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I had the great pleasure recently of interviewing João Branco Kyron from Portugal’s excellent Beautify Junkyards. Their lovely new album Cosmorama comes out in less than a week on 15 January. This interview was conducted over email and I got some great, thoughtful answers from João. Thanks again for this opportunity.
EK: Please tell us how the band formed.
JBK: Some of the members of BJ came from a band called Hipnótica (that released 5 albums between 1999 and 2010). We started playing covers of songs we loved (mostly from the Autumn Folk period), just for our own pleasure. Things evolved and suddenly we had enough songs for an album that we thought it was worth to release, and that’s when we decided to release it under Beautify Junkyards. It was an unusual way to start a band with a debut album made entirely of cover versions, but all of them had a sense of unity soundwise speaking.
EK: What have been your biggest influences, not just in music, but in art and literature too?
JBK: We are always absorbing new artistic expressions and sometimes we find some artists/works that we feel a strong affinity with, to the point of trying to incorporate some of their elements in our own musical and lyrical language. Things change through time but there are artists that are constantly present on our minds, for instance: Os Mutantes, Glauber Rocha, Incredible String Band, Derek Jarman, Czech New Wave cinema, Broadcast, BBC Radiophonic Workshop, United States of America, Zeca Afonso, Fernando Pessoa, Banda do Casaco, Ash Ra Tempel, just to mention a few. For this new album, we also searched in more depth the visionary works of Austin Osman Spare and Vali Myers.
EK: How integrated is Portuguese culture in your recordings?
JBK: Many aspects of the Portuguese culture are part of our musical identity, but the access to some of the more recent recorded material was not an easy task but for the existence of YouTube (thats works as our collective memory). During 40 years, Portugal was under a dictatorship, so everything from abroad was filtered through the regime lenses. During that period, many artists had to exile and others faced difficult times. With the Carnation Revolution in ‘74 came an “explosion” for the senses in all the artistic fields. Then in the 80s, we had a boom of local rock bands, and nowadays I think Portugal is one of the most exciting places in Europe in terms of music creation. We love to mix our Portuguese influences and also our language in the band´s music, it’s that fusion of influences and languages that make it unique. On our live sets, we also usually play covers from artists we admire like Zeca Afonso and Fausto, and we have plans to invite some of those artists to play with us.
EK: How did you cultivate your current sound? You play a unique blend of tropicalia, dream pop, and folk. Your songs are like wandering inside a dreamscape.
JBK: It’s not a conscious process, most of the base ideas for songs come from improvised sessions that are later worked in the studio. I think all of the influences I´ve mentioned and the fact that they are from different latitudes allows us to create music with many layers. There are some aspects we invest a lot of time on: the sonic textures and the instruments that better serve each song, sampling sounds from multiple sources and times and working on the lyrics.
EK: Let’s talk about the new record. Was the entire record recorded during the pandemic, or had you started it before that?
JBK: We had luck, we finished all the recordings just one week before the first lockdown started here in Portugal. Then, during the lockdown, our sound engineer (Artur David) had a lot of time for mixing, it was possible to try different solutions and work remotely until we reached a point where we met for final adjustments.
EK: Did world events inform your work this time around, or do you try to keep that at arms length?
JBK: No, not really, because when you created the album the world was in its chaotic status quo, before the bar lowered into this circle of hell. But from a release standpoint, we think it’s the right time to release an album like Cosmorama that carries light and dreams within.
EK: In pondering your recorded output, what albums stand out as favorites and why?
JBK: It’s difficult to answer that question, all the albums contain unique periods of our lives, sometimes there is a tendency to point out the last album as being the favorite, and we are very proud of Cosmorama, but all the others are also special.
EK: Would you say there is a progression in your sound, such as advancements in recording techniques, different production values, and so forth?
JBK: There are always changes and progression from one album to another. There’s a better knowledge of what can work better, the musicianship among ourselves is stronger, and we are always investing in new instruments like synthesizers and effects processors that we think can serve our sound. One of the last acquisitions was a Brazilian folk acoustic guitar that was used on the album, it has such a beautiful and bright sound.
EK: How does the band create your songs? Does everyone write lyrics, or just some folks, and do you all work on arrangements?
JBK: Most of the songs start on improvised sessions or someone’s idea worked at home studio. Then we join and start to develop the best ideas, we also do some specific sessions to work particular aspects of the song, like drums and bass section or the guitar and synths. After we have the ambient and structure of a song, I write the lyrics inspired by what the ambient of the song irradiates. For this album, we also had guest singers like Nina Miranda and Allison Brice that also wrote the lyrics for the songs they participated in.
EK: Tell us more about the guests on this record. Have you met any of these people in person, or was it all done online?
JBK: We have three guests on this album, Nina Miranda (Smoke City) sings on 3 songs, Allison Brice (Lake Ruth) singing on a song called “Deep Green”, and Eduardo Raon that plays the harp on two songs. Eduardo is a long time friend and we collaborated frequently in the past. Nina Miranda has been doing things with us for more than a year now, we´ve made some shows together here in Lisbon. The chemistry is incredible, she is a force of nature and we share the passion for the Brazilian tropicalia, we were thrilled when she accepted to participate. Allison Brice we´ve met online because of mutual musical interests and started to talk, her voice is amazing and we thought that would work really well with our music. In her case, we exchanged ideas and files remotely, but the result is magical.
EK: Has the band’s personnel shifted recently? I noticed new singer Martinez being credited, and did not see Rita Vian mentioned.
JBK: Rita decided to invest in a solo career more oriented to fado and mix it with more contemporary musical genres, so now we have a new singer, Martinez. She is a bright woman with a beautiful voice and also plays piano really well, we are really happy about her joining the band.
EK: What’s it like working with Ghost Box Records?
JBK: Ghost Box is the perfect label for us, and the people that run it are truly inspiring and great people to work with. It’s like a musical family. Of course, there is the part of the business to take care of, but the vision and the inspiration is really unique. Jim Jupp and Julian House also have their own musical projects on the label as Belbury Poly and Focus Group, which facilitates a lot the communication and the artistic choices. Besides all of that, there is the genius artwork of Julian House that makes the visual identity of the label stand out, like what Vaughan Oliver did on 4AD and Peter Saville on Factory.
EK: Previous to the pandemic, had you ever toured in the States? Where is the bulk of your audience, in Europe?
JBK: We would like to tour in the US, but it’s getting harder and harder, the costs are so high. We mainly play in Europe, and of course, the majority of our concerts are across Portugal.
EK: How are you all coping in Portugal with COVID? It has shut down so many revenue streams for musicians, so I wondered whether you have done some live streaming or even toured in a limited way when some countries opened up?
JBK: We were focused on finishing the album and releasing it, now we are starting to rehearse and we plan to start playing live on the 2nd quarter of 2021 and wait some time so that things can start slowly to return to normality. In Portugal, like in most of the countries, the cultural sector is one of the most affected, the losses are huge, and thousands of people who depend on concerts and events are facing tough times. Our government response for the sector has not been sufficient for the needs, there are some civil society initiatives to raise funds, but the situation is really concerning.
EK: These days, what is the band listening to and reading?
JBK: We have been sharing some music documentaries (BBC Krautrock, Synth Britannia), listening to the Swedish folk singer Turid (that Helena introduced us to). We also watched together at the cinema a great documentary about Throbbing Gristle and COUM called “Other like me”.
EK: Tell us how you envision the future after COVID becomes a distant, horrible memory.
JBK: We have an urgent need to return to play live with a normal audience, go out to dance, return to our DJ sets, embrace each other, exchange sweat. In a broad sense, we wish things would reshape differently after this period, but unfortunately, I don’t think it will happen. This pandemic brought the best of mankind to the surface but also the worst, and we will have to continue to live with this duality the best way we can. There is too much polarization of positions. I hope we can learn to live better with each other even if we don´t agree with each other’s opinions. There are just two things we mustn’t accept anymore: the far right fascist ideas and the extreme unbalanced capital distribution.
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