María Pien has been one of our favorite singer-songwriters in the Argentine indie scene for the last decade. Throughout the course of her career, she’s excelled at crafting songs that display a raw vulnerability through elegant tunefulness and empathetic performances, creating musical narratives and little pockets of emotion that keep listeners hanging on her every word.
Last year, she released Afuera el Sol Estalla, an album made up (almost) entirely of songs written by other people. Steering away from well-worn standards of popular song, she chose instead to highlight tunes written by people she knows: singers and songwriters in the bustling Argentinean independent scene. The end result is captivating; we even picked it as one of our favorite albums of last year.
Afuera El Sol Estalla is an album that breathes with love and affection. I mean that beyond the most literal ways; yes, several of the songs are about love, but everything about the album — its inception, its mission statement, its staff of performers and its choice of songs — feels warmly affectionate, the work of a community rather than a single performer. “I wanted to bring attention to a group of songs that move me to my core,” she told us. “And I wanted to pay tribute to what’s happening right now in our music scene.”
María has been performing the album in full over the course of the last year. And that’s really the ideal way to experience it — more than most albums, AESE feels like a complete piece, with peaks and valleys, little windows of psychedelia and sudden bursts of energy, taking the listener through a complete musical journey.
This coming Thursday, September 5th, she will be performing the entire album for the last time with her band. She’ll be joined by Marigrá Geranio, who will be performing a full set, as well as Gala Magalí, who will be opening the evening with a few songs. The event is titled Mi Fuego Un Sol Que Estalla, a reference to both of the headliners’ album titles (Marigrá Geranio’s album is titled Nunca Apagar Mi Sol). The show will take place at Xirgu Untref, a lovely theater in Chacabuco 875. It starts at 9pm.
We spoke to María about the album, getting her thoughts on each one of the tracks. We’ve linked to the original versions of each song when available.
1. Porquería (originally by ChauCoco!)
“‘Porquería’ is a song by ChauCoco!, a band that was hugely important for our group of friends. Many of us met through our interest in the band. Rodrigo Ruiz Díaz, the band’s frontman, was a founding member of the Elefante en la Habitación label. Now he has a new project called Rudo. ‘Porquería’ is a song I’ve always loved. Back in 2017, ChauCoco! had a farewell concert, and several members of EH decided to record home covers of ChauCoco! songs in the lead-up to that concert. I recorded ‘Porquería’, and that was what re-ignited the idea of recording this covers album. It led to my decision to set aside this group of songs that I’d written and focus on other people’s material. So, in some ways, this song was a kind of guiding light for the rest of the album. It’s a powerful way to open both an album and a live show, this blast of energy.”
2. Música de Besos (originally by Lucila Pivetta)
“Lucila is like a sister that I found through music. She plays bass when we perform the album, and she is my partner in Ruiseñora, whose first album is about to come out. It was really hard to pick one of her songs because I love them all so much. I ended up picking this one because I thought it would fit perfectly with this 60s, 70s type of sound, and I also worked out an arrangement that hearkened back to that era of music. We switched it up a little bit, made it more of a Mamas and the Papas or Carpenters thing, which I was very happy to be able to do. We very nearly picked the song ‘Allá Voy’, as well as a few others from her album [Lo Viejo, Lo Nuevo, Lo Azul y Lo Prestado]. I might still do it if I decide to record another one of these covers albums.”
3. Caminata por el Cosmos (originally by GULI)
“I’m part of the band that regularly plays this song live. I changed this one up a bit. I changed the key, the tempo, some of the harmony… but I don’t think the songwriter minded [laugh]. It’s been a joy to perform the songs from Guli’s albums live. He just released an album a few months ago [Yate], and he has another album that he’s working on now. He’s an extremely prolific and expedient songwriter. And he works alone! So even though I’m on stage with the band performing this song live, I’m not actually on the album version. Well, not playing the guitar, anyway; I think I do sing some backing vocals here and there.”
4. Pedir la Claridad (originally by Valbé)
“This is an incredibly beautiful song written by Noe Recalde. It fits with another running theme throughout the album, which was my desire to provide a hopeful message with the music. The last few years in Argentina — and the world at large — has been extremely difficult for many reasons. Social reasons, political reasons, climate, the resurgence of far-right hatred, so many things. So, as far as the lyrics I featured on this album, I wanted to turn towards the uplifting and the emotional. I decided that it would be ideal if I could perform songs that moved me personally, because it meant that I could really bring something to the songs. This was one of the main reasons I picked this beautiful track, among many beautiful songs that Noelia has written. I thought it really fit with that hopeful tone I was looking for.”
5. Vacío Abundante (originally by Rodrigo Carazo)
“This goes along the same lines. I admire Rodrigo Carazo so much. He is a songwriter from Cordoba, which, as it turns out, is the second most well-represented place in this album after Buenos Aires! Several of these artists come from Cordoba, I have a special connection with that place, and Rodrigo and I have collaborated several times. I felt like ‘Vacío Abundante’ and ‘Pedir la Claridad’ went really well together, not just musically but also thematically; they have this lyrical throughline that I really wanted to highlight and use as the essence of this album.”
6. Hermanos (originally by Botis)
“My selection of Botis’s ‘Hermanos’ goes back to what I was saying earlier… I wanted to record songs that mess me up. This is an extremely beautiful, very moving song, and it destroys me. It hits me deep. I lowered the key and made it a little gloomier. I sing it in a very low register for me. The theme of brotherhood or sisterhood is one that I find very interesting and I will continue to explore in my work. I have a song in my second album Malinalli called ‘Los Hermanos’, and I know for a fact that there will be more to come.”
7. Vino Viniendo (originally by Clara Presta)
“Another songwriter from Cordoba whom I admire deeply. With this song, I guess you could say… it doesn’t mess me up as much as I messed it up [laugh]. If you listen to the original, it is infinitely better than mine. It has a very rich harmony, which I removed completely. I wanted to do something really strange with this one; it has a very beautiful melody, and that is what I stuck with. I wanted the texture in this track to sound like I was singing acapella in a beach, so there’s something that sounds like rolling waves, which was actually the sound of a door sliding back and forth. And you can hear the sound of seagulls, which Guli created with a synth. So we didn’t go to a beach to record this. We tried to generate that ambient sound in the studio. I also sang it while thinking of someone walking along the beach. There was some acting involved in this one.”
8. Agradezco (originally by Nicolás Rallis)
“‘Agradezco’ was one of the very first songs that I decided to record for this album. I decided that it absolutely had to be in. I didn’t even think of recording another one of Nico’s songs, even though I love them all a lot. It’s because this song was with me through the process of saying goodbye to my father, and the family trip we took to Patagonia to spread his ashes. And this song was with me the whole way. Because I wanted the album to feature songs that I could bring something to, to imprint a certain emotion. It was an obvious pick for this album.”
9. Mecer (originally by Jeaninne Martin)
“I tried a few Jeaninne Martin songs. She’s a songwriter from Bariloche that I love quite dearly. She used to sing in a band called Ay Juanita, which, if you’ve never heard before, I strongly recommend. This is actually an unreleased song, as Jeaninne hasn’t released a solo album yet. I asked for her permission before recording it. I lowered it a half step. Jeaninne plays the original version on a guitar, and I always felt like the arrangement she worked out on guitar was very piano-like. The arpeggio she plays immediately brought the piano to mind, so it was a very simple thing to adapt to that instrument.”
10. AEIOU (originally by Candelaria Zamar)
“I wanted to do a Cande Zamar song. I tried a few of them, and it was during the final stages of the song selection process that we landed on ‘AEIOU’. Guli and I realized that if we played with the songs’ keys, ‘Mecer’ and ‘AEIOU’ would actually fit perfectly together. The tempo, the overall feel, it made the transition very seamless, and it would bring the little ‘island’ of the last four tracks to a very satisfying end.”
11. Entre Dos Relámpagos (originally by Florencia Ruiz)
“We wanted this sudden thunder strike to disturb the peace of what came before. This is an incredible song. The album this song is from — or at least, one of the versions of this song, because I know Florencia is incredibly prolific and she re-recorded it — I absolutely fell in love with. I first found Flor’s work with the album Siete Cartas Invisibles. I was first getting into electric guitar, and when I found her I thought ‘wow, this person does what I want to do’. I felt very identified. It’s great when that happens, when you find a new home in somebody else’s music. I became addicted to that song, and started playing it immediately. The version I first heard was just guitar and vocals, and I wanted to bring a rock band to it. There was a rock song implied in the way she played the guitar. Something that sounded like Pescado Rabioso. This is the climax of the album, the strongest point of intensity. We picked this as the first single.”
12. María Flojera (originally by Alejandro y María Laura)
“This is the only album in the collection that isn’t by an Argentine artist. Alejandro y María Laura are a duo from Peru. They are dear friends of mine. This song was a good opportunity to break from the solemnity of the album. It’s playful, it’s funny, it’s ironic, it has a few moments of surrealism. When they play it live, María Laura goes on stage in a robe and slippers, there’s this almost comedic performance bent to it. Maybe I should do that. Although, I am basically in my pajamas in the album cover. That t-shirt I’m wearing from Indiana University is actually a t-shirt I got for my father, who went to school there. Now I wear it to bed. So it connects to this song as well. It has a cool psychedelic moment where it appears like it melts away. We even used the sound of yerba mate being sucked from a straw, which, to me, is closely connected with the feeling of laziness the song describes.”
13. Newton y las Palabras
“Newton is one of my own songs. I had been saving it for a while and really wanted to record it. I recently received a Joan Baez album as a present, and on this album she played cover tunes while also throwing in a couple of her own originals. That showed me that cover songs and originals could coexist with each other. I also pictured this album as a photograph of an ecosystem of people. Including myself is a bit like saying ‘I’m also part of this ecosystem’ — some of us are closer than others, some of us have more of a personal bond, some of us are more like colleagues, but we believe in each other and influence each other. I’m proud to be part of this group of people. I find it so inspiring that in such a small geographic area, within the last few years, there is such a rich and vibrant scene. I didn’t want to have to wait 10 or 20 years to pay tribute to this era of song. I wanted to be able to do it right now. This song was my contribution to that.
I included piece of audio from an interview with Leda Valladares, an expert, researcher, musician, and ethno-musicologist. She specialized in roots music from the Argentinean north-west. Along with Maria Elena Walsh, she rescued this catalog of music back in the 1950s. She was a great master. So I chose to include this clip to tie it all back to the idea behind the album.”
14. Cuando te Canto (originally by Agustín Bucich)
“I took the liberty of including two songs by the same songwriter — with his permission! This song moves me so much. I first heard it performed by Guli a long time ago, when we first met. And it struck me when I first heard it. I cried. It’s a song that has moved me to tears many times. I was even doubtful of whether I could make it through the recording without crying. And I think it says a lot of beautiful things. I wanted to point toward something soothing, comforting, quiet and intimate to end on. I wanted the album to start with a protest song, which is what ‘Porquería’ almost is, and end with a quiet, tender moment.”