Growing up I had two barbies.
One of my Barbie’s head snapped off because I played with her hair too much.
My family was poor. My mother, like her father before her, came from tough, French-Canadian stock. My mom put my Barbie’s head back on with a casing nail. I remember it distinctly: Barbie’s gangly legs and disproportionate, gyrating body in my grandfather’s vice-grip. Some would comment that my barbie never looked quite the same after that. She had this unique fold of skin at the nape of her neck, battle scars and a little hardware, but it worked for me. After all, it wasn’t like Barbie and I had this super-special relationship. I certainly didn’t look like her. I was actually more inclined to my brother’s G.I. Joe’s and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Last week, I had the chance to catch up with Singer/Songwriter Raquel Barrientos from the Boston band “The Dotted Eyes.” We quickly discovered we have a lot of similarities. Both Raquel and I grew up around music and Barbies. We both have Latino Dads, we’re both musicians and we both like to change our hair – A LOT.
What becomes evident upon meeting Raquel is that she is an alluring mixture of disarming and protective. A tough-loving Chicana and former track star, raised on the Andrew Sisters and Johnny Cash, she once made a deal with her Dad that if she made it to “state” she could have anything she wanted. She asked to cut her hair because it was uncomfortable and her father reluctantly agreed. He brought her to a salon and sobbed while her long, brown tendrils fell to the floor.
“When I shaved my head for the first time, it felt amazing, ” says Raquel. I think people make it a much bigger deal than it is. My favorite hairstyle is a shaved head. It’s no work and no mess for me. I find it very liberating. I don’t think my hair is a feminist statement for me. It’s just how I’m comfortable.”
As an artist, Raquel’s outward expression of art and music go hand in hand, as well as fashion. “If I want to say something, whether it’s fashion, art or music–I say it” states Raquel as she simultaneously nurses tea, mixes paint and chuckles over her own impersonation of the awkward, 90′s film-girl who gets rescued by the football star who decides to take a chance on the ”odd” girl.
“In college, I was still feeling like I had to do things a certain way,” recalls Raquel. “Like many women, I was influenced by specific, media pressure.”
I think we should work towards gender equality so we can help each other out, ” says Barrientos.
Lots of songs that I write deal with our relationships with ourselves and expressions of what is happening in a particular moment, explains Raquel. A lot of my early songs dealt with confusion, sadness, but also a feeling of knowing “there is more to this life.” Things happen and songs are a direct expression of something I’m going through, whether it’s sad, funny or difficult. It’s nice to look back and see the change in tone or the transformation of getting over a bunch of stuff.
Raquel: You don’t see many mainstream, female musicians who are empowered these days. A lot of it is weepy and sad –“I’m so beautiful, hot and sexy, worship me or “I’m not good enough.” I think that’s a shame.
I grew up listening to Willie Nelson, Johnny Cash, Reba, Kris Kristofferson, etc. and I love the sound of women singing and doing gorgeous things with their voices. I adore Mexican music. Mexican culture is so rich and amazing. It’s also very much infused with tragedy and the story of the “underdog.” There is a beautiful song called Cucurrucu Paloma by Lola Beltran. Basically, the woman dies of sorrow and her spirit turns into a dove. The earth is so connected to Mexican folklore. Even if it the song sounds upbeat, it’s usually about dying for love or dying because of love. I’m also hugely influenced by Neko Case. Neko’s music is so diverse and she’s willing to do things that aren’t necessarily great or popular, yet she’s incredibly talented and always nails a new expression of older songs. She’s not polite. She just says hows she feels, whether it’s sad or pissed off. She was the first live show I saw in Boston.
A lot of my songs reference another person, explains Raquel, but I’m really talking to myself. We sometimes fight against ourselves and our own nature. Last year, I had written a lot of songs from a perspective of a human and not so much as a female. I had changed a lot after I was run over by a truck while riding my bike (I literally watched the truck run over my legs) which is probably the best, country song ever.
The experience was eye opening and terrifying and gave me insight into life as I knew it. I began to see things so differently, as in the song ”Standing” because at the time, I physically could not stand. I had to sit or lay down for months. It was awful. I also had the realization that I’m very good at doing lots of things that don’t serve me. There was no reason I should have recovered from that accident or even been alive at that point and I had to ask myself — why am I still here?
Virago Magazine: How would you describe your band, The Dotted Eyes?
We call ourselves “Indie pop,” but I still don’t really know what the fuck that means. I feel like we’re pretty eclectic especially when we play live. I kind of like that we’re not a specific genre. Our next album is coming out around February and it’s totally different.
Virago Magazine: How did you get started in music? Where was your first gig?
About a year after relocating from California to Boston, I answered a craigslist ad and started playing with a bunch of great guys.
My first gig was at the Middle East, Upstairs. I was so nervous, I got a rash–like this huge, red splotch. I also started busking in Boston Common and Davis Square in Somerville. I was nervous busking, but it was a nice way of connecting with people…..sort of like having a musical conversation without saying a word.
I always had this idea of what a musician was and I felt unworthy. I never felt a part of any scene. I remember being embarrassed the first time I tried music. I just wanted to sing, but I wasn’t yet able to own the music, even though I had always painted. It’s a work in progress for everyone, but I feel like I’ve been able to really express myself musically. I believe I have found my sound.
Virago Magazine: What’s your favorite, funny story?
Oh, I have lots of them but I once got invited to a huge, fancy dinner by a grad student. I was wearing this gorgeous dress and shoes and the room was decorated like an old-fashioned casino. My date asked me if I played Blackjack, so I was holding a drink and leaned back to look….ahem…”cool” and the wall behind me started to move. I fell with the wall, but there were four more walls behind it, which also fell….one by one.
Things you should know about Raquel:
She was recently on cover of Exhale Magazine with Shea Rose.
She loves to dance, read books, knit and watch old movies.
She wants art and music to be her livelihood.
And her best advice to artists?
You can find more information about Raquel and her band The Dotted Eye’s at http://www.thedottedeyes.com/