Luka Brandi, aka Rocco Starr hails from Sao Paulo, in Brazil. His most recent record Lost Tropics is a fusion of weird sounds and genres. But what stands out is the highly political agenda and social potrayal of the country and its current state. As part of our series of music diaries Third Outing decided to speak to Luka about the ups and downs of being an artist in Brazil's mega-cities...
Hello Luka, AKA Rocco Starr, tell us a bit about the world of a musician in Brazil?
I live in Sao Paulo, the biggest city in Brazil and one of the world's big megalopolis. As you'd might expect from a place like this, the music scene is completely diverse and plural, with everything happening at the same time. You can get really good, edgy techno parties, alternative post-rock bands or the infamous funk carioca all on the same night!
Speaking from inside the indie rock sphere, some things do bother me. For instance, I have another band called Singapura, and we've been doing concerts and opening gigs for substancial acts here, but since we don't fit in the "Brazilian indie rockers" shoes, I realise people tend to take the whole thing with a pinch of salt. Maybe they're waiting for us to become more mature, I don't know. Speaking for myself, I don't even expect getting a label or a record deal with this album.
"Work shape and content. Push buttons,
test the limits and also say strong things"
You've said that the new record is inspired by the "gloomy atmosphere at contemporary Brazil"...
I've said that because it's exactly how I feel. When I reached out to Lucas Milano, my dear friend who made the cover art, I told him to "put me on the cover with a falling, fading city as a background and make the whole thing kind of gloomy". And he did it! This gloomy atmosphere is a reflection of the political and economical crisis that we are currently facing. Personally, I have never experienced a big crisis such as this in my lifetime. When my generation was born in the 1990's we lived under pretty good and stable times. Not the case now.
There have been riots and demonstrations on the streets of Brazil recently against the government. Are you influenced by the economical and social environment of the country?
I believe a country's economical health is one of those things that you don't really care about...until it hits you. So when things are bad, there's no way out of it. Riots and public demonstrations are a legit way of society expressing itself to the jackasses we put up there. So I support it. But I approached the album with a global view, too. It's not only in Brazil that we are experiencing some weird feelings about politics. We have the US election result that no one saw coming. The European Union at risk. The immigration crisis. Brexit. Also, you have great people dying, like Bowie and Prince. Doesn't it feel apocalyptic to you?
Can art be the best counter-power to all of this then?
I think it can, yes. Not only by saying things by the name, but also, sometimes, its own existence can be subversive. Artists are dysfunctional people. Usually socially-awkward and stuff. So being an artist is sort of subversive by itself, at least in the world we live in. But sometimes when you get really politically-charged art is really boring too. You have to work within the structure of art to make it worthwhile. Work shape and content. Push buttons, test the limits and also say strong things.
"It's scandal after scandal, and at the end of the day we're paying for them to screw the whole thing. The scenario is very depressing"
The Intro lyrics sing "where trees used to grow/but now, there's no hope". Is there hope for youth in Brazil?
I can't say for the youth, but for me, things are really hard. I'm in debt. The legislative branch is trying to pass a bill called "10 measures against corruption" that serves their own interests only. Congress and Senate are a joke. The president himself is a doubtful figure. It's scandal after scandal, and at the end of the day, we're paying for them to screw the whole thing. The scenario is very depressing.
What do you wish to achieve with this new record then?
The album is very personal. Some songs come across almost as psychoanalytic therapy, like Freak-o-matic Kidnapping, which is about having a panic attack and being late for a commitment. Other songs like Undateable Boy and Waiting For You speak about desire. Cold Coffee and We're On The Run (...) are about getting away from the craziness of the big city. But I don't really know what to expect from it. I guess I want to get as many people as possible to listen. It's not an easy album. It was poorly recorded on my 8-track. I'm not a great singer as well. But this is a part of the tone, and the album is very honest.
Thanks for sharing all of this with us, Luka. A final question. Do you get inspiration from Brazilian music?
Yes I do! I love Brazilian music! Even though some people can't relate the fact that I write rock/pop in English. I get a lot of inspiration from it, but it isn't a very noticeable influence at first. It also depends on the work. I am working with a friend and doing some good old Brazilian music, bossa-nova inspired. I am also working with another friend and recording some rap, in the great tradition of Sao Paulo. I believe great musicians must experiment different musical paths to develop their skills, in spite of the aparent contradiction.