Ximena Sariñana grew up a child star acting on popular telenovelas in her native Mexico. She then moved to film, followed by a stint at Berklee College of Music. At 25, she's an indie-pop star living fairly anonymously in a new country.
The bilingual Sariñana moved from Mexico City to L.A. this year after recording her self-titled second album (and English-language debut), which came out in August. Eschewing Echo Park — where she earned indie cred recording with the likes of TV on the Radio's Dave Sitek and her ex-boyfriend, Omar Rodriguez-Lopez of the Mars Volta — she found a place in Studio City. Living on her own for the first time, she prefers “learning how to be a grown-up” to hitting the bars.
“The guy at the dry cleaners, my yoga instructor — these are my L.A. friends!” she says with a laugh, over lunch near her abode.
In Mexico, however, she's something of a household name. Her 2008 debut, Mediocre, hit No. 2 on the Mexican charts, selling more than 100,000 copies and earning her two Latin Grammy nominations. So when the American arm of her Warner Mexico label asked her to do an English-language album, she leapt at the opportunity, though she was quickly humbled.
“[Here] I don't have anyone to set up my gear onstage. I'm riding in cramped vans,” she says.
That might not last long: Sariñana's new record earned her four stars from Rolling Stone and a performance on The Tonight Show With Jay Leno. This month, she'll embark on her first headlining U.S. tour, during which she'll do a “Morning Becomes Eclectic” set on Nov. 2.
Short with pale skin, brown hair and pretty but simple features, Sariñana isn't the Hollywood paradigm of beauty. But when she speaks, her green eyes squint and flash with intensity, while she pouts and purses her full lips in search of just the right words. She uses her body emphatically as she talks, gesturing and adjusting her posture to accent her emotions.
The quiet fire of her personality is at the core of her music. Ximena Sariñana is stylistically multifaceted, ranging from the Motown-tinged lead single “Different” to the sleek and brooding electropop of “Shine Down.”
But it's her voice, evoking the sultry, weathered intensity of Fiona Apple and Cat Power, that makes it a cohesive and distinct record. Still, some of Sariñana's countrymen are wary she'll abandon her indie-rock roots.
“In Mexico the only reference you have for a crossover artist is Shakira. People are, like, 'Oh my God, so you're gonna dye your hair blond and be mainstream pop?'” laments Sariñana, who favors playing keyboards and vintage dresses to backing tracks and booty shorts. “I love my fans, but making my music has never been about them.”
Still, she understands their skepticism.
“No other female Latin American alternative artist has successfully crossed over before. [I'm asked,] 'How are you gonna make that work?' The truth is, I still don't know if it will. But it's like, why not? Let's do it.”