Chatting with Alex Figueira of Fumaça Preta: You Ain’t Seen Anything Yet
Heatwave: Fumaça Preta has an impressive line-up. You have members of funk group The Grits, and obviously yourself, the founder of the records label Music With Soul Records. How did the band come to form? Did you all know each other beforehand?
Alex: I met The Grits when they asked me to put up a gig for them in Amsterdam, back in 2008. In the process I discovered that their label at the time (Freestyle Records) didn’t want to put out a tune they did called “The Sons of Your Funk Mother,” which I found amazing, so I offered to put it out on Music With Soul. I developed a friendship with Stuart and James after that crazy weekend for we all shared a similar level of musical nerdiness. They parked their van in what then was just a garage and would later become the Barracão Sound Laboratory. I told them I wanted to build a studio there. They promised to come over and do some recordings once I was done. Right before I finished building the whole thing I went to New York. The incredible compilation “Brazilian Guitar Fuzz Bananas” had just come out so I decided to go to the compilers’ shop to tell him how much I had loved his work. That’s when I met Joel at his legendary “Tropicalia in Furs” record shop. I felt immediately connected with him for the same reasons I felt connected to Stuart and James. I invited Joel to come to Amsterdam and DJ at my bimonthly party (Vintage Voudou). I decided to invite Stuart and James at the same time, because Joel had loved the “Sons of Your funk Mother” single. The day after the party I just got everybody into the studio and that’s when our first single got recorded. That’s the first time Joel ever sung on a microphone. I just knew he would be great on a record.
Heatwave: Your sound is instantly something that comes across as unique. It’s got Funk, Psych, Acid House, African and Brazilian rhythms and some sick heavy guitar riffs that somewhat reminds me a bit of early Black Sabbath. What are you drawing from to create your sound?
Alex: We just play whatever gets us excited. We are all insatiable music consumers and we all like very different stuff. We try to incorporate all those different influences into a sound that we all dig—Music that sounds coherent without necessarily making sense. We try all kinds of things when we are writing tunes and once we have something that has a particular sound we like, we develop it until it becomes a song. We try not to force anything. Formulas are boring as fuck.
Heatwave: In your album description on Soundway Records’ website it’s cited that during the work on the debut album in the Barracão Sound Laboratory that “all musical boundaries collapsed.” What happened there?
Alex: We just ended up mixing stuff we would have never possibly tried mixing if we were making music on our own (everyone separately, that is). I never thought of doing a 70’s spy film styled drum beat mixed with Afro-Venezuelan drums, Brazilian rhythms and a 303 synth before (to name just one example)!
Heatwave: Your debut LP was released through Soundway Records in 2014. How was the public’s reception to it?
Alex: Absolutely amazing. We sold out the first vinyl pressing in less than 3 months. I think nobody expected this. We certainly did not, at least. We just did the music that we needed to do without considering at all what anyone else would think. That kind of made it hard for us later, when we tried to find a label to put it out.
Heatwave: How do you like working with Soundway Records?
Alex: They are a great label with vision. Other labels I contacted told me the album was amazing but they could not put it out. Probably because they could not fit it into a specific genre, I don’t know. Soundway saw an advantage on this and wanted to take the risk.
Heatwave: What can you tell me about the song “Toda Pessoa?”
Alex: I was trying really hard to do samba percussion, but it turned out as some kind of Amazonic Guaguancó*. I got exposed to too much salsa while growing up in Venezuela, I guess. We did a video for it but ended up not using it because we didn’t like how it turned out. *Guangaco—A subgenre of rumba involving dance, percussion and song.
Heatwave: And what behind the song “Vou Me Libertar?”
Alex: It was our second single, the second time we all got together in the studio. The excitement was tremendous and you can hear it in all the instruments. We recorded it all together (vocals too). Things got a bit out of control. Everybody was going crazy during the right take. I remember Stuart almost breaking the organ’s legs because he was banging the shit out of those keys. Joel was crawling on the floor at a certain point. He poured his heart and soul on that mic!
Heatwave: And just to satisfy some lingering curiosity regarding the track “Amor Tece Dor.” What’s the story there?
Alex: That’s one of my favourites. I cannot tell you enough about the actual story ‘cause the text is written by Joel. He did an amazing job on those lyrics. We asked my friend Kika from São Paulo to do the singing because we wanted to have a radically contrasting track on the record. Her voice fit perfectly. The rhythm at the end is called Joropo, it’s a traditional folkloric style played in the countryside in Venezuela. I grew up listening to it but the rest of the band had never heard it before.
Heatwave: Can readers expect another Fumaça Preta album in the near future?
Alex: Hopefully there will be many! We are currently working on the second one. We hope to have it ready before the end of the current year.
Heatwave: How did you come to start Music With Soul Records?
Alex: To cut a long story short, I was basically just disappointed (and still am) with most music that gets released these days. Most of it just sounds too polished to me or simply boring, because they are trying to do the same stuff that other people have been doing for the past 40 years. They just give it a different name. I wanted to see more music released today with the same organic feel that the old recordings gave me, but without doing the whole retro circus, which really bores the shit out of me.
Heatwave: I’ve seen some sweet singles on Music With Soul Records. Are there any releases that you are excited about that are coming out via Music With Soul Records that readers can look forward to? Or past records that readers should go on the hunt for?
Alex: I am currently waiting on the pressing plant for the new Conjunto Papa Upa 45. It’s a project I have with Baldo and Stuart (percussion and guitar on Fumaça Preta), which is heavily influenced by Venezuelan music and its socio-political environment. For that reason, lyrics are in Spanish. There are plenty of surf and psych elements but it’s a mainly percussive effort. If people want to look for past records I would recommend going for The Grits’ 45 I mentioned before. That’s truly when Fumaça Preta began. We just didn’t know it.
Heatwave: When can readers look forward to Fumaça Preta’s return to the U.K.?
Alex: We love playing in the U.K.! A lot of the music that has had an essential role in my life was made there, so it’s always very special for me. I love the people and the bands. We are playing May 21st in Brighton at the Hope and Ruin, the day after at De Valence, in Tenby, North Wales and the 23rd in the amazing Raw Power Festival. I still can’t believe we are closing on Saturday! If things are half as crazy as they were when we played Corsica Studios in December, we will have a sick party. I don’t know why, but I got the feeling the level of wildness will be raised.
Heatwave: Are there any plans for a Fumaça Preta to tour in 2015?
Alex: We will be doing a lot of summer festivals all over Europe! We hope to do a long tour on clubs before Christmas. It all depends on whether we manage to finish the album on time or whether we get Madonna to do the backing vocals without auto-tune this time. She said she’s been practicing. Fingers crossed.
Fumaca Preta illustration by: Christophe Lopez-Huici