Interview – Metá Metá (August 2016)

With a new album out (MM3), a European tour ready to hit the road (with a London gig at Battersea Arts Centre part of Borderless festival in less than a month) and a following growing all over the world, there are plenty of reasons to write a feature about Metá Metá – so we have decided to do things properly and have a Q&A with the left-field Brazilian band.

Knowing their unpredictable and far-reaching music we were expecting some surprising answers from the artists, but they went even further, starting with their latest release.

We’ve recently listened to your new album MM3. At first listening it sounds less dark and more accessible compared with your previous work. Is it just our impression, or were you looking forward to this change?

That’s funny, because it sounds the opposite to us. The second album is groovier, with up-tempo songs and very rhythmic, while MM3 sounds darker. The grooves are more unclear and deconstructed, a bit more exotic with some strange scales, lots of counterpoint melodies doing the harmony: sometimes we don’t even know what chord it is! Or at least that’s how it sounds to us. But it’s completely fine that it still sounds accessible, because we don’t make ‘difficult’ music. We’re always trying something new, but for the sake of experimenting, not as a denial of what we did before. It’s just that what has been done is done. It’s a natural artistic movement, and it has always has been like this from our first passing through the second album and on every other project we have.

We have read that you recorded MM3 in three days, but what can you tell us about its inspiration and development of the project behind it?

We said to each other some time ago that it would have been fun to compose together -all the three of us. That’s because it was so obvious but, at the same time we have never done it before. So when we decided that it was time to record a new Metá Metá album, that’s what we did. The process took us about six months and began with lots of loose ideas, some guitar riffs, pieces of melodies, lyrics. Then we gathered what we did plus some compositions with other partners and we had about twelve or thirteen songs. During the rehearsal phase we got a general idea of what MM3 could become and we cut down to nine tunes. That was really fast! We met about five or six times in the studio once we were ready to record. We don’t like to limit ourselves too much on arrangement ideas. We left room for experimenting during the recording sessions. We also left room for some good mistakes to happen. 

MetaL MetaL, the older brother of MM3, is from 2012. What has happened to the band during the last four years?

We toured a lot with MetaL MetaL, which was published in November 2012, so almost the whole of 2013. We travelled all over Brazil and also about six times to Europe. From then we did a two-song EP with Tony Allen (released in 2014) [entitled Alakorô] and a three-song EP by ourselves in 2015. But we all have a lot of other projects going on. I recorded about ten other albums, mostly instrumental, from free-improvisation to traditional samba and cumbia. Juçara recorded Encarnado, which was highly acclaimed (it won several awards) and another experimental-noise album using old traditional chants. Meanwhile Kiko recorded two albums with Passo Torto and also a solo one yet to be released, and besides that he’s responsible for almost all of our album covers. We’ve also played and recorded with several other musicians, in particular here in São Paulo. We worked with artists like Criolo, Emicida, Lucas Santtana, Tulipa Ruiz. Kiko recorded the latest one from Elza Soares and is also touring with her. Then, I’m a music lecturer like Juçara… So it’s been a pretty busy period!

Your second album MetaL MetaL was successful, considering press and audience response. So how was it to produce and release a follow-up to a unique work like that one, and what are the differences between MM3 and its previous work? 

Actually, from one point of view, the two albums are strictly equal. We do what we’re feeling at that particular moment. We change, the world changes, so does our music. And since there’s room for improvisation, not just for the solos but also for the songs’ structure, the music evolves naturally. Saying that, I don’t mean that it gets ‘better’, but only that it’s always changing. We know that Metá Metá is our most successful project, but it’s not like we bet on it to be a big hit. We did it with the same commitment we have done with all the others. After an album is released and we start playing its songs it’s fun for a time, but then we need a new challenge. The creation process is just as fun and essential to us as being on stage.

When we listened to MM3 it was easy to understand how much jazz, free-jazz and bebop are important in your music. At the same time, in your latest work, African references sound more crucial than ever. What do you seek in African and West African music?

There’s something about African music that relates directly to the roots of Brazilian music. It’s like talking to you grandparents or a distant relative that you have a lot in common with. There’s also a spiritual connection. We are all believers of candomblé, which is an Afro-Brazilian religion. Besides that, there’s a warm and intuitive quality to African musicians that we relate to. We’re from the Third World, you know! It’s not like that super clean, over studied academic technique – we’re not very fond of that!

In addition, there’s an influence from North-African music, although we don’t know much about it. It’s almost kind of made up. It’s a feeling we have about it – not that we are deep connoisseurs. We only know the few things that we found online. But last year we played at Mawazine Festival in Rabat, Morocco, and that got to us. It wasn’t the music per se, but the place: the dusty market, goat heads hanging on small stands, religious chants all over the town. We were there just for a couple of days, but it was a strong experience.

You usually give straightforward but constructive criticism to your country and city (São Paulo), and your music often has a sharp and explicit nature. The songs included in MM3 are no exception. Do you think that music has still some power when it comes to raising people’s awareness and moving them? 

Totally. I think it’s art’s role to make people more sensible, to motivate them to think by themselves, to be more creative and critical about the world. Making people deal with the new, the strange is an exercise on that. 

Every time we have a chat with Brazilian artists (like Criolo, Bixiga 70, Os Mutantes and Marginal Men), we usually hear pessimistic words. So we’d also like to hear your point of view about your country. What’s going on in Brazil and São Paulo today?

There’s a clear rise of the more conservative part of society, but we see that happening all over the world. We believe that we’re entering in a new era. Some jobs are becoming obsolete. Things move way too fast on the internet. I think that some people are very afraid of it, afraid of change, and so they have become nervous, agitated. Brazil is a relatively new country. We still don’t know a lot about our own history, and since it’s a very large country with so many different moral, social and cultural backgrounds with almost nothing to tie them all together, we’ve been living a time with a lot of prejudice, racism and sexism. It’s really difficult to see it clearly from the inside.

How is the music scene coping and reacting to the social and political situation? Do you see any change in the São Paulo music scene?

We’re doing the best we can by making music and art. That’s our job. It has never been easy. The aggravation of the political/economic crisis, added to a major set back of the music industry here has made things more difficult. You can’t just be the guy that waits for the phone to ring, or stay home living on composition royalties. If you’re connected to the time and place where you live, it all becomes part of your art – and that’s not something you can avoid. Maybe it doesn’t appear in the lyrics, but it certainly comes with the sound: it becomes rougher and more aggressive.

There are a lot of good people making music nowadays, and São Paulo is a vortex with people from all over the country. There’s interesting music coming from Rio like Ava Rocha and Negro Leo: a less sunny/tropical/bossa nova side. There’s also Juliana Perdigão, from Belo Horizonte, who’s living here in São Paulo now.  

What are Metá Metá listening to at the moment?

We’re always listening to a lot of very different things, from free-jazz to traditional samba. Then we are also listening to Sun Ra and Fundo de Quintal. Finally, we’ve been listening to Matana Roberts, and also enjoying some Balkan brass music after we saw that Brassland documentary, because it relates a lot to a project we have here. It’s been a big influence! 

As well as  Metá Metá you also take part in various side projects. How do those experiences influence, enrich and change Metá Metá?

It’s hard to precise. It all goes together. It’s not like we gather the best ideas for Metá Metá, but we’re always changing, searching for new ground and experimenting at all levels. So each band and project becomes a sort of laboratory. 

Meanwhile, what goes on when you take your music abroad? We remember that after your London show two years ago, the audience was really enthusiast. But what do you see and feel once you’re on stage?

It’s a rich experience! We play for very different audiences and situations, and sometimes it’s a seated venue, while others times our gigs are open air in front of a dancing crowd. By the way, it’s always good to see that our music can be appreciated both ways and we enjoy seeing the reaction of the audience a lot. 

Finally, since we always struggle to give a short description of Metá Metá, can you help us and explain who you are to a new audience?

We are really sorry, but we can’t help you on that. We also struggle a lot on that one! The best thing we can do is to invite people to listen and see if they enjoy our music.

photo © Fernando Eduardo