The members of Brazilian Girls — vocalist Sabina Sciubba, keyboardist Didi Gutman and drummer Aaron Johnston — hail from Italy, Venezuela and Topeka, Kan., respectively, and, thus, make up the consummate New York band. Brazilian Girls' third album, New York City (Verve Forecast, 2008), recalls both the pan-global pollination we associate with the city that never sleeps, as well as the mentally adroit aesthetic pioneered by such New York bands as the Talking Heads. Recorded at Philip Glass' Looking Glass Studios and produced by Hector Castillo for his Thirsty Dog Productions (David Bowie, Björk, Roger Waters), New York City is a feast for the sonic senses. The trio took the album's mass of influences (Francis Poulenc, DFA, drum 'n' bass, bossa nova, Milton Nascimento, Felix Mendelssohn) and warped them with freaky plug-ins and deranged stompboxes. But beyond production tomfoolery, Brazilian Girls' music begins with the need to free the mind in hopes that the body will follow.
“There is no particular aesthetic,” Gutman explains from Castillo's studio B at Looking Glass in lower Manhattan. “It's transitory. There are certain areas that we all want to express; this time it was on more of an emotional level, trying to reach a little deeper into the songwriting and adding things that would be meaningful beyond the first tour. Stylistically, New York City had to do with listening to all kinds of different music, and at some point we went on this adventure.”
Coming out of Manhattan's heralded Nublu club scene, Brazilian Girls found the rare freedom to experiment at a Saturday residency, as an international base of loyal listeners and late-night hipsters grooved to their globally drenched sounds.
“Around 2003, it was really dark in New York and you couldn't have a sense of humor because of what happened on 9/11,” Gutman recalls. “There was not much room for bohemians in the city. Nublu was an oasis in that sense. It was the place to be for the international community and also for people who didn't have to wake up the next morning to go to work.”
From the opening Latin beat rumble of “St. Petersburg” and the electro pump of “Losing Myself” and “Good Time” (more Talking Heads) to the closing, Mellotron-inspired surrealism of “Mano De Dios,” you quickly know that this is not your normal travelogue. Castillo partied with the record's production, he and Gutman using Pro Tools to construct and deconstruct beats that were typically coupled to drummer Aaron Johnston's jungle drumming kit, then further warped by stompboxes such as Pigtronix's Echolution, PolySaturator and Disnortion; SoundToys FilterFreak plug-in; the hardware tube warmer Thermionic Culture Vulture; and ample doses of Ohm Force's Ohmicide, Ohmboyz, Hematohm, Predatohm and Symptohm plug-ins.
“We do a lot of experimentation in the studio, but we also do our homework at home in getting those toys that produce sounds that will inspire us,” Gutman says. “Everybody in this band is a laptop freak, and we all bring in sounds. Everybody makes a contribution to the soundscape. It could be anything. ‘Mano De Dios’ was mostly a jam. ‘Berlin’ came from a chord progression. Songs can come from loops, some rhythmic and some textural, or from something that creates a certain ambience. It usually has a vibe that inspires Sabina to sing something on top.”
“As with all Brazilian Girls tracks, this began with some Didi loops,” Castillo explains. “Didi sometimes uses the Rex player in Reason so that he can chop up loops he's sampled and play them on his keyboard, or he'll put a loop in Ableton Live where he can torture it a bit before sending it to me. For ‘St. Petersburg,’ we started with a loop generated in Reason, then we played some toms and cymbals tracked with just one Coles 4038 as a mono overhead mic. I looped that in a Pro Tools session and processed it with SoundToys' EchoBoy.”
“I also played a synth bass line on the Nord Lead, but we didn't keep it for the final mix,” Gutman adds. “This was our foundation, and so we proceeded to track live instruments on top, and this is where most of the experimenting took place. Most of the sounds in this track come from acoustic instruments. There's a piano, Harpsichord, organ, Fender Rhodes, Sabina's vocal choir and a bit of horn right before the song ends.”
Over a rambling, rolling, world-oriented groove and the vocals of Senegal's Baba Maal, “Internacional” posits Brazilian Girls as international jet setters, picking from here, incorporating from there, with Ohm Force Ohmicide serving up refreshments.
“That was written with Baba Maal,” Gutman recalls. “His vocals were recorded in London at 2 KHz Studio with drums in the room so you hear that coming through his vocal mic. That opening synth riff came from a bass sample I played in Reason. Or maybe it was a guitar sample I tuned down. It's live drums playing a very tribal pattern and a percussion loop. The tribal stuff is all programmed in Reason. The loop is delayed and filtered as well. Then [there 's] a Vox organ, and a superlow bass from the MicroKorg that I distorted and made into a loop. I think I distorted it with Ohm Force Ohmicide. That low bass sound again is the Wurlie treated in Ohm Force.
A frantic blend of car horns, stuttering beats, accordion, handclaps and synth creates the paranoid world of “Nouveau Americain.” Whisper/chanting, Sabina repeats the urgent lyrics, “It's not my fault,” seemingly channeling fear and dread as Brazilian Girls' tense production matches her anticipation with horror-filled textures. Grand piano chords briefly temper the urban darkness like an Art of Noise sample, but the song's dark heart soon returns.
“That opening bit is some car horns sampled through Reason,” Gutman says, “then treated in Ableton Live. That is influenced by an Argentinean rock band I grew up with who was probably influenced by Krautrock, hence that electro feel. Then we added horns, and Hector doubled them in Reason. We used something so rare there, we can't talk about it. It's from the 1700s! But those crunchy sounds are from Reaktor. And there are live drums fucked with again with the Ohmicide plug-in. Aaron used a tiny jungle kit. We had two kits set up — the jungle kit and the bigger kit. With the small kit, we used just two mics, for more of a room sound. And we used SoundToys FilterFreak plug-in on the bass.”
“Didi had a few loops programmed in Ableton Live,” Castillo continues. “We just played them down and added an upright piano lick, which we orchestrated with some atmospheric pads. Then we enhanced the rhythm section with Aaron; he was playing the mini jungle kit. Instead of going for big drums, we went for little drums as a contrast to make the rhythm track more dynamic and nuanced. The stuttering loop was created in Ableton, I am not sure which plug-in, but it randomized the beat. Then we did a bunch of passes, and once we had it all in Pro Tools, we could edit them, maybe make it even more stutter-y or straighter.”
WE'RE AN AMERICAN BAND
Thinking back to Brazilian Girls' Nublu residency, before their Brazilian Girls (Verve, 2005) and Talk to La Bomb (Verve Forecast, 2006) albums, when the band was barely a band at all, Gutman reflects on their past/present as current natives of New York City.
“Our Nublu residency prompted us to be creative and put everything in the pot without thinking, ‘This isn't going to fly with the record label’ because there wasn't anything like that back then. The band is from New York, and it is good to pay tribute to the city. We wanted to add to the confusion.”
BRAZILIAN GIRLS AT LOOKING GLASS STUDIOS
Computers, DAW/recording software, consoles
Apple MacBook, Mac Pro 3 GHz 2 Quad-Core Intel with 5 GB RAM
Chandler Limited Mini Rack Mixer
Digidesign D-Command console, Pro Tools|HD 3 with four 192 I/Os, Pro Tools LE
Roll Music Systems RMS216 Folcrom Passive Summing Box
Universal Audio 2192 Master Digital Audio Interface
Mic, preamps, EQs, compressors
(2) API 550, (6) 550A and (2) 560 EQs, (4) 512C Discrete Mic/Line pre
(2) Chandler Limited LTD-1 (matched pair) and (2) TG Channel preamps/EQs
dbx 160X Compressor/Limiter
(2) Empirical Labs Distressor EL8-X, EL7 Fatso Jr.
Neumann U 67 mic
(4) Neve 1066 preamp/EQ, (2) 1073 EQ
Pendulum Audio ES-8 Remote Cutoff Tube Limiter
(2) Purple Audio Biz preamp
Smart Research C2 Compressor
SPL Transient Designer 4
Tube-Tech MEC 1A Preamp/Compressor/EQ, PE 1B EQ
Universal Audio 2-610 Dual Channel
Tube preamp, (2) 1176LN Limiter, Teletronix LA-2A Leveling Amplifier
Death By Audio Supersonic Fuzz Gun
Electrix Filter Factory
Fulltone Tube Tape Echo
Jimi Hendrix System JH-3S Octave Fuzz
Lexicon MX300 reverb, PCM42 and PCM70 delays
Moog Moogerfooger MF-104Z Analog Delay
Pigtronix Echolution, PolySaturator and Disnortion stompboxes
Thermionic Culture The Culture Vulture distortion
Clavia Nord Wave Synthesizer, Nord Lead 2
Electro-Harmonix Micro Synthesizer
Fender Rhodes 88
Hammond B3 organ
M-Audio Axiom, TimewARP 2600
Vox Jaguar Organ
Wurlitzer electric piano
Abbey Road Brilliance Pack, TG Mastering Pack
Antares Auto-Tune 5
Audioease Altiverb 6
Chandler Limited EMI TG12413 Limiter
Digidesign Eventide Anthology II, Reel Tape Suite, ReVibe and Structure Sampler
IK Multimedia SampleTank 2.1 L Sample Workstation
McDSP ML4000, FilterBank
Native Instruments Reaktor 5
Ohm Force All FX Bundle (Hematohm, Ohmboyz, Ohmicide, Predatohm, Symptohm)
Princeton Digital Space Station SST-282
Sony Oxford Limiter
SoundToys EchoBoy, FilterFreak and TDM Effects V3
Waves Renaissance Bundle
ProAc Studio 100s