João Rodrigues: A Parting Gift from an Exiled Musician

Header image courtesy of João Rodrigues

By Fábio Moniz

Portugal hides in secrecy amazing worlds. We came up to meet João Rodrigues, who shares with us his ex-musician point of view on living as an artist.

Why would we interview an ex-musician?

We think that all opinions are valid, and we want to give voice to everyone. And João, too, thinks that being not a musician anymore and yet participating in this project is nice. He does not consider himself, “Officially, a musician, because he had never had the necessary albums nor the records to make a musician a musician.”

During the time Rodrigues worked with music – over ten years – he wrote and recorded a great many songs. Rodrigues even had a repertoire he would call, “Regular in what was in vogue at the time: a bearded white guy with a guitar and saying some things and rhyming, nothing else.” It comes to be a lot more interesting because we could get an insight into his world and it really caught our ears.

With this, the reader may ask, where do we go from here?

The world is made of lines that connect with each other. Indeed, what João Rodrigues shares with us, “The most interesting thing about the music I played was the people with whom I played.” Yes, according to Rodriguez, they were the ones who made the songs “sound cool.”

Rodrigues’ love-hate relationship with music cannot be understood as a gradual improvement process. As he says happened with John Lennon, Rodrigues, too, is most critical about himself than anyone else, but Rodrigues, too, is capable of crying in a mansion in New York bought with the money his songs provided. To this end, Rodrigues commented, “Maybe I should have taken a different direction. Write songs for others?” In his twenties, if he could not do it, the odds of success finding him now are slim to none, “And there’s nothing wrong with that,” João shares with us.

The guitar is always by Rodrigues’ side. Something he looks at as an object of frustration, sharing with us that perhaps in the future he will get back to it, but only if he stops caring, or if he leaves everything behind to make songs. Because those songs one writes in five minutes won’t be good songs, “I mean, some good songs may be written in five minutes, but there’s a lot of work until one gets to that level. Those who have that past work are the real musicians and not that guy who picks up the guitar from time to time to create a three-chord song; it needs one who works every day, like an artisan. Someone who had no disposition to go through all that work either for lack of financial means or time will not have enough time to work the art.”

This need for comparison may be the cause of Rodrigues’ turning his back on music. We asked the retired musician to elaborate, and he quipped, “The need for comparison is important, and it is a competition with yourself to see if you improve yourself.”

Image courtesy of João Rodrigues

This seems to be a very melancholy story. But then again, isn’t art full of melancholy?

When creating a song, Rodrigues feels, “One has to have an idea of what one wants to say, an interesting message.” Although it is not necessary to be something that could bring world peace but sharing a personal perspective on an idea would be enough. Rodrigues then gives us the example of the love song, where he asked himself, “What is my opinion on what love is?” Rodrigues then told us, “I have none. I think it’s good to be aware of that.” Rodrigues went on to confess, “The best song I have ever created uses someone else’s lyrics.”

An interesting confession indeed.

Although Rodrigues is aware that art is not an absolute subject as mathematics, in which one reads two plus two equals four and it cannot be objected to. Sure, João Rodrigues’ songs will not be those playing in ten years; not even one song. Still, Rodrigues says his friends liked one song titled “Tiro no Escuro (A Shot in the Dark)” the most, which was only, “A way to show myself smart with my emotions because it does not stay in one’s head, it’s not well structured.”

The song “Tiro no Escuro” shares his fears of doing things and getting away from situations. His subconscious started an open conflict with his conscious and only later does he gets to accept he had been trying to escape the truth. Even when, in the song, he says, “In my bed, I had the same woman for generations,” he told himself it was, “Only a reference to King Oedipus, and not my dead relationship,” in which nothing happened, and Rodrigues could expect nothing else from it.

João Rodrigues is presently working as a creative content writer. If the company he is working with asked a jingle of him, he would gladly do it, to which the former songwriter confessed, “It would be lots of fun.”

Are we talking content when we listen to those repetitive one-versed songs?

Indeed, if something exists, it has content; but the thing one wants to get at is that type of content that is so obvious that it becomes something less than banal, common knowledge. Rodrigues gives us a great answer by saying, “I wouldn’t mind having written “Dá cá um abraço, dá cá um beijinho (Give Me a Hug, Give Me a Kiss),” for it is fun and people like it; and, deep inside, I want to please people.”

Many of the songs Rodrigues has written have got him stuck because he could only think about what would others think of them. Ultimately, Rodrigues thinks he may have failed as a musician because he had spent the whole time trying to come up with a persona, something that does not exist, “Because it has never existed, maybe it would be best if I had been sat still.”

Rodrigues’ lack of focus is a barrier to get to achieve the rigor and preciseness he so much appreciates in other artists such as the Portuguese songwriter Miguel Araújo, whose songs are very precise, “Each word in the correct place, the right chord, on tempo,” Rodrigues says; Bárbara Tinoco; Carolina Deslandes, who’s very impressive, because she does not play guitar nor piano; and Deolinda’s Pedro da Silva Martins, who’s recorded an album in which he simulates what would have been Lena d’Água’s whole musical career.

Image courtesy of João Rodrigues

Was it, then, caused by João Rodrigues alone?

Feeling a lack of cooperation between musicians, who could row in the same direction and fill to the rim concert venues, inviting friends and the friends’ friends; but Rodrigues feels he had never got to have that proximity with other musicians. Even when he attended songwriting classes with Gimba as his teacher, he didn’t feel any support, and motivation lacked.

A later recording – “Se Nunca Mais Nos Virmos” – when he got back to Portugal from Romania, goes through the abstract concept of Saudade (the feeling of missing someone or feeling nostalgic) – but although it is an abstract concept, the reality of it hurts. It was a fun creative method. Rodrigues made use of Rodrigo Amarante’s verse and then combined it with his playing.

“Identidade” is the song he sees as his greatest creation, and in this one creation, he feels the collaborative process at work, in which his band’s – SaróMago – first formation did not work the song that well, it later suffered restructuring in its members and the song’s dynamics gained a lot, “They drove the song through dynamics which it had never got to ride,” and, João adds, “It was a fun song to play live.” Coming back to those days, he is reminded of how fun it was to play with friends, “Nothing lasts forever though,” Rodrigues says.

Rodrigues’ latest attempt was on the piano. He attended piano classes, but his job did not allow him to study much, and his motivation hit rock bottom. From there, Rodrigues said to himself, “I’m not a musician anymore.” He even says, “Maybe “ex-musician” is too much; maybe it would be proper to say that I have been a “guy who played the guitar.'”

Some last wise words have been left by João Rodrigues, from Portugal to the world: “If you have something interesting to say, an interesting perspective on the world, it is crucial you write songs. If I die, show those three songs— “Identidade,” “Tiro no Escuro,” and “Se Nunca Mais Nos Virmos” – and I won’t feel embarrassed.”

You’d be dead, anyway, right?

Image courtesy of João Rodrigues

Check out João Rodrigues’ solo work via SoundCloud here. And his band’s work via Band Camp here.

Be sure to check out the full archives of New Clew, by Fábio Moniz, here:

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