The origin of Brazilian psych rock duo Guaxe is rooted in a random encounter between Dinho Almeida and Pedro Bonifrate, two musicians who have had extensive work doling out psych-influenced sounds over the years – with Almeida lending his talents to Boogarins and Bonifrate performing in Supercordas. These two artists have actually guested on each other’s records and shared the stage at various festivals, although that ended when Supercordas disbanded in 2016.
The two maintained a friendship apart from their musical workings, with Almeida visiting Bonifrate and his family on various occasions at his home in Paraty on the southeastern coast of Brazil. And it was during these trips that the two began writing and recording what would become the debut LP from Guaxe, a 7-track collection of psych-rock and swirling pop experiments built from 4-track recorders, old computers, finicky gear, 10-string guitars, the sounds of children playing and a whole host of lizard species from the surrounding rainforest.
The band is named after an Atlantic forest bird, one that likes to build tent-shaped nests which hang in the boughs of tall trees and can sing synthesized sounds like no other bird you’ve ever heard.
“I had the Guaxe bird in my head as a song theme,” Bonifrate explains. “It was hot in Paraty when Dinho arrived for the sessions, so we went swimming in the river next to my house and two Guaxe birds showed up. They’re really hard to see, as they usually fly over the tall trees. But there they were right in front of us. I felt it was an omen.”
Taking that inspiration and turning it into something emotionally relatable and musically viable became the structural aspiration around which they constructed the album. Alternating between lighter narratives and deeper social insight, the songs touch upon themes such as slavery in ancient Egypt and labor exploitation in current times, as well as the political nightmares that seem to be ever-present in the world. But Almeida and Bonifrate never overtly reference specific events or experiences – they permit the music and accompanying sounds to suggest and provoke certain feelings and reactions that lend themselves to these specific interpretations while also allowing room for more universal associations.
The songs on their forthcoming record posses an innate humanity, offering insight into how our inner emotional echoes can outweigh any external negative influence if we know how to listen and respond accordingly. It’s not always easy, but it can be absolutely necessary at times. An expansive exploration of genuine emotion and personal experience, the album puts up in touch with intangible forces that can exert a positive effect on all of us if we let it. Whirling psychedelics, of both the pop and rock type, guide through these heady ideas, providing a kaleidoscopic landscape in which we can willingly lose ourselves.
Almeida and Bonifrate recently sat down with The Southern Sounding to discuss some of the records which have influenced their own paths as musicians and how those same records have inspired the tone of Guaxe’s debut album. Check out their picks and thoughts below.
Milton Nascimento & Lô Borges - “Clube da Esquina”
Dinho: It’s crazy how you will always hear/feel something new with this album. Deep in lyrics, melodies and arrangements, for sure a favourite, one of the best albums ever made. There’s some songs that are really into the popular imaginary, that played on television as soap opera themes, but it’s still strong and psych without any cheesy aspect of it, it is pop but full of passion, feelings and strong ideas.
Bonifrate: Yeah, and it’s also crazy that it had such a bad feedback by the time it came out. Milton Nascimento was a new huge promise for Brazilian music in a more traditional sense and suddenly he’s hanging with this very young rock musicians and being influenced by the Beatles and so on. Old journalists didn’t like it, but it soon became very, very popular. I had quite a bit of resistance to that sound when I was a kid, exactly because it was so exposed in a way, but listening to it in a different context really made me rediscover and love that music.
I feel like the Guaxe record brings it out quite often, since it certainly influences us both as songwriters, but there was a Clube da Esquina mood hanging over specifically when we wrote a song called “Avesso” – the beautiful melancholy you can take out of a sinister political situation, and we wrote it weeks before the disastrous 2018 elections in Brazil, when we were all feeling a bit like people from our parents generation felt in the Sixties and Seventies.
Olivia Tremor Control - “Black Foliage: Animation Music Vol. 1”
Dinho: It took me a while to get into all the Elephant 6 stuff, but when I got, it was a one way ticket. Then I found out that Pedro and Diogo (Who played in Supercordas with him) are sick about this stuff too. It’s really awesome how this album sounds and to think how they managed to do all that tape magic that at some points really sounds from another planet. For sure a forever influence on my ears, i could listen to “Grass Canons” in loop for days without getting sick of it.
Bonifrate: I could say the same. I love how they manage to gather small pop tunes with this huge moments of experimentation, noise, ambients, without ever sounding tiresome. I feel like there’s a whole universe still hidden inside this record, and maybe more than one.
Super Furry Animals - “Radiator”
Bonifrate: The Furries are one of my favourite bands ever, and they certainly influenced everything I’ve done. Musically, of course, but very much lyrically. They taught me that a song could be about anything, not just love or relationships or sentimental things. You can sing about El Niño turning the world climate upside down, about Chupacabras or about the revolution in Sierra Leone, and still sound catchy and empathetic. I’ve taken that as a very important lesson in terms of songwritting. Musically, I believe a song called “Pupilxs” borrowed a bit from the Radiator mood. I had just picked a copy of the 2017 reissue and was coming back to it quite a bit. It’s a great record, but any Super Furries record is as good as this one.
Tetê Espíndola - “Piraretã”
Dinho: Who doesn’t want to sing like Tetê did in this record? She sounds like an animal in rage, singing about nature. It’s really a unique tone of voice, formidable. She is from a state in the center of Brazil, where Pantanal is, and on this album she evokes all this wild/brazilian roots/ecologic vibes, which kindda connects with our “Desafio do Guaxe” song. This masterpiece has a beautiful crazy instrumental, made by a lot of great brazilian musicians that nowadays are very well know by their own careers.
Bonifrate: I got that LP real cheap in a friend’s garage sale recently and thought “How come I never listened to this before”? It’s a masterpiece, it’s got a beautiful portuguese version of The Beatles’ “Blackbird”. I felt like it’s always influenced my stuff, even stuff I’ve recorded before I ever knew it existed.
The Apples In Stereo - “Her Wallpaper Reverie”
Dinho: Robert Schneider is really someone that I think we owe some inspiration to make this Guaxe record. This album has great songs and sounds, and I love the crazy tracks with that insistent melody that goes through the whole thing. We decided to pick this one by them, but there’s a bunch of other Apples in Stereo/ Elephant 6 records that really made our mind and this fact probably helped the way we feel so musically close from each other.
Bonifrate: I agree, Robert is one of our lo-fi heroes. And he also produced other Elephant 6 records by Olivia Tremor Control, Neutral Milk Hotel, Beulah and other albums that for sure could be on this list.