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INTERVIEW: Rua das Pretas

Vents Magazine spoke with Rua das Pretas’ Pierre Aderne and Brian Cullman about their new album, ‘The Wine Album’ –

Hi Pierre, Hi Brian – welcome to VENTS!

Can you talk to us more about your new Rua das Pretas single “Me & You”?

Pierre : We were arriving in New York from Lisbon to start working on the album, and our great friend Tanner Walle came up with a beautiful melody that reminded me of Luís Bonfá’s Bossa Novas from the 60’s. Tanner was born in Kansas, but he has the sound of Rio in his blood.

Did any event in particular inspire you to write this song?

Pierre : I decided to  write a naive love poem thinking about the Bossa Nova B&W pictures from deep in my imagination .

Any plans to release a video for the single?

Pierre : Yes. We are now filming several videos for “The Wine Album”, and “Me and You” is one of them, a really simple video of a lonely old woman looking out at the Tejo river and all the boats on the river floating by as she’s thinks about someone she met 50 years ago. For now, please take a look at our EPK for “The Wine Album”:

The track comes off your new album The Wine Album – what’s the story behind the title?

Pierre: I met Dirk Niepoort 12 years ago when I was playing at douro film harvest , we became friends and Douro valley became my secret place to runaway when I can . About a year ago I was at Quinta de Nápoles, drinking a middle age Porto garrafeira with Dirk, talking about Rua Das Pretas and his new wines to be released, I started playing a song and I started thinking that there would be songs inside the bottles. Not just wine, but real songs, melodies waiting to get out of each bottle. The idea of the wine album was born that night.

And by the way, THE WINE ALBUM is also a play on The Beatles’ album, THE WHITE ALBUM. With all the different voices, different styles and personalities, but all unified by a guiding vision of love & friendship.

In the Rua Das Pretas gathering, wines helped to tell the stories for many years. When I called Brian in NY to tell him the idea, he said: “RUA DAS PRETAS isn’t simply about music, it’s about what happens when people gather to play music for fun, without having to carry the show, to be together and drink wine, and share stories. This is what we need.’ And after, Brian came up with this brilliant idea that there would be songs inside each bottle of wine. Literally! When people buy a  bottle of Niepoort’s wine made for Rua Das Pretas, we’ll have a download code written on each cork inside the wine bottles.

How was the recording and writing process?

BRIAN :: Most of the album was recorded in Lisbon at Namouche Studios. We brought some of the songs with us, but nearly everything was taken apart and rewritten or reworked while we were together. An accordion player, João Barradas, would wander in, and we’d adapt the song to make sure he could play on it, the guitarist Augusto Baschera would appear out of nowhere, and he could take any song and give it a style and a swagger that wasn’t there before or add a bit of tenderness and heartbreak. The bass player Walter Areia would come by holding a bass with just three strings, but he didn’t need more than that. Those three strings tied our feet to the songs, so we could wander off in any direction and always find our way back.

It felt like we were creating something special, something new, and we threw out any preconceptions we had about what the songs should sound like. We dove in and followed them, as if they were fish. And sometimes they led us into really deep or unexplored waters.

One of the songs, “White Or Red,” came from a late night improvisation in Douro, after we’d played a concert there last April. Pierre put his guitar into an open tuning and we started making up verses about a couple who are finding each other and losing each other, all at the same time, in a lonely bar somewhere at the end of the world. “Pour me a glass….a glass of forever.” “Tell me where does time go when it’s closing time.” The sorts of things you say that make no sense but make total sense when the night is slipping into dawn and your mind has come unstuck. On our last night in the studio in Lisbon at two in the morning, when Hector was falling asleep, and I had to catch a flight home in 5 hours, Pierre insisted that we had to record that song. Hector couldn’t stand up, I couldn’t see straight, but Pierre was so insistent that we thought it was easier to humor him, just set up the mics and record something. Anything. I knew it wouldn’t work. But, boy was I wrong. That song was recorded in one take, there was no thought involved, we were lost in the music. And I’m so proud of it.

What was it like to work with Hector Castillo and how did that relationship develop? How much did he influence the album?

BRIAN : I met Hector at Philip Glass’s studio years ago. He was different from any engineer I’d worked with, not judgmental, simply present in such a musical way. When I’d listen to a track with Hector in the room, I’d hear everything that was wrong with it. Suddenly it felt like the bass line was too busy, like the drums were dragging on the chorus. And I’d also hear everything that was possible. Somehow, just his quality of listening and engagement gave me permission to go further, to work harder. He wouldn’t need to say anything, but I simply didn’t want to disappoint him. He wouldn’t let you get away with anything that wasn’t your best.

Hector co-produced Pierre’s second album, AGUA DOCE, with me years ago, so together we had a great history with Pierre. But Hector just brought a level of sound design and care and a passion for new sounds and new ideas that was contagious. He made us all sound better than we’d ever sounded, and he quietly pushed for us to go deeper.

Since we first met him, by the way, Hector has won five Grammys and has worked with David Bowie, Lou Reed, Bjork, The Brazilian Girls, Los Cadillacs Fabulosos, Roger Waters. His work has not gone unnoticed.

Rua das Pretas brings together artists from different backgrounds and from all over the world – how do all these varied cultures and languages influence the band’s music?

BRIAN : It’s like being on the subway in New York or at a market in Paris or Lisbon or Berlin, you’d hear all these languages mixing together and it would become one sound, so alive and so rich, English mixing with Portuguese, a samba with the swagger of hiphop, someone calls your name in the street, and you answer, but it’s almost beyond language. Do you make love in English? In French? In Portuguese? When you’re lost in the moment, you don’t know. All you know is whether it’s real or not. And the music here is absolutely real.

Pierre : The Rua Das Pretas gatherings started years ago in my house in Ipanema, when I moved to the same street and block, Rua Nascimento Silva, of Tom Jobim. I used to invite friends to play and drink and tell stories at my house when I was  not on tour, not only my music friends from Rio, but Lisbon, NY,  Paris, people like Jesse Harris, Madeleine Peyroux, Antonio Zambujo, Dadi, Vinícius Cantuária… In 2011 I decided to move to lisbon and brought the concept to my house there and met musicians from Cabo Verde like Tito Paris and Sara Tavares…Melody Gardot one night showed up, and the next morning we started to write a song blending  English and Portuguese about a lemon tree … “ ah limoeiro, limoeiro “

What role does Portugal play in your music?

BRIAN : This album couldn’t have been made anywhere but in Portugal. I didn’t know that before, but I know it now. There’s a warmth and an energy, a beat that runs through life there that’s undeniable.

I was in Paris years ago, when all these cultures converged upon the city. You had Cheb Khaled from Algeria, Salif Keita from Mali, the great Nigerian guitarist Bob Ohiri, Talip Ozkan from Istanbul, Serge Gainsbourg still roaming the streets, and Radio Nova read the evening news with Curtis Mayfield playing in the background. People danced even when they didn’t know they were dancing. That’s what Lisbon is like right now, with this amazing, wild energy fueled by the rhythms of Brazil, the longing of fado, the scent of cloves from Cape Verde, impossible guitars that are eleven feet long and have no socks, and everywhere these beautiful young girls with love letters that no one can possibly translate.

Pierre …Oh, it all comes down to Portugal, not only from Fado and cante, mornas and Funanás, Portuguese literature, wines , nights in Alfama, and Lisbon’s now the capital of Portuguese language music. The album could only be finished here. Go to the beach anywhere in Portugal, go to the water’s edge, pick up a seashell, hold it to your ear. What you’ll hear is Rua Das Pretas.

What is it about the 60s music scene that you find so fascinating?

BRIAN : The world changed from black & white to color. And music traveled with the speed of sound. The Beatles began listening to Indian music. Kids in India began listening to The Beatles. Walls began to crumble and fall, replaced by songs that no one had heard before, but that everyone could sing. Politicians now are trying to put those borders back, build those walls again. But it won’t work. The songs are just too strong. And now we know the words.

You are known for playing with different genres (bossa, folk, jazz, more) – how do you go about balancing them together?

BRIAN : We practice the musical equivalent of safe sex.

PIERRE: I would say it’s just like cooking, when you have recipes in your kitchen from all around the world. You just open the pan and mix the ingredients, not even thinking if it is fado or bossa .

What has the audience reaction been to Rua das Pretas – does it vary by country?

BRIAN : Absolutely. In Paris, people take off their clothes. In Berlin, they put their clothes back on. In New York, people go to the nearest cash machine, withdraw their life’s savings and line the stage with fifty dollar bills and parking tickets.

PIERRE : in Japan they just don’t breathe, or maybe they can stay without breathing for the whole song. It’s impressive.  I used to tell people that don’t speak Portuguese yet, every time you don’t understand something, don’t worry : it’s all about love and pain.

When are your next gatherings?

PIERRE : Portugal:  on December Lisbon : 1,8,15,22,31 Porto on the 7th, and Paris on January 11th.

What else is happening in Rua Das Pretas’ world?

PIERRE : After Lisbon, Porto, NYC and Paris, in the beginning of the new year,  we will open new residencies in Madrid, London and Tokyo.  Please visit us at http://www.ruadaspretas.com/ to see all upcoming gatherings!

About RJ Frometa

Head Honcho, Editor in Chief and writer here on VENTS. I don't like walking on the beach, but I love playing the guitar and geeking out about music. I am also a movie maniac and 6 hours sleeper.

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