Interview: Five Minutes with :Papercutz

Is Portugal the next European country in line for a global music renaissance? With a hodge-podge but blossoming underground scene full of fresh faces like producer Bruno Miguel aka :Papercutz, the writing could be on the wall. We catch up with the recent export ahead of his Eurosonic Festival performance in Netherlands to scratch the surface of his sound, which has been called “beautiful and unsettling” and “dreamy bedroom pop.”

Not often do artists emerge from Portugal. What’s the scene like out there?

I would say like in many places, some I’ve witnessed in person, the most interesting music comes from the indie scene or the underground, which doesn’t get a lot of support. One of our latest and most interesting scenes is one coming from Lisbon’s housing projects.. They’re Portuguese-born from kids from the African diaspora. They mix Afro polyrhythms they hear in their neighbourhood since of a young age with European electronic music played in Lisbon’s clubs. My own city of Porto is still finding its voice, but I do feel it’s best to include some gothic elements in accordance with the city’s architecture and surroundings. I believe our music gets singular when we actually open up to the rest of the world. That search can be found in Portugal’s expansion history. Like in Sylvian’s World Citizen, being from a small country, I’ve personally always felt a need for a global connection.

What are the challenges of breaking through internationally?

Well, your first question kinda says it all. Our home country is not a place known for music findings and some agents and event producers don’t really get what we’re doing here. There’s no real international coverage. But fortunately, that’s changing. Just the fact that Portugal is this year’s Eurosonic focus country, means a lot more Portuguese acts are getting recognition for their sound and live shows. We still miss the major structures to support our efforts but independent music communities are starting to take matters into their own hands

You took part in the Red Bull Music Academy. What was whole the experience like of collaborating with like-minded musicians from across the globe?

I’ve always been a kind of studio rat. Playing live makes me stay in touch with what’s happening with other bands. Too much time in your studio can disconnect you from the world at large, but RBMA was an opportunity to get to know how various producers developed their language and skills. Just the other day I was discussing with a fellow participant (we do keep in touch) how his take on recording has been influential to me.

The track you did with Ale Hop “After Hours (NYC)” features traffic sounds. Out of curiosity, were those recorded in the streets of NYC?

They were! Simple iPhone recording at night close by the Red Bull studios. Looking back, I guess that was a way to imprint the city’s own natural sound into the song’s recording.

Unusual list of influences for someone in the dance scene. Kate Bush?

I understand if listeners draw comparisons between our music and dance music but I don’t believe the overall work I make can be absorbed by a particular tag. I never think in terms of genre when producing but have no issues if listeners or the press does. Besides her amazing vocals and lush soundscapes, Kate Bush (like most great pop artists) finds the difficult balance between appealing and deep enough to warrant coming back to her songs. That’s something I do strive for. We have dance elements, for sure, but most of the time I find myself trying to make interesting and arresting songs. As simple and easy as that might sound, it’s quite the opposite.

What’s it like working with your live bandmates Catarina and André?

Catarina has been performing live for the same amount of time as I have, and she is an accomplished artist on her own. She’s the featured vocalist on my latest work. Her voice has this airy warm tone, sometimes pop other times folk, which balances some of the harshness and dark passages of my recordings. I’m always looking for that kind of sweet spot and we usually talk a lot about taking the recorded experience and expanding some of the ideas on a live scenario. André is our newest member, he comes from a straight up live rock band background, and that helps a lot because we need that stamina on stage. We feed off from that.

Can you talk us through your production process?

It’s a mix between being in the moment and forming something really conceptualised. As someone who understands mixing, I do realise why less can be more, but I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that I’m a maximalist, regarding :PAPERCUTZ’s music. When I’m happy with the result, I’ll show it to the singer and we’ll work the vocals in. And then I might just take stuff out or include other details. The hardest thing is to know when it’s done and just let go.

Any funny moments you remember from backstage or on tour?

Well, we recently went through something really unusual, an electrical storm, on the Further Future festival site. The crew was very friendly and basically told us to stay inside our dressing rooms and started to put other acts in with us. And so there we were, diluting our fears with some vodka and some good (and sometimes weird) talks, right in the middle of the desert.

You’ve got quite a list of releases. Do you alter the repertoire at your live show much? Like, at what rate do you find yourself phasing in new songs?

We usually perform an album, supporting it with one or two older songs according to where we’re playing. We come up with a completely fresh show every 2 or 3 years. Our new one will definitely highlight vocals. There are also more sounds being played and generated live through acoustic and electronic instruments, so each gig is unique.

Do you ever perform underground jams or unofficial parties with friends?

Not really. Whenever I get away from my own work I rather just get lost on an interesting movie or spend time with non-music related friends. It helps me clear my mind so I can focus again. Catarina does, though. There’s a local music school and they have jams late at night which she attends. I think it makes sense cause she sees music as something instinctive and community-driven, whereas I introspectively dwell a lot between reason and emotional range.

If you could support one act, dead or alive, who would it be?

Wow, that’s a hard one. Too many to mention. I do like the new Jenny Hval album.

What’s coming up next for you guys?

Album coming out and obviously we hope to play live as much as we can, wherever we’re wanted. Although I love everything urban, anyone who’s been following my work and read the lyrics has realised I have a need for escapism. I’ve been fortunate to play in some interesting places and that feeds back into future recordings.

:Papercutz will be performing at the Eurosonic festival on Friday, 13th January – Minerva Art Academy, NL (23:00 – 23:40).

Listen to their new single, ‘Trust/ Surrender’ below.