Early into her still-young career — back when she first studied music after years of acting in films and Mexican telenovelas — Ximena Sariñana learned to keep an open ear and an open mind.
Her initial schooling began with jazz. But the singer absorbed most every sound her eager intellect could soak in.
"Jazz came first," she said. "That was the vehicle for knowledge. But I soon branched out to hear a lot of Brazilian music and a lot of tango. I was obsessed with Astor Piazzolla (the late, legendary Argentine tango pioneer) for awhile. And I absolutely loved Peruvian music and the music of Uruguay. And of course, I listened to jazz and classical music.
"I listened to new things and old things as well. That made me a bit open-minded when I began searching for the sounds, the chords and the melodies for my own songs."
Such inspirations surfaced in the form of a versed pop album in 2008 that bore a title that could not have been less indicative of the songs it contained: Mediocre. Luckily, her Mexican homeland and a rapidly growing following in the United States didn't judge the album by its name. The 12 tunes that made up Mediocre, all of which were sung in Spanish, earned Sariñana a Grammy nomination for best Latin rock/alternative album and two additional nods from the Latin Grammys.
Then came a growth spurt, a huge one, in fact: For her self-titled follow-up album in 2011, the singer (whose first name is pronounced he-may-na and last name is sah-ree-nyah-na) moved from her native Guadalajara by way of Mexico City to Los Angeles, wrote or co-wrote nearly all of her material in English (Sariñana has been bilingual since childhood) and set upon cultivating the fan base that Mediocre triggered.
"It was a very challenging time for me and a very challenging record to make," said Sariñana, 25. "I was essentially starting from scratch in a different territory in a different country with a different language. But I was really excited to be working in L.A., which is kind of the hub of the American music industry. That made me want to push myself as much as possible to put out a really good quality record."
Teaming with producer and co-songwriter Greg Kurstin of the jazz-accented duo The Bird and the Bee, Ximena Sariñana luxuriates in its broad pop scope and often confessional themes. The album-opening Different ignites with a chirpy, whistling Brazilian melody, an immediately infectious vocal chorus and lyrics ("I'm a light leader in the making") that exude a light but unapologetic confidence.
In contrast, Tomorrow reflects a more romantic but less assured emotive stance ("I'm such an easy target to deceive") that juggles radio-friendly pop with modest soundscapes of electronica.
"For me, songwriting is all about self-analysis," Sariñana said. "I try to take inspiration out of everything I listen to, everything I watch or read, and try to run with those concepts. I'm a believer in how everything happening in your life is happening for a reason. So I'm very self-analytical about things and try to put what is going on in my life out there in the form of songs."
Before music became the focus of her career, Sariñana spent considerable time in front of a camera. The daughter of noted Mexican film director Fernando Sariñana and his screenwriter wife, Carolina Rivera, she began acting for movies and television at age 11. As her musical interests grew, Sariñana said, her parents remained supportive.
"For me, music and acting were the same thing. They were the things I loved doing and was encouraged to do. My parents never said no. I mean, they had their limitations. I had to get good grades if I wanted to continue acting. I had to be responsible for my homework if I wanted to go to music school after school. But they gave me that voice as a child to express myself.
"So, creatively speaking, I'm always ready to try something new. As with everything in life, once you take a step forward, you want to take more steps and more steps."