Born in Rio de Janiero, Brazil, Rodrigo Amarante is a songwriter, musician and former member of the bands Los Hermanos, Orquestra Imperial and Little Joy. His career began in 1999 when he formed Brazilian band Los Hermanos, who went on hiatus in 2007 after four albums. During this hiatus, he formed Orquestra Imperial, then relocated to California, forming Little Joy with Fabrizio Moretti and Binki Shapiro. His first solo record, Cavalo, was released in May 2014 to critical acclaim.
Born in Yorkshire, England, Antony Langdon is a musician and actor based in Los Angeles. He was known in the 90s as the singer and guitarist for Spacehog and now in the same capacity for LA band Victoria. As an actor, he appeared in I’m Still Here with Joaquin Phoenix, Velvet Goldmine by Todd Haynes and the upcoming Armenia Commedia by Anna Condo.
Born in Venezuela, Devendra Banhart is a Los Angeles-based musician and visual artist known for his solo recordings and 2008 album with the band Little Joy. His art is exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art and the Centre for Fine Arts in Brussels.
An artist with work spanning from traditional forms to music, makeup, design and clothing, Will Lemon is California-born and based in Los Angeles.
An LA-based band formed by Rodrigo Amarante of Los Hermanos, Fabrizio Moretti of the Strokes, and Binki Shapiro and named after a local bar. Their 2008 eponymous album was recorded with producer Noah Georgeson and released to acclaim.
Last year’s Cavalo marked the first solo release of Brazilian musician Rodrigo Amarante, whose music has moved lithely between continents – from Brazil to America – and bands – from Los Hermanos to Orquestra Imperial to Little Joy. His musical chronology begins in 1999 in his hometown Rio de Janiero and takes a few unexpected turns to land in Los Angeles in 2007, when he played on Devendra Banhardt’s album Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon. Amarante conceived his next project, Little Joy, with Fabrizio Moretti of The Strokes and Binki Shapiro at (and named for) their hangout – a neighborhood Los Angeles dive – and the group put out one eponymous album in 2008. Coming from a past rich in collaboration, Cavalo features Banhardt, Moretti and many others, but also takes the time to strip down to just Amarante – his guitar, his voice, all himself.
Musician, actor and friend Antony Langdon talks to Amarante about his new film projects surrounding Cavalo, moving to Los Angeles, and the very real importance of place.
Antony Langdon: You were telling me the story about your friend Will.
Rodrigo Amarante: For a while, I lived at Devendra’s house and so did Will Lemon. We shared a room for a short period of time where we would each have an alternate day of the week to have the bed.
AT: Were you romantically involved?
RA: Not with Will, no. That was my lost weekend after a long relationship. I was single for the first time in almost ten years. I lived in NYC with Fab [Moretti] doing Little Joy.
AT: Then you moved to Los Angeles?
RA: Yeah. Devendra was the one who said, “Why don’t you come to California?” Cause I was not doing very well – buying the large size Jack Daniel bottles and… I mean it was fun, don’t get me wrong. I was having great time, but I was not very productive.
AT: Tell me about the video you’re making.
RA: Before I tried to be a musician, I wanted to be a filmmaker. I applied to film school, but I started making money playing music when I was twenty and dropped out of school. Now that it’s just me and I don’t have to report to anyone, I figured it’s time.
I directed all the videos for my record so far. I’m lucky to have my sister – she edited them – and friends who helped me. Fredrik Jacobi with “Hourglass.” My friend from Portugal, Andre Tentugal, shot and co-directed “Tardei.” But I conceived and directed all of them. The days where the labels have money are gone, so I produced them by myself or with Fredrik or Andre or whoever was willing to participate.
Annual Brazilian festival held before the beginning of Lent, adapted from the pagan festival Saturnalia to Catholicism as a farewell of bad things before a season of repentance. Celebrated in all cities of Brazil, the six-day party features parades of samba dancers and local crowds.
One is Super 8 stock footage from my family during Carnival. The second one is 16mm black and white. The third one is shot on a RED Camera. I’m gonna make an animation. Of course I’ve never done that before and I don’t know how, but I tried anyway. I made a bunch of collages and it turned out to be a lot more work than I had planned. I realized that the process is kind of inverted. I learnt a lot from this video, but it’s not done yet.
“We shared a room for a short period
of time where we would each have an alternate
day of the week to have the bed.”
— Rodrigo Amarante
AT: Are there similarities between the processes of making film and music?
RA: The fundamentals are the same. When I write a song, I am thinking more of storytelling. I’m thinking of cinema rather than referencing other songwriters. It’s an interesting exercise.
My mom is a painting teacher, so I also wanted to be a painter. I remember learning about negative space, empty space, the division of the frame, and how Gauguin and Van Gogh learned from the Japanese. So I try to leave space, try not qualify and just show until there is space for the person to complete, or for the judgement to arise or whatever. It’s all a challenge I take on. I don’t know what I’m doing, but it’s fun to try to solve these problems.
Problems in film are similar to those in music. Less is more. You have to never underestimate your audience. Write for the masters. Try to dialogue with the masters – let them be dead or alive or not yet born. You’re trying to do something that’s gonna touch someone in an unpredictable way. So I try to do it… I try to play saxophone too!
AT: Are you any good?
RA: I’m very bad at it.
AT: Let me ask you a little bit about place – where you’re from and how place plays into your story.
RA: I’m a Carioca, which means I’m from Rio de Janeiro in Brazil. I moved to the States slowly and unannounced seven years ago. I was invited by Devendra to come and record on a record called Smokey Rolls Down Thunder Canyon and we became good friends – me, him and Noah [Georgeson], who was the producer at the time and later the producer of Little Joy and my own record too. That’s how it started. And because I had two different bands back in Brazil – very different from each other, both doing great – I had quite a successful career.
AT: What were the names of those bands?
RA: One is called Los Hermanos and the other one Orquestra Imperial.
AT: So why did you move to NYC?
RA: I got this invitation from Fabrizio Moretti from the Strokes, who I started writing music with before. Then we started Little Joy and made that record. I saw an opportunity to throw away all the security I had – all the sense of comfort that I had gathered and created. I thought that going to a different place, speaking a different language and putting it all to the test would be the best thing for me as a writer – to see if my music would translate to people in a different place.