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Despite their international appeal, the Brazilian power metal act Angra have yet to reach similar levels of success in the United States. All that may change, however, as Edu, Kiko, Rafael, Felipe and Aquiles are set to join Blind Guardian, Pain of Salvation, Devin Townsend and many others at ProgPower USA III in Atlanta later this year. Angra's music may sit right at home with other prominent European bands like Rhapsody, Sonata Arctica and Labyrinth, but it's the addition of folk elements from the band's native Brazil that separates Angra from the rest of the power metal pack. On the heals of the recent release of the 'Hunters and Prey' EP, guitarist / songwriter Rafael Bittencourt spoke with Metal Update about his unique musical background, the status of art in his home country and his brush with "Broadway."

METAL UPDATE: Are you guys excited to do the Prog Power III in America this fall?

RAFAEL BITTENCOURT: Oh, yes, very excited not only for that, but to play for first time in the US will be very cool.

MU: So, you've not played in America before?

RB: No. It will be the first time.

MU: Why is that? Have you not had a suitable opportunity until now?

RB: Yeah, yeah, kinda like that, because it's very hard to travel all the crew and the whole to America. Sometimes, the Angra situation there only supports like small clubs and stuff, so we wanted to give a good impression to the crowd. We were always very perfectionist on this, but now it's gonna be a good opportunity to know the whole show, and it will be good.

MU: What does "Angra" mean?

RB: It has two different meanings. The reason I thought about this name was because I wanted a name in Portuguese that could also be related somehow to another language. So, I thought of "Angra." It could be associated with angriness or anger, which would give good energy to the name, a good vibe. In Portuguese, it has different meanings. So, the first meaning in Portuguese would be "bay," like the shore. In some places, we heard, and it's still not very confirmed, but we liked it, it could mean like a goddess of fire or a goddess from some natural source or one of the elements. It's always associated in all the native languages to this type of stuff.


MU: So, it doesn't refer to anything or anyone specific?

RB: Yeah, well, we keep saying that it is a goddess of fire, because that's what it means to us. "Angra" is the name of the goddess of fire. . .

MU: Now that you guys have been together for ten years or longer, how has heavy metal or rock music evolved in your native Brazil? Has it gotten better or worse? What's the scene like down there?

RB: I think it's getting very much better. During the 80's, when the heavy metal music was like in the highest peak, we were also on the end of our dictatorship time. All the imports were closed, and it was hard to learn one instrument. It was hard to get in touch with modern materials for learning music. Either you could go for the classical learning or the Brazilian typical music learning. Otherwise, you would have to fight a lot to learn - to play the guitar. . . This has been changing a lot after the end of the dictatorship in '86. So, everything started to change from then on. I believe that the music we play is like feedback from what the South American countries understood from the American and the European music. So, we have recycled it, and we're bringing it back.

MU: You came to America to study music in 1988, is that correct?

RB: Yeah.

MU: What was your reason for coming to America to study music?

RB: It was not only to study music, but it was also to learn English and to learn about the culture - to learn about how those things work in a developed country or a powerful country. So, this was pretty much the most important thing that I've done there, not only in studying music, but learning about how does it work in a country that works, you know what I mean? 'Cause here in Brazil, it's just. . . if you know the situation here, then you can understand what I mean. 'Cause here things have the capability to do the things, but things simply just don't work.

MU: You talk about things that didn't "work" down there. What are you referring to?

RB: Everything. The government, social, the environment, specific people, the rules, the laws, everything just seemed not to work. The state companies, they just don't go correctly. Also, the people here, they just don't have the mind for professionalism. They think too individually, and even though the Americans are very individualist, in the end, I think the whole society knows how to work as a team. Here in Brazil, it's not like that. People who have the capability and they think of their selves, and just the whole system doesn't go together.

MU: I was reading your bio on Angra's website. Did you do some acting here, too?

RB: Yeah.

MU: What did that involve?

RB: I played in one musical called 'Bye, Bye, Birdie' a very old musical, and another one called 'Back County Crime.' It was a drama. When I was there in the U.S., I wanted to experience everything that was related to art. . . 'cause I really like it. I really love heavy metal music, but still I know what would I do for a living in art? So, in the end, I started to get more and more involved in that, but when I was like seventeen-years-old, I just wanted to experience as much as I could all the different segments of doing art.

MU: Angra plays a European power metal style with Brazilian and classical influences. Are there a lot of bands in Brazil that do what you do, or are you unique?

RB: We used to be, 'cause people here, the traditional heavy metal scene here in Brazil, the underground, they were always not very much enjoying the Brazilian folk music that we were mixing then. It's very geeky here to play this music, especially for the metal fans. Not everywhere, but, for the metal fans, it is not respected. But this is something that we really like and it's part of our musicianship. It's part of our learning music. So, in the beginning, they didn't like it. They didn't appreciate it too much, but nowadays it became trendy. It's not that you can find everywhere bands doing like this, but it's more trendy and people have also noticed that it's the only way to make a difference outside of Brazil.

MU: Have you guys ever recorded songs in your native language, Portuguese?

RB: Actually, yeah, and now we are releasing the new mini-album, which is called 'Hunters and Prey' and the title song has the Portuguese version to it. It happened that people were liking it a lot. The CD is already released in Japan, and people are listening more to the Brazilian version than the English version. We have always wanted to show people our language. Now, it's a very rhythmical sound our language has, but the whole rock history is being written in English, so it's kind of hard to suddenly change it. We don't want to change it, 'cause it's also part of our way of doing it, but it's always cool to show this different way.


MU: Your music, even for metal, is fairly light and fast. Ever want to write some really heavy stuff?

RB: Yes, but it wouldn't fit very well to our purposes, and we don't like to disappoint our audience. We have created an expectation about our music in the crowd, and that's what keeps the Angra spirit alive. Maybe Ronald McDonald would have prefered to work with another type of restaurant or even be a doctor, but you cannot be or do everything in life. We all need to focus!

MU: You guys shot a video for the song "Rebirth"?

RB: Yeah.

MU: Is that going to be on MTV?

RB: Hopefully, yes, but the problem is that people at MTV don't like us too much. They think we are too old-fashioned and especially here in Brazil the MTV, I don't know how it is there in America, but here in Brazil we have no more heavy metal shows, and it's still hard to convince them to play heavy metal music. Now, they are starting to put some classic rock. Fact is, they are having some classic rock shows like playing Queen, Led Zeppelin, this type of stuff, and for me this is a sign that people are getting interested again in this music. If they start to follow it, the development of this type of music, they will certainly end up buying into heavy metal, and especially the traditional heavy metal from the Eighties. This will somehow end up with Angra, which is a good sign. I hope it happens. I don't know in America, but I don't think that our record company has the strength enough to hook up with MTV America.

MU: Well, yeah, I mean, if it's tough for you down there, it's probably worse here, unfortunately, but, who knows, hopefully that'll change in the future. How about television and radio down there? In general, are they supportive? Do you guys ever do special shows that are broadcast on TV? Do radio stations play your music?

RB: Yeah, to tell the truth, besides MTV Brazil, the TV shows, they are very much supportive nowadays to Angra 'cause they always have this link that it's a Brazilian band being successful outside of Brazil. Also, it's a different thing than. . . because we are a heavy metal band, but we don't have that dirty image, like a rough image for the TV to show. Sometimes they say, "Oh, okay, I like the music. I would play the music, but I don't like the image of the band. It doesn't fit with our audience. It doesn't fit with our show." Now, we're trying to give a cleaner image, and I think this is the only way out for heavy metal music, because the people with the very rough and aggressive image nowadays, they're not playing heavy metal. Maybe the people who are buying it, they think that that's heavy metal, but it's not, like, really heavy metal. So, now we are trying to change the image a little bit, but not the music.

MU: Between the music education you received in your home country and your experiences in America, how would you compare the two? Did you learn more in one place or the other?

RB: It's very different 'cause in America, it's a country of specialization. So, people are very much specialized and very good at what they do, and they get deeper and deeper, or being more specific on a single subject. In Brazil, the learning, they're very generic. So, to make a difference, you really have to know inside your head what you want, because they will never show you any of the other half, the different courses. I studied composition and conducting because this is the closest, the nearest, subject to what I wanted that I could find. There was, at the time that I joined the university, there was no electric guitar course. . . 'cause things here, like I said, are very old-fashioned. You could study four years of classic acoustic guitar but not electric. In a few universities, you can't even mention that you play electric, 'cause they don't even consider it an instrument. So, this is a very hard thing, here. Nowadays, they are changing. I'm talking about ten years ago when I started to study in our universities. Of course, you still can find good electric guitar players who can teach you private lessons and everything, but not if you want a degree in something. So, I think this makes a big difference. You have to go for a very generic thing or, if you're going to be specific, you have to fix on something that it's not useful to you.

MU: What brand of guitars do you use?

RB: Now, I'm using Peavey. I'm endorsed by Peavey here in Brazil. I am endorsed by ESP in Japan, and I also play Gibson Les Paul. I've been playing Gibson Les Pauls my whole life.

MU: Do you practice guitar every day?

RB: I try to. Sometimes I just don't have too much time, but then I feel awfully guilty. I teach different sorts of classes here in Brazil, and sometimes I have to read and prepare classes that are not only related to guitar playing, but also structural harmony and composing, which takes a lot of time to prepare. I also do some guitar clinics for Peavey in Brazil, and I have to practice the examples and the setlist.

MU: Between you and the other guitarist, Kiko, as far as doing solos and lead work, do you share those duties equally, or does one tend to do more than the other?

RB: I would say that Kiko does more of the hard part. I like to write melodies. I like to write big guitars and big melodies, this type of stuff, and also I work a lot on the composing of songs. We share a lot of solos, but I would say that we have distinctive styles.

MU: How would you say Kiko's solo style differs from yours?

RB: I don't know. You have to, I don't know. It's hard to tell. Sometimes, it's just hard to tell, because we are influencing each other a lot, and after a while, I can start to get something from him and the other way around. . . If I tell you that I do all the melodies, it's wrong, also, because he sometimes also plays very nice melodies. So, I don't know. It's just a matter of going to the concert and checking, you know? It's the only way.

MU: Did you and Kiko do all the transcriptions for the 'Rebirth' songbook that just came out? Did you use guitar tabulature when you were learning guitar?

RB: We have hired a specialist for the job, and we have reviewed note-by-note together with the guy. Yes, the guitar tabulature is very helpful for learning the different techniques. You can play one same note on the guitar in several different places, and the tablature is a good idea to visualize the precise spots where the note is played. I got nothing against it.

MU: What do you think of musicians who are "self-taught?" Do you think they have missed out on some things?

RB: I think it's brilliant, but that's not what makes the difference. No musician is fully self-taught, 'cause most of what we learn is from hearing and talking to other musicians. You simply cannot learn by yourself. You need references from what someone else has done before you. You don't turn yourself into a musician after reading a certain amount of books. Being a musician is a matter of living and feeling music twenty-four hours a day. It is like flying a plane. You may know everything about it, but you need to have tons of hours flying to "really" be a pilot. You will definitely save some time if a teacher tells you, or if you read all the principles of tonality, but you would still have to experiment to have your own impressions, and those personal impressions are what make the difference.

MU: How has your education affected your songwriting and approach to Angra? How has that helped you?

RB: That has affected it in every way, I think. When you study composition, like really studying it, you are studying not how to have one idea - which is impossible to find methods for this - but how to develop one idea, how to travel this idea into another one, how to combine different atmospheres into a song with balance, with equilibrium, with lots of stuff - also, how to have harmonies and all the music elements and instrument for writing the song, not for showing off, like instruments to get what your point is. . . know what I mean? The musical elements, they are just material for you to communicate what you want, and not to show people like how much do you know or whatever. So, it's very hard also to get to a point - and this is the point that you probably will look for your whole life - 'cause it's hard to find the balance between your thinking and your feelings all the time. It's hard not to think too much. I mean, it's also hard to not be too intuitive, so. . . but, anyway, all the learning I got, I still have not digested everything. . . and I'm finding out many things by myself. It's not that a teacher's taught me how to do heavy metal. It's like every time I do a song, every time I work a record, it's a new experience for me, like a new course, music course.


MU: As far as metal and rock go, what kinds of bands do you listen to?

RB: I like Symphony X a lot. I like Pink Floyd. I like. . . from the new bands, right? Well, I always like to listen to many things. I have always loved, and I still listen a lot to Journey, the American band. I listen a lot to Queen. I like to listen to the old bands. I'll say sometimes I play the radio. I hear some nice music from some modern bands, from some modern metal bands which I like, but I don't, I just don't remember the names because there are too many. I also like to listen to Mozart, and I also like to listen to some classical music, Baroque music. I like to listen to everything, like new age, like instrumental music - everything - ethnic stuff from Africa, from everywhere, from India. I like to listen to everything. It depends on the mood. . .

MU: What was the reasons for the band's breakup prior to the recording of 'Rebirth?' Was it difficult to find the right people for the job? Has the new lineup affected the songwriting process?

RB: I guess we were a little tired of each other. Besides, they wanted to go too far from the original purposes of the band. It was kind of hard, but the good thing is that we found people from our own town and so we could practice together very often. The new line-up has affected more the arrangements than the songwriting. We have our own way of building the songs, and they have helped a lot, especially Edu Falaschi [new singer], who is a great composer. They brought many fresh ideas.

MU: All of the current members are from Brazil?

RB: Yeah.

MU: When you were holding auditions, did you keep it local, or did you have anybody fly in from some other country or something like that? Was it a pretty open deal?

RB: Yeah, we had a few, but we thought that it could be also good because of the bad situation before, or last time there was a split, because you're gonna maybe find someone very famous, like Michael Kiske [ex-Helloween], or someone like that. But we did not have any answer from Michael, and we had invited a few other people from a very famous era. After all this we realized that things wouldn't work 'cause it would be very hard to rehearse. It would be very hard to make a simple meeting. First of all, people think that it would be hard to pay for the flights or the time. It would be very expensive and not real to have someone from outside of Brazil. Then we started to get many, many great - the Brazilian musicians - we had never imagined that they were so good. Besides Edu, which we knew his work, but at the trials, we could also compare Edu's voice, recorded, to many other singers in Europe, and we really thought that he is one of the best nowadays, for sure. And we didn't know exactly if we would go for a voice close to Andre's voice or someone totally different. The point about going to someone that sings just like Andre would be the comparison that he would suffer. It would be much worse than someone with a totally different timbre. But someone with his own timbre would just be different and would be rid of the comparison. So, we found Edu, which is very versatile. He can travel in and out from Andre's time into his own personality, which is for us perfect for what we wanna do.

MU: I know you're really into classical music. Have you written any classical pieces for orchestra or anything like that, or do you plan to at some point?

RB: Yeah, I wrote some, but not good things - not good music. There was a time at the university that I was much more concerned with the music I wanted to write, which was heavy metal with some classical influences and the Brazilian folk style, more than to really do what the teachers wanted me to. So, I wasted too much of my time doing that. So, now I am teaching, see, to a music school, and now I have to re-learn all the books that I have studied. I have to know how to do that and to teach all the concepts of orchestration, of writing for acoustic instruments, orchestral instruments - this type of stuff. But I will tell you that they're not too mature for me to release. . . but I hope someday I can.

MU: Angra's music, as far as heavy metal goes, is very upbeat and positive sounding. Would you say you guys have a pretty positive outlook on life?

RB: This was one of the ideas used in the beginning, not to bring too much depression to people who listen. The duty of the band is to bring people up, cheer up people and to entertain them while they are watching us or listening to us. Many young people are like, "Okay, I'm depressed, but, okay, everyone is also, 'cause the band is depressing, all my friends are depressed, the whole world is shit." So, we don't like that idea. We like, okay, we are in charge to change that. We are in charge of our own way of feeling good or not about our decisions and everything. So, we like doing positive things. I don't feel like I have the right to bring my bad times or my bad humor or my bad moments to fight with thousands of people, because they already have their problems. They already have their lives and their own bad things. So, I think when we've gathered together in thousands to listen or to play, we have to talk about good things, remember to have a good moment together.

MU: Have you guys started thinking about the next full-length record, yet?

RB: Yeah, we are already thinking about what will be the concept for the album and how should it sound and this type of stuff. We have a few songs already written, but not with the whole band - in their raw concepts, like acoustic guitar and melody. We have to work with the band, now.

MU: Stylistically, is it going to be a fairly recognizable Angra record? Are you doing anything radically different this time?

RB: No. I think now it's a good time for us to experiment a little bit more. On 'Rebirth' the original concept is for the band to be reborn, which is much more linked to the basis of heavy metal and to the experiment with instrumentation. But in Angra's career, in Angra's history, we have experimented with a lot of different stuff. We could not experiment with all of those again, or start to experiment with different things on this 'Rebirth' but we wanted to show the emphasis of the band and this type of stuff. Now, I think it's a good time for us to start experimenting again, and I think there will be lots of freedom, together with the guitar, with the percussion and Brazilian rhythms. That's how I imagine it from now.

MU: Are you guys still doing a cover of Led Zep's "Kashmir"? What made you pick that song?

RB: Yes, it will be part of a Led Zeppelin Tribute done by the Spanish label, Locomotive Records. We've picked this song 'cause it has always inspired us for the mix between the guitar riffs and the orchestra. It is certainly a hymn for the rock years, but it's also a hymn for myself who has always found on this song a well-balanced combination of music sources and styles that inspired me. The ethnic scales and percussion, the travelling lyric, the intense drumming and band, high-pitched melodies and the classic string orchestra sound. All of these are the elements we work on in Angra.

MU: Are you still going to use Sascha Paeth on the next record? Does he influence the writing of the music in any way? Do you ever record in Brazil?

RB: I'm not sure. We had invited him to produce 'Rebirth' and his schedule was full. So, we've worked with Dennis Ward, and we're pretty happy with him. In the past, he'd influenced the writing of Andre's keyboard lines. We are releasing a new mini-album, which was recorded here in Brazil. Studios here in Brazil are very expensive, so only the huge pop artists can afford a good-quality studio. We have decided to do it here this time 'cause it's much better to record close to your home. You feel much more relaxed.

MU: Does the band ever compose or do anything spontaneous in the studio, or is everything pretty well worked out before you go in there?

RB: It is usually worked during the pre-production sessions. It is not very wise to waste time in the studio. If I start not to see the results coming in the studio, I get very nervous, 'cause time is running, etc But we take a lot of time to work the songs before in order to avoid the bad surprises. It is very possible that we make huge changes until the end of the pre-production, but in the studio, not much is put in discussion anymore.

MU: Since your album sales have been very good for this type of music, have you ever sought major label support?

RB: Well, we are always in a search for the best for the band, but we are also afraid to be just another band on a major label. Maybe now that Angra is kind of spreading its wings a little further, a bigger eye will find us.


review of Angra 'Rebirth'





Interview: Anthony Syme [ ]
MU Editor: Brant Wintersteen [ ]
MU Webmaster: WAR [ ]

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