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LAist Interview: Sabina Sciubba of the Brazilian Girls

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It's been said that one of the tracks from the Brazilian Girls' latest genre-traversing record, New York City, would fit in perfectly on the new James Bond movie's soundtrack. I'd like to take that one step further by suggesting that the band members themselves would make fantastic secret agents.

Herein lies the proof: First, they are masters of misdirection, because although their name is "Brazilian Girls," not one member is Brazilian and only one is female (lead singer Sabina Sciubba grew up in Italy and Germany, keyboardist Didi Gutman is from Argentina and drummer Aaron Johnston is American). Second, they are multilingual, because in addition to English, they have German, Spanish, French, and Italian lyrics sprinkled throughout their three albums. Finally, it would be hard to find a femme fatale more enticing than Sciubba, who is known for her dramatic stage presence and avant-garde fashion sense.

LAist spoke with Sciubba last week, during which she revealed some exciting personal news, insights into the new album and her fascination with sexy machines.

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LAist: A while back you said that you created your second album (Talk to La Bomb) to reflect how you sounded live, and that you felt the third record would be completely different. How did the third album end up being different?

Sabina Sciubba: I think that it's more heartfelt somehow—though I know that might sound a bit cheesy. Somehow it's a bit deeper in terms of what we're talking about, and I mean that lyrically and musically. The whole band feels that way. It's somewhat of a departure from the "cool." I think we all felt [our earlier work] was a bit too cool, although it wasn't too cool for the time. This third album is just a different time in our lives. We felt like it was time to open up and maybe be more mature and show vulnerability.

Your album is named after New York, where you currently live, and yet you have two songs titled "St. Petersburg" and "Berlin." What led you to choose those cities?

It was rather that the cities chose us, because we were touring in St. Petersburg and Berlin when I wrote the lyrics, and then the songs came together afterward. I mean, St. Petersburg left a very strong impression on me because it's a tremendously beautiful city. If you ever have a chance to go in the summer, I highly recommend it. It's really just absolutely wonderful, plus it has a midsummer night sun—a 40-minute night, and then sunlight for 23 hours. The days we spent there were very magical.

And as for Berlin, my mother's from Berlin, so that's a place I have a more concrete connection to. We had been walking around in Berlin, sort of imagining the reincarnations that the city has gone through and how it has somehow managed to remain such an important—it's not that it's important, that's the wrong word—but it has such a scene. It has always been a lively city with an edgy and avant-garde scene, which I find amazing because it went through so much horror.

To me, the song "Berlin" actually reminds me of a cabaret circus, if that makes any sense…like you're a sexy ringleader.

We actually did a really nice video for it, which I think is very representative of the song. I can't wait for it to be out soon.

Is there a story behind the track "Nouveau Americain"?

I think, in a way, part of the song refers to Barack Obama. It's the Obama song. I think he is what everyone was hoping for but no one really believed could happen. And it's like he's a new kind of American—well, not new in that people like him didn't exist before, but hopefully it's going to be a new tendency that happens in America.

Baaba Maal joins you in the song "Internacional." How did that collaboration come about?

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Didi and I went to London and collaborated on his [Maal's] new record. We co-wrote and recorded about eight songs with him.

The speaking parts of the song "Good Time" sort of has a flavor of "Once in a Lifetime" by the Talking Heads. Did you have that in mind at all when you were recording it?

Well, I'll tell you bluntly, what I had in mind was not the Talking Heads—it was "Parklife" by Blur. That's a really great song.


The Brazilian Girls' sound has aptly been described as "melting pop"

That same song ("Good Time") begins with some laughter. Was that from an outtake? It sounds so natural and fun.

Actually, we were in our studio and it turned into a little bit of a party and what you hear in the song is quite authentic. It's real laughter. In the end, I'm laughing because I was improvising the whole last section of the song with the lyrics. "Tortelloni" was the last thing I said, and then the boys sang "…all the time" and I just thought it was so funny.

Were you eating tortelloni that night?

No, but I suppose that's what came out of my subconscious! That's just the kind of profound individual I am. (laughs)

Brazilian Girls - "Good Time"

"L'Interprete" is such a classic-sounding song. Who are your favorite French singers—from any era?

Oh, I love a lot of them, actually. Let's see…Jacques Brel, Barbara, Léo Ferré, Edith Piaf, more of the classic people, I suppose. I love Serge Gainsbourg also—who is a little bit more recent.

Many people bring up the fact that you sing in multiple languages. But I've been wondering, what language to you usually think in?

I think that depends on where I'm staying, how long I'm there and the languages I'm speaking the most at the time. And besides, I'm not sure you always think in language, you know? I think we often think in moods and images.

When you're incorporating multiple languages into your songs, do you choose which language you're going to use based on the meanings of the word or the rhythm of how it's said…or something else?

Well, there isn't really a method. It sort of depends. If you speak about "L'Interprete" then it's definitely about the meaning. Also, the fact that it ended up being in Italian and in French was because of the sounds. It just sounded nicer being half and half rather than it only being in Italian.

You recently said that you listen to a lot of classical music. Who are your favorite composers?

I've been listening almost obsessively to an Argentinean composer called Carlos Guastavino, who wrote some beautiful music for piano. Actually, speaking of classical music, we recently started meeting up with a composer and director of a symphony in New York called Riverside Symphony, and we may do something on the next record together, which could be very exciting.

I'm already looking forward to that! Now, I know you recently played a set at the Apple Store in SoHo. Do you ever use GarageBand or other software to create music while you're on the road?

Well, I have never gotten into GarageBand myself. My boyfriend has, and he loves it. My favorite music programs are Reason and with Pro Tools—Pro Tools for recording audio and Reason to generate sounds, make arrangements and record loops, beats and samples. It's really a great program and I haven't seen anything like it. For me, Reason is the winner.


Speaking of being on the road, your concerts are known for being fantastical and there's often audience participation on stage. Can you share with me one or two of your favorite moments from past tours?

I don't remember where it was, but it was only a couple of months ago. Sometimes at the end of the show, we invite people to come up on stage, but we were in this small, relatively provincial place and tons of people ran up on stage all at once. It was a seated theater so we didn't expect that. And so all these people ran up on stage like nutcases and the people were the craziest, strangest people ever. We thought maybe someone had given us LSD in our drinks or something, because there were strange, hairy, half-naked men, people falling over, and there was a guy who was doing "the worm"…and we in the band were all looking at each other going, "Can you believe this?"

People get naked sometimes, too, right?

That happened in Colorado. I can't remember the name of the city. That was the place where people got fully naked. And it never happened again, thankfully!

On your myspace page, you have a number of images of costumes you've designed for yourself. Have you ever thought about having your own fashion line?

Yes, I have. I suppose what it takes in order to do that is a bunch of money, which in our case isn't quite there yet. But I've been working with this designer, Gemma Kahng, in New York and she did a couple of the outfits that I designed and they turned out amazing. So we'll see. Maybe in the near future that will happen.

I recently saw you in the "Sexy Machine" video with one of the Absolut machines. [According to the official website, the Absolut machines are "two artificially creative and highly interactive music-making machines, as visually stunning as they are technologically pioneering."] Can you tell me a little bit about that project?

That came together because a friend of ours, Willie Mack, brought us to the States where the machine was set up, and when I saw it, I thought it was so beautiful and so poetic that I immediately went home, wrote the song and programmed it in half an hour! The machine just left this really magical impression on me. It was like it really was alive.

It's a nice way of using technology. There's a lot of love in that project and the people who built it—I think they are very technologically-minded but they somehow managed to put some poetry into it. Their names are Jeff Lieberman and Dan Paluska. I think Lieberman has a show ("Time Warp") on the Discovery Channel…

"Sexy Machine"

Since this is a blog about LA, and since you're such a world traveler, I was wondering: What is your impression of Los Angeles?

I really like the hills around Los Angeles. LA seems like a place where you really have to know people to fully experience it. My experience has always been that if you meet someone nice who takes you to a house in the hills, and there is a good group of people, it's a very nice thing to encounter

Have you ever actually played in Brazil?

(laughs) No. We've been on Brazilian TV and I played in Brazil before Brazilian Girls, but they just offered us a tour not too long ago. But we're stopping our touring for the moment because I'm pregnant…


Thanks. So starting mid-October, we're not going to be touring. We were supposed to do something in Brazil, but we'll have to save that for next year. I guess we'll have to bring the baby to Brazil!

Thanks for speaking with LAist, Sabina.

Don't miss the Brazilian Girls show at the Wiltern tomorrow night (9/24/08). Visit Ticketmaster or the band's myspace page for more info.

Photos by Chris La Putt, Vladimir Radojicic and Samir Ljuma