A self-proclaimed “Army Brat,” rising singer-songwriter Calma Carmona has lived in Mexico, Kansas, Texas, Utah, Germany and now her 12-year-long home in Puerto Rico. Naturally, she’s garnered a diverse worldview that’s been seeping into her eclectic, velvety music; “I have strong Latin roots from being in Puerto Rico for so long,” Carmona said. “But everywhere I’ve lived has shaped me into who I am, today. Germany definitely had the greatest impact on me with its experimental music and fashion. Then, when I’d return to my Caribbean home base, the style would be completely opposite.” Reflecting this sharp juxtaposition, Carmona’s sound balances her global background—a fiery fusion of breezy, island soul with more provocative, progressive undertones.
Following the release of her debut EP, There’s No Other Girl, Carmona’s been slowly working on a forthcoming full length album called, Girl On a Bridge, which is slated for release later this year. “The title is metaphorical for me going back-and-forth between New York and Puerto Rico to record this LP,” she said. “With my first EP, I felt like I got on ‘the bridge,’ but never crossed it. This time around, I want to finally cross ‘the bridge.'”
We caught up with Carmona during a rare stateside visit to discuss her musical influences, the Latin music scene and those unbelievably amazing dreadlocks.
People are always so hungry to comfortably fit artists into genres. There are several types of soul and you’ve been labeled a number of different sub-genres. Where do you see your music falling?
“I speak in Spanish, and in English. When I do it in Spanish, they call it ‘Latin Soul’ and when I do it in English, they just call it ‘Soul.’ To me, Bob Dylan is soul; Tina turner is soul; James Brown is soul. But also Stevie Nicks. To me Soul is just when you connect—it can be raw and in your face, but also very tame and subtle. I love being able to express myself in anyway that I feel and also in an authentic way.”
Growing up, did you listen to the same music you do now?
“Pretty much. I listened to a lot of Portishead and Sade—a lot of old soul, ’60s and ’70s music, too. My music taste depends on my mood. I think this generation specifically listens to a little of everything, it just depends on how you’re feeling. If you’re cleaning the house or if you’re going through a breakup or you’re in love or you just want to go out and shake your booty. I think were all allowed to have different feelings and you shouldn’t necessarily have to choose one.”
Is there a certain mood you find your music to take on?
“Melancholy, I like a lot of melancholy. There’s always a bit of darkness hidden within my lyrics. You need that darkness for a little bit of balance; to me, it’s sexy to play with that.”
Is there a certain place you prefer to write?
“I always carry a little notebook around because if somebody says a phrase or if I see a movie or hear a lyric, I’ll write it down. When I compose the music, I’m usually in the studio or with the producer, but I generally like to write in the moment. Writing for me is a very painful process; it doesn’t come so naturally. I don’t sit down and just write the song, it’s much more like, ‘Shit, this doesn’t go here and I don’t like this or that.’ But you just keep at it and keep moving things around. It’s very painful, but in the end, it’s always so worth it.”
How is life in Puerto Rico?
“Well, it’s really hot over there. It’s in the Caribbean, so everything’s ‘island time.’ Things generally just take a little bit more time. At the same time, it’s good to be able to get into your car and go to the beach if you need it. It’s hard to let that go; the beach is so therapeutic. The older I get, the more attached I get to it.”
What’s the Underground scene in Puerto Rico like?
“Puerto Rico is a very musical place. A lot of big artists come from there and it’s a very competitive crowd with all sorts of Underground, independent musicians. Everyone has their own corner. I’ve been lucky to be accepted by the Latin industry and the anglo industry. That’s pretty tough in itself. Being a Latin artist, sometimes you have to make it big in the Latin industry before you make it internationally. But if you take any artist that’s hot right now, lets say Britney [Spears], she didn’t have to make it big in the Latin industry to make it big internationally.”
What has it been like breaking into the music industry?
“It’s been really interesting to say the least. With the Internet, it’s people’s power again. I’ve been offered a lot of big deals, but they just were really crappy deals; it wasn’t a win-win situation. I went into this to be true to myself and to be an artist. I want to do whatever the fuck I want and not just be an employee. I’ve had to say ‘no’ to a lot of things, but it’s better this way because the blogs or the press, they kind of have to listen to the people and that’s who I do my work for.”
How has recording in both New York and Puerto Rico influenced this forthcoming album?
“In New York, everything has to be quick; sessions are all timed and everyone is in a hurry. There, I worked with Frequency, the producer who did ‘Monster’ by Rihanna and Eminem. I loved the songs I did with him. One is called, ‘Counter move,’ which is about being a female artist and really trying to make things happen. It’s pretty different from what I recorded in Puerto Rico, though. I record with this guy Mark Underwood, who produced, ‘Bag of Bones.’ Sometimes we still do it old-school and record in a living room. It just takes more time, it’s definitely different. Both of these sides are represented on the album, which is why it’s called Girl on a Bridge.”
Let’s talk about your hair.
“I have a lot of hair. If I took down all the dreads, it would be triple the length. In Puerto Rico, it’s so humid and hot, which makes hair hard to deal with. After getting a really bad perm, I was like, ‘Fuck it,’ and got dreads. I’ve had them for 13 years, but who knows? Maybe later I’ll cut them and go blonde.”