Interview with Angra & Solo Artist Kiko Loureiro
by DPRP’s Menno von Brucken Fock
Kiko Loureiro was born in Rio de Janeiro but moved to Sao Paolo at a very young age. He’s 38 years of age now and got married recently with a beauty from Finland. He still resides in Sao Paolo but lives in Finland part of the year too. He has been one of the lead guitarists and composers for the progressive metal band ANGRA for quite some time now. In their own country Brazil, ANGRA is quite popular but also in Japan and some of the European countries, ANGRA is a well known band. Loureiro released his first solo album No Gravity in 2004, his second album Universo Inverso in 2007 and his latest album Fullblast in 2009. Although the electric guitar is his main instrument, he plays the acoustic guitar very well and he also plays piano, keyboards and bass. In spite of his busy touring schedule and right after his marriage Kiko found the time to talk about his latest album and the current Angra album Aqua.
MENNO: Hello Kiko, I understand there has been a major change in your life?
KIKO: Yes Menno, recently I married a Finnish girl so part of the time I’m living in Finland.
MENNO: You joined Angra some twenty years ago as guitarist. From your solo albums we can hear you play other instruments as well?
KIKO: I play guitar, electric and acoustic. I love to play the classical acoustic guitar as well and I consider this to be a different instrument from the electric guitar; you have to use a different technique. I started playing the piano more for composing purposes, I’m not a virtuoso on that instrument. If you play guitar, mostly you can play some bass as well and there was a time I studied some of the Jaco Pastorius stuff but basically my instrument is the guitar and I play a little bass, piano and keyboards.
MENNO: You are one of the driving forces in Angra, but you are also a solo artist; you did some recordings for Tarja Turunen as well?
KIKO: Indeed. I recorded some acoustic stuff for Tarja Turunen’s first album. Then I recorded a single with her and I did two tours with her. This year in September we will play Rock in Rio with Angra and we invited her to sing a few songs with us on stage.
MENNO: If we’re talking about your education as a musician, what are the most important people in your life?
KIKI: Mozart Mello was my teacher for about five years; I was like seventeen at the time. Then I took piano lessons with Silvia Góes (a famous Brazilian Latin-Jazz pianist) for about three years. She taught me many things about musical harmonies, my relation with music and she worked on my psychological side of the music as a whole. Those years were very fruitful and it’s quite interesting how she teaches, you know!
MENNO: Who were the most important influences in your musical career?
KIKO: My first influences were Led Zeppelin so Jimmy Page, he was very important for me. Then in the eighties Van Halen and I started to get excited about playing fast like Steve Vai, Joe Satriani and so on: getting all this energy from playing guitar. Only later I discovered great guitar players like Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton. Then I got into jazz music as well: George Benson, John Scofield – a little bit weird for me- and I ended up listening to guys like Robben Ford with his bluesy kind of jazz. Off course I also listened a lot to the acoustic guitar players from Brazil: Baden Powell, Raphel Rabello and “Tom” Jobim as a composer. Also very important people for me because of their technique, their composing skills and their harmonies. As composer I’ve also been influenced by greats like Herbie Hancock, Miles Davis, Wayne Shorter and Paco De Lucia. Then there are Flamenco guitarists: too many to mention.
MENNO: As a composer, what would you say to be your most important sources of inspiration?
KIKO: I would say Led Zeppelin foremost but also the Brazilian guitar players, the Brazilian popular music in general. Of course I listened to Iron Maiden and Black Sabbath, you can listen to rock and heavy metal anywhere in the world, but going deep into Brazilian music and it’s tradition, I have focused on trying to mix these influences with rock. Furthermore I like to listen to the 19th century composers like Debussy or Ravel but I also like to listen to Beethoven and Chopin. As I already mentioned I like listening to Flamenco or jazz every now and then as well. Music by Herby Hancock and Miles Davis, their harmonies and chords are a great source of inspiration for me and then I mix those with my ‘rock side’.
MENNO: What are your favorite tracks/albums by other artist(s) and why?
KIKO: I would say Bachiana Brasiliera Nr. 4 by Villa-Lobos; this melody has always been very special to me from a very young age onwards. The album Physical Gravity by Led Zeppelin is an album I really listened to a lot, then also Yngwie Malmsteen’s Rising Force, Eat ‘m and Smile from David Lee Roth, Steve Vai’s first album Flex-able, Surfin’ With The Alien by Joe Satriani: all these albums pushed me to get as passionate about guitar playing as I have become today: the shredding, solo- stuff and improvising. I forgot to mention Blow By Blow by Jeff Beck, also an important album for me as well as The Kind Of Blue album by Miles Davis… I guess there are too many to mention!
MENNO: What kind of gear do you use at the moment?
KIKO: Tagima guitars, the Kiko Loureiro signature models, I use D’Addario strings and Laney amps, the VH 100R. Furthermore there’s the Morley wah-wah, Zoom pedals and Sparflex cables.
MENNO: What role do amplifiers, MIDI, software, strings, accessories play in establishing your sound?
KIKO: As a kid you like to have many different guitars and pedals and depending on what style of music you play you might try different strings: when playing jazz I like to use somewhat heavier strings, like a 12, while with Angra I would use 10-46.
MENNO: Do you actually try to define your own sound and is it important to you that people recognise it?
KIKO: For me it’s a never ending story. I keep on experimenting with my gear, like different models of Laney amps. The sound of course depends on the equipment you use but also on the way you play. Your feeling, your phrasing and your timing are important too, to be able to create your own ‘voice’, instead of copying others. It takes time but in the end, no matter what pedals or amps you use, you define your own voice! Using the right equipment will enable you to feel more comfortable though.
MENNO: How often do you perform live on stage average each year? As a band, a solo artist or both?
KIKO: I play live a lot, either with Angra or with my quartet playing solo stuff and if I’m not performing with Angra or the quartet there’s often guitar clinics. Like this week I have no gig but two clinics. When I was younger, my goal was seeing people come to watch me play. Now I can say I’m very happy, because I’ve established my goal and I’m really grateful for all those people coming to see me (with or without band) perform live!
MENNO: Are you planning to go on tour as a solo artist with your own band?
KIKO: We just finished a tour in Europe (France, Switzerland and Belgium) with Angra, but I’m hoping to tour Europe and Japan later this year with my own band. We’re checking all possibilities right now! Of course with all the problems in Japan I doubt if a tour there will be possible. There’s also invitations to play in Europe with some American musicians, so let’s see what happens!
MENNO: Do you have other occupations , like guitar teacher for example and if so, for how much time per week?
KIKO: I like travelling and doing clinics for a group of people. I don’t give private lessons.
MENNO: Your latest album is called Fullblast; you were composer, guitarist and keyboardist: can you comment briefly on the making of this fine album?
KIKO: When I recorded No Gravity in 2004, I played guitars, keyboards, percussion and bass. On Fullblast I didn’t play the bass, Felipe from Angra recorded all bass parts. My idea was to make a heavy album with the guitars mixing melodic, shredding with the Jeff Beck style, while the compositions are structured as a pop song, so with choruses and verses. There are licks and some songs are more in the vein of ‘shredding’ but I like to use good melodies, so that you could be able to play the same song on the acoustic guitar or the piano. For me a collage of fast phrasing, just a bunch of licks, wouldn’t make any sense. On this album I tried to implement more of the Brazilian music by adding percussion. The main ideas came from a Brazilian groove. I wanted to use the different kind of rhythms we have in Brazil and I tried to mix this with the double bass and rock grooves I learned from the Americans and Europeans. This Latin input also has been inspired by Carlos Santana, an artist I really admire because he plays rock but he always has that Latin ‘feel’ present because of all the percussion instruments he uses.
MENNO: Could you describe the music on this album?
KIKO: It’s rock mixed with Brazilian – Latin- influences and I’ve tried to keep things interesting by changing the key, experimenting with harmonies but always searching for great melodies and …. ‘never a dull moment’.
MENNO: How or why did you choose Mike Terrana and Felipe Andreoli (Angra)?
KIKO: Mike Terrana recorded my first album No Gravity and I like him because he plays all this metal stuff, but fusion as well. I’ve been pushing him to understand Brazilian music so that he’s able to play more in a ‘universal’ way. This is different from my second album Universo Inverso where I used a Brazilian drummer. This album had a definite Brazilian/Latin feel to it and now I’ve started using Mike, a much heavier drummer, but by programming the drums I had to learn him how to use his drums in the way I would like to sound: still heavy but with a different groove. Felipe? He’s a partner and a great bass player. He learned the songs so easily! He really adds something to my music.
MENNO: You played in Tarja Turunen’s live band: How did you get in touch with her? Did Mike Terrana (also drummer of Tarja’s live band) had anything to do with that? What was it like, is she a ‘difficult woman’?
KIKO: No, not at all! I did two tours with her and she is quite ‘simple’ and easy to get along with. She likes Angra music, especially the acoustic stuff I did and also foremost the acoustic stuff on my solo albums. So she invited me to do a bit of acoustic guitar on her first solo album. She has a German guitar player on that album but when he wasn’t available on her second tour, Tarja invited me to come along. And you are right: Mike told me a bit about her, that it was fun working with her and how well everything was organized so that certainly helped to make my decision to accept her invitation. Having the opportunity to play with her, the band and especially Max Lilja was awesome.
MENNO: You also play Jazz, Latin and possibly Classical; did you record this genre of music at all or do you perform live with this genre of music?
KIKO: Well on my second album Universo Inverso I have surely been experimenting with Latin and Jazz styles. On that album I have this Cuban piano player adding to this ‘Latin thing’, while both the drummer as well as the bass player were Brazilians. On several of my albums you can find classically oriented acoustic guitar pieces. One of dreams is to record a full album with only acoustic classical guitar…. but you know, maybe someday! Because of the touring with Angra and my own band as well as all those clinics on my electric guitars, I don’t have the time to really go deep into the technique of playing the acoustic guitar….
KIKO: That’s a difficult question. I think that if you are true and you play with your heart and you like what you play, people will sense that and people will like that as well. I don’t know if there are many, but even if there are not too many, the quality of the listener matters most. Of course it’s sometimes difficult to maintain the right balance between ‘surprises’ and what an average listener can ‘understand’ musically. Things like a more simple melody with a more complex groove or rock harmonies with a Brazilian groove, understand what I mean? It’s always a combination of something familiar, something people can relate to easily with a few surprises to keep a song interesting for the listener. All this has to come natural, not by thinking: how can I be a rock star and thinking about every measure you compose.
MENNO: Any special interests outside of music?
KIKO: Playing guitar is my passion. I’m really into music: sometimes playing a piano or an acoustic guitar or reading a book about music, watching a music DVD. And of course I have to work, practice and organize tours and so on. Emailing and keeping in touch through the internet takes up a lot of time too. I used to do sports like boxing but nowadays with all that travelling it’s almost a 100% music related what I do!
MENNO: Please name a few artists you’d love to work with in the future?
KIKO: As a matter of fact a lot of artists. Of course it would be a dream come true to be able to play with icons like Herbie Hancock or Jeff Beck but I would also love to play with musicians from different countries like a famous musician from Morocco or a French Jazz Manouche artist. I know I could learn so much from all these great musicians playing different instruments all around the world. A good example of an artist who accomplished what I’m referring to is Sting: he has been touring with all kinds of musicians: he used to have a drummer called Manu Katché from France and he used to work with a cellist from Brazil, Jaques Morelenbaum, a percussionist from Brazil, Marcos Suzano, and an American bass player, Ira Coleman. Sting is a icon, he has the opportunity and the money to do these kinds of things. I hope that someday I’m in the position to do the same! I’d rather not mention names but I’d rather state that I would love to work with people from different countries playing different instruments.
MENNO: Any additional comments about your solo career?
KIKO: Having the guitar as my main instrument I’d like to continue experimenting as I have been doing: No Gravity is totally different from Universo Inverso. I’d love explore ‘the other side of me’ further: the jazz side, the Brazilian side, although Fullbast is kind of coming back to the style of No Gravity. I’ will start composing for the next one shortly, so we’ll see!
MENNO: You have been with Angra for quite a while now as a guitarist and also as a composer: since 15 years now (aged 19)?
KIKO: Actually right now it’s closer to 20 years and yes, that’s a long time.
MENNO: André Matos told me he wanted to quit Angra because of the management: looking back, wasn’t he right or were there others reasons too? Do you have any kind of contact with former members Matos or Mariutti?
KIKO: Frankly I don’t think you quit a band because of the management. The management has always been a problem, that’s absolutely true but in Andre’s case, he wanted to quit the band and in my opinion he blamed the management instead for his decision. I ‘m not in contact with Matos or Mariutti, no.
MENNO: In my opinion Confessori plays very well on Aqua indeed! How does it feel to have him back in the band; what happened to Priester?
KIKO: We were looking for another drummer and we ended up trying three of which Confessori was one of them. In the nineties we had such good times and it felt really good having him on board again. In our opinion Priester spent too much time with his own band, which wasn’t good for Angra. He wanted to give that band his full attention so…
MENNO: Finally after 4 years an album but before that you toured in Brazil with Sepultura: how did that go down?
KIKO: It was very nice, a good exchange of experiences and after a break of one and half years a good way to come back. We played in Brazil and also one show in Portugal.
MENNO: Is Angra touring with a keyboard player and if yes who? Will it be Fábio Laguna? You and and Edu play keyboards too, but not live?
KIKO: We are experimenting to tour without an extra keyboard player: more focus on the band and keyboards coming from backing tracks. See how that goes.
MENNO: You just finished a tour in Europe. How was it?
KIKO: It has been a very nice tour: we did gigs in Spain, Italy, France, Switzerland and one show in Belgium. The vibe in the band was amazing. It’s very important that the vibe in the band is okay if you are playing for your fans!
MENNO: Apart from Brazil, both Angra and you as a solo artist are probably popular in Japan too. What about the USA/Canada and Europe?
KIKO: We recently did two concerts in the USA (House Of Blues!) and it was good to be there because we never play in the States so this was a nice opportunity and the number of fans were okay too.
MENNO: What did it mean to you that you were voted best guitarist in the Japanese magazine Burrn?
KIKO: Of course that’s really cool! There are so many great guitar players and to be the number one is beyond imagination. The funny thing is that the voting took place shortly after the release of Universo Inverso. I think the Japanese people really liked that I could do a metal album like No Gravity and then come up with an album far more jazz and Latin orientated. I think the Japanese in particular like an artist capable of mastering more than one style and capable of doing also the more sophisticated stuff. They must have thought after the previous release by Angra: gosh, this guy can play fast, but masters technical and classical stuff too and they seem to love that!
MENNO: When you decided to continue after Confessori, Mariutti and Matos left, did Angra consider to sing in Portuguese instead of English?
KIKO: We get a lot of questions and requests to sing in Portuguese but you know, those requests never come from Brazil: people in our own country like to hear us sing in English. If we would start to sing in Portuguese it would seem like we wanted more to be into popular music. Besides it would probably close all the markets outside of Brazil, countries like Japan wouldn’t understand. All metal bands, in Brazil too, sing in English. In Spain it’s different: they often sing in Spanish there.
MENNO: You had a lot of material for Aqua, still the album is ‘only’ 49:22. Why not more songs or why didn’t you consider making this a double album?
KIKO: We believe an album should be about 45-50 minutes, no more. Otherwise it would get too long and people just don’t have time to listen to an album of over an hour long. It’s like Shakespeare’s play “The Tempest”: if you would try to explain the story and it would take you more than 45 minutes, chances are people would get lost…
MENNO: How did you make the choice which tracks would be on Aqua?
KIKO: You compose a lot of material and everybody brings songs and then the band has to cut down until there are some 10 songs left. For instance we had four ballads. You can’t put four ballads on one record so we’d have to chose only one, maybe two of them. Then you would have three very fast songs and you choose two of these instead of all three. Then you would add maybe an ethnic song and a more progressive song, so now you have about five songs. In the end some ideas weren’t finished so we left those for the next album. It’s not too difficult really. The good stuff will remain hidden inside your head to pop out whenever needed. Maybe some ideas will be used for a future album but sometimes when there’s a lot of creativity older ideas aren’t used at all.
MENNO: Do you compose all alone or with others (and in the case of Angra) with the band?
KIKO: Each song has a different story. Sometimes I come up with a complete song and record all the parts and do the drum programming myself, but sometimes I only have a chorus on the acoustic guitar and I get help from the other guys in the band. That’s what makes the songs as diverse as they usually are!
MENNO: Does the band arrange all tracks together as a band? Who has the final word/decision?
KIKO: It depends. When for instance I come up with a complete demo, the band usually plays the music according to the demo, maybe changing little bits & pieces but no huge changes. Other songs are co-composed and fully arranged so there’s no rule.
MENNO: How much time took AQUA from start to finish and which are your favorite tracks and why?
KIKO: I think altogether it comes close to eight months. Although I don’t have any particular favourites I must confess the song “Ashes” have been with me for about two years and it’s one of the examples of a song that was based on a completed demo. In the studio we don’t change anything, so the band played it just like I had in mind. That is a really nice song but I also like songs by the other guys because they come up with ideas I couldn’t possibly have written and they sound very fresh to me.
MENNO: Who came up with the concept of AQUA (water)?
KIKO: We had a lot of discussions on the subject because we all wanted a theme, a concept to relate the songs to lyrically. In the end we chose “The Tempest” by Shakespeare. The title of the album could have been anything like “The Tempest” but I suggested “Aqua” and the band chose to go for that title, because it’s simple and not too much a ‘metal’ like “Storm”, “Tempest” or “Arising Thunder” kind of name. The album opens with “The Tempest” but in the end things calm down in smooth waters in Italy as the main character Prospero returns. Aqua also resembles Angra and it’s an alliteration, which is nice too.
MENNO: Do you have any specific future plans at the moment?
KIKO: Well we have some shows booked in South America in May, then a tour in Japan in July but we are still waiting confirmation, then Rock in Rio in September. There’s also a plan to record a DVD of Angra playing with on orchestra here in Brazil.
MENNO: Thank you very much Kiko for sharing all this information with me and I hope to see you live someday.
KIKO: Thanks to you too Menno, take care and give my very best regards to all Angra & Loureiro fans all over the world!