Ben Monteiro

Illustration by: Sèrgio Neves

Interview by: João Miguel Fernandes (originally published in 2014)

Occupation: Musician & Producer

Click here to read the interview in Portuguese


1 – Who influenced you the most in your life?

I had an acrobatics teacher who became one of my best teachers not necessarily because of the discipline he taught but because of the way he taught, the universal lessons and truths that were behind everything he taught us. Whoever had him as a teacher doesn’t forget him and it’s interesting because he was a competition athlete when he was younger, then he was in the army, he was a parachutist, but he was never the cliché of either. He got the good things of each world, something he added to his personality. For example, you can always go much further than you think and things don’t have to be perfect, but you have to give 100%, although they are relative, as long as you are giving the maximum of what you can. He helped me at a time when I wanted to give up the course, because I had the problem of perfection and he showed me in practice that it doesn’t have to be that way and I ended up having the best grade. There are great principles that I have learned from this person that don’t necessarily have to do with gymnastics. We ended up staying friends. By the way, he’s called João Martins.

2 – Tell me about a moment in your childhood that was important to you.

There is a moment that I never forget that it is related to what I do now. I had a walkmen, with cassettes and a radio, but it had a particular button that said “mono / stereo” and I didn’t know what it was for, I should have been around seven years old. And one day, I’m on the bus coming from Ajuda and I was listening to the walkmen pretty loud in mono. Suddenly I switched to stereo and realized immediately what it was for. It was a feeling of awe, because the music wasn’t only the melodic part but also as everything was arranged, the music gained more depth, it seemed that the music was in 3-D. After that I did it on purpose and changed several times from mono to stereo to feel the difference. I still know in which street that happened. Not long ago I passed there with Alex, we went to Miguel’s house that mixed us the record, and I said, “look, this is where I discovered stereo”, and he was confused. And I told him to forget the conversation.

3 – Considering the present moment of crisis that Portugal lives in, what would you do if you were ruling the country?

I would end with several things that don’t make sense, such as lifetime pensions, people who worked four years and get a pension for the rest of their lives. I would cut unnecessary expenses so that those who are comfortable are not so comfortable, so that the poorest stop suffering. There is a lot of money badly spent.

For example, Sweden is a country that despite having some exaggerations is quite functional. When I went to Sweden I always asked what the minimum salary was, it was always the same. In relation to pension it was always the same, if you had a pension of eight hundred euros they would increase you to a thousand, if they would go over a thousand they would take that extra and you would receive the thousand. You could have a retirement account to have more money, but deep down there was a principle of equality. That’s why there is no homeless, there aren’t so many poor people, there is no celebrity culture, this is something that they don’t like, it’s seen in a bad way. Although it’s difficult, because we are a Latin country, it would be cool to be able to adopt some of these principles. The example has to come from above, from the north of Europe, in the Nordic the deputies don’t get a salary, if you want to work in the government you work because you want to improve your country, you have no immediate financial gain.

4 – Even at this time of crisis, more and more musicians and artists have appeared, also due to the internet. Do you think the crisis forces them to think out of the box and work harder?

Recently I saw an interview with Ana Miró/Sequin, and someone said Sequin was all her. And she said yes, she wasn’t doing anything for some time and decided to move. I think at this point it’s possible to make music or art. In recent years, culture has been growing because you have nothing to lose, there are a number of intermediaries that have been lost, we hope they will really disappear. We, in “D’Alva”, have several people working with us, but there are other structures that have no meaning. On one hand it’s good to have a great publisher working with a musician, but on the other hand I don’t know if it’s so crucial to have them.

When money is out of the equation you do things with more passion and freedom. I’ve done records thinking “no, let’s be smart and take some extra care to make some money”, and then it didn’t work, while in D’Alva we didn’t have that concern and things are going really well. And our record was made without second plans. There are studies in other countries that show that creativity increases in times of crisis. There are a number of factors that make this happen. Portuguese musicians are waking up to this reality a little bit. You have to do things that are good, without thinking specifically about the purpose.

“There is an issue that is when they say “ah, he’s a good son, a good friend”, but this is what we all are, or at least we should be, it’s the least. The difficult thing is to be good for someone who smells bad, for those who don’t believe in the same things as you do.”

5 – Do you think that, especially in the arts, it’s more important to learn practice through technical-professional courses than the theory that is taught in most colleges?

I know that in the arts world a degree is not synonymous with being successful, at all. And one thing that happens not only in the arts, but in most of the higher courses is that you realize that the tools you need will only be learned when you start working, and then there is a huge gap between what a professional needs and what a professional receives.

In a professional course you have an applied theory, you don’t waste so much time on unnecessary theory. I had excellent teachers in my course and there was an important characteristic, the teachers had to be professionals and workers, so the quality was quite different. There is one example I will never forget, that was when I had to learn to drive, the instructor told me “now that I have taught you how to drive to pass the exam, I will teach you how to drive seriously”, and then you get the difference. In the arts, it’s possible that half of the successful portuguese artists don’t have any type of higher education, taking street art as an example, which is rising to a record level in Portugal. And the truth is that you can live without a higher education.

Education today is self-taught, with the help of internet. I didn’t take a university course for two reasons, first because it would be very difficult financially for my family during that time to pay for it; second because I know that I would reach the middle and I would like to be learning something else, because I love learning, I would like to have more lives to learn other things. I would like to study psychology, design, art history, music is still something that I’m considering, because I am not graduated in music and I would like to explore jazz. As a producer I realize that there is a whole sensibility that I have been developing for music that some of my friends with music backgrounds don’t have, which is quite interesting. I’m very proud of the course I took.

6 – Do you think that Portugal supports the arts?

Of course not. You have the case of Paulo Furtado who was in Berlin with french support. And I have german friends who live from music and when they come to Portugal they always ask for a document from a municipal entity of the places where they play, because if they show these documents in Germany, they get six hundred euros from the german government. So they don’t even need the cachet money. In five dates they get six hundred euros each, in addition to the cachets. This is enough for all the costs they have. They played in the United States with the support of the german government. This year they got a letter from Angela Merkel to thank them for what they are doing for their country’s culture, and I am talking about an alternative band that is not even that big.

So, of course, Portugal doesn’t support the arts. I did a two-week tour through Germany where our vans were from the municipal chamber of the cities. We were in a building in Nuremberg that had free rehearsal rooms, two rooms for concerts of various genres and a kindergarten to leave your son there, because being a musician in Germany is a profession, so you have to ensure the proper functioning of the profession. In Portugal this would be impossible, we don’t even have a ministry of culture . We realize more and more that culture is vital for a country. Germany is an excellent country, despite living in a completely different reality.

In Portugal instruments are much more expensive than in the rest of Europe. I was in Nashville with some friends and there they don’t buy a guitar without trying it a couple of times before, they have almost nothing of origin, they change everything with each other, and here we it’s the opposite, we buy everything new without having a notion of the sound of the instruments.

 

7 – How was your experience with the band “Triplet” in Portugal and outside of the country?

 

I joined them without being objectively fan of the kind of music they did, but a great relationship was created and I learned to like what I was doing. I think if we were still playing we would be playing something that would make us proud. There were never any great expectations, everything that happened was positive and welcome. The first time we played outside of Portugal was in London. I think it’s the hardest place to play. We had were in Italy, a beautiful country, although the Italians are worse than us regarding “being latin”. We also played a lot in Germany, Austria, Poland, it was around ten countries.

My father is not from here, my mother was not born here either, but two members of our band were really Portuguese and seeing the people they were in the beginning and in what they became after that you can clearly see what traveling makes you. They have expanded many horizons. For example, when we played with D’Alva at “Alive”, Alex didn’t know what it was like to play for so many people, I had fortunately already had that experience with Triplet. To play every day and to have a road manager to film everything and to show us everything in the following days made it possible that we could evolve enough, the band becomes a machine.

In D’Alva, when we had the concert in “Alive” they were all happy, that it had been the best concert that we had already had. I told them it hadn’t been so good, I took the videos from the concert and told them to take off the notepad and start pointing out the mistakes. Then they came to see that I was right. I want D’Alva to reach perfection. Walking around Europe for a long time is something incredible, makes me want not to go back to my country. I don’t know how many times I have traveled by plane, it has been many times and this is a great life experience, I got so many friends from these trips.

8 – At what point did you thought Alex had a lot of potential?

 

Alex was Triplet’s number one fan. There was a concert at Moita that we did with “One Hundred Steps” and his band. In this concert there was Tiago Cavaco and Samuel Uria, who wasn’t yet known for most people. I saw Alex playing there and I thought, “Well, this kid has balls.” Then there was another concert organized by him in Moita that was just his band and mine. We did this concert just because he asked for it, he was special for us.

One day, Alex came up to me after a concert and said “look, it may seem a little weird, but if it wasn’t for listening to your record I wouldn’t be here now and I want to tattoo the album cover”. I told him to sit down and tell me everything, that it wasn’t necessary to tattoo the cover. From there a great connection was created. Later, at this concert in Moita, I saw that he had an incredible attitude. He had always been calm and timid, but on stage, with an all white suit, he was unbelievable. At the time Alex made videos on the internet and there were people who made fun of him, except Uria, who said that he was a big fan, because Alex had the courage to do things that no one else had. People could enjoy it, but no one had the courage to do those things without being him. He can be in front of any audience and still remaining himself. I could see that he just needed to be guided, I never wanted to do it in my own image, never. For a long time I had to have Alex trust me and realize that he had to find out who he was and not exactly follow the ones he loved. Everyone wanted a little bit of Alex’s special side, but that would detract from Alex. Alex has more than anyone else. There is no one like Alex in Portugal, there has never been anyone like Alex in the portuguese music and he is still halfway from his potential. Every time he thinks he has reached his limit I always tell him that there is more to discover. We are practically brothers. He looked at me a lot from the bottom up and I never wanted that to happen, so I always tried to change that.

There is no decision in D’Alva that is not taken equally by both of us. He was a super shy kid looking for everyone’s approval, and I wanted to prove to him that he didn’t have to do anything for people to like him. He just had to like himself. The kid is unique! Alex is very humble, he makes a point of saying in interviews that he works in a call-center and that he is quite happy because at least he has a job. We need to know the reality, we work, we give the maximum, we already had times when we counted how much spare money we had to buy a soup while we were finishing the record, thanks to God this is no longer happening.

9 – It is well known that musicians who grew up within Baptist Churches have a strong spirit of mutual aid and humility. How much does the Church convey to people these ideas?

 

Above all we can say that we are Christians. Then there is a difference between Roman Catholics and Protestants, where there are several groups with some differences. Tiago Cavaco is Baptist, I have attended the Baptist Church, but basically they are Protestant or Evangelical churches, the difference is that we read the bible, there is no brainwashing. My father has studied theology and has been at the head of a church, and we have been urged from children to be well educated within the faith, to question what we believe, it’s a personal choice, not because of our parents’ obligation. I read about various religions that interested me and I returned to the Christian faith. There are two important things, humility, which is cultivated. This notion of equality is Christian and it’s in the bible, the notion of all men being equal before God, the love of God is the same for all people. There is no one more special; the second is excellence, everything you do has to be with excellence, because this idea that ​​everything that we do good comes from God makes us want to give the maximum we have.

Since childhood we have become accustomed to giving our family and friends the maximum, not in a strict way. This thing of mortal sins is not biblical, it’s something that Catholics invented, we don’t really know why. I think that within our faith there is a positive example. In this world it’s normal to feel that we are special, but the truth is that it isn’t only me, God created me like this but also created you so special. This gives you a view of respect towards those around you. Once I remember being with a christian friend in a Triplet concert, and there was an assistant who helped us with everything. She comes up to us and asks if we want to drink or eat anything. And my friend said he wanted something. I said to him, “Hey, let the girl be, things are here, there is no point of making her work extra,” to which he replied “you have to learn that there are times for you to serve yourself and being served, you have to accept this, “and it’s true.

There are great principles of human rights that have influenced the Bible, you don’t have to follow a religion. I see that there is a natural humility among the musicians who belong to or are connected to the Baptist Church, but I believe that it’s not only a code of moral conduct, but something supernatural that affects me and transforms me, and the truth is that I see this in other people who believe in the same as me. There is an issue that is when they say “ah, he’s a good son, a good friend”, but this is what we all are, or at least we should be, it’s the least. The difficult thing is to be good for someone who smells bad, for those who don’t believe in the same things as you do. There is one thing that Christians have that sometimes it may seem like a fanatic stigma, which is “I have discovered something and I want the whole world to know”, it’s natural for us to want to spread our faith, but we don’t force anyone, ever.

People think that God is a bank, that we are going to Fátima to pay for some promises we made and that this makes sense. God is not a bank, God does not oblige anyone.

“I really want Portugal to realize that we don’t have to be smaller in anything, we have the quality to be the best and I think a lot about “Linda Martini”, a band that gives everything they got, they have everything there.”

10 – You have Brazilian and Cape Verdean origins, how did this influence you in the music you play?

 

It influenced me a lot. My dad used to play guitar, although I never learned it from him. When I learned to play guitar I learned a very specific Brazilian style and wanted to play that genre. There is clearly an influence of my parents in everything I do. I have few guitar stuff recorded, but I know that I play it well, despite having a rhythmic way in a Brazilian/African mix. The polyrhythmia is something that fascinates me, hence I learned to play samba on drums.

11 – What songs did you start to explore when you were younger?

 

I only listened almost to radio, because for some time we didn’t have much money, my parents got married but my grandfather was not in favor of my parents’ marriage, so we never had support from our family. He had a radio and I listened to it several times, Michael Jackson, Madonna, etc. I also heard the music of Cape Verde from my father. I played with a Cape Verdean musician, António Monteiro, who plays cavaquinho with Tito Paris, and it’s so complicated to play African music, it’s completely different from what you do here.

My mother always listened to light Brazilian music, Roberto Carlos and stuff. That’s where I got the writing, the way you accentuate things. The portuguese you have in D’Alva flows very well over genres that have nothing to do with portuguese music. We already have this propensity in a natural way and we also have a great concern in doing so. The first record I bought was from “Circulo dos Leitores”, because my mother was a subscriber. I’ve always heard a lot of radio, that’s why the pop format works out so well for me.

12 – If you could choose a band to make a videoclip who would it be?

 

It would be for Samuel Uria, who is of course someone who means a lot to me. Outside of Portugal it would beKanye West, because his music is very visual, very strong. James Blake also, because it conveys a lot of feeling. With the D’Alva video of “Homologação” I know that that structure helped a lot to spread the music. If there is one person I trust in terms of directing, that is John Filipe. A videoclip has to have something, a purpose, can’t be empty, and John knows how to build a narrative very well.

13 – Do you plan your career much?

 

I know where I want to be next year. Three years ago I knew I had to grab my future by the balls. I was always unfolding myself in design, directing, etc., and this is tiring. So I decided to invest seriously in who I am. I don’t deal very well with the celebrity culture, but I realized I had to deal with it. We are currently having a lot of awareness with D’Alva and this is very strange. So three years ago I felt like I had to punch the table. I tried to show myself that I had courage and that I could really go far.

One year ago, when I did the homologation video, I was in a difficult time, I suffer from depression and my depression had reached a peak like never before. And at that time, because you are so bad, you can’t work, so a friend of mine, who is a coach, came to me and offered me several sessions for free because he thought I had enough talent and that it was bad that people had no contact with my talent. At the end of the sessions I came to the conclusion that I wanted to make music and video whenever I felt like it. So at the end of last year I decided that I really wanted to make music, which is something that is happening now. At the end of these sessions he gave me a homework assignment that was to see what I could do to achieve the goal ‘x ‘. The next day I did very easily, so things started to go well. The next week I had a proposal to make a great videoclip, a proposal from Universal to produce a record, and that’s it, I went that way. I know it’s hard to say this without sounding full of myself, but it’s true that I feel that I have a special sensitivity. I’m now working with Ana Cláudia and I know it’s looking great, with D’Alva too. Alex and I are very similar, I think that in a few years he will be producing other people and I will teach him.

People accommodates a lot, especially in pop, hence our album is being so successful. I learned with Tiago Cavaco that less is more and with that I learned to do more with less, which is quite important. I really want Portugal to realize that we don’t have to be smaller in anything, we have the quality to be the best and I think a lot about “Linda Martini”, a band that gives everything they got, they have everything there. If I believe in a God who is creator by excellence, which is something that is in our genetic code, we have to create. Just look around us, the complexity and beauty of everything is all around us.

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