A couple of months back, I interviewed Moda Spira, who released a new album called Divorce. Today she released the music video for “Bang”.
Here’s the original post: The Sound of Divorce
“Love is a burning thing, and it makes a fiery ring”
I pulled that quote from “Bang” by Moda Spira. Her album, Divorce, is what she considers her best to date. She plunges into the heap of emotional debris left by the trials of her divorce, a personal experience many choose to leave untouched.
Heartache is arguably one of the most painful human experiences. We grieve for what once was and try to reconfigure our pieces to resemble our former selves. The long process to recovery is one that seems neverending. We seek to harvest hope when abandoned in a drought of complex emotions.
Divorce is honest. Moda Spira’s songwriting embodies the beauty that some of us overlook when we’re shuffling through painful photographs and mementos from a past life. Instead of letting the cobwebs build around the past, she faces it head-on and shares her journey of self-expression.
Meet Latifah Alattas
Latifah Alattas is the talented producer/songwriter who uses ‘Moda Spira’ as a project to express the ongoing trek through her heart’s labyrinth.
“In Latin, moda spira means the continual act of breathing,” Alattas says. “I began writing to explore what intimacy means, in all its beautiful and maddening aspects. There are times in relationships that are so intense, you find yourself saying, ‘Just keep breathing!’ Like loving, breathing is something you have to do every day to feel alive. Moda Spira felt like the perfect title for this project.”
Alattas also works outside of the Moda Spira moniker, and her production work extends into film and TV. She produced music featured in the films Twilight: Breaking Dawn, Part II and The House at the End of the Street. Her songs have appeared on One Tree Hill, The Gates, and Lifetime Films.
Divorce ignites with fire and follows with a bang. Her first two tracks make incredibly bold statements. The album opens with an orchestral cover of Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire”. As the opening track fades to a close, we get hit with “Bang” almost instantaneously. The smooth R&B track is powered by soulful vocal rawness.
“You pulled the trigger. I didn’t know that you would ever.”
The lyrical content stings in a cathartic way. The truth is tough to swallow, no matter how you slice it. Despite the sting, her music suggests she found relief through practice and acceptance. All of the questions she asks are quilted into a beautiful image that speaks through experiences rather than grudges. She does such an excellent job of hitting where it hurts without batting an eye. Moda Spira is a songwriter who understands people and experiences. There’s no room for charades or saturated egos; she’s authentic.
Sonically, the album sounds fantastic, from the subtle bells to the warm string arrangements. Her intimate vocal style melts and moves seamlessly with the instrumentation. The recordings have a comfortable level of dynamics that evoke butterflies of excitement at and soothing contentment.
Divorce has a special podcast that follows the progression of the record and explains Alattas’ personal thoughts and creative vision behind every song on the album. The season is 13 episodes and features co-producer Dave Wilton. Check it out here.
I caught up with Latifah Alattas to talk about her life, music production, songwriting, and Divorce.
What brought you to Nashville, and how are you liking music city?
“You know, it just felt like it was time. I have made two other big moves in my life and they have all happened the same way.”
I wake up…usually in November and I just sense it’s time to move to “x” and then I mull it over for a few months. While I was mulling I had a couple folks call me from Nashville and tell me I should move so it just felt right. It does make more sense long-term for a career in music but that’s not really why I moved, which I am sure sounds strange. It just felt like the right time.
We’d love to learn more about your background. What are some of the pieces of your life that drive your career (inspiration, life events, role models, lessons etc)?
“My mom started my sister and me on cello and piano in our toddler years, which gave me a great baseline for music and learning by ear.”
I remember attending a Patty Griffin show in Boulder and leaving in tears because I was moved and driven to want to pursue artistry. I discovered Imogen Heap and that she engineered and mixed Speak for Yourself all by her self! Working with Dave Wilton and Jason Lehning over the years has taught me a lot about patience for the process and how to hold things loosely while still being passionate about the content.
At what point did you decide to produce Divorce, and what was the creative process like for you?
“A few months after I realized my marriage was ending I knew I had to make an album about the first year in the process of grief.”
The creative process was very cathartic. I would only write when inspired, which was usually late, late at night or mid-afternoon after staring at the wall for a few hours or sitting in my garden. The process had its own life but I let it rest each day and I didn’t force anything for this album. I was also very dedicated to honesty.
Do you care to share some of the reflections or thoughts you had after finishing the album?
“Relief. Gratitude. Sadness. Joy. Tears. Laughter.”
It was a lot of things simultaneously, but that is life, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. I was also incredibly proud. I knew that I had made something honest and true to the experience, and the songwriting and sonics on this album are my best to date I believe. My hope is that although I have continued to move forward in my healing process that this will help others in a similar place at the right time for them.
What can you tell us about the podcast series that’ll accompany your new album?
“It really walks through the musical and emotional journey of the last year, song by song.”
We just finished it and I have been listening all week to the cuts. I am so excited and a bit nervous to put it out. It’s pretty vulnerable but I think it’s really good content. Luke Brawner, my podcast producer, did an amazing job editing it together and producing the show. I laughed and cried while listening back. I can’t wait for folks to hear it. It really walks through the musical and emotional journey of the last year, song by song. I think anyone that wants to dive deeper into the process will really enjoy it.
You carry a lot of experience as a producer. What lead you down this path, and what do you enjoy most about producing for other artists?
“I enjoy the journey music takes you on, I feel like a passenger observing the road and I get to highlight or point out beautiful trees, landmarks, etc. along the way.”
I didn’t realize I was producing my own music for a while until Jason Lehning pointed it out to me really. Ha! I have always had a strong vision for songs and I enjoy making decisions on the cutting room floor a lot. I enjoy the journey music takes you on, I feel like a passenger observing the road and I get to highlight or point out beautiful trees, landmarks, etc. along the way. I really love pushing and encouraging artists to continue to find their voices, to help bring them courage to try what is next for them, but also to stick to what feels true. My biggest task is to not get in the way or let them get in their own way. And usually, it’s just a lot of fun.
Tell us a little bit about the production work you do outside of your personal projects.
I usually only do one to two artist max a year so I have time to stay focused on my own artistry. A Boy and His Kite is a favorite, Aaron Strumpel, Karla Adolphe, Our Violet Room etc. are some artists I have produced. They are all wonderful songwriters and musicians. And I consider them friends.
How did you learn/develop your skills as a producer/engineer, and how do you keep yourself sharp?
I sort of fell into it. I started music so young and I loved being in orchestra, which was a good lesson about being a piece of a whole. I listen to music that inspires me and I love working with other folks that push me and who I can learn from.
Many view audio engineering as a tech-heavy field. How do you remain in-tune with your artistic side when you take on this role?
I don’t really intentionally separate it. I am still learning as an engineer, but for me, it started because I care about chasing great tone, so it’s about executing what’s in my brain for the larger narrative of the song.
Moda Spira seems to be your personal playground of self-expression. Does your creative approach change when you’re working on projects other than your own?
“Try to tap into what really is making the song tick and still feels true to their voice.”
It just wearing different hats, sometimes you were both at once sometimes not. Mostly, when I am working with other artists I don’t want to sound like Moda Spira, they need to sound like them. So I always try to put their artistry first, their instincts. Try to tap into what really is making the song tick and still feels true to their voice. I really enjoy producing artists where we co-produce because the stronger their voice the better and more fun it is to bounce ideas off of.
Every artist faces writer’s block. Do you face similar dilemmas as a producer/engineer? If so, how do manage those situations in the studio?
Sure thing. I think sometimes our creativity needs a rest or a break in all formats. I try not to get frustrated but take breaks and not be afraid to walk away and come back later.
As a producer, what is the ultimate end-goal when you approach another artist’s project?
To have them stay true to their voice in a new way. Mostly to serve the songs in a manner that can impact their audience to the fullest, and that they feel cared for musically and personally throughout the process.
There aren’t many female producers in the industry. What are your personal thoughts/theories on why?
“The more we see other women doing it the more it will continue to flourish.”
I think women were not really championed for generations as producers because most industries have been male-dominated for a long time. A lot of women were never empowered or even considered it because they haven’t been in a culture where it was encouraged. I am happy to see that changing a bit with time. It’s slow but it’s happening. The more we see other women doing it, the more it will continue to flourish.
In your opinion, what qualities and/or skills make a “good” producer?
Patience. Honesty. Kindness. Generosity. Courage. And no ego, humility. Knowing your craft and being able to execute sounds and vision clearly too.
What other things do you have lined up for the rest of this year?
I am hitting the road right now with Liz Vice, opening for her on the West Coast. My Podcast drops with the Album tomorrow. In January I am producing the next A Boy and His Kite album with Dave (the artist) which I am thrilled to work on. Other than that, getting settled into Nashville and seeing what happens from there. I am hoping to tour more in 2019 as well, so stay tuned!