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Be specific: Caetano Veloso on Animal Collective, David Byrne, Michael Jackson

caetano velosoBrazilian icon Caetano Veloso has been a major influence on American musicians. (Photo by Helayne Seidman)

By Chris Richards

One reason to hate computers: Overzealous spam filters that gobble up wonderful Caetano Veloso interviews. The Brazilian songsmith visited Washington's Lisner Auditorium last month, and obliged us with an email interview in advance of the show. His reply never made it to our inbox, but the answers we found a few weeks later in our spam-box were much too thoughtful to throw away.

Piggy-backing on a recent Click Track interview with fellow Tropicalia-architect Gilberto Gil, we asked Veloso about his influence on American musicians -- and America's influence on him.

Do you hear your influence in the generation that has embraced your music in the past five years? I'm thinking of artists like Devendra Banhart and Animal Collective.

I saw Animal Collective in concert some years ago. It was an open-air gig, at [New York's] South Street Seaport. I loved the sound and everything. Although I couldn't understand a word, it was something I liked especially. Later I read my name among others on the Panda Bear's CD's sleeve. He thanked me for something. I was surprised to learn the guys in Animal Collective like something in my music too. I can't sayz I recognied traces of my style in what they do (I can't recognize that in my own work), I just identified with its taste. As for Devendra Banhart, when I heard him for the first time I had already been told he often mentioned me and stuff. He played in Rio and one of my songs was in his set-list. He told me he had hated the concert he did in Rio. I told him I understood but I had liked it. He is very originaland free. I recognize his taste for what we tropicalists liked to do back in the 60s in Brazil. Not a specific trait of my messy sound. In any event, it came as a big surprise that foreign musicians can enjoy my music: I had always thought it could only interest (and in a limited way) people who speak Portuguese. I am honored such creative artists pay attention to me.

(Veloso on David Byrne and Michael Jackson, after the jump)

David Byrne was one of the first American artists to really sing your praises. How have you been influenced by his work? Do you have any other American peers like him?

David's look at Brazilian popular music was a turning point. He didn't have the traditional view - that seeks the exotic and believes to find the authentic. Nor was he a musicianship tester. He grasped the originality that could come out of a peripheral country, with the concreteness of its actual life. What we did from the 1960s onwards would fatally attract him. His anthology-album of Tom Zé is the clearest example of his sensitiveness. In the late 1970s I would feel identified with Talking Heads' ironies. David's stage movements (not Bowie's) were the first fresh new thing after the whole repertoire of gestures that exploded in the 1960s. Really post-Stones stuff. It was what I myself was beginning to try. "Stop Making Sense" is my favorite rock movie of all times. I've met a few jazz, pop and rock American musicians. But Byrne is the most beloved one. From a younger generation, Beck has had an apt grasp of my music - and I have found in him many aspects to identify with. But Beck grew up listening to Brazilian pop, his mother being an admirer of what some of us do. David went to Brazil as a filmmaker (we both directed films in 1986 and showed them at the same festival in Rio: that how I met him). He then heard funny things on the radio and began to wonder.

Your rendition of Michael Jackson's "Billie Jean" is, in my view, the finest Jackson cover ever recorded. How did you decide to approach that song and how did you respond to his passing last summer?

Like most people all over the world, I loved "Thriller". But "Billie Jean" made me cry. I remember having thought about "Eleanor Rigby" the first time I heard it. The minor key, the melancholy phrasing -- and that powerful bass line. The words sounded very suggestive, with all those images of a dancing circle and this girl with a baby. There is an old Brazilian carnival song called "Nêga maluca" ("Crazy Negro Woman") in which a story is told of a woman who appears with a baby in her arms and claims the singer is the father. I started singing it with my guitar and mixed it with "Billie Jean", keeping the slow samba beat. It moved me. In the end I sang "Eleanor Rigby'"s refrain. I was thinking of Michael Jackson's persona: "Ah, look at all the lonely people." I too like the way I recorded it. Though I had missed some of the words. When Michael died I was a little irritated by the stubbornness of his mystery. But I had to be cool and try to console my 12-year-old son, who was crying too sadly: he loves Michael and the Beatles. I showed him a video that you can see on YouTube of me singing "Billie Jean". He respected it, but didn't seem to like it. I was surprised by how much I had liked it myself.

By Chris Richards  |  May 20, 2010; 1:00 PM ET
Categories:  Be specific  | Tags: Caetano Veloso  
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Comments

As with my comment on Gil, and despite your response, I continue to think there's something offensive that the only thing you want to ask these two amazing Brazilian musicians about, is what influence they had on American bands like Animal Collective and others. It seems so ugly American and self-important, or just an attempt to make sure Pitchfork readers click on the link.

Posted by: outsider8 | May 20, 2010 2:11 PM | Report abuse

As with my comment on Gil, and despite your response, I continue to think there's something offensive that the only thing you want to ask these two amazing Brazilian musicians about, is what influence they had on American bands like Animal Collective and others. It seems so ugly American and self-important, or just an attempt to make sure Pitchfork readers click on the link.

Posted by: outsider8 | May 20, 2010 2:12 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for chiming in again, Outsider. But again, these are quick interviews that zero in a specific topic.

And we're not pandering to indie fans, here. I think the power of the entire Tropicalia movement stemmed from the fact that it dissolved boundaries between genres. Gil and Veloso both adored the Beatles and bossa nova (and so much more), and used all of those influences to create a sound that pre-dated the "mash-ups" of the digital age by decades.

But I am curious: What questions would you like to have seen asked? Both Veloso and Gil (and sometimes Gal Costa, too) seem to come through Lisner every couple years. Maybe we can find out what you'd like to know next time around...

Posted by: ChrisRichards | May 20, 2010 2:28 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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