Laura Lopez Castro is a future world- music star with a difference. For starters, her biggest thrill to date was being able to support Stuart A Staples, the frontman of the rock band Tindersticks, on her UK debut at London's Bush Hall. "I was afraid because I'm a huge fan of Tindersticks," she says in her lilting German/ Hispanic accent. "A friend of mine knows Stuart and gave him my record, which he liked, so he invited us to play with him. I didn't think I could do it, but he was really welcoming."
At 25, she's still in awe of her musical idols, but this could all change with the release of her sumptuous debut album Mi Libro Abierto (My Open Book), recorded with the guitarist Don Philippe in Stuttgart and Berlin. It reflects all the drama and passion of Lopez Castro's Spanish heritage, plus the duo's love of Brazilian bossa nova, Chilean nueva cancion, and Argentinean folk music. "When we began to play together, we'd listen to old bossa nova from the likes of Antonio Carlos Jobim and Joao Gilberto. I wanted to sing like them so we started off doing songs such as 'The Girl from Ipanema' and 'Corcovado' for fun," she says.
For a year, they played covers of their favourite Latin standards, which Lopez Castro believes helped to get them into the right mindset before they began writing their own material. "The album was influenced by bossa nova, but also by music from Chile in the 1970s. Victor Jara and Quilapayun were part of a singer/songwriter movement (nueva cancion) we were really interested in.
"Jara was a very powerful man who was murdered by the Chilean military. His work inspired us, as did the Argentinean folk group Atahualpa Yupanqui. So we got into all these kinds of folk songs from the Seventies, and also newer folk styles from South America. That's why it sounds a little different to flamenco, fado, or bossa nova - it's a mixture of all we heard at the time."
The Portuguese fado association has arisen because, in terms of melancholy romanticism, Lopez Castro's closest contemporary has to be its greatest modern exponent, Mariza. This comparison is most noticeable in her use of pared-down acoustic guitar licks, impassioned vocals, and cool jazz undertones. However, Lopez Castro says that she has heard very little fado, and that it doesn't have much bearing on her music. "One day I heard one song by Maria Teresa, but that's the only fado I knew. When people started telling me that my music sounded similar to fado, I got into it more and started to see a connection, at least in an emotional sense."
She laughs when it is suggested that she must have had a lot of heartbreak. "I think I've had the same amount as everybody else, but I'm a bit more dramatic about it. But I don't just talk about relationships, it's also about friends and family, or hearing about the heartbreak of others."
This more introspective, self-effacing style draws comparisons to her indie heroes such as Tindersticks and Elbow, but Lopez Castro rails at the assumption that downbeat music is made by miserable people. "Everyone asks why I write such sad lyrics, but I'm really a very happy person who loves to love. It's just the way I express certain emotional things, in the same way other people do paintings or write diaries. I could write in a more upbeat way, but it's not my style. And it's the same with Philippe. He writes and plays in a very dramatic way, and that inspires me to do my thing. But I don't think it's sad. My songs are hopeful, and maybe a bit melancholy. But melancholy is good. To feel happy again you have to feel melancholy sometimes."
Lopez Castro was brought up in Stuttgart, Germany, by Spanish parents. "I think I've inherited the best of both cultures," she says, laughing. "I've learnt German correctness and the Spanish way of living. When I was 16, I went to Spain to visit family and was looked upon as German, whereas in Germany I was always treated like a Spanish girl. When my sister moved to Spain I thought I had to do the same thing, but I now realise that home is where my friends are, which is now Berlin, where I've lived for a year."
When she was little, Lopez Castro learnt flamenco dancing. "My mother thought I should learn something from my culture, but at first I didn't like it. It was only when I was about 10 that I began to love it. I've been listening to flamenco music ever since."
She met her musical partner through his girlfriend, who now manages the group. Don Philippe is half-French but also grew up in Stuttgart. He made his name with the hip-hop collective Freundeskreis, before moving into calmer Latin-jazz waters.
"Maybe on the next album we'll call it Laura Lopez Castro and Don Philippe, because that's the project," she says. "I write the lyrics and sing, but he's the most important person to me in what I'm doing. He understands my dreams."
'Mi Libro Abierto' is out on Nesola on 4 SeptemberReuse content