Photo: Ana Rojas

In my head I never left pop music: An Interview with Arnaldo Antunes

By - 27 July, 2010

It is near impossible to categorise Arnaldo Antunes. He moves around the creative spectrum freely, as adept at novels as pop music as sound collages. His career so far inludes seven albums with his early band Titãs (between 1982 and 1992), 11 solo albums (1992 – present), 13 published books as well as an endless array of collaborations, working with such Brazilian luminaries as Marisa Monte, Chico Buarque, Tom Zé and Gilberto Gil. Within all of his work is one common thread: the word. At times he uses it as a building block, to layer words upon words in a sonic confections, sometimes in search of a melody but always to try and illicit a new feeling or emotion.

I have only recently been introduced to the world of Arnaldo Antunes, entranced by his recent Iê Iê Iê (pronounced ‘Yeah, Yeah, Yeah’) album. A record whose references, as Arnaldo has previously told, include surf music, Jovem Guarda (60s Brazilian pop), early Beatles, Western soundtracks, the twist, Rita Pavone and all pop culture with contagious songs and direct appeal. Rolling Stone Brazil named it one of their favourite albums of 2009. It gained a level of success similar to which he’d previously had with Tribalistas, a 2002 collaboration with Marisa Monte and Carlinhos Brown, but which had not been forthcoming for some of his other work, such as Nome, an early solo effort that played around with the use of vocals, using it more as an instrument than a conveyor of song. I met Arnaldo in order to discuss how his career has continued to thrive despite his many different incarnations, and also how his music fits in with the culture of Brazil.

What was your first passion? Music, literature or poetry?
Everything happened at the same time. I never focused on one single thing. In my youth I started playing guitar, learning music but then the passions for everything really came to me simultaneously. The common thread is that everything I do involves working with words. I have a desire to make more meaning to the words, to go on adventures with them. I don’t make instrumental music, it’s songs that involves words.

What were some of your earliest influences?
I grew up listening to many different things. I followed the music festivals of Brazil and I saw the start of Tropicália, Caetano [Veloso], [Gilberto] Gil, the beginning of the work of Chico Buarque and of Jovem Guarda, Roberto Carlos, Erasmo Carlos, all types of Brazilian music that I discovered by myself. At the same time my brother listened to many records of rock ‘n’ roll. He loved Lez Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and through him I learnt many things of rock ‘n’ roll. My other brother listened to older things; bossa nova, Joao Gilberto and my father played piano and he loved classical music. During my childhood I listened to all of this and I was formed by many different styles, never refusing any of them but choosing my preferences in each.

What was your objective when you started writing music, was it to make something rooted in Brazil or were there no restrictions in this way?
I come from a generation that didn’t search for the roots of Brazilian music. Brazilian music was for my generation a mix of rock n roll, reggae, samba, maracatu – it was impossible to hear the influence of foreign music. You could say that the only music that is uniquely Brazilian is the indigenous music. The most important thing for me is to be free to transmit the many different influences, either from Brazil or outside, and not worry about mixing them. I think this is a very Brazilian thing because Brazil has always been such a mix of cultures. If you listen to some of the records made by people in Brazil that have some affinity with my work; Carlinhos Brown, Marisa Monte, Adriana Calcanhotto, Pedro Luís e a Parede or Lenine. All of them you can’t find their influences of things by Jimi Hendrix or Bob Marley, I think it’s something that’s very easy for us [Brazilians].

When you started in Titãs how hard or easy was it to gain recognition within Brazil?
When I began in Titãs we made a mix of Brazilian music, funk, reggae and rock n roll, but the band was most identified as a rock group. In the 80s there was a favourable media for rock ‘n’ roll in Brazil. There were many bands growing up on the radio and Titãs became part of that movement.

Arnaldo in Titãs performing “O Pulso”:

How was the experience of playing in Titãs and why did you leave?
The band was for me like a school of music, of making music, of performing on stage, of collaborating. Many things I learnt with them but after 10 years I left to make my solo career. I wanted more freedom to show the things that I had become, trying different ways of composing, things that there was just no space in the band to achieve. But we are still friends and during my solo career I have recorded many songs with them and they have continued on recording.

What are some of your solo projects that you are most proud of?
I think the two most important collaborations were O Corpo, the soundtrack to a production by Grupo Corpo, which is the most important dance company in Brazil, they work with many interesting composers such as Tom Zé and Milton Nascimento, and the other is Tribalistas. Tribalistas was a surprise because we did it very spontaneously during a week. I was in Salvador recording Paradeiro and I invited Carlinhos Brown to produce it and there was a song that I had written with Marisa Monte and Carlinhos, and so I invited Marisa to record the singing with me and she came to Bahia. Her plan was to stay there for two days but when she arrived we just started making song after song, and she ended up staying for a week. We composed twenty songs, something like that and we saw that we had the material to make a record together. We arranged some time in our schedules to record the songs about a year later. It was a very spontaneous thing, a meeting of friends, and we never thought that the work would be received as well as it was. I think there is a magic ambience on that record.

I am a big fan of your Nome record, which is vastly different from either Tribalistas or Iê Iê Iê, could you tell us a little bit about that one?
Nome was the soundtrack to a video made with animation. It has songs but there are very experimental things on there too that wouldn’t normally be put into the category of song, they are more like poems or sound pieces. It was very experimental but it’s because it was linked to the video. It’s funny because I think Nome was a very traumatic piece for the journalists and the media because they didn’t understand it. Every record that I have released after that work people say “Arnaldo has become more pop” but in my head I never left pop music. My interest is to make music for as many people as possible, for them to hear my music on the radio and to see people singing songs together at the concert. Nome though was like a stone in the shoe for many people. I want to make pop music to reach people but also worry about the aesthetics. I want to input something different, something of myself into the music, and so sometimes my music becomes quite strange, but every moment has been orientated by a necessity for expression. Whether it’s radio-phonic or not I don’t know.

Video clip of “Nome” from the album of the same name:

You frequently work with Marisa Monte. Can you tell us a little about this partnership?
When I compose with Marisa most of the time we meet in Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paulo or some other city. We get together when we can. This year we had a week of vacations in Bahia and wrote some collaborations together. It’s very natural for us to write together, to make suggestions of the lyric or the melody, it’s very fertile. Sometimes we do different things when we are far apart, she will send me a melody or I will send her a lyric and we talk on the phone, but we always try and find a way to collaborate.

You have always lived in Sao Paulo. Do you think it has an effect on the music that you make?
Sao Paulo is a big city like London or New York, a metropolis with many cultures, like a city of cities even, every neighbour is a different city. I think this mix and the richness of the big city with so much information is in part an influence for my work. The idea of fragmentation, of collage I think is a result of this.

Do you ever feel that you need to produce something popular in order to then complete a work that is more avant-garde, or do you feel that having a success means that you then have more liberty to experiment on the next record?
I think everything goes together. I don’t do something for the sake of doing a particular style. I do different things but I think they are all complimentary with each other. One side fits another. For me everything is the same. I could do something that I thought would be popular and it won’t be or I could do something that I think will not be popular and it won’t be. It’s very hard for me to know what will be well-received, I’m forever being surprised.

What’s next?
Now I will record a DVD of the Iê Iê Iê concert with the director Andrucho Waddington at the beginning of August. We are going to record it on the terrace with friends watching It will be called Ao Vivo en Casa. I think we will release it as a live CD too at the beginning of September.

“Longe” from the recent Iê Iê Iê album:

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