We recently had the opportunity to chat with Chilean singer-songwriter Nano Stern on his upcoming LA debut, the political power of art, and working with UCLA music students. The conversation has been lightly edited for length and clarity.
What does your LA debut mean to you?
It is quite incredible that we’ve never played in LA before. And it is extremely exciting, because it is the capital in a way, of entertainment, of show business and everything.
But also going beyond that, there’s so much interesting alternative music coming out of here, you know? Specifically working with UCLA and working with the quartet, and being able to interact a bit more in-depth with the people here, with the culture here, with the music that is going on here is really interesting for me.
I always appreciate when there is the chance to build a relationship that goes beyond getting into on city, playing and leaving the next morning to the next town. So I’m glad that LA is opening itself in this way. And also that we’re gonna play at the, the Ace Hotel which is a really beautiful theater, a very sort of fancy venue that I am also excited about.
Do you know the history of the Ace?
Not really, I know that it’s very old, and I’ve seen pictures, but I don’t know the history.
It’s called the United Artists Theater. It was opened by Charlie Chaplin and Mary Pickford, and it was built in a response to the big movie studios. They wanted to create their own films that represented them. And so that’s why it’s called United Artists. Knowing this history, how do you feel about performing in that space?
I was not aware of the history of this place, and now it becomes more exciting! I mean, Charlie Chaplin is a character that is incredible, a superb talent, that I really enjoy so much. Also he was such a committed artist, living in such a critical time of the history of the 20th century. So I think it really makes sense these days, you know, to be aware of that history because what we are living now, in a way, has a lot to do with those times. You know? With this sort of radicalization of society and what is the role of artists then, and I think he understood it better than anyone, probably, at that time.
A lot of your music is socially and even politically charged, can you speak more about why this is so important to you?
I just learned an interesting word lately, it turns out that the Greek word for someone who is not involved in politics was, in old Greek, “idiota.” An idiot. And I find it very interesting.
It’s not a bad thing necessarily, but they meant it like, someone who only minds their own business. An idiot who doesn’t care about the common business. And I think that whatever you do, there is a personal dimension to things which in music has to do for example, with songs that are more related to the intimate kind of world of your own personal relationships and feelings.
But also this fear of intimacy is constantly being penetrated by the collective, by what happens to all of us. Issues that have to do with us as a society, and a more specifically political stance, belong to that dimension. And I think that it is important to incorporate it, you know?
I don’t judge artists who are not involved in this way. I don’t think that it’s like a necessity, that you have to do it, I mean it’s totally okay… but in my case it’s a thing that I could not avoid doing, you know? Because it is something important for me.
A great Mexican writer used to say, “We are all political beings.” You know? And I agree with him. I think whoever is avoiding this is actually missing out on a very important part, which is looking at each other. We live in communities and we must get around it, and ask ourselves and try to answer, “How do we live together properly?”
And that’s what I think politics is. In that dimension, music is one of the most powerful tools because it creates community. You know? It resonates, and it allows everyone to vibrate together, so both things combined can be a very powerful weapon.
“Music is one of the most powerful tools because it creates community.”
What do you hope the LA audience will take away from your music?
Well, since this is my first time here in LA, I’m really looking forward to performing a concert that’s gonna be very wide in terms of what we do, ’cause we do many different things now.
On the one side, we’re gonna have my, kind of songwriting approach to show the original songs, but we’re also gonna play quite a lot of folk music from Chile and from South America, which is interesting because most people in the US have quite a distorted or partial appreciation of Latin culture, because of the natural predominance of Mexican culture and then a more Caribbean sort of salsa, and there’s these kind of very narrow images of what is Latin America.
But it turns out that you have Mexico, you have Central America, you have Columbia, but once you get past there, it’s a whole other story. Completely. And when you get to Chile, which is in the south of South America, and Argentina, it is a completely different culture, and the music is also very different.
People are not aware of this, so this, I think, plays in my favor because we get to surprise with something which is totally different from that.
When you work with students, what is the, the most valuable thing that you receive in your interactions with them?
So, working with students and working with younger musicians I think it’s a really enriching experience, because there’s a mutual learning process, no? They learn from me in terms that I present to them music which is maybe a little bit foreign. Literally and also in more abstract terms. It’s something else that they’re not used to and they have to really find within them, in their background, how to approach it. In that process, it’s me on the other side really learning constantly from all the possibility that they present.
Also younger musicians tend to be much more flexible and much more willing to experiment with different things, you know? Because I think it’s inevitable as you become older that you tend to be a bit more rigid, because of experience. It’s like a natural thing. It’s like, “Oh, this reminds me of that time that I did this, so I’m gonna kind of do it like that.”
Whereas, that’s the beauty of like really young children. Everything is new. Everything is for the first time, and it’s like being in love constantly, you know? So that happens.
And also, I enjoy in general playing with musicians that I don’t necessarily know. That there is a sort of micro lab of politics in a way that everyone has their own way of doing things. Everyone has their own opinion and we have to come across a way of doing it together in a beautiful manner.
Of course, in a case like this, where I’m presenting my music to them, I am supposed to have some kind of like conductor authority, but I really dislike this situation where I’m supposed to tell you, “This is how it is.” No, I think if I would do this, I am losing a big opportunity to learn from them. To really keep quiet a little bit and listen.
There are always things which are more beautiful happening if you allow yourself to listen to others with an open mind and open heart than if you go with a very clear idea, like “this is what it should be,” and not being able to be flexible about it.
Nano performs at the Theatre at Ace Hotel March 30th.