the shaping of this album. What prompted you to pick it up in the first place? Do you often read books on musicians?
LQ: There has been a misunderstanding about that. I read the book of John Cage like a year before I started the first album back in 2014. But yeah its influence has been so deep that it surely permeated into this album as well. I found that book in a record store and it just called me. By that time everything around me was very hectic and chaotic and I thought it would give me some peace of mind.
I love reading biographies of musicians and art movements. It’s very interesting to me to see how others develop ideas in any field and the relationship between their art, their lives and their context. It gives me a lot to think about.