Rodrigo Amarante discusses the inspirations behind new album ‘Drama’
Brazilian singer-songwriter and onetime Little Joy leader Rodrigo Amarante just released Drama, his first album since 2014's Cavalo, via Polyvinyl. "I started the album wanting to focus on rhythm and melody, to abandon those rich chord progressions and modulations I’ve inherited from Brazil and be more straight for a bit," says Rodrigo. "As I wrote I realized that there was a trigger to me in that attempt, a shadow of the shaved-head boy I had to be, sucking it up. Instead, I embraced the complications I’ve inherited.”
We asked Rodrigo to tells us about the inspirations behind the album, and he returned with a list of albums, books and films, including works by Caetano Veloso & Gal Costa, Akira Kurosawa, Daniel Johnston, Jean Cocteau, Gilberto Gil, and more, and in his commentary he draws lines between each one and Drama. Check out his list, and listen to the albums, below.
RODRIGO AMARANTE - 10 INFLUENCES BEHIND 'DRAMA'
1. The Will To Change - book by Bell Hooks
This record would not be the same had I not read this book. It hit me in the gut and sent me back to the childhood memories of the transition between child and adult, to what I was shown it meant to be a man, the theater in that. This book made me see that there was a lot more music in investigating what echoes my voice is made of rather than searching for what's supposed to be a pure and true expression of my soul. It made that sound narcissistic and quite rational, very masculine. I was reminded of what a mask does to the mirror, and I went on to unearthen the ones I played with trying to grow up. There was music in that for me, because these characters could speak. Writing became more an exercise of discovery and forgiveness, of love, less of a forgery, it felt. Drama is that which I understood early on I had to get rid of in order to turn from boy to man, the very thing I picked back up here with this record, because it has always been there dragging behind me.
2. Dreams - film by Akira Kurosawa
One of my favorite films, this is a collection of short stories that make up what are Kurosawa's dreams and childhood tales, and it works as a whole beautifully. This has been in my mind because with Drama I found myself searching for my own dreams and nightmares of early age, revisiting tales which are fundamental to how I see the world, and most of Kurosawa's tales here have kids in them. The chapter with the boy watching the foxes getting married is one of the most beautiful things you'll ever see, and the music!...
3. Domingo album by Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa
The record label didn't want to spend too much money with these two beginners who they recently signed so they decided to make it an album with both together. Gal Costa and Caetano's first studio record; it is a masterpiece of what became two of the most important Brazilian musicians of all time, one of my all time favorite albums. Caetano was already writing then what became the first Tropicalist album that followed, but here he is celebrating his love for what came before that seminal movement, bossa nova at it's best. That which now sounds like elevator music to some now, it's hard to believe, was once super punk, odd melodies and harmonies that unsettled with feeling. The arrangements are stunning, lots of space but no holding back in intention, mood. Caetano Veloso is to me the best songwriter that has ever lived so it's impossible not to look up to him when I write. My arrangement of 'Tara' has one foot here.
4. Tao Te Ching - Audiobook read by Dr. Jacob Needleman, written by Lao Tsu, translated by Gia-fu Feng
A friend sent me this audio book after a good long chat at a bar about Alan Watts and his wonderful sense of humor when talking about Zen. This recording made a big impression on me, not just the text which I have read much younger and didn't quite remember, but because of Dr. Needleman's voice in it, his interpretation. It is quite funny to me, but in a delightful way, I laugh with it and not at it. What's funny is that he manages to be super theatrical and intense while seemingly removed, it works as a metaphor for the subject, the Tao, that which cannot be named. Zen, as I learned with Alan Watts, is a very funny subject. I wrote the song Tao responding to this recording.
5. The Perfect Human - film by Jorgen Leth
Great inspiration for the character I've been playing with since Cavalo, the child inside the writer pretending to be an adult, that awareness, the clown is his shadow. It came to life in the video for "Hourglass" on my previous album Cavalo, and came back out on the video for "Maré", the first single for Drama. This film is a bit like Kurt Vonnegut writing about humans as if he's not one, distanced and humorous, clear intention and playful bias.
6. The Passion of Joan of Arc - film by Carl Theodor Dreyer
This is a masterpiece and it represents to me an example of the unique genius in silent films. I love silent films when they embrace the unique language of cinema, like Maya Deren does so well, rather than feeling like silent theater. In the 1920s they often had live music played to these films in theaters but even the director here never really liked any of it. These films are magical to me because they don't rely on text nor music, most often not even color, to tell a story, just light and shadow telling you all you need to know. In a way that is like music because it also can communicate such depth without understandable words or images. The space left there is magical, as is with music. Because I write in different languages I'm always trying to tell a story with the music despite the words in it, always pretending I'm making a silent film with sounds for those who can't understand the lyrics.
7. Orpheus - film by Jean Cocteau
This is a talkie, and very much so, but the way Cocteau resolves the tale using visual metaphors in long silent scenes is so unique and inventive, playful, that it tickles my brain with its visual metaphors as narrative solutions. It is very dynamic as well, some characters are much more theatrical than others. This has been a great inspiration to me for a type of tale I like to tell with the songs, especially in this record: unapologetically symbolic, often noir, romantic, clearly not an attempt to mimic reality but one to reflect it, an unpredictable mirror.
8. Coisas - album by Moacir Santos
This album blew my mind when I first heard it as a teenager and still inhabits my mind when it comes to arrangements. I grew up in what we call a samba school so percussion was my first performing instrument and I feel I am still very much focused on rhythm no matter what instrument I'm writing for. This album is a syncopation delight, a merge between afro-brazilian and european vocabularies, dialoging, voices coming together, different time signatures overlapping; worlds coexisting. This is something I can't help but to do a lot, divisions of 3 against 4, especially in this latest record. This is one record to blame for it.
9. "True Love Will Find You In The End" - Daniel Johnston
This song brings me to tears, it puts my guard down and has allowed me to write about difficult stuff, desperation, confusion, weakness, which is what I did quite a bit in Drama, sometimes purposefully under the surface of joyous melodies, like in "Tango" but other times not so much, like in "The End" or "Sky Beneath."
10. 1968 - album by Gilberto Gil
This record is perhaps the main reason why I wanted to make this album in a live session without barely any separation between musicians, something that I could only do for a part of the record because of the pandemic. The swing and playfulness, that joy that nobody embodies better than Gil,that's an eternal inspiration to me. Gil also inspires me in his themes, sometimes esoteric, relaying messages and ideas in the spirit of an old troubadour that uses songs to pass on thoughts and stories he's heard and thought were worth repeating. I relate to that.