By Faith Duarte

Photo Courtesy:  Kat Tan

When I get on the phone with Erica Monzon, the mastermind behind the singing-songwriting project Ila Minori, she’s on the road with her live band, heading to Houston for the second show of their tour. After a solid hometown kickoff show the night before at Jandro’s Garden Patio at the tail end of January, Ila Minori will play four more shows in the span of three daŷs with Boston outfit The Big Lonesome. The band, which is often compared to acts such as Mazzy Star, delivers vulnerable storytelling with impactful folk-pop instrumentals, maintaining a delicate balance of strong versus mellow.

When Monzon isn’t touring, she regularly hosts open mic nights every Tuesday at Sancho’s Cantina. Over the course of our chat, we discuss how a classic album and a European excursion became the catalysts of her release “Traveling with Ghosts,” which is available at any of the band’s live shows, at Southtown Vinyl, and online at www.ilaminori.com. Clear your schedules for her next show, March 8 at Paper Tiger, and keep an eye out for a future Kickstarter album campaign, tentatively online in March. The Q-and-A has been edited for length and clarity.

S.A. Scene: What made you decide to become a singer-songwriter?

Erica Monzon: I wanted to learn to play guitar first. I didn’t really think I was a songwriter, or even a singer. (laughs) And then when I learned how to play guitar, I discovered that I could also sing simultaneously. So, I started mimicking, just learning songs from artists that I liked, kind of went from there, and started making my own stuff.

SAS: How long ago was this?

EM: About 15 years ago; it’s been awhile.

SAS: How did you come up with the name for your project?

EM: I wanted to have a name that was androgynous, and I started researching androgynous names, because I had this idea that I wanted a name that could kind of encompass all sexes … I just wanted to encompass everything. Anyway, I came up with Ila, but that name was taken … and I liked Minori, so I decided to put them together to make it totally unique.

SAS: Is there any meaning behind the name?

EM: “Ila” has a Hindu mythological meaning, so there’s a whole story behind that. Ila was cursed one day by some god, and his punishment was to change into a woman (every other month). Something crazy like that. Then “Minori,” its meaning is Japanese and Italian.

SAS: What was the inspiration behind “Traveling with Ghosts”?

EM: I went through this really big breakup … and I ended up getting this opportunity to travel to Italy. I decided to use that as a time for me to heal, and I used it as a writing excursion. So basically, it was a breakup album that I wrote in the mountains of northern Italy.

SAS: Tell me more about your trip to Italy.

EM: When I went to the writing excursion (in late 2014), I was there for four months. Then, I played a few shows out there, like in Vienna, in Rome, in the mountains where I was living. It was mostly just four months of writing. After, I came back (to San Antonio) and recorded the album, and I went back (in late 2015) to promote the album and play some shows. I ended up staying there longer than I had planned, for almost a year, in Rome. That’s why it took a while to release the album: because I was living over there, then I was going to stay there, but I decided I wanted to come back home. I wanted to promote the album starting in the states. I was in the states for about a year before I had a CD release party (in September 2017). I wanted to re-establish myself in the music community in San Antonio.

SAS: What was it about Italy that drew you to spend so much time there?

EM: The first time, was just the idea of being isolated in nature, in the Trentino Alps for a few months to complete the album. It was perfect in my mind. Then after, I got a feel for it and for traveling, and I wanted to return to see friends I had made and play more shows. The culture, the laid-back lifestyle, the amazing food and art. Also, I had a boyfriend in Rome.

SAS: What was it that drew you back to San Antonio?

EM: It’s my home and I wanted to release the album from my hometown – the slightly more upbeat lifestyle, the community, the live music. I wanted to tour the states again and, for me, San Antonio is a great base for that.

SAS: Were there any particular artists you were listening to during your time over there?

EM: I was listening to … what was her name … she wrote the album “Tapestry”… I was blown away by every song on that record. Oh! Carole King! (laughs) I remember playing her every time I’d take a shower; it was sort of a ritual. At that time, I was also listening to Paolo Nutini … They liked him a lot over there and I kind of got into him.

SAS: So going back to Carole King, you were starting to say something about how she blew you away. How?

SAS: All the songs on that album are good, solid songs. There are no filler songs on that album. In other words, there’s no song on there that’s not good, if that makes sense. Every single song on that album is a classic. I wanted to see what was still relevant today. (“Tapestry”) is really simple, and there’s not a lot of instrumentation on it. It’s very natural, just her voice and a piano, and some bass, and maybe some strings here and there. I’m just intrigued about songs and their structure. A lot of her songs are very telling and truthful about life. I was intrigued by that (life lessons in lyricism.)

SAS: Do you have any future plans for 2018?

EM: I’m planning on doing some tours in the summer, an East coast tour and possibly a West coast solo tour. I do definitely want to get back up midwest, to Chicago, because I’ve played there several times. So, at least a few tours in 2018.

More music is available at www.soundcloud.com/ilaminori and on Ila Minori’s YouTube channel. The single “Plastic Hearts” is available on vinyl and digital download on Leesta Vall  Sound Recordings.