Interview: Brazilian Girls Are Back to Blow Your Mind

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Interview: Brazilian Girls Are Back to Blow Your Mind

If you’re surprised to hear that Brazilian Girls are back together (with their original lineup) – and debuting new material on a brief tour of the East Coast that started last night at Washington D.C.’s 9:30 Club – you’re not alone. Tracking them down, once they surprised fans by announcing a Madrid show, was not easy. The band had not played together since 2008, and had seeming gone their separate ways after experiencing intra-band relationship issues and general burnout. Sabina Sciubba had a child and was living in Paris. Didi Gutman and Aaron Johnston were living in Madrid. Jesse Murphy, who didn’t tour with the band in 2008, was living in New York. All were occupied with other projects, and rumors were that it hadn’t ended well.

And that was a shame, because Brazilian Girls were doing something incredibly unique, combining electronic, pop, club, South American rhythms, jazz inflections, and a mélange of other influences to create both up and down tempo tunes that got heads bobbing and hips shaking to lyrics that often surged past Tipper Gore’s cultural bright lines. It was music for mature audiences, music for the afterparty, music that precipitated the morning after. And thankfully, once again, it still is.

Last night the band played their second show in four years – their first stateside—and it was about what one would expect from a group of talented musicians getting the band back together without a lot of preparation. Having seen them burn the proverbial house down before, I know that they’re not yet in peak form. Even so, their current level of conditioning combined with obscene talent is sufficient to rise well beyond the peak level of most groups. There were some rough edges and a few songs towards the beginning did not present the level of energy for which they are known, but that seemed fair enough for a band whose lead singer had been nursing her child just before the show (not exactly the definition of Rock and Roll!!!). The groove was found, though, and by the time the set ended the stage itself was full of revelry as audience members joined the quartet in a jubilant celebration of the prodigal son’s unexpected return.

After their soundcheck — where they took the opportunity to continue creating new songs on the fly — Weeping Elvis joined the male contingent of Brazilian Girls in their dressing room for a free-flowing discussion about what caused their erstwhile demise, their recent reunification, and work already completed towards a new album.

 

Weeping Elvis
The band has been on a hiatus of sorts for about 4 years – officially calling it quits about a year and a half ago – before resurfacing recently for a show in Madrid and a handful of shows on America’s East coast. Wikipedia still refers to your existence in the past tense. Why get the gang back together?

Didi Gutman
We got over the “hate zone” and decided that we wanted to play music together again.  Over a period of time, people’s lives change, what they want changes, and we weren’t getting along so well and not wanting the same things.  There was a lot of drama, and we just imploded.  But now, I think we’re ready to do it again. I think creatively we still had some juice going on…

Jesse Murphy
It wasn’t anything musically or creatively; there weren’t any conflicts there.  Just…we kept playing less and less even though we wanted to play more and more.

Aaron Johnston
At the time conflicts just happened…the timing with babies…definitely timing with babies, put us off our game.

Weeping Elvis
But then it wasn’t announced officially until January 2011, so that was almost a period of two and a half years of silence from the band.

Didi Gutman
Yeah, we had a year off not really talking to each other…some of us anyway. But, after a while it cooled down and we wanted to start up again.

Aaron Johnston
We needed separate tour buses.

Didi Gutman
Separate airplanes! We all live in different places.

Jesse Murphy
The vibe now is better than ever, I think.

Aaron Johnston
I thought the vibe was always pretty good.

Jesse Murphy
The vibe was always pretty good, it was always relatively medicated.  The vibe now is just clear and honest. Straight forward.

Didi Gutman
Communication is better.

Jesse Murphy
There’s less stress.

Didi Gutman
There’s less stress, less drama.  A lot “less” everything.

Weeping Elvis
Communication is key, right?

Didi Gutman
Communication on a more grown-up level.

Jesse Murphy
And more importantly, the music is now going to continue to evolve, in a way. It hasn’t stagnated after not even playing at all we get back together and it’s like, “ohhh,” it has somehow gone to the next level.

Weeping Elvis
It sort of sounded like you were working out new songs during the soundcheck…it didn’t sound like a traditional soundcheck.

Brazilian Girls (unison)
Yeah.

Didi Gutman
Traditional is not our forte. It’s not a word in our book.

Weeping Elvis
You sort of started off the band in a jazz sense, right, jamming and talking through things to come up with tunes?

Didi Gutman
In the sense of jamming, yes, but not stylistically.

Aaron Johnston
Yes, in the sense of jamming and listening and being open to moving with each other.

Weeping Elvis
That was sort of what the communication (in the soundcheck) sounded like, “what about this note here, drums here but not there, etc.). To me, that seems similar to a jazz process.

Aaron Johnston
Yeah, everybody here has been through that and knows it….knows how to play and we’ve played with the best jazz musicians around.

Jesse Murphy
But it ain’t jazz…jazzy, perhaps.

Weeping Elvis
Electronic and electronic influenced music is certainly a lot more prominent in America than it was ten years ago when Nublu first opened, nine years ago when Brazilian Girls formed there as a band. Is that something  that you think about at all? Does that influence your plans?

Didi Gutman
I think we’re growing out of that at the moment, in fact…bad timing!

Jesse Murphy
I think about it when I go to the gas station or sometimes I hear club music or electronic music in uncommon places.  You didn’t hear that ten years ago.

Didi Gutman
Right, you can get stuff at Target or K-Mart that they never would have carried before.

Weeping Elvis
The last record – New York City – definitely had some more introspective moments. Perhaps these are things that happen as you age and have different experiences. Is that what you mean when you say you’re going in a different direction? Musically? Lyrically?

Didi Gutman
It’s hard for us to say where we’re going until we get there. A lot of times when we’re in the middle of the creative process we say, “this seems to be going in this direction,” then, well, until it’s done it’s hard to understand it because we’re still in a process.

Weeping Elvis
So it’s organic…you need to let it grow.

Didi Gutman
Yeah

Jesse Murphy
And we listen to one another and take each others’ influences into our own brains. We don’t say, “I’ve got it all figured out and this is where it’s going.” It’s more like an idea, and then, “oh, ok that’s a good idea” as you hear something and then it goes in a different direction. We were just talking earlier today about how it’s a bit tricky to be in the creative process and to finish works when we’re in different places because we have an influence on each other.

Weeping Elvis
…And you have to be in the room for that to work.

Didi Gutman
Yeah.

Jesse Murphy
it’s helpful, for sure.

Aaron Johnston
But it’s fast, too. Everybody hears each other quickly, takes notes, and knows if it’s a good idea or maybe not such a good idea.

Weeping Elvis
Has that been the case all the way though?

Jesse Murphy
Pretty much!

Didi Gutman
The thing now is that we all live in different cities.

Weeping Elvis
Where are you all located now?

Didi Gutman
We are in Madrid (gestures towards Aaron Johnston), Jesse Murphy is in New York, and Sabina is in Paris. And so, we got together in Madrid.

Weeping Elvis
For the show?

Didi Gutman
The show actually came after we were already going to be there. We were going to do some writing and recording, and since we were all there, the show popped up kind of last minute. When we were in Madrid together, we quickly developed a bunch of ideas, (some of which we are going to play tonight in a highly undeveloped stage). So when we were together it was kind of easy; we immediately felt the flow (snaps fingers a few times) and we kept working on the tunes long distance.  I would add something and send it along, and that process is harder than when we’re all together in one place.

Weeping Elvis
There’s no “moment.”

Didi Gutman
Yeah, somebody has to do go in a direction and then you wait and someone may say, “Oh, I don’t like it” or whatever (Laughs). And then you respond…”what is it that you don’t like?” “Oh, I don’t like…that sound.”  It’s just much easier to iterate when you’re all together.

Weeping Elvis
I suppose that Madrid is pretty happy today with the big win over Ireland.

Aaron Johnston
Nice!

Didi Gutman
Oh, yeah. It’s so huge man, living there I got into football right away.

Weeping Elvis
Do you feel like — living in different places — that your influences are now coming from different places?

Didi Gutman
Not necessarily. What changes things the most is having babies and not going out that much.

Aaron Johnston
I don’t think so. Whether I’m listening to a new band from Ireland or wherever they might be from, I feel like I always am hearing the same sorts of things regardless. We’re not going to have a flamenco feel in this new material.

Weeping Elvis
No castanets on stage, huh?

Aaron Johnston
No, not necessarily. And that’s nothing against flamenco. New York is so diverse. We were hanging and playing at Nublu and there was a lot of other music going on we were playing with a lot of diverse musicians around us all the time.

Didi Gutman
It’s a great community of musicians there that lead very different musical lives and we were a part of that and influenced by that of course. But if I was living in New York now, I wouldn’t be going out as much. So what has really changed for me is the lifestyle. But not everybody is the same. Aaron Johnston goes out a lot more than I do. But in Spain, musically it is a little flat. But still there is a lot happening that I could go see. Nowadays, where do you get your music from? You check out blogs and places on the Internet, so everywhere it is basically the same.

Weeping Elvis
In terms of working on new material, I assume that is geared towards releasing an album?

Aaron Johnston
It’s already flowing pretty quickly and everyone is excited about the new stuff. We’ll head into the studio a couple more times.  We had one session, four days, so far.

Didi Gutman
Yeah, and we have another one coming in July, also in Madrid.

Jesse Murphy
And we have some stuff that’s overflowed from a previous session.

Weeping Elvis
From a couple of years ago?

Didi Gutman
Yeah, from when we left it off. We were working on material then.

Jesse Murphy
Before the burnout.

Weeping Elvis
Is there a noticeable difference then between what you were working on before versus what has come about in recent sessions?

Didi Gutman
Right now it’s hard to say.

Aaron Johnston
Even if something was written long ago we’ve put it in the current context.

Jesse Murphy
And it is going to continue to influence itself. As something comes about that is a special flower we go “oh wow, maybe this is it” but we follow our nose a bit until we get “there.” It’s a natural process.

Weeping Elvis
How many do you think you have finished already, “finished” perhaps not being the correct word?

Jesse Murphy
Six. Six that are in a really good place and another six that are ready to be put into the grinder.

Weeping Elvis
So you’ll go into the studio a couple more times and finish up and then…later this year? Next year?

Didi Gutman
That’s the idea. There are a couple of different ways we could go.  At the moment we need to work on the music and get it to a place where it is strong.

Jesse Murphy
The plan is to work on the music.

Aaron Johnston
We don’t even have a manager yet.

Weeping Elvis
Oh, it wasn’t easy to find you.

Didi Gutman
So perhaps there are thousands of people like you trying to reach us.

Weeping Elvis
I guess they’re not as persistent! Finishing up about the mini-tour, are you focusing upon any particular albums for these shows in the set list’s construction?

Jesse Murphy
We’re mostly playing things that we can play without any rehearsal at all because we haven’t been able to do so!

Aaron Johnston
At the moment this band does not rehearse…we’re playing five of the new ones, which is quite a bit, and then we went down the list of some crowd-pleasers and stuff we like to play.  It’s a pretty good mix of the first three albums, I think.

Didi Gutman
We’re thinking of getting some boxes of tomatoes and spreading them through the crowd so they can be used appropriately throughout our performance.

Aaron Johnston
… some of the green ones, the really hard ones, along with a few of the rotten ones!

Weeping Elvis
Shakespearean-style! Hopefully the groundlings will like you then; we don’t want you to get coated with tomatoes!

Didi Gutman
Hope so!

 

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Behrnsie has a love for music that dare not speak its name. He attends many shows and can often be found counting out the beats for no discernible reason. He played alto saxophone in his middle school jazz band, where he was best known for infuriating his instructor when it was revealed that he played everything by ear, and could not in fact read music. He takes great pride that this is the same talent/affliction that got Tori Amos kicked out of the Peabody Academy. He does not live in his parents’ basement….except during the holidays.