“That’s a difficult question,” says Josh Rouse, when asked to name his perfect line up for an imaginary Brazilian music festival. “João [Gilberto] is my favourite, but I hear that he’s kind of weird…”
It might be owing to the soft style of singing and Josh’s delicate voice that the father of Bossa Nova is his idol, but the American’s relationship with Brazilian music goes far deeper. His passion is evident throughout his new album El Turista, which has just been launched at the start of March.
From Valencia, Spain, where Josh now lives with his wife, Josh had a chat with Jungle before jumping on a plane for a European tour, which will bring him to the HMV Forum in London on the 24th of March. During our interview, he told us about the time the pouring rain led him to spend the whole night in a hotel lobby, jamming with Seu Jorge – and he promises to be singing in Portuguese before too long: “I’m trying! My next language to learn is Portuguese.”
El Turista is getting rave reviews and being sold as your most Brazilian album, it sounds really good, very lush, full of orchestrations…
Yeah, thanks. The record turned out really nice, it’s elegant and classy but, at the same time, there’s a little bit of a party element on it, with songs like ‘Valencia’ and ‘Las Voces’. And then there’s a kind of Bahian groove on some other tunes.
How has your appreciation of Brazilian music come about? Were your parents fans of Bossa Nova?
No, I discovered it – it came from me. But a lot of my friends listen to older, Brazilian music. And you know, it’s just the best music in the world – I think that a lot of musicians see it that way. Because the Brazilians are kind of superior to the rest of the world, we, as musicians always look to them, we listen to them a lot, especially (Tom) Jobim, he was such a genius composer. And, you know, we like string arrangements and things like that. And because I’m a songwriter who just likes working in a lot of different styles of music, I decided for this record to mix some of that with what I’m doing.
How will it work live? Are you planning on bringing strings with you on tour?
No strings, but there’s a piano player and a drummer who plays percussion too. Then there’s a bass player, and a guy playing charango, which is an Argentinean instrument, and I’ll play acoustic guitar. It’s looking really good, it’s a good concert, I think. Apart from the drummer, the band is formed by people that I met here in Spain over the past few years.
You’ve been in Spain for quite a long time. Do you, as the title of your album suggests, still feel like a tourist?
I’ve been here for five years, and I feel at home in Spain. But you know, the title El Turista comes from the fact that I feel at home here, but I’m not from here – like a lot of people in major cities. They always come from somewhere else. Even when you have your home and your family in a different place, as an immigrant, you’re always kind of like a foreigner. There’s something that you will miss in the culture sometimes – you have the culture from your own place, but culturally you are kind of like a tourist – you’re trying to pick up on what people are doing, and enjoy it and learn from it. And that was kind of the purpose of the title.
The album’s artwork shows a passport with loads of visas. Is it really yours? And why no stamp for Brazil?!
Yeah, that’s actually my old passport that expired. The Brazil one is not there because the visa is in my new passport. That was a hard one to get. I think that Brazil has a weird [diplomatic] relation with America at the moment. But I’m really glad that I got to go, [Josh played São Paulo and Natal in 2008], and I really want to go again.
How did it go? Were you surprised when you got to Brazil and found you had quite a few fans of your work?
Yeah! It was crazy! I think a promoter from São Paulo had been in contact with my manager for a couple of years. And we kept saying “Yeah, we’ll try”. I’m a big fan of Brazilian music, so I’d always wanted to go, but it was a question of timing and when I could go, and it never really happened. To be honest I wasn’t expecting much, because they told me I only had one record out there and it was from a long time ago [his second album being the highly recommended Home]. When I arrived there, the first concert was almost sold out, and everyone knew the words to all the songs. It was great. I think we all felt really good about it, so I thought “I need to come here more often”.
You mention that you got in touch with Brazilian music through some friends. How did it happen?
I think it was in 2003. I mean, I’ve always kind of known some of the classic stuff from Brazil, because everyone does. But I got a little deeper into it when Brad Jones, the guy who produced 1972, Nashville and the new record, started making me compilations of all these different people. But just in the last few years I’ve started to discover so many things, and I’ve became a big fan of Jorge Ben, Vinícius de Moraes and Caetano Veloso. And I think Caetano’s still doing great records, his last one [Zii e Zie], is really cool. I love how it sounds like he just has one idea but he’ll do this for ten minutes, and he’ll make something really, really cool out of it. And I’d really like to work with Arto Lindsay.
Did you have time to go around Brazil?
No, just Natal and São Paulo. I was only there for a few days, but it was great. I got to meet Seu Jorge and his band and we played some songs with them after the concert.
Do you like his music?
Yeah, I do. I really like the David Bowie covers that he did. I actually prefer him just on an acoustic guitar, I kind of like that sound. His band is great, but sometimes, maybe it’s a little too produced and too smooth – I kind of like the sound of his voice and just the guitar.
Did you play together in Brazil?
Yeah, we played at a festival. We were the only group that wasn’t from Brazil. It was great, all the bands, including Seu Jorge, got together in the hotel lobby and everyone played Beatles and Jorge Ben songs until six in the morning. There were like ten guitars and a piano, and everyone was singing. It was amazing for the band and I – it couldn’t have been any better.
Were you impressed by any bands that you saw there?
Yeah, there was a lot of real modern stuff. Besides Seu Jorge, there were a lot of bands trying to do new things. It was great because a lot of Brazilian music I know is just the classics. But this was pretty progressive… a bit more rocky than I’m used to.
First time I saw you play the UK it was just you and a guitar, but you’re back at ever bigger venues – what’s going on?
I kind of became popular in London, which is nice, so I can afford to bring a band now!
Do you enjoy London as a city?
I do and I’m there a lot – I like it. It’s quite expensive, I don’t know if I’d live there, I just think that it’s too expensive for the climate!
You’re in search of good food and sun?
Yeah sure – who isn’t?! JD
by Juliano Zappia