by Pili Montilla
Names are such funny things. We had no say in the choosing of our name, yet it inevitably defines every one of us.
Some of us get made fun of them (Dick, Viola, Dolores? Ouch!). Some of us will forever be explaining the origin of our "funny" sounding, "cute" or "hard to pronounce" names. Some of us feel connected to our history because of our names.
Last week, I met up with Los Angeles-based Chilean-American singer, songwriter Maria del Pilar. We went vintage shopping at Luxe de Ville in Echo Park to talk music and vent over a unique bond we share: our name. Maria del Piar Diaz (hers), Maria del Pilar Montilla (yours truly).
You see, growing up with a long name composed of three words and that clearly sounds like an old lady's name is not an easy thing. And, it's in fact very confusing (No, del Pilar is not our last name! No, we don't have middle names. Yes, the whole thing is our full name!)
"I'm the first Maria del Pilar in my family. My grandmother on my dad's side named me. She loved Spain and she told my parents 'You have to name her Maria del Pilar,'" says the frontwoman of the now defunct cult band Los Abandoned. The name Maria del Pilar originates in Spain, where the Virgen del Pilar is honored in a grand basilica in the city of Zaragoza.
My "naming situation" was a bit different. I was named after my abuela and bisabuela. So in my case, I was sure it was just a doña's name, something I share with Maria del Pilar as she tries on funky vintage sunglasses and chunky jewelry. She totally gets me as she explains, "Growing up I thought it was a doña's name. ¡Claro! But now I like it. It's dramatic. I'm proud of it. That name represents strength. There is a spiritual side to it. It's a very powerful name. I think my grandmother might have already known the tough road ahead of me."
A road that brought her and her parents from Chile to California when she was only 8-years-old. However, Maria del Pilar's mom and dad -- also a musician -- made sure they saved enough money to send her back to Chile every summer, where she would spend three months absorbing her culture and connecting with her family.
With her heart in Chile and her life in L.A., Maria del Pilar became excited with the idea of creating a unique project that merged both cultures. During her music studies at Cal Arts, she dreamed of forming her own band, a band that resembled the bicultural and bilingual Hispanic community in the city.
"With the band it was sort of the rock n' roll high school. We learned how to tour, we learned what everybody's roles are in the business, we learned so much. Plus, it was an idea that I had since college and I saw it become fruitful and successful," she says.
With the success of Los Abandoned and her unique style, Maria del Pilar quickly became an icon in the alternative, underground scene of L.A.
After Los Abandoned broke up, Maria del Pilar began her solo career under the name Pilar Díaz, a project she believes was an essential part of her growth as a performer. Yet something was off. "I still wasn't sure where I stood with it. I was still figuring things out," says my tocaya who, like me, has been wrongly called "Pilaf" instead of Pilar on many unfortunate occasions.
Her new album, titled simply "Songs + Canciones I", was released in March 26th under Cosmica Artists and is a reflection of her maturity both as a woman and a performer. She spent four months in Chile recording with renowned producer Vicente Sanfuentes (recommended by her friend, Chilean songstress Francisca Valenzuela) and surrounding herself with talented musicians such as Valenzuela and alternative music star, Gepe, whom Maria del Pilar describes as a sweetheart.
"Personally I went through a really tough break up, but then I saw myself with a blank slate where I could totally do whatever I wanted to do, so I went back to Chile. I was missing the culture. I felt like I needed to reconnect," says Maria del Pilar.
This clean slate also brought about a new perspective on her name. Her friend Gabrial McNair who plays with No Doubt suggested she use her birth name for this new project. "Making this album, I had a moment of reinvention and decided to take his suggestion, and it's been great. It's a process of reinventing yourself and a rebirth in a way," she says. "You know, shed old skin and rising from the ashes from going through some really rough personal things. It's the maturity and becoming really comfortable with my womanhood and a diva in a way. Taking on the strength of my talent as a musician, as a writer, as an artist."