March 17th, 2009 | Interviews

luke mcgarry

Download: Garotas Suecas “Bugalu”


(from Garotas Suecas’ self-titled full-length)

Lips all over New York’s underground still struggle to pronounce ‘Garotas Suecas,’ long after this Brazilian sextet wrapped up their month-long tour of Williamsburg and the Lower East Side. The band’s fuzzy 60s-ish garage pop and soul—combined with Portuguese lyrics and an Os Mutantes cover here and there—prompted many to reference Tropicalia. I too was guilty! But Garotas Suecas’ uniquely dynamic yet casual approach to rock ‘n’ roll took everyone by surprise—definitely one of the most refreshing sounds heard here in some time. This interview by Jonathan Toubin.

Are you from the slums of Sao Paulo or the Amazonian jungle?
Irina (keyboards/vocals): I’m from the jungle. Some of us are from the ghetto. We’re all from Sao Paulo.
Thomaz (guitar/vocals): Sao Paulo ghetto.
Guilherme (vocals/harmonica): The jungle. We wear no shoes. Not too different than New York. Coffee’s different though.
Nico (drums): We eat a lot of tropical fruits.
T: And we hunt everything we eat. That takes a lot of our time. We keep practicing and hunting.
Sesa (guitar): I guess hunting and playing rock ‘n’ roll are a similar high-energy experience—so that’s where all things meet.
What does the name mean?
G: Swedish Girls.
N: Because in 2002, there were a lot of students from Sweden at Sao Paulo’s public university and they started this band called Swedish Girls. It was actually three girls and two guys—kind of similar to Abba. They were doing pretty well but all the drugs and all the music business stress did them in. And then we replaced them—and all of a sudden it was a band of crazy monkeys playing and hunting.
What’s going on in Sao Paulo’s underground music scene?
N: Tropicalia.
I: We have a music scene in Sao Paulo. We have many specific scenes. Punk rock is strong and into itself. We have some garage bands that are happening. And we have some folk as well—Portuguese related.
T: I think the big thing with indie bands is that folk rock stuff. I don’t know if that’s what’s happening here as well.
I: We have some really good folk and some freak-folk. Some really good and some people who can’t play anything.
T: Like everybody trying to be Dylan in Brazil.
I: There are very specific bands that mimic the American garage bands and exactly what they did without any Brazilian influence at all. And all the clothing—and look mod. We kind of have a mod scene in certain cities. They kind of do exactly as they did in their time and wish they were born then and not now. We are not like that at all—we take the influences but we are a band who’s been together sense 2005 and not 1965. So all the other stuff that happened in the end of the ‘60s and ‘70s in New York—more noisy kind of music—we’ve listened to all of that as well along with Brazilian music. So we don’t want to repeat a garage band or even a soul band—we can’t do that.
T: One thing we’re very serious about is researching—we’re all always buying records and downloading stuff. We’re always hungry for more. Whereas some other bands decide what their influences are going to be and stick to that.
S: They’d rather call a band a project rather than a band. They say ‘OK. This is my project where I focus on folk.’ ‘This is my project where I concentrate on ‘70s funk. And from now on I’m gonna play this.’ We’re a band and we started playing, playing, playing until we became ourselves. The references in our music come from American, Brazilian and British music in the 1960s and people seem to get us better in the U.S.—an immediate understanding. You play, you get the crowd—they get excited…
N: We were born in Brazil and we listened to this stuff since we were kids and then we started listening to a lot of American stuff and we began to see that there was a lot of Brazilian with a lot to offer that we weren’t listening to—so we started researching Brazilian music.
S: Because ‘60s and ‘70s Brazilian music isn’t mainstream culture in Brazil. It’s not like you walk in a record shop and you find lots of awesome ‘60s music.
T: There are reissue CDs here of Brazilian music that I can’t find back in Brazil. Like Gal Costa records and other things
S: Not only Tropicalia stuff—1970s funk and film stuff.
G: American music is very rich and very diverse. You were mentioning harmonic elements. We love for example the Beach Boys. We got this book and began practicing all of the voices in their songs. And in terms of rhythms, you have all of these black artists. I think American bands don’t listen to this music much. I think they’re more influenced by Velvet Underground and this more noisy aspect of music.
I: They’re into a noisier sound with dirtier guitars and all of that. In the beginning of the band we were listening to more garage stuff and then we tried to listen more to what they were listening to back then—which was a lot of black music and all of that. The rhythm and all of that is familiar to us because it’s similar to Brazilian music.
T: Being Brazilian has something to do with that flexibility. We can get to garage from that and mix it with different music and nice vocals. That’s what Brazilian pop music has been all about.
I: Taking the influences and making it your own.
T: Especially American music—transforming it by filtering it through Brazilian music and maybe it’s our main influence that we take from the Brazilian pop scene in general.
What were you trying to do when you started out?
N: We’d play Nuggets covers and all of that.
I: We’ve been together for four years. And we grew into our own sound. We’d play Velvet Underground and David Bowie covers along with MC5 and Nuggets.
T: We weren’t all that different from other bands like the Centurys.
S: Or the Stones.
Do you tour in Brazil? Is there a circuit for indie touring bands?
T: If you are an independent band in Brazil its difficult to make a successful tour. We played in Rio once but it was a long time ago.
G: Actually this is our first tour.
What’s most different between the music scene in the US and Brazil?
T: It looks like things really happen here. When somebody tells you he will contact you by Myspace or email here, he really makes this contact. In Brazil things are far from each other—I don’t really understand how things work in Brazil.
I: We don’t have an all-over underground music scene in Brazil. It’s only in certain cities and its only beginning to make sense as a scene. Each city works independently.
T: After getting to know the American independent scene, I realize that in Brazil they’re kind of immature about it. The people don’t understand that they need to support the bands—they only want to go to free shows.
N: And ask for your drumstick
T: And get as much as they can from you. It’s hard to make the public guilty. They’re getting what they can. But I think we have a long way to go.
I: It’s really hard for example to sell merch—even really cheap CDs—in Brazil. Here our CDs were sold out when we weren’t even halfway through. It’s very different the way that kind of support works here.
T: We’re still figuring out how the thing works here and in Brazil it’s so different. We can take five CDs to each gig and we won’t sell them.
What do you like best about being in America so far?
T: Being part of this rock ‘n’ roll scene—we read about it and fantasize about it and now we’re kind of part of it.
G: D.C. girls. They’re awesome.
I: That they have chai everywhere.
N: I was just gonna say that I like Starbucks.
S: I like the gear. Really old and huge amplifiers. It’s really cool to see a band with some old shit that’s really loud.
And what bums you out most?
N: You can’t drink outside the places.
Over there you can drink wherever you want?
I: On a beach. On a tree. Everywhere!
Do you have any plans to return to the United States in the near future?
T: We’re coming back to play the South by Southwest festival in Austin. Then East Coast shows again.
I: And we’re going to Chicago. And Detroit.
T: But we really want to go to L.A. right? As soon as possible!