Tropicalia (the band) is no more; long live Os Tropies.That's the short version of an updated announcement we mentioned in our post (Tropicalia, transformation and magic) last August 2012. That's when the group played the final gig under their former name, and true to their promise, they are back: Now known as Os Tropies (their own nickname for themselves), the project relaunches with a new EP featuring original material and a series of shows at The Piston in Toronto this February.The band emerges from a writing and recording cocoon that songwriter and lead singer Amy Medvick previously described this way:"Our focus is shifting from being primarily a cover/tribute band to working more on original material. Of course, I don’t think we will ever give up playing our favourite Os Mutantes or Novos Baianos tunes, it's way too much fun! But writing in this style is truly exciting and liberating. I feel like there really isn’t any territory that isn’t open to a tropicalista, now more than ever. I’m writing in equal parts English and Portuguese and incorporating anything that inspires me."Though they will continue to feature tropicalismo classics in their live shows and recordings, the EP, appropriately titled TROPICALIA!, marks their metamorphosis from a cover band to one that writes and performs original tunes. On the five-song CD, Medvick's lyrics in English, Portuguese and French ride energetic grooves drawing from the group's steady mix of bossa nova, psychedelic rock, and samba references, all in keeping with tropicalia tradition.Les Chattes Jolies (available for free downloadIn true Toronto tropical-lovin' fashion, Os Tropies have put together a whole mess of fun and unique musical support for the series of shows comprising their EP release residency at The Piston. Each Wednesday night show has its own theme, based around honouring one or more of the band's crucial tropicalismo references. (Says drummer Eric Woolston: "You can choose your favourite flavour of Brazilian psychedelic spirit possession, or collect the whole set!")The group's photo shoot for the EP release pays homage to the photography for the landmark album Os Panis et Circenses (on which artists like Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso, Tom Zé, Os Mutantes and Gal Costa all collaborated), down to sly nods to the 1968 classic like the picture frame, the boho-mystic-hippie chic of the day and the fellow agitators and allies in the movement.Supporting artists during the February residency include Aline Morales, Maria Bonita and the Band, Petra Glynt and other locals on the live act side (two guest live bands plus Os Tropies at each show), as well as a host of weekly rotating DJs including Uma Nota founding resident DJ General Eclectic, Firecracker, Maylee Todd, David Dacks, Friendlyness and Sandro Perri.The original Tropicalia movement and its artists were nothing if not products of their era. Os Tropies, in resurrecting, celebrating and re-visioning the music in all its theatricality and exuberance, create their own Toronto-born interpretation with style to spare. A singular feat for any band, at any time of the year, much less a mid-week residency during the city's coldest months -- still, there is plenty of substance behind Os Tropies' confidence in their series.Os Tropies play The Piston (937 Bloor St. W.) in Toronto on Wednesdays February 6, 13, 20 and 27. All shows start 10 p.m. Cover charge is $5 and the EP is $5. More information is available on the Facebook event page or on the band's website. Uma Nota Culture is supporting this event series.
This project spent a long time as an idea, a fantasy. Between myself, our keyboardist Dave Atkinson, and our most recent addition to the band on drums, Fraser McEvoy, there had been this sharing of Brazilian music of all kinds over a period of several years (and cities!). The music from the tropicalia movement always had a special appeal for each of us, and I think we each had our own fantasies of performing this music, as unlikely and untenable as that seemed at the time. Eventually Dave and I, both living and working as musicians in Toronto, were in a position to start it up for real. We weren’t sure exactly who would come and see us play this obscure style of music, or even who was going to play in the band! But I had a feeling the right people would materialize and they sure enough did, and always have. Shortly after we agreed to make it happen, we found and collected the rest of the original members, including our guitarist Graham Campbell and our percussionist Eric Woolston (we arrived at our current line-up with the later additions of Carlie Howell on bass and Fraser on drums). Though the original idea was just to do a couple of shows for kicks, we did our first gig for a lovely, supportive audience of fellow tropicalia fans — who were singing along to the Portuguese lyrics without understanding a word! It was a very inspiring thing, and from that first show I knew we had hit on something that people were going to respond to, obscurity and foreign-language not withstanding.
I think both our biggest advantage and disadvantage are one and the same thing— the genre itself, specifically the fact that it is relatively unfamiliar to the general population both in Brazil and Canada. Depending on the venue or event, people who haven’t been exposed to what tropicalismo is all about can be a bit confused by the mix of pysch rock, “Latin” rhythms, Portuguese lyrics and unmitigated wackiness. However, there is a die-hard core of people who love this music and love seeing it played live. With the release of several compilations of the tropicalia classics, the genre is becoming more well known, and the sounds of the music, if not the names, are spreading even further into facets of the popular music scene here in Toronto. We were lucky that we started up at the exact moment when the fans of the style were enough to build an audience, but no one else here was playing this music. And we have watched as enthusiasm for tropicalia has spread throughout our community over the two years we have been playing it.
We started out mostly playing covers. We are definitely not purists, but we tend to stick close to the originals — why fix what’s already uncontrollably awesome? On the other hand, as I spent time learning more of these psychedelic tunes, my writing naturally started to incorporate those sounds. It was only a couple of months before we started bringing in original material, and now we have enough to play a set of only originals if we wanted to, with contributions from myself and our guitar player, Graham Campbell. We have also done a few covers from outside the tropicalia genre, although always bearing a strong relationship to what we are doing. For example, sometimes we play the aptly titled Beck song, Tropicalia, giving our audience something a bit more familiar or accessible that still references our main inspiration. On the other hand, more recently I brought in a song from what I think of as the psychedelic era of Iran, a tune called Mano Tou by legendary Persian singer Googoosh. I had been checking out this whole new genre of music and I started to get the feeling that they had been checking out some Brazilian music. So I thought I would complete the circle, so to speak, and bring in a tune to Tropicalia. Singing in Farsi was a challenge, but a blast— I always love to sink my teeth into a new set of sounds in a new language!
I don’t know if there has been one performance highlight in particular, we have had a lot of great moments, if I don’t say so myself! My favourite moments, however, are always when we have a certain balance in our audience— some people who know and love us well, some who know what we are about and are curious to hear us for the first time, and some who have no idea what they are about to hear. When that balance is there and the energy on stage is right, I can feel the impact of the first notes on the audience, like a shockwave, and I see folks start to get excited. It’s really thrilling when that can happen.
... these days you are more and more likely to see me getting on stage dressed up as Queen Cleopatra or writing tunes about having a love affair with a Caveman. I think it all works in this style… Jorge Ben was writing about the Taj Mahal and desert nomads, the Mutantes about Don Quixote, and Ney Matogrosso was singing about the women of Athens while decked out in feathers and gold. I want us to continue the journey back in time into those fantasy worlds.
David Arcus: Believe it or not, my original major in university was biology. Even though I had a love for music, especially composing, I didn’t quite have the confidence to take the plunge and commit myself to music full time. A big shift happened at the end of my second year of biology. I was unhappy and basically realized if I didn’t give music a try I would always regret it. I ended up dropping out of sciences and enrolling in classical composition at U of T.Even though classical music was my main area of study, my musical interests have always been very broad. I listen to everything from rock to jazz to film scores. It was during university that I was first exposed in a serious way to the music of Brazil. That’s also when I met and started working with Aline Morales.
Influences and touchstonesThe Aline Morales record in particular includes a lot of "indie rock" (for lack of a better term) influences alongside various ones from Brazilian music and culture. How do you see the mix working? Were there challenges putting these two kinds of sounds together? What was your bottom line when producing and writing the album?
The blend of influences you hear on Flores, Tambores e Amores was the result of a long process of exploration. When Aline and I started working on Flores, we did so without any real gameplan. We’d been writing together for a while but I think we both felt we hadn’t quite found our sound yet. As the writing sessions went on, for whatever reason, the music that we were writing started to change. Whereas before it had been more strictly Brazilian sounding, the new songs were incorporating more diverse influences. I think we were just freeing ourselves up – we both listen to so many different styles of music, it didn’t makes sense to limit ourselves to just one thing.From that point on, things progressed very organically, and at a certain point I remember feeling like we had come across a sound that represented where we were at at that time. That’s when the album really started coming together.
Collaborative processYou do a lot of collaboration, especially with Aline Morales. How does it work? How do other collaborations work? How do you figure out who does what, and how much of the collaborations you do (including but not limited to working w. Aline) are you, and how much the other person? When we we listen to a piece, what is it that we'll hear that will make us say "that's Dave"?
For me every collaboration is different and has its own dynamic. With Aline and I, it tends to be very fluid – we’re both constantly throwing in ideas, to the point where it’s hard to say which elements come from whom. Often, I’ll have a vague idea for a riff or chord progression and I’ll show it to Aline. She’ll come up with a melodic idea and we’ll kind of go from there, bouncing ideas back and forth. I wrote a lot of the melodic arrangements on the album, but even in that department Aline had input at every stage along the way.If there’s one aspect of Flores, Tambores e Amores in particular that carries my stamp, I would say it’s in the sonic approach. As a producer, I’ve got a real love for analog sounds. I love vintage gear and we used a lot of it on the album (tube mics and preamps, tape). I spent a lot of time experimenting with different recording techniques and I worked really closely with the mixer, Chris Crerar, to craft the sound of the album.
The Music Gallery and beyondWhat can we look forward to for this show? What makes it special?
When I was first approached by David Dacks to put together a show for the Music Gallery, I have to admit I was intimidated. I’ve seen so many incredible shows at that venue over the years. But I knew the opportunity that was too good to pass up. The Music Gallery is one of those great venues where you can try out all those ideas that wouldn’t be possible anywhere else.Some of the material for this show will be familiar to those who know the Aline Morales album and the music I’ve written for the Uma Nota parties. But I think people will be surprised at how the music has transformed. Along with some new pieces, the existing arrangements have been expanded and re-orchestrated for a new instrumentation.I’ve put together an 11-piece ensemble for this performance, featuring some of my favourite musicians in the city. We’ve got five horns, vibraphone, percussion, drum kit, bass and guitar, as well as some special guests. Musicians included members from the Heavyweights Brass Band, Kobo Town, Friendlyness and the Human Rights, Samba Elégua, Nick Teehan and special guest Aline Morales. This might be the only time you see all these musicians on stage together so don’t miss it!What's coming up in the next few months?
Aline and I are currently at work on the follow-up to Flores. We’ve got a tour of Quebec coming up in August, finishing up with a show as part of the Summerworks Festival in Toronto. I’m also working on the debut EP for Hello Gumption, an alt-folk group I play with, due out later in the year.David Arcus Ensemble performs at The Music Gallery's season finale on Friday, June 15th. Check out The Music Gallery online and their and Facebook event for more info.