Natalia Lugo on survival through music, writing for a range of musical styles, her go-to Luna guitars, and dialing up a variety of tones

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Photo by Maydeline Inés Photography
       
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As seen in
Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 16 – Summer 2021
Acoustic Amplified!

“I find inspiration in simple things—nature, the sky, the sun on my face. I’m very sensitive, and everything inspires me,” says Natalia Lugo, whose artistry takes on many forms.

She first picked up guitar after a life-altering experience. “My mother passed away when I was six, and I felt very disconnected from my classmates because their worries were, ‘I didn’t see the Ninja Turtles movie’ (Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles), and for me, it was like death, life—what? In that moment, I felt so many complex emotions, but music made me feel I wasn’t alone.”

As one of the latest players on Luna Guitars’ roster, she relies on an array of exotic ukuleles and acoustic guitars for creating styles as diverse as bolero, country, pop, and reggae. Her instrumental lineup includes Luna’s Vista Eagle, High Tide Exotic Mahogany Nylon String (guitar and ukulele set), and the Fauna Phoenix. Lugo’s spirited, warmly exotic songs and playing rise triumphantly with a new age of burgeoning young artists.

Over the phone from Puerto Rico, the singer-songwriter exudes enthusiasm for life and creating the ultimate musical masterpiece.

Along with music, you seem involved in several aspects of the entertainment industry.

I’m very blessed. I thank God every day that I can pursue a wide variety of interests like playing instruments, painting, and acting. I even did comedy for some time. That’s how I got started—doing comedy in Puerto Rico. Right now, I’m producing a jingle for a commercial, as well as writing my new album. My career is very varied.

Where are you from originally, and how did you first connect with music?

I’m from Puerto Rico; the music there is very at home for me. It’s a sound of music you listen to in your grandfather’s house or your father’s house. My father is Puerto Rican too, but my mom was born in New York, and she came to Puerto Rico when she was older. She met my dad at a party, and they fell in love, and then my dad got a job in New Hampshire, so they traveled there when they got married, and they had me.

My dad is a musician. He doesn’t play professionally, but for me, he is, because he plays as well as any professional. He plays guitar and percussion and writes songs. He was always listening to music from all around the world, like Frank Sinatra, Juan Luis Guerra, Gilberto Santa Rosa, El Gran Combo, and José Feliciano. Then others like Barbra Streisand, Luis Miguel, Mariah Carey, Journey, and Queen. So, I was used to hearing all types of music in my home. I loved music since I was very little. I got my first guitar when I was six, but I really didn’t get into it until I was 13. I started singing and playing at a local church. I love worship culture and being around people who like to sing and play—that was a huge part of my early musical beginning.

Can you share how you learned to play guitar?

My father taught me my first three chords. Early on, I was very passionate about songwriting. With those three basic chords, I was able to write all sorts of songs. And then I really focused on becoming a better guitar player. The boys in my school all played guitar—and I only knew three chords—so I would ask them, “Can you teach me to play ‘D’ or ‘F’?” [Laughs] I applied everything I learned. I would also learn songs from watching music videos.

The Luna High Tide

I have the guitar and ukulele set—they’re so beautiful together. That’s my tropical set. If I want to do a show by the beach or something like that, I will take my nylon-stringed High Tide and ukulele nylon string, which kind of reminds me of a Spanish guitar like my father’s that I learned on.

Sounds like you had a real love for music.

I fell in love with music so much. When I really enjoy something, I put my heart into it and try to learn as much as I can. I’ve always been that type of person. If I didn’t know something, I would ask a friend or somebody who knew how to play. When I started performing live, I would just sing and let other guitarists play. But every time I would ask, “Oh, how do you play this power chord—how do you do that?” Then they would teach me. That’s how I learned to play guitar—really, in the street and with my family members, school, and also YouTube.

The Vista Eagle

“It’s so beautiful. They have different types of wood—koa, mahogany, other types. It has a beautiful design. Every time I play it, people are always amazed. They’re like, ‘That’s a beautiful guitar.’”

Did you primarily start on acoustic?

Yes. I actually started on a very expensive Spanish guitar that my father had. [Laughs] I would try and be really careful with it. I still have that guitar, and every time I play it, I feel like I’m traveling back in time because the sound reminds me of my early beginnings.

How has your dad been an inspiration for you?

He believed in me. My father dreamed of being a professional musician, and my grandfather actually convinced him not to pursue that career because there’s a threat of like, “You’re going to starve or something.” So instead, he became an engineer. When he saw the musical interest in me, he kind of saw himself. When I was very little, he was like, “I’m not going to do that to you. If this is what you want to do, you can do it.” He was such a good father, but I didn’t get anything for free or easy. He’d go, “If you want to work in this industry, work for it.” So that really taught me how to be independent and strong. I used to listen to him like a fan. I’m my dad’s biggest fan. I would be like, ‘Papi, can you play this song for me?” I recorded a song he wrote when he was 17. It’s a bolero.

What is your favorite style of music to play and create?

I’m a music lover, so every time I get asked the question about which genre do you fit into or what style do you play, it’s hard for me to answer. It’s really weird to choose a genre because I have different ways of feeling my emotions. Whenever I feel something, I also feel (like playing) a different style. My first album, Fuera del Marco, has a variety of music—reggae, urban, country, jazz, and bolero. The title means “out of the frame,” because I wanted to do something that wasn’t what people expected. People always want a concept genre album, but I wanted Fuera del Marco to break those boundaries. Something that I never wanted to have happen to me was to be “framed,” like in the English sense too. When somebody frames you, they try to show you as something you’re not and manipulate you.

Do you usually write on guitar, or do you come up with the lyrics first?

The way that’s most intimate and real for me is with my guitar. On occasion, it can be a ukulele, but if I really want to communicate the music, I go with a guitar, because that’s how I first learned to write songs. I always play guitar—that’s my thing. I like guitar. I’m kind of branching out and trying to write songs on the piano.

One of your main guitars is Luna’s Fauna Phoenix (acoustic-electric) guitar. How has that guitar impacted you?

Well, that guitar makes me feel like a rock star. It’s beautiful; it has a black (lacquer-look) finish with an abalone art piece of a phoenix and crescent moon. It just symbolizes so much about my personal growth. When I got that guitar, I felt like it was sent from God. God uses people to get to you, like sometimes you see God in your parents or in a child. So, for me, I saw God in Luna sending me that guitar because it was so symbolic and meaningful. The moment I got it, I was going through a transformation, and I was kind of rising from the ashes like a phoenix would. When I played that guitar, it just felt so light and comfortable, and at the same time, it has a lot of body. It wasn’t overpowering, and I could control it. It’s lightweight, and the neck is tailored for women. I immediately felt the difference when I held it. It’s my go-to guitar when I want to feel like a rock star and give it my all.

How do you explore tone options on your Fauna Phoenix, and what features work well for you?

I love that it has a built-in preamp (Fishman® preamp) and tuner (onboard built-in tuner). When it comes to sound, you can get a lot of different tones. It sounds big—has a real full-bodied sound. I like to play around with the bass, treble, and gain, and create my own sound. If I want a brighter tone, I go up on the treble, and when I’m feeling more mellow, I go up on the bass. That’s the best part—you can feel comfortable trying new things. For example, you can try new rhythms or riffs. It inspires me. Yeah, you sparkle with that guitar.

Tell me about your musical influences?

The artists that I admire have really made an impact on my soul as a growing artist. I would say that I started with Shakira because her early albums before she became commercially known in the U.S. were very relaxed. She was kind of like a rocker chick. If you listen to her songs before she became a pop star—of course, now she’s awesome too; I love her still—but I really fell in love with her album called Pies Descalzos, which means “barefoot.” She also did Laundry Service in English. When I was six, I had that album in my hand, and I was going through those dark, hard times when my mother passed away. At the same time, it gave me the sense of humor I have now. I try to find happiness in many things. But in that moment where I felt so many complex emotions so young, music really accompanied me and made me feel that I wasn’t alone. The feeling of loneliness or the feeling of longing for someone or feeling abandoned. You know, many feelings. I could listen to something that would speak to my soul, and when Shakira came out with this album, she was killing it. She was my first, first, first influence. She would play guitar and drums. I loved that.

Then there was John Mayer, and he was my second love. I love the song “Daughters,” and I always play that. Then my third love was Taylor Swift. She blew my mind with her variety, and I really soaked up her songs. There are so many artists I admire—also Sara Bareilles. I remember crying to her songs all the time.

Are you working on new music?

I am writing an album. It’s going to be a four-part album. Like back in the day when people would have vinyl, they had side A, side B, side C, side D. That’s my goal, and I kind of want to divide it into different sides according to who I am. For example, one side will be songs from when I was younger, when I was like 19 and 20. My feelings were just so raw and intense back then. I thought it was beautiful. Then I want to do an English side to be more well-known outside of Puerto Rico. I want to have another side that’s going to be worship because I’m very spiritual. God has saved me from so much. I’m a Christian, and I want to do a worship album, because if it weren’t for him, I would not be playing music right now. I mean, I almost gave up at one point in my life because it was very difficult. Now you see me, and you see me singing with joy and happiness.

What are your future plans or goals?

My ambition is to create the ultimate masterpiece. I studied audio-visual communications at university, so if I were to do a masterpiece, it would be an audio-visual masterpiece—it wouldn’t just be a sonic masterpiece. It would be a story with a script, [expressing] different emotions and different messages. Every song will represent a different aspect of myself, because sometimes I’m more abstract, sometimes more literal, sometimes I’m telling stories—sometimes it’s a documentary. What better way to convey a feeling than presenting it with an audio-visual experience? That’s my dream. That’s the masterpiece that I’m working hard toward.

What do you love the most about creating music and performing?

I’m so happy when I do it. I just feel like I’m where I belong, and I love sharing joy with others. I love performing and meeting people, creating and working hard at making something out of nothing. I love connecting with people and being able to be a part of their lives. I have this thing with my audience in Puerto Rico, which translates to “let’s go together.”

All photos provided by artist through Luna Guitars with permission to use.


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