News Column

Boogarins: From a basement in Brazil to living the dream

August 14, 2014

By Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune



Aug. 14--Boogarins' cofounder Benke Ferraz is answering his phone backstage after a concert in Cologne, Germany, sounding very much like the awestruck 20-year-old that he is. Last year, Ferraz and Fernando Almeida were a couple of high school friends in Goiania, Brazil, working on their music with second-hand and homemade gear in the basement of Ferraz's parents' home. They never had been far outside the city limits in their young lives. Now they find themselves playing to audiences around the world while opening for bands they have long admired, such as Neutral Milk Hotel and Of Montreal.

"It's like living five years in five months," Ferraz says. "The response has been way better than we could imagine. We sing Portuguese and we played for only two years in our hometown, maybe 20 or 30 shows. It felt like we played nearly that many shows when we played South by Southwest (in Austin, Texas, in March). Now we've done 100 shows worldwide in the last few months. It's crazy."

The concerts were prompted by the release last year of Boogarins debut album, "As Plantas Que Curam" (Other Music), which won acclaim for its warm, sly homage to '60s and '70s psychedelia and twisted update of Brazilian Tropicalia -- references that Ferraz appreciates but doesn't entirely endorse.

He met Almeida during his first year in high school and they quickly hit it off as musical brothers. "We were bored in class, so we'd go sit in the garden and play guitars and write songs," Ferraz says. They began recording their senior year, mostly to learn the ins and outs of professional studios, but did their most satisfying work on the crude equipment in Ferraz's house. They were having so much fun that even when Almeida went off to a nearby college, he would come home every Sunday just to work with Ferraz. "The goal was to write, record and mix something every time we got together so that Fernando would have something to listen to on the bus ride back to school," he says with a laugh.

"The first song we recorded became the last song ('Paul') on our album," he says "It's a totally messed-up recording with everything distorted, including the voice. I recorded the drums with an iMac microphone, which you use to Skype converations. because we had no other mic for the drums. By the end of 2012, we had a bunch of songs and realized we had an album. It wasn't a band project at first, it was just me and him trying to find the sounds in our head."

Though their city holds 1.3 million people, the type of music they were interested in -- indie-rock with an unpolished flair for experimentation -- didn't command a significant audience, and there were few venues for bands of their ilk to play. But encouraged by their friends, Ferraz and Almeida recruited a rhythm section and started to book a few local shows. They dubbed their band Boogarins, based on the name of a jasmine flower in their homeland. "I was thinking about the feeling of the songs and came along a description of this flower -- 'it smells like pure love,' " Ferraz says. "I think a lot of our songs are designed to give you a good feeling. They make you go inside yourself in a happy way. You go out better than you arrive."

The album title has a similarly cosmic-hippie connotation -- loosely translated as "Plants that heal." Boogarins made six songs available on-line and began garnering unexpected interest not only from fans and clubs in their hometown, but from arond the world. "We thought people in our home city would like it, because we were giving them Portugeuse pop songs that they could sing along with," Ferraz says. "But it didn't sound like the stuff other bands were doing."

The music, as advertised, comes across as dreamy and more than a little trippy. Soon after its release, the album began developing an international following and ended up on several 2013 best-of lists, including the Tribune's. "As Plantas Que Curam" brought comparisons to Brazilian forebearers such as Os Mutantes, who were associated with the revolutionary Tropicalia movement that challenged the country's dictatorship in the late '60s with music that blended indigenous influences, psychedelic and progressive rock.

But Ferraz says the music of another outsider, Pink Floyd founder Syd Barrett, was a bigger influence. "We were not trying to be a Tropicalia revival," he says. "We aren't particularly political. We are playing art for art's sake, and (Barrett's) 'The Madcap Laughs' was something we were listening to a lot at the time. Tropicalia had a historical strength that I don't think we have. But we love what we are doing and we have already gone further than we ever thought we'd go."

Greg Kot co-hosts "Sound Opinions" at 8 p.m. Fridays and 11 a.m. Saturdays on WBEZ (FM-91.5).

Other top shows

Miranda Lambert:The singer has started her career with a record-breaking five No. 1 albums. Throw in her fiesty side project the Pistol Annies, and Lambert's decade is second to none in the Nasvhille pantheon. 7:30 p.m. Friday at the First Midwest Bank Amphitheatre, Tinley Park, Ill., $29.25, $39, $54; ticketmaster.com

Andrew Bird: The virtuoso violinist and world-class whistler has devoted his most recent album to the music of the Handsome Family, a most worthy endeavor. Expect Bird to a filter a few of the duo's deep, disturbing, often beautiful songs into his wide-ranging set list. 8 p.m. Saturday at Chicago Theatre, 175 N. State St., $39.50, $49.50; jamusa.com

greg@gregkot.com

Twitter @gregkot

When: 8 p.m. Monday

Where: Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave.

Tickets: $18; lincolnhallchicago.com

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Source: Chicago Tribune (IL)


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