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Interviews   

NUNO BETTENCOURT, OR EXTREME GRACE



Nuno Bettencourt is a legend among legends and a marvelous guitarist, as comfortable in pop and funk as he is in fusion and rock’n’roll. The man made more than one person dream with his clean, fast and terribly rock playing skills, and with one guitar, the famous Washburn N4, created especially for him. His cooperation with Gary Cherone, Pat Badger and Paul Geary also contributed to creating the legend. Extreme was one of those bands that made hard rock evolve and opened new horizons for the genre.

When he reaches the hotel’s bar, Nuno Bettencourt doesn’t look fully awaken yet. And yet his opinion on Extreme’s first live CD/DVD, Take Us Alive, is rather limpid, even curt at times. This interview, conducted in the middle of Nuno’s tour with Rihanna, was done without any political cant and shows that Nuno Bettencourt is very clear-sighted on every aspect of his career.


Nuno : (About the DVD) « We just did what we do and that’s it. There was a bunch of guys with cameras who filmed it and we just ignore what was going on. »

Radio Metal : How did the band participate in the making of the DVD?

Nuno Bettencourt : Well first of all we had to be there (laughs). We had no choice; we tried to get another band to do it for us because we thought that it might be better. Maybe a younger band with better players…
No, to be honest, we didn’t really have much to do with it. We just did what we do and that’s it. There was a bunch of guys with cameras who filmed it and we just ignore what was going on. Hopefully we didn’t try to do a good show but we actually did do a good show. That was always the problem I had with doing DVDs. Psychologically, you know that you are being filmed so unfortunately you tend to do something that you wouldn’t usually do, which is think. I think that a nice way to have done it would have been to record multiple shows. I would have loved to do different recordings in different countries; that would have been nice. Then grab one song from Paris, one song from Scotland, one song from Texas or Tokyo. In that case, maybe we would have forgotten and it would allow the audience to see how different every culture is. That would have been great. I don’t know if Boston had the best show or the best audience. Whatever the DVD says; that’s what happened. Sometimes it’s not always your best and sometimes it could be your best, but in this case, I have no idea and I will never watch it.

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Didn’t you have any ideas of what you wanted the DVD to be like or did you just let some people work on it?

To be honest, I wish I was involved a little bit more. I always thought that the DVDs would never capture Extreme or any other band that loves to play live and really has a passion for it. It seems that videos seem to make everything look smaller, less exciting and less passionate. This is because you are missing the volume, the sweat and the smell of the room, leaving the experience to be very three dimensional. When I saw it, I wished that I had been involved a little more in the editing process because when I see some of the videos that came with it that we did, they seem a lot more like Extreme to me than the actually DVD. I look at the Run video and what we captured in Tokyo, and I think that even that video captured more of what Extreme is like live. I can’t really judge these things though because only the fans know what they want to see.

Is this the reason why you didn’t have any live albums before? You must have a lot of stuff from the 90s and 80s.

There was a lot of stuff that was captured then. I was never a big fan of it though. So I’m probably the worse person to look at all photos or recordings. When I think back, I think that we probably should have recorded every tour that we did and let someone handle it like they did for this one. Just let everyone enjoy it as opposed to my own insecurities about putting out live DVDs.

What was your favourite moment from that night in Boston?

It was when we said good night (laughs). I think that the best thing about the show and the DVD is actually the way that the band played. I’m not thrilled about the way it was edited and captured visually. In my opinion, the band is a lot more exciting than what I saw. However, I think that the band played well. Even when we were here in Paris or anywhere else, I always liked the song “Take Us Alive”, because I thought that it was pretty different and fun. I really liked watching that. I don’t know if I have any favourite moments. It’s always nice to hear songs like “Am I Ever Gonna Change” and maybe I like the ones that aren’t very physical to watch live. That is how slow the DVD is to me (laughs). When we do songs like “Am I Ever Gonna Change” or “Midnight Express” and “Take Us Alive” it creates something very still and I think that the DVD captured them properly. On the other hand, songs like are a lot more exciting were not captured very well. It’s probably bad to be saying this if I want to sell the DVD (laughs). I’m a very bad salesman! But the DVD is worth watching.

At what point do you think that Extreme was ready to let a camera film you backstage or as you’re just about to go on stage? Is it something that you feel uneasy with?

I guess that I am at ease with doing it but when I saw it, it was like when someone does a reality show and there are cameras following them into their houses, living with them every day. I always say that is not real life because in real life there are no cameras, so you will always behave just that much differently. Sometimes there are little private moments before a show which I’m not sure were meant to be shared. After I see it I feel a little bit silly. Maybe I’m just a bit shy about the whole thing.


Nuno : (About the DVD) « I’m not thrilled about the way it was edited and captured visually. In my opinion, the band is a lot more exciting than what I saw. »
Speaking of the fact that when there is a camera there is enhanced kind of pressure. Do you think that when there is a camera on you, it gives you some kind of energy? For example, in your guitar solo there is a lot of variation and a sense of improvisation. Does the fact that you know you were recording give you more ideas?

I doesn’t help (laughs). I guess that being recorded or playing live is probably a skill that you have to develop. Since we didn’t do much of it, it’s not that we are not good at it, but I think that people who are more used to it manage to play better and feed off of it. I don’t think that I played any worse on the DVD. Perhaps sometimes because I knew that I was being recorded, I made sure that it was great. I don’t know if that’s healthy and whether it’s a good frame of mind to be in. I was definitely aware of being filmed the whole time. My instinct tells me that that isn’t a good thing. When you’re just playing for people and they are just watching, it’s a strange thing because you are not actually playing for them.

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So who are you playing for?

You are not really playing for anyone, you just play. You just let the emotions take over what you are feeling. Sometimes it’s not a great performance on one song because you might not be feeling the right thing. Or sometimes it’s because you are feeling so emotional that you can’t play it that well. You have to let go of the idea that you are just playing notes. You’re not supposed to be just playing notes, you have to feel something. I think that is the best time, but it is not technically always the best time. It’s part of the show and it’s supposed to stay there or go home with the person and leave with us. We have one great moment and one specific moment that is ours to take away. So when you capture that night to take it away, it can be dangerous.

Would you consider that being recorded that night was a sort of challenge for Extreme since you hadn’t done anything like that in the past?

Yeah. We’ve done things in the past like playing live on the radio or even recorded some videos live. It was definitely a challenge psychologically. Once again you know that you have done some great shows on the tour, some better than others, and so you wonder whether that show will be as good as the others. Not one audience was better than any of the others but they were all different. Sometimes you wonder which one you would have rather shared as a DVD. I was worried about doing it in Boston because it’s our home but it was great. Sometimes I think that the fans are very used to us. They have seen us more than anybody else throughout the years. So sometimes they take it for granted or they seem a little too relaxed. I don’t know much about crowd psychology though and they were still great. It was just different than anywhere else. I think that if I could do it again, I would have asked a local crew to come to every show to videotape. Also, once again, I would have liked to see different songs from different places to let Boston see what Germany was like or let Tokyo see what New York was like.

Could these be ideas for next time?

Yeah let’s start shooting it right now! (laughs).

You wanted to make that DVD and the fans also have certain things that they would like to see. For example, the band Mr Big is quite similar to Extreme and some fans might want to see you play together on stage some time. Would you be up for it?

We are always looking for people to tour with. We love the idea of doing shows and I’m a big fan of Paul Guilbert. He’s a crazy man and such a talented guitar player. So yes I would be interested to play with them. Some people think that we are kind of related, perhaps because they stole the idea from us of making a black and white video with a ballad right after we did (laughs). We joke about that all of the time. It could also be because there are similarities between the guitar and the song writing. I’m open to doing a tour with anybody. With us it’s always question of a scheduling thing so whoever is booking and whether the promoters have enough money for two bands who always want to headline (laughs). But we have no problem going on early before anyone. Hopefully next time we can do that because it sounds like a good idea.

You are touring right now with Rihanna. How did you prepare for this tour?

It’s interesting because I never read anything on our site or that is written about us by the fans. It’s not that I don’t care, I just think that it’s a dangerous process to listen to what people are saying too much. Although we love our fans and understand how important it is to be at the shows, you can never really do anything for anyone else. As an artist you have to have passion for what you are doing and then you have to hope that people like it. So I’m sure that the fans always want various things from us.
For example, I am sure that when people saw me play with Rihanna, they thought “why the hell is he playing with her?”. I think that a real fan would understand why I am doing it and they would understand that I am an odd person who is always looking for different adventures. When I got the phone call from a friend of mine, a music director called Tony, he asked me what I was I was up to so I said that I had just finished with Extreme so I was going to be home for awhile and he said “what do you think about doing a tour with Rihanna?”.
My first reaction was that there is no guitar in Rihanna’s music. Then I thought that maybe that was the reason why I should do it. He told me that she really wanted the show to be a lot more aggressive and rock n roll. So it would mean that I would be able to be myself and do what Nuno normally does. I got really excited about that idea. Taking over people’s songs that are on such a big level and pop/r&b was interesting. I actually played quite a lot because I feature on all of the songs. I think that any of the Extreme fans who came down would have been pleasantly surprised.

Do you think that this kind of experience was missing from your career?

No, I wasn’t looking for it at all. I think that to be involved in a tour like this with such an artist is something that you have to do. It’s a show where first of all the people equate this music with a lot of tracks and there isn’t any playback. There are two keyboard players, two guitar players, bass, drums playing live and they are all great musicians. The drummer just finished a Stevie Wonder tour and the bass player just finished playing with Kanye West etc. It was a really interesting experience to play in this genre of music and I am always looking to learn. It was also interesting to be involved with dancers on the stage because I had never done that before either. It’s a really unique thing to rehearse with them and the choreography. I’m just learning all about these things.

Do you think that you could bring some of the things that you have learnt to Extreme?

Yes, we are auditioning for dancers right now! (laughs). Everything that you do in life and the things that you experience, whether you think it does or not, you have no choice but to be influenced by it. The interview we are doing right now is the same because we will somehow take away something from it. You learn from every experience that you have. Before going on this tour, there was an idea that I had talked bout with Gary about Extreme. People might think that the idea came from the Rihanna tour, but it had nothing to do with it, because we had already talked beforehand about doing some crazy stuff. It’s stuff that Extreme fans might love us for or hate us.

Are you free to play what you want on stage?

Yes. There are lots of spots where they leave me space to improvise, in the same way that I do with Extreme.I play different parts that are special for each song.

The video for “King Of The Ladies” makes me think of “Whole Hearted”. How do you think in the band, is like the kids in the video?

That’s interesting. It’s funny that you mention that it is like “Whole Hearted” because I hadn’t thought of that. In the band, the king of the ladies would have to be Pat. I can see him sitting by the kid with the curly hair in their neighbourhood and him having a crush on one of the girls and stealing his mum’s car to impress them (laughs). It’s definitely Pat.

Interview conducted on April, 29th, 2010 in Paris.
MySpace Extreme : http://www.myspace.com/extreme



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