PROFILE: Daniela Lalita
Updated: Oct 6
The Young music group signee talks about her upbringing in Peru, synthesizers and her new EP Trececerotres.
On September 7th around 5pm, I traveled to Canal Street in NYC to meet an emerging new talent that I've had on my radar for many months. Her name is Daniela Lalita, and she is a Peruvian American avant-garde pop artist who has recently signed with Beggars Group and Young. She has become known over the past few years for creating intense performance art that insects fashion, abstract ideas, music and storytelling. Most notable of which is her 2017 piece Madre, in which she had "nine figures draped in elaborate costumes and elaborate prosthetics each representative of the Jungian archetypes of the mother" according to a press release.
Photo Credit: Juan Camilo (@juancamiloberlin)
It can often be difficult to conceptualize what an artist will be like when you meet them in person. It's kind of like reading a book, and then going to see the film adaptation of it. In your head, you dream up all these visuals and preconceptions that play out differently on the screen. Similarly, when we read the lyrics and try to parse through the arrangements of a musician we love, we assume our interpretations of their material are correct. Perhaps my favorite part of doing profiles like this is having my ways of thinking smashed to pieces by the artists themselves. As an independent journalist, I can bypass Genius.com, and I am therefore able to travel into the brain of a popular artist for 30-40 minutes at a time and understand more directly what I am listening to.
When I met Daniela at the XL/Young offices in Downtown NYC, she was very kind and forthcoming. After adjusting the lighting for a few minutes (despite it not being a video interview), the vibe was immediately there. I was on the couch holding out my phone as I always do, and she was sitting on the floor, with her head resting on the opposite side of the couch. While I had some questions prepared, I was pleasantly surprised to veer into unpredictable twists and turns. We talked about her upbringing, her mentorship under synth master and NYU professor Morton Subotnick, her new EP Trececerotres, among other topics:
Daniela Lalita: I was just in Peru. The EP Trececerotres is about me growing up there, and the experiences I had with my grandmother and mother. I wanted to express those different tonalities and emotions through the different characters performing through this project. Going back and exploring the feelings is like going back to different moments of my past. It was combining songs that my family would sing too. My family living room was playful and had automatons, and all these clocks and time, they were horologist, studying time and clocks.
Ryan ANTIART: I've never heard that term before, "horologist".
Daniela Lalita: Grandfather clocks, coo-coo clocks, pocket watches, sculpture clocks. During Christmas time it was particularly beautiful. But Trececerotres is about those older, specific memories. This idea of the environment you're in changing for whatever variable reason, makes you start getting nostalgic. My grandmother got cancer in 2018, and there is a scent to disease. I would walk into her apartment, and I didn't have the right emotional support system. I loved my friends, but I just felt very alone.
Ryan ANTIART: That must've been really difficult at a young age. To see things change like that.
Daniela Lalita: Yes because this place that was once for joy, discovery and magic, all of the sudden, it turned into a wall full of old pictures and no sound. And the lighting is off, and things are no longer taken care of it. It blew my mind. I'd never had to be a mother to my grandmother before, but I became in charge of very specific and almost traumatizing medical duties. It oddly became very comforting though, after a while, to do these necessities while watching film and talking about her life. This being the first time she opened up about her experiences in the Highlands, I wrote many of the songs during that time. I actually wrote and recorded one of the songs in her bed, and re-recorded it later.
Ryan ANTIART: Very intimate.
Daniela Lalita: When I'd visit in the cancer ward I remember listening to "Tamalito" by Andres Soto a lot. Which was the most beautiful song to hear, where this man is offering his little tamale to his loved one and waiting for her. I would always give her headphones, and we'd look at videos and Peruvian art.
Ryan ANTIART: I'm sorry to hear about all that, and I'm happy she was able to pull through. I'm happy to hear you share these memories with me today. Aside from your more personal upbringing, I also wanted to dive into your scholastic background at The Rhode Island School of Design and NYU's Music Tech program, as well as your forays in performance art. I really just want to know, along with your personal background, how have all these experiences have shaped your holistic, 3-dimensional approach to making art and music?
Daniela Lalita: Well, here's a little more personal background before I get into schooling. When I was seven I'd do little noises and voiceovers for baby commercials, like for Pampers. It was something that I never thought would shape me, but it allowed me to explore areas of my voice at a young age that I never thought I would, that I still use to this day. From there, I was in the National Youth Orchestra Band, playing piano. Before this, I was trained the Suzuki method which was all listening rather than reading sheet music. I was good at imitation, vocal-wise as well. Being sat down and forced to read music wasn't working for me at all.
Ryan ANTIART: The same thing happened to me when I tried to learn guitar as a child. I would want to play cool riffs and my teacher just wanted to teach me scales and Beethoven, I was lost.
Daniela Lalita: Allowing kids to explore their own sense of musicality is so important, and doesn't have to be restrained. If you're just trying to explore or investigate, I could see like a cup, for example, as being equally valuable to a child. Because you're not trying to learn music at that age, you're trying to learn who you are. I left this orchestra, but I still loved singing and expressing myself. So I went to the Rhode Island School of Design and studied apparel design. You ever just get into something, and you keep going even though it's wrong for you from the start?
Ryan ANTIART: My major in college was the same way. That also happens to me in a lot of relationships.
Daniela Lalita: You're just like "AHHH OK LET'S DO IT LET'S DO IT" and then you're like "AHHHH WHYYYYYY"
Daniela explains that she really wanted to study the way clothing draped over models and how that could tell a story in it's own way. It was less about the clothes, and more about the expression. Her professor wondered why she wasn't passionate about her work there. Externally, she was feeling pressure from the American school system, a.k.a. "so what are you going to do when you graduate?" She doesn't think that should be the conversation in this sandbox, college environment. Practicality is important, but "why focus on that and that alone?" she thought. Her professor opened up a gate for her, the thesis, where she could connect her disparate interests in a meaningful way. Music and the theatrical aspect of fashion was more of her calling. "The lights, the space, the people" as she describes it. It was this research and self-exploration that continued to drive her. Once you understand yourself, you can create outward expressions that help other people find themselves better.
Daniela Lalita: I also took classes at Brown on skepticism, as well as one merging psychology, philosophy and fashion. After graduating, it was a push to work at big fashion brands, which made me feel kind of empty. I went back to Peru, and was a teacher for the summer. I then dated someone who really geared me toward making music. I felt discourage to do that full-time though, because many people think you should start that by learning music theory. Thankfully I found the NYU Music Tech program at the time.
Daniela Lalita: There was this music pioneer teaching there called Morton Subotnick, who I was obsessed with and my goal when I got there was to find him and study under him, so I did, and took a class with him. He helped develop one of the first synthesizers in the world. He came up with this slogan back then, "I want to make an instrument to make instruments", and I find that really inspiring. I was also inspired by Holly Herndon, as well as more obscure things like digital signal theory. The use of trigonometry behind sound waves is something I never thought I'd use.
Ryan ANTIART: It's kind of this idea of sound waves and how without something to receive them, whether it be a transmitter or our ears, they cease to exist.
Daniela Lalita: Yes, exactly, but back to Morton, he taught me what I needed to learn, and taught me how to create my own way of production, and how to treat my own voice. He taught me the future of music relies on children, and getting them in touch with their sense of musicality. The possibilities could be endless if we were just a little more attentive to that.
Ryan ANTIART: Lastly, I'd like to get into the weeds of your new music, two songs in particular that I've heard and really enjoy. I wrote a whole bunch of stuff down, but now that I'm here, I'd rather hear the way you see this music and what it means to you as the artist that created it.
Ryan ANTIART: Let's talk about your song and video for "Tenía Razón".
Daniela Lalita: Many [music journalists] wrote commentary about "Daniela fighting her inner demons". The whole point of the video was to play with shadow and the unknown. There is a little girl there who is exploring the space, going around with her chisel, and the whole point is that this is not supposed to be demonic. She's a baby girl! She's innocent. It was an explanation of my own selves. There is also a lady in the water in the video that actually came to me in a dream, like my future self. My mother actual plays that character. This stoic idea of this woman who gives me strength and assurance was really important to visualize and talk about. There was also an army in the video, which was like a mix of strength, energy and family that caused me to keep going. A combination between them and the lady in the water really comes together in this interesting way, at least I hope that's how it was conveyed, it was my first time directing.
Ryan ANTIART: I found it very captivating personally, but even if other people don't get it, that's ok. Part of this exploration that one must do comes with it never being fully understood. Some of my favorite art, like Lost Highway from David Lynch, is purposefully hard to piece together because it's the mystery that keeps people coming back to it. I think symbolism and evasiveness from art is sorely missed these days and we need people like you releasing these more esoteric forms of expression, it's important. If people want an explaner, they can read our interview. But otherwise, it can just stand alone was art for art's sake.
Daniela Lalita: In no way was it supposed to be scary, horror, or me fighting my demons. I care about mental health, stability and the human brain. I love anthropology because that is how you tap into all of that at once.
Ryan ANTIART: A mix of oral history, science and found objects, yes. The darkness here is more an unknown that you're trying to discover and light up.
Ryan ANTIART: And next we can get into "No Para".
Daniela Lalita: For "No Para", I was inspired by learning in a class about Paradise Lost, where we spoke about the devil in a compassionate way. We empathized with his position, because it was presented in a way that wasn't evil, it's what he had to do. I've had a few really valuable interactions with my dad, where he said when I try to be compassionate, ambitious, try to help people, etc. there would be this force that would come for me at all costs, to try to stop me. It would manifest itself through friends and family first, myself, people close to me. He said it was important to recognize that and identify it. When I discovered this, I realized it can be anywhere. People don't like change, and subconsciously they will try to keep you where you are because it feels better. My father told me this wasn't evil, just natural.
Ryan ANTIART: I've felt that big time over the past few years.
Daniela Lalita: I created a story where this woman goes to the mountains to make a wish, where we filmed this, people actually make wishes in between mountains at 16,000 feet above sea level. It's like sacred land. "The wind is on my side", "No Para", you know. Nothing will stop me. A lot of people take different interpretations of the song, but I really wanted to make this expression through a character specifically. It's about exploring that bitter moment of truth and change that is hard to define.
Ryan ANTIART: It's really great to hear all of this from you directly. Do you have any other spare or final thoughts that haven't been expressed?
Daniela Lalita: Well, throughout this stage in my career, back to what Morton said, I want my intentions to be clear. I want spaces for children to explore their own musicality and creativity. I hope this all goes beyond like streams and posting selfies on Instagram. Um...let's see...my grandma's my muse, my mom's my muse, I love Peru.
Ryan ANTIART: Shoutout Peru.
Daniela Lalita: OK, that's it, cool, AHHHHHHHHH!!!!
[Stream & Purchase Trececerotres on Spotify, Bandcamp, Apple Music, and wherever else!]