Q&A: Colombian Loyal Lobos on ‘Everlasting,’ her strong-willed mom and the pandemic

Loyal Lobos, Andrew Silva

Loyal Lobos, Courtesy: Diego Trenas.

Colombian singer-songwriter Andrea Silva, who writes and performs as Loyal Lobos, is proud, inspired and terrified of her mother, who took on numerous ventures as Silva grew up to protect her family and ensure its well-being.

Loyal Lobos
AWAL, Aug. 7

Silva, who moved to Los Angeles as a 19-year-old in 2014, still gets “tachycardic” when she visits her family’s home and hears her mother’s slippers climbing the wooden stairs at night.

“She’s the most scary woman I’ve ever met. She’s like a powerhouse; not in money or status, but just her character. She’s a very, very strong figure,” says Silva, whose mom, primarily a financial consultant, helped her get to L.A. to pursue music as a career.

In the late ‘90s, during Colombia’s “Conflict,” guerilla fighters tried to take over the town outside of the capital city of Bogotá where their family lives and actually kicked the family out of their home. Her mom, who was pregnant at the time with Silva’s younger sister, decided that she would help her husband, an overworked dentist, make money by learning the ice cream trade and become a distributor. She ended up selling ice cream to schools, including Silva’s. 

Later, Silva’s mom and dad would devote their lives to farming and organic produce. Her mom has always wanted a farm. While they live in the countryside, that region is cold and wet because the elevation is 8,000 feet, Silva said. Eventually her mom found land—available because it was in a recent paramilitary conflict zone. The land, in Victoria Caldas, on the way from Bogotá to Medellin, came with many avocado trees, which her mom would sell so they wouldn’t go to waste—there were too many to eat and give away (a dream for any avocado-toast-loving millennial).

“She started seeing how people from the region were really good at agriculture, but there wasn’t a chain of supplies that were providing them a way of making a living from selling their stuff,” Silva says. “She just reached out to the people in the area and got them to give her the produce. Then she would sell it, and she would bring them the money. That developed into her being the person who delivers it and organizes it, getting even more people involved and doing like a weekly grocery box delivery with produce from everyone. … She just has so much tenacity. She sets her mind to something, and she does it.”

It’s in the lush farmland of Victoria Caldas where Loyal Lobos filmed some of the scenes for her video for “Whatever It Is,” a song that—like much of the rest of her material—seamlessly blends dream-pop with folk as Silva rides a horse, walks through hilly grasslands and sings while surrounded in picturesque tropical produce—”That’s all from my farm!”

Since moving to the U.S. to study music, she’s released an EP in 2018 and spent more than two years working on her first full-length record, Everlasting, with collaborator and producer Evan Voytas. The record, which was executive-produced by Teddy Geiger, will be released on Aug. 7. Her last performance just happened to be in San Francisco at Noise Pop in February. Following that, she quarantined for two months before stepping out of her apartment for the first time. Now, she’s finding it unnerving how U.S. leaders have failed their constituents so much in the wake of the pandemic.

RIFF: You came to the U.S. to pursue music, but that wasn’t the only dream, right?

Andrea Silva (Loyal Lobos): I had always done music since I was like 4 years old. I was the choir pet that would sing at every funeral. That was kind of my gig. And then it was a really random series of events that happened where I ended up performing a lot with never pursuing it. It just kind of weirdly happened. I was gonna do humanitarian law, but then, a friend of mine who wasn’t even that into music was like, “I’m going to study music.” And I was like, “How does he get to study music and I don’t?”

I made it my decision to do that. I get very constricted when I’m in one place for too long. Back home, I feel like a lot of people feel like that. I really wanted to get away, and music was the only thing my parents would let me study somewhere that wasn’t Colombia. …

Is humanitarian law something you’re still interested in pursuing? We’re living in a time when more than ever that sort of law is needed right now.

Totally. It’s something I’m interested in. Also, I’m very into philosophy, and I love analyzing things and playing devil’s advocate; trying to find every party’s point of view. I feel like law was a space where you could learn the system and the structure, and through that vessel have an understanding of society and the tools to help. … A lot of artists now seem to have become a lot more vocal about social injustice. I think that’s really valid, but it’s also really funny how … you have people like Kanye saying they’re going to run for president. The lines getting really blurred, which to me is also a little weird because I feel like you do need a certain amount of credentials and knowledge to get to that point. But it’s crazy how artists are given that platform where they can end up doing this.

Your music grew organically into what you’re making right now. How did you get to this point of blending genres like Latin music, synth-pop and folk?

Music was always an outlet for me, but not as a listener. Because of that, I feel like I was never stuck in one genre. … The guitar and folk side of things was very deeply rooted in me because it’s the first instrument I learned, and my guitar teacher at the time, and my dad, were asking me to learn all these South American folk songs, by Mercedes Sosa and Silvio Rodriguez. That was my first relationship with playing an instrument and singing songs, so I feel my folky side comes from that. …

I feel like L.A. to me was such a giant opening of music and culture, not even because of the city itself. Globalization makes it available for everyone, everywhere, but just maybe the time of my life I was in and everything. I discovered Elliott Smith, or actually listened to Neil Young … or like Joni Mitchell. I didn’t know of her, to be honest, until I moved here, and it was an overwhelming wave of musical influences. I used to love bossa nova, and I used to sing it a lot. I was really into synth-pop, like ethereal kind of things. For the album, I kind of wanted to put it all together. That was my ultimate goal. My first EP was kind of like an organic type of separate project that was basically tracked live. My real goal as my first piece of work was to do what I’m doing right now, which was grabbing a bit of everything from everywhere.

Do either of your parents play an instrument, or have they inspired you, musically?

I do know people being like, “I remember your dad singing love songs that he would write,” but I’ve never heard one. The memory I do have is my dad used to have this songbook, and every time people would come over to visit, he would just take out the songbook and be like, “Pick any song,” and people would choose a song they wanted to sing, and he would just play it from the songbook. Everyone was singing along. I love him to death, but he’s not a good singer. [laughs] He’s just does it for the love of it.

What do you want your first full-length album to tell people?

I’m not one to put specific messages on things. I’ve had such unique experiences with people’s music without reading the behind-the-scenes or what they intended to say. Then when I do find out, I’m like, “Oh, that’s completely different from how I interpreted it and what it meant for me.” For my album, I want it to be a space where everything is OK, you know? Every type of feeling or reaction or emotion or realization or message. Maybe because I’m a Gemini, I’m a constantly changing thing. … My music is very personal. I do write a lot from experience, like Taylor Swift. Just kidding. I want it to, in a way, also sonically and just experience-wise, to be whatever people want to make it. I think music is just such a crucial space for love and creativity. … It’s something that I’m just very proud of, which is a rare feeling for me. I’m always very self-critical, and it hurts, because you can’t really enjoy what you do. That’s what it means to me, personally. It did feel like a realization of something that I’ve been wanting to portray for a really long time.

At what stage of the lockdown are you? Are you still trying to stay inside most of the time? Are you getting out with a group of friends? How worried are you about your health, your friends and family for the future?

I think it’s a very serious thing. The most scary part of it is the lack of information there really is about it. We see people my age dying, and before it was said to mostly affect older people. I was reading about it today; about it affecting mental health. Symptoms become not respiratory but with psychotic episodes. It’s really something that we don’t know, so I’m staying pretty close to my pod, and I was one of the first ones within my friend group to quarantine. The thing I got the worried about the most when quarantine hit was, like, my vegan popsicles that I found, made by Magnum. I bought like seven boxes. I was so worried about this. I was like, “They’re not going to fucking worry about making vegan popsicles. They need to make toilet paper. I need to get as many of these as I can!” And I did fully quarantine for at least two months, where I literally did not see anybody. I didn’t even go to the grocery store. I only did deliveries.

Do you live by yourself?

I live with my boyfriend. Now, I do see people, but the same people. I’m not expanding my circle, and my circle is maybe four or five people. It’s also crazy how political it has become. I compare my family’s experience in Colombia versus this one. And it is crazy. There’s so many differences on the preventions that were taken from early on in Colombia. Here, there’s really never been a clear leadership about what we’re doing.

Colombia is doing better is what you’re saying.

Again, it’s very political. And it’s a double-edged sword, but I did appreciate that from the beginning, Colombia did completely lock down and protected the rural areas. In my country, rural areas barely have hospital care. A pandemic like this hitting those regions is catastrophic, mortality-wise. It’s still completely closed. My parents are only able to go to the farm if they are in a food delivery vehicle. Nobody can move from outside the city unless they have a permit for stuff like that. They have this thing in Colombia called “pico y placa,” which was created years ago to prevent traffic. In Colombia, if your license plate ends in a pair [even] number, then you can only use it these three days of the week. If it ends in a non-pair [odd] number, you can use it these other days. They did the same thing for ID numbers for groceries and going in the city to prevent everyone being out at the same time for basic needs.

That’s enforceable?

You get a fine, and you don’t you don’t get stuff sold to you at the supermarket if you’re not [there] on the day you’re supposed to be there. We don’t really know what should be getting done. But at least I do appreciate a bit of clear leadership about things. Here, it started with, “Don’t wear masks; you’re taking them away from like health workers.” Now you have to wear a mask. Or with COVID testing: it’s like, “There’s free COVID testing. It’s good to get tested to let people know so the government knows where we’re at.” I got tested twice. Then it’s like, “Oh, we ran out of tests because everyone was getting tested.” …

I live in Highland Park, which is completely gentrified now, but there’s still a lot of Hispanic people there now. My building is an old house that has five units. My neighbors are Salvadorian, and they have been there for years. So they’re rent-controlled and have one room for three people. They really are struggling. It’s like a dish washer and a maid at a hotel. They’re unable to claim unemployment because of their immigration status. They still haven’t received their first stimulus check, and other people that I know from there, like my seamstress, is about to lose her apartment and move to her workplace because people that really need this stuff don’t even have money to buy groceries right now. They aren’t able to access aid from the government. It’s just heartbreaking to see how social injustice becomes so clear with these types of things. Social inequality is so transparent, and I think that’s heartbreaking. I mean, death, of course, is as well. But it’s just very heartbreaking to see the amount of people continuously get fucked by the system, over and over.

Follow editor Roman Gokhman at Twitter.com/RomiTheWriter.

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