There’s more to São Paulo native Thiago Pethit than meets the eye. Sure he bares more than a passing resemblance to a young Nick Cave – all hollow cheeks and jet black hair –, and owns a wardrobe of silver boots and roughed up leather jackets to match. But it’s through his music that we are introduced to a creative working on multiple platforms, determined to express himself through sonic-led innovation.
Pethit’s latest release Rock ‘n’ Roll Sugar Darling (2013) is the third instalment from his body of work, and it is through this latest release that he has found his true voice. Bold, swaggering and oozing with lipstick libido, the album flows with an added intensity, getting under your skin and urging you on your feet.
During his brief career Pethit’s aesthetic has progressed and matured, from his romantic 2010 debut Berlin, Texas through Estrela Decadente‘s pop-infused beat and onto his latest release Rock ‘n’ Roll Sugar Darling, the young musician is honing his practice and sharpening his vision.
Existing in a illusory setting, Pethit’s latest drop drives you to the fringe – the equivalent of Barry Newman hitting the Vanishing Point in his 1970 Dodge Challenger – and drops you off the edge into a hazy mid-zone, where glowing cigarette butts light your path and the sun’s heat encourages mirages that envelope reality, making it that much more exciting. It’s apt that one of Andy Warhol’s superstars, Joe Dallesandro, features on the album, as this period’s New York wave washes through the entire play, evoking the likes of Lou Reed, Jonathan Richman and Johnny Thunders. Yet it all comes underpinned by a flirting LA romanticism Pethit prescribes throughout.
Alex James Taylor: Can you start by giving us a bit of background into your life please?
Thiago Pethit: Well, I was born in São Paulo, Brazil, in a family of artists of all sorts. My grandparents were both theatre actors and my dad had his band when he was young and hippie. I always knew I would become an artist too, I just didn’t think it would be music. In fact, I was much more into acting at first. And I started to work and make my living as an actor at a very young age.
AJT: How did you find acting?
TP: Professional theatre was good to me, that’s where I learned how to sing and gained the confidence I have nowadays to perform my music. It also thought me how to work as an indie artist. If today I’ve got my hands on everything about my work (from songwriting to art direction and marketing), that’s because of the experiences I had at that moment. Also by that time, I started writing poetry and it sort of became a passion. So the music caught me unaware, I’d say. I decided to move to Buenos Aires, Argentina, where I was meant to study literature. Well, I don’t really know why, but I ended up in a music conservatory. I just went with the flow, you know? After that, I moved to Paris, France, and started to take lyrical singing classes…and that was it.
AJT: Are you still based in São Paulo? How is the music scene there?
TP: Yes, I still live in São Paulo. It’s still the place where I get back to, after the tours. I believe that since 2010 São Paulo is the place to be, culturally speaking, when in Brazil. This is not the prettier city, very far from the natural beauty of Rio or Bahia. But it is where artists and specially indie musicians from all over Brazil can spread their words. Here you can find all kinds of sounds and projects with different accents, coming from all the corners of the country. You’ll find things from queer rap to afro beats, some indie rockers, and also regional music.
AJT: Give us a few São Paulo bands/musicians to listen to…
TP: Nowadays everyone is been crazy about this band, Boogarins. The’re not from São Paulo, but they are stablished here, like most of Brazilian bands. They’re my friends and of course I’m also crazy about them too. I think they’re the best young psych rock Brazilian band since Os Mutantes – a 60’s iconic trio that also came from São Paulo and made it through The Tropicalia vanguard movement.
There is also this singer and pianist called Cida Moreira. She has been an underground artist since the 80’s, and now that she just turned 60 years, she’s being recognized as an inspiration to my generation of musicians. She looks sort of like a Weimer’s Berlin character, very rare. Watch her playing Stones, Bowie or Gershwin at the piano, she’s rad!
AJT: There’s a definite progression throughout your three records. The latest one has a much harder edge to it, the guitars are turned up and the sound is ruffled. Was this just a natural progression for you?
TP: That was sort of natural and personal. But I also like to believe it reflects the world I am living in and the way I look at it. The way it changes. My first album has got this naïf thing about it, a sense of freedom. It was just writing and singing, without previous experiences on having my intimacy exposed through the songs. I’d say the backlashes of being exposed surprised me. The feeling that, once you release something, you have very little power about what the world will made out of it – you are put into a scene, you are judged and often misunderstood. Well, you become a product! The album had a really good approval by both the critics and the audience. But I felt it wasn’t in the right way, or the way I wanted to, at least.
So after touring this first one I stepped back and felt that I needed to go deeper into myself. It was a dark intimate moment, not to say depressive. Being misunderstood is something that really hurts me. So, I feel my second and third albums are about me dealing with those wounds. Not really healing them, but scratching them to make a point. To make a clear point. An aggressive, loud, hard and glamorous point about me, and about what I think living is like in this world.
AJT: Well you seem to have really found your voice with this last album. You recorded it in LA right?
TP: Yes, I can see now that this imperfect thing we call rock and roll really fits me well. I feel very comfortable now. Actually, comfortable is maybe not the right word, because our live performances are getting sort of crazier and crazier and that’s the opposite of comfortable! Rock and roll has got this live cathartic thing it took me some years to be ready for. I had to go really deep into some dark parts of myself to understand it. Like that Greek myth where Orpheo comes back from hell to be eaten by the Bacchae [laughs].
I went to LA seeking that, because my search and my wounds combined so perfectly with the loneliness of the landscapes and the light. Of course I went there romanticizing the idea of an LA surrounded by the rock myths: Jim Morrison, Bowie, Joplin… I wanted to be near that rock mythology. In fact, I ended up finding my own mythology and making some real cool friends there. Los Angeles has so many young and creative people living there right now. So many bands and designers and artists. That’s what I found most inspiring at the end of it.
AJT: So your new video for 1992 features model Justin Gossman, tell us about that.
Yes! It’s for a song called 1992 and as the name claims, it was inspired by the grunge mood back in the nineties. I believe there’s a new kind of youth so desperately seeking to change the world, get free, breaking up with established things… Sort of like the 60s but without hope, and sort of like the 90s, but less nihilistic. My generation is still trying to figure out what we are capable of changing. That’s what I tried to write about. So the video, directed by Gabriel Dietrich, celebrates that 90s mood.
I got back to LA last November to meet with my new US manager, Richie Davis. He was the first person I told about filming the music video, and asked for help with the cast. The funny and lucky thing is that I always thought of Justin to be on this video – that Mick Jagger look…I love it – but I hadn’t thought any of my friends, or even Richie, would know him. But that was the first name he suggested. Actually he said “wait, I’m working with this amazing guy, he looks like Jagger…” and I already knew it was him.
We shot at this amazing rooftop in downtown LA, in front of the 6th Street Bridge during the sunset. A bunch of people, an old golden couch, and that was it. I must say, Justin is the funniest guy on earth. It was awesome to have him filming with us.
AJT: Which musicians did you grow up listening to?
TP: Well, I grew up listening to all sorts of music. My father, after that hippie band he had, started to work at this radio station as a DJ. So he used to bring home as many vinyls as you can imagine. As a child, I used to listen to most of them with him. Lots of Brazilian music, bossa nova stuff, João Gilberto, Tom Jobim, and some 60s artists such as Os Mutantes, Rita Lee, Caetano Veloso. Then as a teenager I discovered The Rolling Stones and Nick Cave, Bowie and Cohen, Patti Smith and Lou Reed. But I spent my teen years working in theatre, so besides listening to those rock classics, I was also studying the music of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht, and that entire german cabaret thing. I guess, in a crazy way, my influences got mixed with all that references. Lately I’ve been very much into this new soul thing, such as Leon Bridges.
AJT: Joe Dallesandro features on the intro to your latest album. What is your connection with him? I’m very intrigued…
Yeah, he’s always one of the most intriguing chapters of the story. It’s funny, we are like family nowadays, Joe and his wife Kim, but it still feels intriguing to me too. My second album, Declining Star, has this song called Moon and we made this video for it directed by Heitor Dhalia, a very respected Brazilian film director. It’s sort of a short-film music video. The script I wrote was inspired by Joe’s movies with Paul Morrissey and Warhol, and by his life. It’s the story of a young guy who’s involved in street hustling, just like Joe’s character in Flesh. In the way I see it, it’s a story about fallen angels, or maybe angels fallen in the mug we are in. That’s the way I see Joe. He’s my real life kind of hero, or antihero actually.
But the only explicit hint I made about Joe in the video is the fact that I’m using a headscarf like the ones he wore in his 60’s movies. Well, someone got it! And showed the video to Joe Dallesandro the same day we released it online. To my surprise, the day after, I received an inbox message saying: ‘Congratulations on the video. I feel glad you were inspired by me”, from this guy called Joe Dallesandro! I mean… I thought that was some sort of fake prick or something. But the guy was real and he was on Facebook [laughs].
We became internet friends, at first. And then we met in LA and after some afternoons together talking about his early years and about the album I was recording I asked him if he’d enjoy making that special appearance in the album’s intro. And suddenly we are this odd family. I love to see them and spend my days in LA in their unique world.
AJT: That’s amazing. So I guess that whole 70s NY scene with Joe, Warhol, Lou Reed and everyone had a real effect on you and your music? There is definitely a sense of that aesthetic throughout your music.
TP: Indeed. At that moment I felt depressed in between my first and second album, I started to listen again a lot to some of the Velvet’s and Lou’s albums. I found some relief, inspired by those songs, and as Lou would sing, ‘My life was saved by rock ‘n’ roll’. I remember I was reading Patti Smith’s novel too, about her time with Mapplethorpe. And all those real characters from Lou’s songs: Candy Darling, Joe, Viva… they were awkward people! They didn’t fit! Yet they were Superstars.
AJT: Having Joe’s voice in the mix really adds a narrative to the album. The last track on the album, Story in Blue, has a real cinematic feel, especially with Joe’s voice on it, it would fit into the Mulholland Drive soundtrack easily!
That’s so awesome you thought it’s Joe’s voice too at this song! Actually it’s mine! But now that you said it, it makes so much sense, really… I believe you’re referring to the poem ‘Put a gun to my head…’ right? This poem was actually written by Joe’s wife, Kim Dallesandro, especially for the album. It’s funny, it’s like a Lynch movie, I become my idol Joe at the end of the record. That could be it, right? [laughs].
Yes, the song was totally inspired by David Lynch’s movies and all those Hollywood silver ghosts, and that atmosphere. I’ve always been obsessed with that, and by the way he combines he’s movies with such rare soundtracks. And it’s also good you felt there’s a narrative sense to it. There really is. Since the beginning. The idea of having Joe’s intro as some sort of epic opening adds a lot to telling the story of this down to earth rockstar.