Following the release of their self-titled debut, Ana Roxanne and Brian Piñeyro join Document to evaluate its emotional undertones and its freedom from context
Natural Wonder Beauty Concept is derived from happenstance, its origins lacking in any deliberate purpose. In winter of 2020, Ana Roxanne and Brian Piñeyro [DJ Python] became friends, shortly following the former’s move to New York. As both are practicing musicians, their time together was often spent listening to Portishead, HTRK, and Björk on otherwise quiet car rides; or composing their own work, in a casual manner at Piñeyro’s home. Mexican Summer caught wind of the friendship. The Brooklyn-based label’s interest—and the hours at Gary’s Electric Studio in Greenpoint that accompanied it—turned those just-for-fun experiments into something more official. Natural Wonder Beauty Concept was born, and along with it, a self-titled debut.
That studio time was really just the beginning, though. Rather than concentrating their effort into something singular, Roxanne and Peñeyro found more space to play with different sounds and ideas. Both coming off critically-acclaimed records of their own—her Because of a Flower and his Mas Amable—they leaned into the lack of pressure for continuity that a new project offered.
In 2021, the pair split paths, with Roxanne returning to the Bay Area—but they nurtured the creative relationship and the pieces it proffered from afar. In 2022, they took to Kranky label manager Brian Foote’s home studio in Los Angeles, finding an identity for the songs as a whole, without containing them to any one thing.
The album itself is better experienced without definition, they explain. It’s maybe best understood by the context of a moment in which it’s listened to, Roxanne muses; a personalized YouTube playlist entitled Walking Down the Street and It’s Raining and You See an Old Lover and All the Memories are Coming Back might be a more apt analysis of the project than any hyper-specific Pitchfork audit of the genres it traverses. The album is yours to do with what you like.
Following the release of Natural Wonder Beauty Concept, Roxanne and Piñeyro join Document to evaluate its intentional lack of rigidity in form, familiarity, and concept.
Megan Hullander: You met in the winter of 2020—when most people went solo—and started a new collaboration. The album release said that this project is the sound of you two ‘learning to be alone, together.’ I wonder what that means, and how it ties to the period in which you started working together.
Ana Roxanne: We started out just having fun, and experimenting without a direct goal. I think, as we started writing, things just sort of came together, or concepts became more actualized.
We didn’t have to talk about it too much. I feel like we have similar ways of approaching music. Sometimes it felt like this unsaid direction or flow that we would take together—it just happened naturally.
Brian Piñeyro: It was nice to hang out with someone. Learning to be alone together, I don’t know what that means—it’s a press thing. Conceptually, I’ve never really thought that much about [defining] our work like that. If it was up to us, we wouldn’t have solidly written about the record, it would probably be an ambiguous line or two.
Megan: Do you think explaining it corrupts the experience for the listener? Or do you just not want to?
Ana: I think, as much as possible, it’s good to let the music speak for itself.
Brian: We got to detach from what people think our music should be [by starting something new together]—I think that pushes an inclination to not define ourselves, either. It’s hard to be able to do whatever you want with your own music. It’s both of us, but it feels like something new. That was one thing that we talked about, like, Let’s try to do stuff that we wouldn’t do on our own.
Megan: What do you think defines it conceptually?
Brian: [The album] is really just an expression of a period of time, so I think it’s more personal than it is a solid, conceptual idea. But I do think it is very reflective of our baseline, emotional characters; the emotional palette is pretty similar throughout it.
Ana: I think a majority of the content is very much tied to New York. But there was a lot of distance when I moved to California. I think that distance ended up becoming part of the concept.
Brian: Yeah, a placelessness. We had a lot of skeletons of songs. I think we’re both experimental in our approach to music in different ways, so it still felt very together, even if we weren’t in the same physical place.
You just have to have trust. If she didn’t like something, she would just say it, and I’d trust and not take it personally.
Ana: Very early on—in our friendship and in the studio—we established a very strong no-judgment zone. That has carried through the whole process.
Brian: We also wanted to do stuff that was kind of weird. Sometimes weird is really bad sounding; sometimes we are really bad sounding. But I think, because of that, it was easier to explore.
“Emotions are complex: You don’t just feel sad, you don’t just feel happy. I think it reduces the experience to a word—to define it like that is silly.”
Megan: How did that sense of trust come about? And then translate into something that was conducive to making music together?
Brian: It was just an activity we decided to do, because we both make music. Like if you and one of your friends like bowling, that becomes what you do together. I think, the first time we hung out, we made music together and then we just kept doing it.
A lot of the feedback I’ve gotten is that [the album’s] not what people thought it would sound like, and that there are no reference points for it as a whole, which I like: It doesn’t sound like an R&B album, it doesn’t sound like a pop album—it sounds like its own thing.
Megan: If not by genre, how would you categorize it?
Ana: I don’t know. Maybe it sounds super obvious, but just by how it makes me feel. Like, those YouTube playlists that are called [things] like, Walking Down the Street and It’s Raining and You See an Old Lover and All the Memories are Coming Back.
Brian: I guess it’s helpful for people to be able to have context, to know how to consume things. But I think it feels bad sometimes to tell musicians what their music is. I guess, in our orbit, it’s just an expression. Emotions are complex: You don’t just feel sad, you don’t just feel happy. I think it reduces the experience to a word—to define it like that is silly.