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Ximena Sariñana tries her hand at mainstream pop success 

"My label approached me with this idea of writing a record in English and trying my luck in the States, and I thought it was a good moment for me to do something like that."

click to enlarge Pop as a second language: Ximena Sariana - PHOTO COURTESY OF EMILY SHUR

Mexican-born singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana released her debut album, Mediocre, in 2008 and received two Latin Grammy nominations for it. Her self-titled 2011 follow-up turned her image on its side: More electronic, more poppy and almost entirely in English, it went gold in Mexico just last week. She spoke with CP from the road on a tour that brings her to Club Café Dec. 18.

 

You grew up in a show-business family, right? 

Yeah! My dad is a filmmaker and my mom's a screenwriter in Mexico, so that's how I started. Music has always been present in my life, but acting developed sooner, I guess. But I always did music here and there on the side, usually linked to the movies that I was in -- singing, soundtracks, theme songs for the movies I was in. Then finally when I was like 15, I started to get more involved in my writing, and I started studying music and writing my own songs.

 

After a successful Spanish-language album, you came back with one almost entirely in English. Why make that switch?

My record label, Warner Music, approached me with this idea of writing a record in English and trying my luck in the States, and everything fell into place and I thought it was a good moment for me to do something like that. It was a challenge, and I like challenges like that. 

 

Have you spoken English your whole life?

I've known it all my life -- my first five years, I lived in L.A., so I learned English and Spanish at the same time, then later I studied at a British school, so I didn't lose it. 

 

Do you have an affinity for writing lyrics in one language or the other?

Both are really pretty -- it just depends on how you use them. I think there are amazing lyric writers in English and amazing lyric writers in Spanish. 

 

You worked with Dave Sitek from TV On the Radio as a producer --

Yeah, Dave Sitek and Greg Kurstin, who's worked with Lily Allen and is in the band The Bird and the Bee.

 

What did you learn working with them?

They made me realize that the possibilities are endless when it comes to music and producing. They're both really creative people, and Greg has so many skills under his belt -- it's great, that liberty, having that much knowledge. Knowledge is freedom in a way: It gives you so many possibilities. With Dave, I think it was about him creating the perfect vibe for us to work in. He sort of made me relax about the whole process, and that was very important.

 

How do you negotiate being part of both the Latin music world and the mainstream American pop world?

I don't think I've really thought much about it. My whole thing with my first record was to stay as honest as possible, and with this record it's kind of the same. I think that the more transparent you are, the more chances people are going to understand what you do. Or maybe not understand it. But there's no secret as to what I'm doing. I have a life path, and it just happens that my life path is more public than other people's. I love Latin music and love some of those artists, but for me, working in both languages is so [natural] -- it's just going back and forth.

 

XIMENA SARIÑANA with GRAFFITI 6. 7 p.m. Sun., Dec. 18. Club Café, 56 S. 12th St., South Side. $8. 412-431-4950 or www.clubcafelive.com

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