Talking to them about the profound changes that have occurred in the music industry in the last twenty years, they don’t relate to it. Born in the eighties, Pau Vallvé, Clara Peya and Maria Arnal have no links to that old world whatsoever.
“A few years ago, when I was in record companies, some of the legends of Catalan music found it really hard to deal with” recalls singer/songwriter Pau Vallvé, who, for some time now, has been managing his career with total independence. “But we grew up in a completely different context. If there was one thing we could be sure of, it was that, in some way, we had to wake up and smell the coffee…”
They didn’t get a taste of any of the luxuries of those good old days, but neither do they have to pay so many dues along the way. They’re musicians obsessed with finding their own voice, they have no intention of giving in to those who might want to bend their will, and they make their own more natural rules when it comes to their relationship with their audience and environment. In short, they are freer, and in art, freedom is a precious asset. “This thirtysomething generation is full of artists”, says Clara Peya. “And when there are so many people for so little work, having your own voice is a matter of necessity”.
Pau Vallvé was born in 1981, a son to two schoolteachers, but reading his CV you’d think he was born much earlier. A born drummer, as a baby he would communicate through rhythm instead of words and before he could walk he was already banging on a drum set made out of washing powder tubs. At the age of ten, having given himself in body and soul to the heavy metal faith, he was recruited by some over-18s to play in their band. At fourteen, with a band called Freak Out, he played on one of the most coveted stages of the BAM Festival, and at sixteen he “skived off school to shut himself into a recording studio under the instructions of a producer from Canada”. Before turning thirty there were countless more adventures including setting up a recording studio and a record company and creating the character of Estanislau Verdet, his comic alter ego who has met with such remarkable and unexpected success. Then, seven years ago Pau Vallvé left his drums and cymbals and found his own voice, as an indie singer-songwriter with a somewhat melancholy air who sings “about what happens to him and what he feels”.
His latest record, Abisme, cavall, hivern, primavera i tornar (Abyss, horse, winter, spring and back again) is self-manufactured, self-edited and self-distributed, among other selfs. It doesn’t even have a barcode, but that doesn’t stop him from performing in Barcelona, in venues that get bigger with every tour. “I’ve always been lucky enough to do things the way I like”, he says. “I’ve found myself at dead ends where it would have been easy to choose other paths, but the idea of doing what I want, how I want, always prevailed”. His status as an unfettered man is well-nigh legendary, although, as he says, he’s not been given anything for free: “I don’t form part of any family and the music world is full of families”, he maintains. “They all have contacts, circles of influence, festivals where they can play and channels on which they can be liked. And I have to earn my way”.
The piano of a thousand faces
Clara Peya (Palafrugell, 1986) also came to the conclusion that the only way she had of “feeling free” was by doing what she “felt like”. “Without following any rules or guidelines”, she emphasizes. “Without worrying about fitting in anywhere”.
A daughter to two doctors, but with a grandmother and an aunt who were pianists, she studied classical piano for twelve years under Leonid Sintsev, with whom she also studied at the Rimsky-Korsakov State Conservatory in Saint Petersburg. “The life of a classical pianist is terribly hard, not very creative and very subjugated. For me, it was a world that was too small”, she admits. Later on, she wasn’t convinced by modern music or jazz either. “Improvisation also follows rules, a language… You’re free, but only up to a certain point”.
Her solid training, along with her constant sense of urgency to express ideas and feelings, make Peya one of the most multifaceted – not to mention disconcerting – talents on the Catalan music scene today. She has a markedly outgoing way about her when she plays, and an on-stage wildness. In eight years she has released seven of her own records, and has collaborated on circus, dance and theatre projects like Jane Eyre (Carme Portaceli) and March Rosich’s adaptation of Ramon Llull’s El llibre de les bèsties (Book of the Beasts), and on various projects with Les Impuxibles, a dance company she set up with her sister, the choreographer Ariadna Peya, with a “strong political and social commitment”. “With Limbo [the fourth show, on the theme of transsexuality, which opened in February 2015] people would come up after the show and not congratulate me for playing the piano well but for having got them to see this reality through different eyes. Projects like that help us artists to not be so egocentric…”
Oceanes, released in 2017, is an homage to women through water. It reveals Peya’s interest in musical genres as diverse as hip-hop, folk, jazz and classical and, once again, it exemplifies her commitment not to be subjugated to the rules of a world that “always pushes you into playing a particular role”.
“Shaping clay” with songs
In recent times, Maria Arnal (Badalona, 1987) has finally been winning Catalan acclaim for her voice, for the way she reworks popular and traditional music, and for how she sets out to put “me” at the service of “we”. Despite singing in the school choir and belonging to a family in which music was part of everyday life, Arnal didn’t find her true path until the age of twenty-five. After studying translation and literature, and then breaking her femur, which made her rethink everything, Arnal came into contact with the Compartir Dóna Gustet group, which was set up to explore the relationship between oral tradition and free culture through music, film, performance art and theatre. It was through this immersion into the ancient Valencian cants del batre, the fandango, jotas, the Iberian oral tradition music of the Fonoteca Valenciana and the recordings made in Majorca by North-American ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax, that she met her travel companion: a guitarist from Ebre called Marcel Bagés. This year they have released their first LP together, 45 cerebros y 1 corazón (45 heads and 1 heart), which has won a Ciutat de Barcelona award.
One can see their purpose: to reshape songs from centuries ago and make them relevant – “we work with these songs as though they were clay, in the sense that we give them the shape we want” –, and to create an innovative and revealing discourse around what popular music once was and what it should continue to be. “While the world we are living in tends towards the me, our project talks about the we. While the voice is always thought of in terms of a diva, we are putting it out there at the service of the people who come to listen to us. While we live in a world that makes us believe that we are more connected when, actually, everyone is depressed, we are trying to strengthen the links”, she says. “That’s why we sometimes say that popular music is actually copular music, in the sense that we aim to create ties.”