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Summer Series Q&A: Llorona

The beautiful and haunting Llorona will perform on week 2 of the Hult Center Summer Series.

Hult Center: For those who would be hearing your music for the first time, how would you describe your sound?

Marietta Bonaventure (Llorona): This is always the most difficult question for me! Lyrical…melodramatic…anachronistic? The band is all strings – violin, guitar and upright bass – and vocals. We pay a lot of attention to dynamics and movement in our songs. The form follows the storytelling in a way that emphasizes meaning. It’s not challenging to listen to, unless you listen very closely, and then you might find yourself in a much more complicated narrative space.

HC: I am intrigued by the term ghost folk. Can you tell us about that?

Marietta: When we first conceptualized Llorona, we wanted to take traditional Mexican ghost stories and folklore and put them to music that takes inspiration from traditional styles. Think about the folk song Llorona, which has always been featured in our repertoire; the song has dozens of iterations, verses that might appear in one version and then never again, and vastly different interpretations by artists around the world. By creating our own version of the song Llorona – as well as exploring other traditional Mexican folklore – we are participating in culture in a way that is unique because of our time and place, but also completely commonplace, because this is the way folklore works. It’s told and retold in different contexts, by different storytellers. It changes over time. It picks up new significance. This is the essence of folk arts and their magic to connect people across time and place.

HC: Storytelling is often passed down through family. Are aspects of your art influenced by family traditions?

Marietta: Ricardo and I grew up hearing stories from our mothers and grandmothers – outlandish stories of the devil carrying off village bad girls, or stolen communion hosts turning into living, bleeding flesh – stories that felt true of a time and place in which miracles still happened and Satan himself might pay a visit. Many of our families’ stories are heavily moralistic; they are meant to shape behavior and establish community expectations. As we develop as a group of musical storytellers, our stories have become more challenging than dogmatic; stories serve a different purpose now. But there is always a level of irony in the stories told in my family, questions left unanswered, or perhaps answers that are too sublime to speak. Are we still in a time of miracles? Does the devil still walk, but just under a different name?

HC: Where do the haunting lyrics and tone come from?

Marietta: I take a lot of influence from the goth aesthetic of the 80’s. Madeline, while a classically trained violinist, loves metal and can use a distortion pedal to great effect. In my songwriting, tragedy is what resonates. One of our big influences, Mexican ranchera music – much like the blues in America – explores suffering in all its forms. This is music as catharsis. I think about the songs that have stopped me in my tracks over the course of a lifetime and they all contain a blend of anguish, longing, and joy. I write about car crashes and lost children and metaphoric packs of wild dogs because facing fear and pain together, through the catharsis of music, enables us to contextualize it and emerge on the other side intact.

HC: How have your experiences in other Eugene-based bands inspired the sound you now create?

Marietta: It speaks to the remarkable creative energy in Eugene that we have all been in so many different kinds of bands over the years. Ricardo and I have been playing together for more than 20 years, starting in a big ensemble playing Cuban son. Years of latin rhythms have deeply influenced the texture of our music. Corwin Bolt is new to Llorona and brings with him a vast experience of folk and traditional music, as well as a level of restraint and finesse that is true artistry. And Madeline, of course, shows her classical training in sheer skill and her lived experience in the passion of her playing. All of this combined experience gives us a huge vocabulary for our sound and the courage to keep exploring.

HC: What can the audience expect from your upcoming live performance?

Marietta: Lovely and evocative sounds. Minimal acrobatics. Four people who love each other and love to make music together, through which we hope to share life’s sadness and joy with others.