EXCLUSIVE: Mexico's Indie Princess Ximena Sariñana Conquers America

With her acclaimed first album Mediocre, Mexican singer-songwriter Ximena Sariñana drew comparisons to great American folk songstresses like Fiona Apple, Tori Amos and Regina Spektor. Now, with her self-titled English language debut, she’s ready to knock them all off the charts. Already a hit with the critics, Ximena was selected as VH1’s You Oughta Know artist for the month of August and is touring with Australian sensation Sia.  We got Ximena to take a short break from her non-stop schedule of shows, photo shoots and press engagements to give us the scoop on her new life as a breakthrough artist in America.

Tell us about the new album. What’s the message?

It’s very personal. I like to talk about what’s going on in my life. The past couple of years were a time of big change for me. I went from being on a Mexican record label to being on an American record label, going from a country where everyone knew me to one where nobody knew who I was. It was a big culture shock. I’ve been far away from my family, far away from my country. It was a big change for me. But ultimately it really helped me grow as an artist and as a person.

What was behind the decision to record an album in English?

You know…a path opened up. I had the choice to take it or not. When the opportunity came to me to record in English, I was scared but people told me not to let it go. I knew it would be a way for me to grow as an artist. It’s a big step, I’m kind of starting all over again, and that’s what I want. I didn’t want to just write a sequel to the last album.

What were your musical influences on this album? It still sounds like you but…different.

On the last album I was listening to a lot of jazz, this time I was listening to a lot of electronic music, different singer/songwriters, that influenced me a lot. I listened to a lot of stuff my producers, like Omar Rodriquez-Lopez, showed me.

Omar Rodriguez-Lopez is kind of the producer of the moment right now. Did he guide you during this transition from Mexican star to emerging American artist?

Actually, I didn’t have a lot of guidance because this is something that really hasn’t been done before. It’s been done with a lot of big pop acts, like Shakira and Ricky Martin, but not an alternative Latin artist crossing over into English. We kind of had an open path to do whatever we wanted.

Were you worried about alienating your fan base in Mexico by recording in English?

I guess people around me are more worried than I am about losing my Latino following, but I believed my fans would be supportive. They know I speak from the heart and that I’m very accessible. I think people appreciate that regardless of what language you sing in. But you know, I’ve never really done things for other people. I make decisions that make sense for me personally and creatively.

In one short year you’ve gone from established Mexican artist to emerging artist in America. What’s it like to, essentially, start over?

What I definitely realized that this experience has done for me is that I appreciate everything, every little thing, way more than I used to. Mexico was such a giving country to me in terms of my career. Mediocre went to number one when it came out. The growth skyrocketed faster than we were expecting. This was harder, and when things are harder you appreciate it more. So every piece of press, every good review I get for this album, I feel really fortunate. I hope that my breakthrough can open up a path for other Latin alternative artists. I hope we can help each other out way more than we do.

Are there perks to being on a big record label?

The biggest thing is, before, I wasn’t able to tour. If it wasn’t for being on a big label, I wouldn’t be able to tour. I know record labels are portrayed as these big tyrannical corporations that don’t care about their artists, but it’s just not that way with me. Everyone has worked really hard to make this happen, and the label has been so supportive. I’m really thankful for that.

What’s it like playing in front of huge audiences who don’t necessarily know who you are?

When you play in front of an audience who doesn’t know who you are, it reminds me of playing in front of an audience for the first time. They don’t know what you have to say but they’re willing to listen. It allows for a little bit more experimentation, I can play songs that aren’t my singles, because they don’t know what my most popular songs are.

Check out her video for "Different" below and buy her album on iTunes, it's out this week!