Ricardo Remédio, the man responsible for RA and the main creative force behind the recently returned Löbo, has recently released is first solo record under his own name, “Natureza Morta”. For now, it seems as if a continuation of the electronics displayed by RA, albeit one certainly displaying a less abrasive side. Produced by Daniel O’Sullivan and released by Dissociated Records back on October 3, it was the culmination of a long road started with the writing in 2014, receiving it fully mastered in 2015 and finally sending it out in the world.
“I wouldn’t have done it now. I’m proud of it but I’d have done things differently”, he says regarding the considerable gap between writing and releasing. Something he considers “normal, I find this constant dissatisfaction with things to be healthy. The worst thing that can happen to a musician or an artist is to get to the point where he thinks «this is the best that I can do», then it’s either pointless to do something else or he’ll have a big headache to justify doing something different.”
With a change in name accompanying a somewhat less abrasive sound, one could conjure either being the reason for the other. Things are, however, less linear than that, as the name switch “happened in the middle of sending the tracks to Daniel [O’Sullivan]. One reason lies in how hard it was for people to get information about the project, there’s an American FM hard-rock band, a transe project, a Scandinavian post-punk band”, hell there’s even an Egyptian god on top of all that, “and it wasn’t even a reference behind the name’s choice”. In fact, RA, acronym for Rei Abutre (Vulture King), “came from a conversation with Vairinhos [João, Löbo‘s drummer] about doing a two-piece band. At some point he retired from music, I had the name and I liked it enough to use it. I didn’t like having to explain the acronym to everyone and when I did the negative connotation of the «vulture king» was evident. Using my own name gives me more freedom, even if people expect a certain stylistic evolution from me, it’s easier to justify temporarily following different paths and jumping between genres.” It’s not like this is the only way of doing so, as he promptly adds, “without wanting to compare myself to him, but you have someone like Justin Broadrick who catalogues everything he does and just creates new names for new things. I thought that from RA only bleak things could come and it didn’t give me the freedom to do things completely outside of that realm in the future, even if this record is not such a stark departure from that”.
Not a stark departure, but a departure nevertheless. Though one that didn’t start that way “and Daniel had a lot to do with that”, he comments before elaborating, “at first his involvement was supposed to be only on the technical side, but then he asked me whether or not I wanted a more creative production and I thought it was a good idea. I’d send him the songs about 80 and 99% done and there are some of them that came back essentially that way and just better sounding. Others, however, have extra arrangements, synthesisers and other things by him. My previous EP was firmly within a territory that attracts adjectives like suffocating, dark, or oppressive, and where productions tend to become a contest to see who maximizes them. He’s the opposite of that mentality and ended up partially relieving the music of those connotations, made it more open. You still have that huge layer of distortion and mechanical noises but then you’ve got a more human, more natural side to it.” Or, to put it in a more metaphorical language, “he took the steel pipes and the pots to the middle of the country side”.
Photo by: Mariana Castro
This images conjured through O’Sullivan‘s work was strong enough to inspire the title “Natureza Morta” (literally “Dead Nature”, although commonly used to mean “Still Life”), which “wasn’t supposed to be this one; it ends up being a play on words influenced by what he did”. How he went about doing that work also helps to explain this feeling, as “he didn’t use the industrial kit or some distortion pedal. He told me stories of him walking around his studio hitting his keys in certain places, clapping or using old casios. His overdubs weren’t synthesized but real and more organic”.
One of the things you imagine about a solo electronic artist is that he pretty much controls all aspects of his music. It must then, have felt weird to cede control of certain elements to someone else, right? Weird, apparently doesn’t begin to cover it as Ricardo explains “I panicked when I received the first song from him. It was «Suor Nocturno» and I remember thinking it was so clean it could play in Lux, he had removed some distortion elements and it sounded very polished; it scared me. That’s when our dialogue really started, not before sending the songs his way”. If the first feeling was panic, the last one couldn’t have been more contrasting, “I started extremely protective and with all these reservations, even more so when I heard the first song, but at the end I was thinking that the fun part of this process was really to work with someone else. If there’s one think to keep out of the whole recording is to have taken this step forward. At the end of the day it’s not healthy to stay so closed up in your own world. It’s good to have another voice, another influence, someone boosting you or someone you trust taking your stuff from you and transforming them.” Surely sounds like something to be repeated, as he confirms, adding that “I started to understand that at least for me it was something that was missing and I definitely want to repeat it, either with someone else or again with Daniel, that’s at least something we’ve talked about doing.”
Despite still being scheduled for a vinyl release, the version catching everyone’s eye is the pen one. Seen above in its pyramid case 3D printed with glow in the dark filaments and altogether from renewable sources, it’s a rather unique object, “that was the good thing of having a year and a half between having things ready and releasing them. It wasn’t like I woke up one day with the whole concept in my head.” It all stems from the search for a label and “understanding that most didn’t want links but rather objects”. The skull in itself is a reduced version of the one in the cover, “a picture of a bigger 3D-printed skull I had at home. One day I thought about using it on the pen as well, it was a matter of resizing and printing it.” When trying to find out about the costs of 3D printing all copies in some company, a more DIY approach suggested itself, “I concluded it was cheaper to just get one for myself. It takes twenty-four hours to print and assemble one copy. It’s an object that stands on its own, regardless of the record.”
As to the whole idea of presenting this type of music live, he’s quite blunt. “I have a problem with live electronic music. There’s that feeling that no matter how good a composer you are it doesn’t fully work when so much of it is just someone pressing buttons in front of a computer.” Where this discomfort will lead him is still a “work in progress. It’s not very different from what I’m doing for now”. Those last two words seem to be the key in the way he’s facing this side of his music, adding that “since people are coming to see you by yourself pressing buttons, it’s not going to be as immediate or visual as someone playing guitar; you might as well give them something different or with added details, such that the experience gets to be more than listening on a good PA what you could very well listen to at home.” Regarding the visual side, he dismisses the idea of projections, actually turning the conversation towards what James Kelly did not too long ago in Lisbon as Wife, with light directed at him from beneath and whose intensity and frequency was programmed to react to the sounds he played, “I thought his scenic care was quite good. It works a lot better than projections, the usual crutch of electronic musicians which for me are an abstraction. The way he did it there forced you to look at him.” Besides tweaking the light show, another way he’s considering to go about changing the visual impact is to “have a bigger physical component through other stage musicians. I’ve already lined up a drummer for future shows and I’d like to also add a guitarist or a keyboard player.”
Listening to the record and imagining it with a live drummer or guitarist, it seems that we would indeed get different sounding songs. “I always liked the idea that the life of a song doesn’t end when it’s recorded – something which is even more clear with Löbo. Often the process begins with an idea and ends when the last note is recorded; it crystallises a period of time but that’s it, afterwards there is only live reproduction. With Löbo, the way the songs are being played now is different than the way they were played back in 2011, which was already different than their recorded versions. By myself, I also try to do this, though I don’t think I’ve gotten to the point I want to get.”
Ricardo’s doom outfit Löbo has been recently reactivated. Its 2010 record “Älma” got re-released by Signal Rex and was presented in a few shows, the last of which happens this week in Lisbon amidst the Under The Doom festival. “It was risky to bring the band back this way as I think that merely doing this as an exercise facing the band’s past is a waste of time.”
At the end of the day there were to reasons for doing so, “often, when I was promoting my solo stuff, the first question I got was about the return of Löbo, which was a bit frustrating. Then, the label in which “Älma” came out had disappeared and the only way to get it was on discogs, so it made sense to reissue the record for people to get it. But if you are reissuing the record, you might as well play a couple of shows and all of a sudden it seemed like the band was back, so I had to hit the break pedal to stop and think,” which brings us to the next and perhaps more important reason, “there was a feeling that something better than that could have been done and that it would be interesting to see how far I could get with it. After the band’s demise I would be at home writing heavier stuff on the guitar that didn’t make sense for my solo output but without the band to direct it for. The journey ended too early.”
“On the other hand, this is a bit like returning to a place you used to be happy in and that gives me some unease. At the end of the day, there’s an enormous risk that the creative part doesn’t work and all there’s left was a return for only a reissue and a few shows which I consider a bit empty. It was a gamble and now it’s time to follow through.” As for how far they’ve gotten in writing new material, there already is “about 20 to 30% of a new record, though still in a bubble and without having been moved to the rehearsal room. That’s the next step after the Under The Doom show.”
So that’s where this “Älma” story comes to an end for now, at Under The Doom, which “closes this cycle. We’ll play there with five members instead of two, with both João Seixas and João Vairinhos on drums. It brings me back to that idea that a song’s life should last past its recording. Now we have a second drum kit, but the good thing about this songs its their elasticity; as long as you keep the main melodies they can sustain very different arrangements. That’s something I’m proud of.”