UTG INTERVIEW: Johan Rodrigues

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Under the Gun Review is very pleased to bring you this exclusive interview with Portugal’s prized pop artist, Johan Rodrigues!

Just a few days ago, we gave Johan Rodrigues’ new EP, Um, a much deserved score of 8.5/10. Soon after reviewing the effort, we had the chance to speak with Johan about Um, the guitar that started it all, and the delicacies of creating your own material, so read through the break and get the in-depth scoop from Johan himself.

I read that you originally started getting involved with music when you were given a guitar for your 15th birthday. Do you still have that guitar today?
Yes I still have the guitar. I don’t play it anymore because it broke one day but I’ve kept it for sure. It’s all full of stickers and scratches and some of the ink has fallen off but I think it actually should look like that. If an old guitar looks new then it means you haven’t used it right, it hasn’t been doing what it was built to do. It’s a piece of wood with history. I mean, I wrote my first song with it when my heart got broken the first time, I recorded my first demos onto a tape recorder with it, so yes, I’m definitely keeping this guitar for the rest of my life.

How would you say your songwriting and musicianship has developed since that day you first received the gift?
This may sound a bit cliché but it’s gotten more of an own style. I believe the more you write and the more you practice your craft it will become yours only. You get better at it if you dedicate your time and put your heart into it. This is what I believe to be true.

You’ve grown up and lived in some really impressive places. Have these areas and landscapes had any influence on your music?
Surely they have. I’ve lived most of my life in a small Portuguese island called Madeira. It’s a pretty amazing place with really gorgeous nature, with flower-covered valleys and it would be impossible not to be moved or get involved by this landscape. It’s a great place for creating art because you’re surrounded by all this beauty. I also have a strong connection with Sweden of course, it’s where I was born. Most songs for Um were written in an old house in the woods north of Stockholm. It’s a different type of beauty with fewer colours and patterns, but nonetheless inspiring as well.

Um just released a couple weeks ago and the title is very vague to us here in the states. What can you tell us about why you chose that title for your EP?
Um means “one” in Portuguese. Once I got this project going I had this title in mind because it marks the start of something very important in my life. It’s the first time I take full control of not just the songwriting but the recording and production as well. It’s step number one to a new musical chapter.

Yeah, I’ve read where you’ve said that Um is “the start of an adventure.” Can you elaborate on that a bit?
Yes, Um is definitely the start of an adventure. I’ve always been somehow protective of my songs. I’ve written for the projects I’ve been involved with but other material, more personal or experimental, was kept in demos at home. In 2011, I was recording in a studio in Stockholm with producer and friend, Björn Öqvist, who gave me the confidence I needed to try and put these “secret” songs out. We did some work together which you can also listen to at my Bandcamp page but we haven’t been able to get back in the studio since. I had to take the next step on my own. I started by learning more about the technical aspects of recording so I could deliver the songs in a proper way and as I imagined them. This is of course an ongoing learning process but I’m really excited about it. Now I have a whole ocean of opportunities, so many people I’d like to reach out with my music. It’s the start of an adventure.

When you began writing the songs on Um, what was your focus for how you wanted them to turn out as a whole?
I wanted to write the best pop songs I could and that would stand for who and where I am today. My main focus was to create something true, consistent and that I would be proud of and hope people would enjoy listening to it.

Now that the EP is out, what’s your next move? Any touring plans in support of it? Writing new material?
There is new material being written. I have some songs recorded already but I’m still not sure when they will be released or how, if another EP or a 10-song album. First I want to create a bigger fanbase who will be interested in my future work. I don’t have any immediate touring plans but I am totally open to it. I’d love to.

It doesn’t seem to have any negative effects, as you’ve been noted on top lists and such, but is there any specific reason you choose to write and record your music in English?
In English I express myself better or easier musically, although I’ve also written songs in Portuguese and in Swedish in the past. I don’t think about that so much. You should express yourself in the way that feels more natural to you. As long as the music is true, it’s no matter what language you sing in. I can give you an example of a band I admire which is Sigur Rós.

Do you intend to remain as a solo act or have you considered adding a band eventually?
I would love to work with other people who would bring something positive to the project. It has to feel right when working with someone else because music is so personal and such a delicate art. There has to be a musical connection and understanding so that work flows and you’re productive, otherwise it will just feel like you’re talking to the wall. That’s an old Portuguese saying by the way.

So are you currently involved with any other projects, musically or otherwise?
Yes I have a band called Aboutowake who is working on a first album which will be available soon. It’s sounding great and I can’t wait for the public to hear it. I’ve done a lot with them; toured, played in festivals and won some contests too. All this without an official album out but that is about to change.

Beyond your inspirational locales, who are some of your most important musical influences?
Well I’ll have to start with Nirvana. Some kind of genuineness and chaos in their music that made me want to pick up a guitar. When you’re a teenager, you’re trying to find your place and some choices will affect the rest of your life, so when I bought that In Utero cassette and heard it continuously I knew then I wanted to dedicate my life to music. Then there are other artists I respect and love, like Radiohead, Silverchair, Coldplay. I listen now a lot to The Veils.

What’s your ultimate goal as an artist? What do you aim to achieve in your career?
To create music that I can be proud of. I want to keep exploring. I want new challenges. As I said, the adventure has just begun. I hope people have the enthusiasm and passion for my music the same way I have for the music I listen to and love.

Any advice you could give to aspiring musicians that may be wary of whether or not it’s worth it to get involved with music in this day and age where it’s becoming increasingly harder to get noticed?
Be persistent. Continue to write songs; get better at your art because sooner or later something good will happen. The internet is infinite. Use it to make contacts you wouldn’t otherwise be able to. This is in my opinion its greatest advantage. If you keep your focus on the goal, and you’re realistic and humble, your message will get through all the noise.

 

Written and conducted by: Brian Lion – Follow him on Twitter

Brian Leak

Editor-In-Chief. King of forgetting drinks in the freezer. Pop culture pack rat. X-Phile. LOST apologist.
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