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In Pursuit Of Happiness

(An interview with Nuno Bettencourt - Taken from Black Velvet 11 - Feb 97)

By Shari Black Velvet

On February 10th, Extreme guitarist, Nuno Bettencourt, bounced back with the release of his long awaited debut solo album, ‘Schizophonic’, on A&M Records. The Extreme bandmembers chose to go their own separate ways last Summer after selling more than ten million albums. Venturing in different directions we saw them saunter off, to quote a Nuno songtitle, in ‘Pursuit Of Happiness’.

Nuno himself had been writing and recording songs for a solo album for the last five years while Extreme were still an active unit. Now, finally, you can hear the outcome - and believe me, it’s a grand one at that. Black Velvet spoke to Nuno on the phone while he was at home in Massachusetts a week before the commencement of his world tour...




Above: Nuno - As On The Front Of His Schizophonic CD



Listening to 'Schizophonic', it seems a lot more hip in the alternative sense than the last couple of Extreme albums. In our humble opinion, after Pornograffitti, Extreme lost a little panache. There was no way anything could ever top ‘More Than Words’ or ‘Get The Funk Out’ and with the music scene evolving into the Grunge-orientated kennel it was, Extreme were almost seen as dogs who had had their day. 'Schizophonic' is then refreshingly different to any Extreme record. Nothing too dramatic but there is much more of a current alternative feel. Black Velvet begins by asking Nuno if it was at all a conscious decision to be more alternative - or at least to be different to what Extreme were.

He replies “Well, even with Extreme, I don’t think you have a choice but to sort of have somewhat of an influence of the times. I think there’s two facets to writing a song. There’s you sitting in your room writing the sentiments of the song; the lyrics, the melody and the changes, and then there’s the part where you go into the studio and you put clothing on it. And that’s where I think some of the alternative influences come in. I think if you strip it down it’s very Nuno. It’s really what happens happens but yes, I am affected by what is around. I don’t think many people would admit that. I think I’m a music fan before anything else. I know many people who grew up in the 70’s and my generation that stopped listening to anything after 1979 because they’re not into it, but I think it’s very cool to discover new bands and find something on the radio that you think is so cool that you go out and buy it. Yeah, I definitely get affected by new stuff. There’s a lot of older influences but there’s also newer stuff too.”

Various Nuno tracks have been compared to bands such as Foofighters and The Lemonheads. It doesn’t bother him but he says “I don’t know about Foofighters. I think Foofighters are a bit of a second generation alternative...I would say if there’s anyone that I’ve been influenced by it’s Kurt Cobain rather than Foofighters. But whatever the comparison is, I like Foofighters so I guess that’s good. And I think The Lemonheads are good, so that’s good too. I think if you put the songs they are talking about side by side with what they are comparing it to they would probably realise that is doesn’t sound a lot like it. Or it only has a tinge of an influence in there.

“I don’t know. It’s hard to know exactly what it sounds like to me. I’m in the studio and I write it and that’s it. I’ve had people in my family and I’ve had friends who would say “Hey this reminds me of” and “That reminds me of”. But when I was in Extreme we had people say “This reminds me of Van Halen” or “This reminds me of...”, whatever! It’s just a bunch of songs. I’m not trying to cure any major disease. It’s just for people to enjoy.”

But what about the loyal Extreme fans. And there are a lot of them. How will they react to the slight change of musical direction? Will they still appreciate Nuno’s music and the new CD? Or will Nuno attract a new kind of fan? Nuno reckons old fans should like it. He considers it “somewhat of a transition. Obviously the biggest change is that it’s me by myself. When you don’t have another band interpreting your songs or playing them the way that they have, it’s bound to sound different. But I think Extreme fans have expected the unexpected. I think they’ve always known that when you are a writer that writes a lot within a one year period, a lot can change, a lot can happen. As opposed to touring for three years and then going into the studio and writing an album all at once, which a lot of people do. I think this record is representative of a lot of everyday people. It’s a very moody album but everyone has these sides, everyone experiences these feelings and situations. I don’t think everybody wants to eat toast all day!”

The album features fourteen self-penned and produced songs, the majority of which Nuno handled all the instruments for himself. Gary Cherone (who incidentally, Nuno says in Van Halen is “financially I’m sure he’s doing great, spiritually he’s probably having a good time. I think he’s having a great time with them. It’s better than sitting at home, right?! I think he’s gonna have some fun. He’s a performer and he’s going to be able to perform with Van Halen”) co-wrote two and sang on one, while the rare musician joined Nuno on other tracks for backing vocals and percussion, but besides that Nuno was basically a one-man band. He says this was necessary. “This album was recorded periodically. It was like, I wrote a song yesterday, I wanna go in and do it. In my mind it was like a demo but I never record anything like a demo, I just go for it. I always imagine later on these songs I could’ve played with a band but it never worked out that way. Maybe in the future.”

We ask Nuno if he’s ever been tempted to do just an instrumental album like some guitarists do, since he’s so talented in that department. “No, I never will” he replies, “I have never wanted to. I think it’s boring. I think it’s good for a while; some guitarists pull it off pretty well but to me it’s always been the quest for a better song.”

Nuno says he loves to still play guitar but he thinks it’s harder to play guitar within a song than it is to give up all you have in a song. In fact, with his songwriting and lyrics, the young man covers a lot of ground on the CD. He discusses the subjects of child molestation, death, relationships. It sounds a deep melancholic album but fear not, there are also lighter-hearted topics in there. Nuno explains “Some of the songs, regardless of when I wrote them, date back to ten or fifteen years ago. I think the album is actually an ‘up’ album. ‘Crave’, ‘Fine By Me’, ‘Pursuit Of Happiness’, ‘You’...I think half the record is at least ‘up’. But I think the darkness always overshadows the lightness of the album. That’s fine, but even the dark subjects I don’t think are portrayed in a very dark manner. And I didn’t feel really down when I wrote them. They are just about that. But they are not about everybody should die and kill themselves!”

The song which begs to stand out is that about child molestation. Entitled ‘2 Weeks In Dizkneelande’ it’s one of the heaviest, most powerful and thought-provoking songs on the album. Nuno wrote it through personal experience although it was more a ‘hey, something’s not right here’ rather than anything actually occurring. I question whether Nuno has since received mail from fans who might have experienced child molestation, maybe there are people out there who unfortunately identify with the song. He answers that he hasn’t. “I don’t receive a lot of fan mail to here. There has been a lot of problems with our fan clubs. I’m surprised we haven’t been sued yet; actually I think we have been sued! It was just a disaster how we received fan mail and things. But who needs fan mail when you have the Internet now. I guess we have a web page but I’m not a big fan of the Internet. I think it’s the next step to non-communication if you ask me. It’s communication by non-communicating, by not being yourself, you can be anyone you want. But I don’t know if they are gonna talk about something like that. I think there are a lot of people out there that have experienced situations like that. I used to think it was a heavy situation. I still believe the situation itself is heavy, but I think to talk about it is not heavy. To talk about it, it at least makes some people that haven’t experienced it think hey, it’s ok, it’s cool, it happens.”

And it’s cleansing for you. “Yeah, it is. The truth is it wasn’t such a bad experience for me in the sense that it was traumatic than anything really happened, it was more of a close call where I got out of the situation before it was too late.”

With the birth of his own daughter, Bebe, Black Velvet asks how fatherhood has changed him, contributed to his life and career, perhaps altered his songwriting. He says “It has in that department. It’s a new equation, it’s a new start. It’s just like any other subject but of course it’s one of the more important ones. Not the most important but when you are in this business and this career it’s hard for any one thing to engulf you, although this has almost done that. Having a baby is one of the most wonderful things in your life, as well as the hardest thing in your life at the same time. She’s wonderful but the change and adaptation, especially with the sleep deprivation part, is hard.

“The touring part is really mixed. It’s gonna be such a mixed emotion thing because you love to play and you can’t wait to go but you don’t want to leave. Also your daughter grows up so fast that you don’t want to miss it.”

But you’ll be taking her out on the road, won’t you? “Oh yeah, absolutely” he affirms. “Absolutely. It’s the only way to do it.”

By the time you read this Nuno and his band (which includes his brother Paul, once in the band, Flesh) should have toured the US and will be going over to Japan for some dates. “We’ll be heading to Europe and the UK for the Summer” he announces. It’ll be a headline tour for at least the US gigs but Nuno says it depends on how the album goes as to whether they end up supporting a bigger act. “We’ll take it day by day, month by month, I guess.”

Is there anyone he’s really like to tour with? “Yeah. But half the bands I guarantee wouldn’t even at this point want Nuno to open for them, considering ‘he might not be as alternatively hip at this point’. Live I think are a really good band. I like them a lot. And there’s bands out there like Soundgarden, Stone Temple Pilots. I think they’re great. Radiohead I love. Even Oasis.”

On the CD sleeve Nuno is dressed as a woman, with a gorgeous blonde wig and oodles of make-up. He jokes “I think everybody should see what I do on weekends!” He thinks it would have been better if the album sleeve hadn’t been done with a green tint. “I had this real problem that I wanted to do the whole album in black and white and it really killed me that when you see it in the light it’s got green in it. I don’t know what the hell that was about. In the dark it looks OK. Have you noticed the lobotomy scar on the forehead? That was the preface of it, it wasn’t so much Nuno as a woman, but nobody notices it. Schizophonic was just a music metaphor for schizophrenic really.”

Finally, any messages for Black Velvet readers? “Messages, messages... well, the biggest message I can send is my album. That would be the biggest message I can give anyone. It’s here I am, this is what I’m doing, I hope you dig it, and if you don’t that’s OK too, f**k you! No, if you don’t, that’s OK. Just as I said, this record for me is a transitional period, it’s just about the songs. It’s me starting over but I’m also trying to find myself, on my own, this is me and I’m trying to find out about what I’m doing, what I am about, sort of rediscovering myself. And maybe it will lean to the alternative side a bit but I think when the dust clears I’ll find myself a lot more. I think I need to go through this period of whatever I’m doing, of pure songwriting and whatever comes out of me this moment, and I think Nuno will find himself a lot more.”

Cool. We hope Nuno finds himself too. We hope he finds the happiness that he is pursuing. And we hope that YOU will all buy his album, 'Schizophonic'. Sincerely, it’s worth it.



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