El ejército del Aire, Valeria Hernández’s first full-length as Violenta Josefina, is a dream-pop vision—a small, richly-detailed, internally-focused sonic universe. Its misty, woozy pop songs are a significant change in style for the Caracas, Venezuela native, previously known for her involvement in the punk trio Skin. That group released two albums, toured extensively, and even won a national competition during the 11 years in which they were active.
Hernández’s background as a punk bass player and songwriter sharpen the edges of her guitar work on El ejército del Aire. Some of the songs are built around traditional rockabilly riffs—unique for shoegaze; the bounce and stomp provide a rolling cadence for Hernández’s natural lyrical metaphors, from mountains in fog to the phases of the moon.
We spoke with Hernández to learn more about her musical history, the power of the mystical, and the careful constructions—and contradictions—of Violenta Josefina.
You were in Skin, a punk rock trio, for 11 years. El ejército del Aire is completely different. The melodies and lyrics have a very dreamlike quality. What inspired that change in direction from punk to dream pop?
The change came naturally, inspired by the universe, the sun, the earth and the moon. I started playing at age 15. Skin was my first band; all my bandmates were friends from high school. During the 11 years we were together, the band changed in its formation; we recorded two albums together—the last one was released in 2010. We made some videos and played concerts on a national and international level. Over time, our interests changed. By the end, I had new songs. It was a change based in the freedom I found when composing.
In earlier interviews, you’ve mentioned that bands like Guns N’ Roses, Queen, and Atkinson influenced your music in Skin. Are there bands or sounds that inspired your music in Violenta Josefina?
At the time of the composition of El ejército del Aire, I was listening to bands like The Breeders, Radiohead, Best Coast, David Bowie, Marine Girls, Bon Iver, and The Pixies. That music then combined with the nostalgia of evenings spent at home, along with artists who sparked my interest in music since I was a little girl: Queen, Guns N’ Roses, Simon Díaz, Chopin, Mecano, Michael Jackson, and Serenata Guayanesa. This combination of present and past, harmony and dissonance, create the balance of Violenta Josefina.
El ejército del Aire is filled with carefully-orchestrated songs. In “Opera Z,” the guitars create a profound sense of open space. There are also really sharp pop-rock songs, like “De a raticos,” which features glittering keyboards. Were you intentionally looking to include as many styles as possible?
Sincerity was fundamental in the composition process. The songs naturally revealed their own identity. “Opera Z,” “Y Después,” “De a raticos,” and “De frente al Sol” are compositions that were guided by the bass. “Noche día,” “Ascensor,” “Febrero,” “El Zorro,” “Me cuesta Caminar” are songs born of arpeggios and guitar riffs. “Árbol Naranja” originates from the melody of voices and lyrics. For me, “Violenta” is the intuitive part that creates without thinking about direction, and “Josefina” is the guide for a world that at times attacks you with frenetic distortions or hypnotizes you with lilting melodies.
Skin put your talents as a powerful singer in the spotlight. Did it feel very different to sing quieter, more gentle songs?
With Skin, the work of vocal harmonies was always very precise, both the choruses and verses. That did not change much in relation to Violenta Josefina. In this case, the intention of the lyric [is foremost], which enhances the voices.
I noticed that you are still out there playing punk rock—now in a band called 3 Velocidades. Would it be your ideal to be able to keep making music with both bands?
I [have] collaborated with 3 Velocidades since 2009—I recorded vocals for “Nubhia,” from their first album, tresvelocidades. Since then, I have participated in various versions of the band in Venezuela and Argentina. In 2012, after the departure of their bassist, the guys asked me to play bass for a couple of shows in Buenos Aires, a role that I reprised in 2015. I also collaborated [with them] on vocals for new songs that will be part of their second album called 3V or death, which will be released soon.
Can you talk about your choice of album title? El ejercito del Aire means “Army of Air,” which suggests forces of nature—powerful things we can’t see. Your album art points in this direction too, with its pastel-colored ocean scene. There are also a lot of lyrics on the album, such as the song “Febrero,” that connect normal, everyday life with natural beauty, as well. What does the album title mean to you?
Every physical experience is based on thoughts; thoughts create the subtlest kind of energy in a whole human being. El ejército del Aire is a subtle body that transcends time and reminds us to seek within ourselves. It’s an album that evokes the creative nature of the human being and invites us [to] connect with our essence: love.
Photos by MAAPA