On Alternative Rock, Counterculture and Spirituality in Music: Femina-X
Femina-X is a(n unbelievable) band from San Antonio, Texas that includes members Daniela Riojas, Alex Scheel, Jeff Palacios, Darien Thomas, and Jai Roots. They describe themselves as “an alternative, Latin band” that fuses “progressive tribal and ethnic dance, jungle, and Caribbean” influences. We snagged an interview with lead singer Daniela about the inspired beginnings of Femina-X, what holds them together, and the people behind the band.
What is the story behind the name Femina-X?
When I first began making music, I wanted to make a SoundCloud account in order to post some song sketches I’d been working on. At the time, I was taking Classic mythology classes and Latin, and knew that I wanted my moniker to be in Latin. I kept making lists of descriptors for “femina” which means “woman.” Femina. . . what? What kind of woman was I? And I continued to make lists without really feeling connected to any one descriptor — I decided to keep it open and unknown with a plain “X.” Similar to a Planet X or Space X. A stand in symbol that reveals unlimited possibilities. Since then, I’ve undergone many transformations as an artist and musician, so the “X” and Femina-X continue to be accurate to who I am and who I’m becoming.
How did the five of y’all meet? What has kept you together?
We all met in a different ways. I met Alex first. One of the first ways that we hung out and communicated was through making songs. Rather than having conversations, we told each other about our feelings and visions through lyrics and melodies. He taught me how to use Ableton and Reason and eventually we ended up making Femina-X. Alex had already known Jeff Palacios, our bass player, so when we were looking for someone to join the band, we called him up to see if he’d be interested. He’s been an integral part of Femina-X for two and a half years now! We ended up playing a Radiohead OK Computer album remake with the Youth Orchestra of San Antonio, and that’s where we met Darian Thomas. He was an alumni playing with the orchestra. Darian and Jeff were instantly connected and Jeff proposed the idea of having him on board as an experimental violinist and synth player. I’m in love with strings so of course I said yes! At the time, we had departed ways with our drummer and we were playing only electronic versions of our music. When we were commissioned for a concert for Luminaria, a city-wide festival in San Antonio, we began looking for a percussionist to compliment the electronics. Jai Roots, is a notorious and very in-tune musician who we had performed with once before, so we called him up. Almost naturally, he jumped on the drum set rather than the percussion, and began learning the songs as a full on drummer. This was actually the first time he’d ever played full drum kit with a band! It was a magical. We eventually strayed away from electronics altogether and adapted everything to the unique Afro-Latino style of Jai’s drumming. It’s been this way ever since. :)
What keeps us together is strong intention and purpose for our music. We think of music as medicine and a vehicle for conscious thinking. We think of the exchange of energy between musicians and the audience as a sacred practice, and are very attentive to how exactly we are influencing the space within the room as well as the space within each person listening. Through that, we’ve created a very special and deep bond with each other as people and as artists. It has become a true collaboration where the spirit of each member is present and infused within the song composition and performance.
You mention on your website that you’ve performed at the Arneson River Theater, The Tobin Center for Performing Arts, and Luminaria Contemporary Arts Festival. I want to know about your favorite performance that you’ve given. What makes for a good concert?
My favorite performance. . . hm, that's a hard one! We had a lot of special performances on the east coast tour that we just came back from, but I think, by far, my favorite concert was our album release show at the Limelight in March. The amount of energy in that room was palpable the second I stepped onto the stage and I saw a flood of people who I genuinely love — people who have stuck with us for years and new folks that believe in us. What makes for a good concert is exactly that: love, energy, participation, openness, darkness, joy, and journeying together as performers and audience.
On your new album, you have a song called “Frida’s Heart,” which I assume is an homage to Frida Kahlo. Who or what else inspires you?
There are tons of people, things, animals, plants, places that inspire us. Every song we make is a culmination of inspiration from all genres of music, all aspects of the universe, all aspects of us as emotional beings. Gigi, an Ethiopian singer, is my biggest inspiration right now. She channels landscapes that I haven't even touched and I see her purity. FKA Twigs is a huge inspiration. Kate Bush. Marina Abramovic. Women who have paved their pathway authentically, with immense power and imagination! Spiritually and a search for connectivity to something higher than myself continues to be a driving force in my own creativity. And dreams. I dream very vividly, and I am always at attention for whatever messages may be coming through for me to learn from. Dreams and visions have set the course for the majority of our songs.
What is the hardest thing you have had to face as a band?
Probably the basic fact that we live in a society that privileges capitalism over humanity. We know our purpose as creators and communicators, but entertainment industries muddle the accepted intention of music. It’s hard to see pop or mainstream music promote low vibrational messages — about money, fame, sex. Materialism is a plague in our society, and we work every day to present something new to people that brings them out of that world and into a different world where nature, male and feminine cooperation, magic, soul-searching, conscious sensuality, and transformation are privileged.