Dead Combo – Tales from Way Out West

This duo’s haunting music, inspired by the melancholia of the Portuguese soul, is refracted through the prism of the spaghetti western. They create open musical spaces in which to contemplate where fatalism meets fatality.

Describe the sources and inspiration for your music…
Pedro V. Gonçalves of Dead Combo: Well, Since the two of us are coming from different musical backgrounds (Tó comes from the rock area and I from the jazz area) we usually listened in the past to different kinds of music. I don’t mean by this that we only listened to rock or jazz, but let’s say that years ago our main personal influences were from those areas. But as we grew closer and older, we exchanged CDs, movies and comics.

“I guess that all these people reflect the way that the average Portuguese person in their 20s or 30s thinks about their country and the world. Dead Combo’s sound is somehow connected with this movement by melancholic ambiances and melodies that sometimes resemble Fado”

Right now, we listen to music that ranges from Cesária Évora to Slayer, from Brad Melhdau to Debussy. I guess that the main influence is the fact that we were both born, and lived all our lives in Lisbon, and that influences you in ways you cannot describe, but are deep inside your “musical being”.
Other obvious influences, I would say are, Quentin Tarantino, Abel Ferrara, John Carpenter and Jim Jarmusch’s movies and the ambiances in them. It’s funny but it all started with Tó getting fed up with being in bands and recording some tracks on his own. He then showed these tunes to some people and Henrique Amaro, who has a radio program in Antena 3, invited Tó to record one of them in a CD in homage to the great Carlos Paredes: Movimentos Perpétuos-Música Para Carlos Paredes. The tune itself was based on Carlos Paredes ‘Verdes Anos’ but Tó played it backwards on his stereo and it sounded like a spaghetti western movie soundtrack. I guess that’s where it all started, then Tó and I met after a Howie Gelb concert, and Tó invited me to record a double bass on that track. We liked so much working together that we decided to form Dead Combo.
Tell us about the Lisbon of Dead Combo and how it affects your music
Pedro V. Gonçalves: Lisbon is one of the most beautiful cities we know, with the river Tagus, the hills, the old boroughs, the trams, the palm trees. It’s a one-of-a-kind city, because it’s full of people from different places in the world that interact with each other, not like New York, London or Paris, much more relaxed and suave. Also the area where we both live (Bairro Alto) used to be, in the 19th century, the place of the brothels and Fado houses.
Right now, it still has a lot of that mysticism and magic. We really love the tiny streets of the old boroughs, the people that you meet on the street, it’s a very humane city, although in the last couple of years the Mayor is trying to transform the city into a more fashionable style of city. Another thing that amazes us is the fact that there is music all over the place when you walk through the streets of Lisbon, music coming from houses, bars, restaurants. Also the proximity of the ocean is, I guess, very important. As Tó puts it: you know that if you’re tired of this city, you just have to look at the horizon and you know that something different lies on the other end. It’s kind of liberating. Also Lisbon has some kind of melancholy attached to it, which influences the way you react and think.
Vol. 1 is totally distinctive album, how did it come about and what were you trying to achieve with it?
Pedro V. Gonçalves: We were just trying to record the music that we were playing live in the most realistic way we could. I guess one of the things that maybe influenced the music, was the fact that it was recorded in a house in the middle of Alentejo, in the south of Portugal, right next to a beautiful beach, but, in the Winter. Right after New Year’s Eve, we headed South with recording gear and our instruments and spent a week completely isolated from the world, no cell phones, no TV, no newspapers, nothing. Just us, the music and the ocean. We didn’t even take with us a sound engineer, because I worked for 3 years as a sound engineer, so it was all up to us. The daily work routine was waking up, cooking, recording, cooking, relaxing, recording, recording, cooking, relaxing. In some tunes you can hear the crack of the wood in the fireplace.
As for goals, we didn’t have any. We knew that some people really liked the music, because of the reactions after the live shows we did before the recording. We were not expecting at all the very good reviews and opinions we got. We were really amazed that this kind of music would appeal to so many people in Portugal and abroad.
How, if at all, does your sound fit with the resurgence of more traditional Portuguese music?
Pedro V. Gonçalves: I think that now in Portugal there’s a phenomena in which Portuguese music is being finally recognized as valuable in a world context. In the past the only music that came out of Portugal was Fado, mainly through the great Amália. And that was because of the way dictator Salazar thought of our music. There were no pop, rock or jazz bands. There was no information, you couldn’t buy different kinds of music, or even create it, because of censors.
Right after the revolution (1974), there was a big appetite for music from abroad and there was a big push-back for Portuguese-made music, except for the people who did more revolutionary music. Then in the 80s there was a big boom in Portuguese rock and pop, but it came to an end in the early 90s.
There is, at the moment, a very young audience interested in the more Portuguese way of making music, that is, sung in Portuguese and with some kind of Portuguese musical aspect. Camané is regarded as the prince of Fado by a lot of young people that also listen to Britney Spears and Rammstein. Ricardo Rocha is the new Carlos Paredes and he takes the Portuguese guitar even further.
Also there are a lot of very good young writers who write lyrics that relate to a younger audience. I guess that all these people reflect the way that the average Portuguese person in their 20s or 30s thinks about their country and the world. I think that Dead Combo’s sound is somehow connected with this movement by the kind of melancholic ambiances and melodies that sometimes resemble Fado. We didn’t think about it in any way, except that there had to be a “Portuguese” sound in the music we play, and that was kind of easy since we are Portuguese (laughter…)
Where now for Dead Combo?
Pedro V. Gonçalves: We already had, by the time of the recording of Vol. 1, enough tunes to do a Vol. 2 so it’s just a question of time and record label timings. One of our aims is to try to play in as many different countries and places as we can by trying to get international distribution for our CD. One of the things that surprises people when they come to see us live is the theatrical aspect of our music. We both wear costumes (like the ones we wear on the photos) and we treat the stage as if it was some kind of spiritual ceremony.
Basically, we want to continue to follow the path that Vol. 1 has laid upon us, and to tell you the truth, we don’t really know where it leads to. We thought about inviting some different people to record Vol. 2, like singers on a couple of tracks for example, so it’s a very open road for us.

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