Saturday, October 6, 2018

October 6th, 2018 - An Interview With Angra's Rafael Bittencourt!

Good evening metal fans! A very special treat for you tonight... my interview with Rafael Bittencourt, guitarist, vocalist, and founding member of the amazing Brazilian progressive metal / power metal band Angra! I sat down last night with Rafael on the Angra tour bus about an hour before the band took the stage at Liquid Joe's in Salt Lake City, Utah. I also brought Rafael and the Angra tour manager, Carl Casagrande several local beers from Deseret Edge Brewery & Pub and Fisher Brewing Company!

B&T: I've been waiting so long to see Angra! You've never been to Utah before?

RB: No

B&T: You've been to the states.

RB: We've been to the states... a very short tour. Very low budget. We were traveling in a van, driving ourselves... kind of a shitty tour and we were playing general pubs, like clubs for country music. It wasn't even a rock circuit! Now we have a proper tour and we have a chance to show our music to the American metal crowd.

B&T: How did you get started in music? What was your inspiration?

RB: Well, I started very young enjoying music. My family got together every Sunday at my grandpa's home... all uncles and they would be sharing music, playing guitar and singing folk songs, Brazilian folk songs. And I loved that moment. I was always waiting for that because it was like worship for me. All the politician talk... talks about politics, religion, differences... when someone was playing a song, all of that was gone. And people would be silent, or singing together, or just listening to the music. I loved it! And then when Queen, the band came to Brazil, I was 9 years old and I lived just by the stadium where they played. And I realized that music gathering people together to listen to it was a profession and people would be quiet and silent and singling along. On that point, I realized that was what I was going to do for my life. I wasn't playing. I mean I had a few piano lessons, flute lessons, but I wasn't playing the guitar. I would start only 2 years later when I was 11. And I got into Kiss, AC/DC, Iron Maiden... all that sort of stuff. That was '81, '82 and metal music was going boom! So by that time I realized that was the thing I was so fascinated with... with the whole thing ya know... playing music, writing songs, and getting people around this moment, around the guitar, around the music itself. I thought it was magic. And I still do. I still think it is a very beautiful thing that us as humans do. We as humans have invented so many stuff... like skiing, surfing, and music. It's pretty much my way of admiring us. I'm not much of a technology guy. I'm more of acoustic and chill out.

B&T: Who would you say as a guitar player were your biggest influences and as a songwriter who are your biggest influences?

RB: Well, as a songwriter, Brian May is... I mean Queen in general, Freddie, all of them. Many guitar players influence me a lot. Brian May also and Angus Young, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai, so many others. Also, one of my favorites is David Gilmour. I also love Jeff Beck. I like old guys. As a songwriter... lyrics... Rush and Pink Floyd. Pink Floyd and Rush were the dudes for me. Also, I love Peter Gabriel. Peter Gabriel is a huge influence for me. Other people like Seal. I love Seal. Not only his singles, but his whole albums are also always so good, so well crafted. I like the way he writes his songs. I really like the way he picks words and the way he combines those words with what he is expressing. I feel it is very true, thoughtful, and honest

B&T: So to go back into the history of Angra, I guess it was 2000, 2001 the band completely split up and you decided to go forward. What was the impetus? What made you decide "I'm going to keep this going and recreate Angra"?

RB: Partly fans... because the fans wanted me to keep things going. They kept pushing me to continue. Also, Kiko [Loureiro] wanted to continue too. Both of us of were unsure. But after a point, the fans kept pushing us and also the record company contract. Once we kept the name, contracts were still going. It was a good opportunity because we had fans in mind and a record company. It would be so bad to lose. So also, passion for music of course. I wouldn't stop making music. I would find something else. But also the passion for the project. I struggled so hard to get to that point. It was around 10 years that I had struggled. It is not easy to be in a metal band from Brazil. I didn't want everything to be wasted.

B&T: You mention being in a metal band in Brazil. What is the metal scene like in Brazil?

RB: It is getting better and better. We have good quality bands, good quality musicians. Still some missing links... like we don't have good producers or studios. We don't have itinerary for clubs where the bands perform to get a good crowd. Many times the websites are only promoting foreign bands. So we have many awesome bands coming from Brazil, but the good ones are performing in Europe. And the scene itself doesn't support it so much, doesn't sustain the bands. Many of the musicians have other jobs and do it in their free time as a hobby.

B&T: So the new album... talk to me about the new album, "Ømni".

RB: The new album represents the moment I am now as a person, and the moment the band is too. We have a pretty new lineup. Felipe [Andreoli] has been with me for 18 years already. But Fabio [Lione] for 6 years. Bruno [Valverde] for 5 years... no 4 years. And Marcelo [Barbosa] joined 3 years ago. That's pretty recent. But I think that the album represents some kind of musical maturity that we have individually, focusing, and unity... that is why it is called "Ømni"... the unity. I think the album brings some new directions that we might take because of course we have new elements, we have new people and I need to get the best out of them. I don't want to be copying the past. I want to pay respect to the past. Much that we've done we reference. We shouldn't start doing stuff completely different. Also, I'm trying to get the freshness out of these awesome individuals. I think "Ømni" represents that attempt.

B&T: On your last two albums you've done collaborative work with other musicians, which you didn't do so much in the past. You worked with Doro, Simone Simons, etc.

RB: I see our last album, "Secret Garden" as a transition album, right? So we had Fabio as the new singer. We had Bruno as the new drummer. There was already enough differences. But then we didn't have any contract with Fabio for instance. We didn't know if he would stay in Rhapsody [Of Fire] or if he was going to do something else. So we decided to right an album that was like here are the possibilities. Maybe we have a new singer. Maybe not because he's not sure. Maybe we start writing some more modern tunes. We wrote more modern stuff compared to the past. And it ["Secret Garden"] sounds to me very much like a transition. Now we found how we should sound from now on. It's very solid. Let's write records together and tour together.

B&T: It seems you have a very good chemistry... not just in songwriting, but vocally you and Fabio really compliment each other.

RB: Yeah, I agree! I agree. I am not virtuoso singer. I can't sing high notes and complex lines. So I think we found a good balance. It makes the whole thing much more organic. Everyone in the band stays because they want to. Nobody is stressed or obligate to stay. So it is very gelling and truthful music that comes out of this relationship... a good friendship that we have.

B&T: You seem to have a really strong connection on stage. You guys are really tight and seem to feed off of each other quite a bit. That's nice to see.

RB: Especially after so many concerts together, I think we get to know each other a lot and get the kind of synchronicity.

B&T: Last question... so Rafael, you finish recording for the day, you go home, what beer do you crack open and what album do you put on.

RB: Alright, well, always IPAs or American Pale Ale... that's my cup of tea. And after the gig, usually I'm very stressed in the ears so I like to chill out musically. I go for "Human Being" by Seal. It is an excellent album all the way through. I would have it on my earphones with my IPA. And I always like to try local craft beers. Tonight I will be enjoying the Fisher and Desert Edge that you gave me. Oh yeah, I'm very excited to try those. I'm always excited to try new ones. Thanks for the beers! Thanks for the interview! And I hope you have fun tonight!

A huge thank you to Mr. Rafael Bittencourt for sitting down with me and to the band Angra for an awe-inspiring performance!! A special thanks to Carl Casagrande for setting up the interview and for his kindness and generosity!


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