Saturday, October 07, 2006

The Gift :: Estados Unidos

The Gift :: Entrevista

StarPolish Interview: The Gift

If music is truly the universal language, then The Gift is a welcome and (at least in the U.S.) new addition to the lexicon. Formed in Portugal in 1994, The Gift's unique, genre-defying electronic pop has captivated fans in that country and throughout Europe, helping to propel its debut release,Vinyl, to worldwide platinum status. Now the group is headed to New York City October 20 through November 9 for a series of club dates and showcase performances it hopes will attract the attention of fans and labels alike.

The Gift is comprised of four main band members -- singer Sonia Tavares, brothers/multi-instrumentalists Nuno and John Goncalves, and guitarist Miguel Ribeiro -- but in concert the group often swells to as many as 14 members in order to convey the lushness of its most recent album, Film, which uses brass and strings as well as more traditional rock instruments to create an intoxicating fusion of rock, pop, jazz, classical and electronica. As compelling as Film is, it pales when compared to the The Gift performing the concept album live. It's no surprise that The Gift plays to sold-out crowds throughout most of the world, and has shared stages with the likes of Radiohead, Coldplay, Massive Attack and Suede.

Just prior to hitting New York, The Gift's John Goncalves spoke with StarPolish's Chris Mugno about the band's beginnings, the lack in indie labels in Portugal, and the group's hopes for success in the U.S.

STARPOLISH: I guess a good place to start is to explain how The Gift came about.
GONCALVES: The band came together several years ago, in 1994. My brother and I had already been in other bands. Miguel had other bands, too, and Sonia was singing in a classical chorus or something like that. The four of us tried to get together and create something different from what the other bands in Portugal were doing. Back in 1994, in Portugal, most of the modern bands were doing the pop-rock thing, like guitar, bass and drums, and we thought about making something different -- especially [combining] electronics with classical instruments. That was our idea back in 1994, and with the passing of the years, it's been the same idea -- we wanted to bring together the electronic part with the classical part. In the classical part, we can have strings or brass instruments, so it's kind of organic with an electronic mix.So in 1994 we did it, and started the band --- like other bands all over the world -- in the garage (laughs). We started [performing] some shows for our friends and the local community, and then the local press wrote about us. Then we started playing in Lisbon, the capital of Portugal, and decided to tour. The years just passed by, and the record companies did not want to know anything about us because we sang in English.

In 1997, after three years of playing in bars and auditoriums and clubs, we felt we had to make something of our work, so we released a record. This record was made only for the media and record labels. The media gave the album great reviews, but the record labels still did not want us. In December 1998, we released another record -- this time to the general public -- and it went gold in Portugal. This record was a major success for us -- and for our tour and our management -- and so we decided to create a record label. In 2001, we released another record, The Film, which I think you've heard. The record labels thought we were [too] strange to be commercial, so we did it our way, and it was the best way -- we went gold in Portugal in 1998. The new record, The Film, is almost gold, too, in Portugal, so we are all over [the country].

STARPOLISH: Congratulations -- it sounds like you're enjoying success.
We've become successful because after 1997, we just decided to be very professional in everything that we did. Although we were still [in school] studying back in 1997, we take this hobby as a professional thing. We've been very professional in every step of our career. Thank god, everything was OK for us.

STARPOLISH: What constitutes a gold record in Portugal?
A gold record in Portugal is 20,000 [units]; silver is 10,000, and platinum is 40,000. In 1998-99, we sold almost 35,000 copies of Vinyl, our first release. With The Film, sales are [about] 20,000 right now -- it's almost gold record, and it's not because there are 200 more to sell. Our sales fell just like the whole [record industry] fell, because of CD-Rs (home-recorded CDs). So I think selling 20,000 now is the same as selling 35,000 three years ago. It was good to achieve that success with the second album. And we are glad that shows still sell out, and we play more than we did in 1998. So I think we are more popular right now than we were in 1999 because of computers, CD-Rs, and our shows -- which, for us, is OK.

STARPOLISH: What is the music market like in Portugal?
GONCALVES: The music market in Portugal has a big problem -- we don't have independent labels, so the whole market is controlled by the five majors. Which means that we have all the news, and the latest records from America and Europe -- they are normally imported, or [you] can buy them internationally. But regarding the Portuguese music scene, it's very hard, because when [bands] want to sign a record contract they need to go to the majors. We know that [many] of the creative artists out in the world are not signed by the majors, but in Portugal they need to sign with a major. So it is very hard for an English-singing band -- or a band out of the mainstream -- to get signed and have a career in Portugal. There are some very good bands here, and they are doing what we are doing -- just releasing their records on their own, and trying to get a licensing contract with the majors.

But it is a very hard market. We have one good thing in Portugal: the press. Most of the press is specialized, and they support the new [types] of music -- I'm speaking about Bjork, or Beck, or whatever, that are in the mainstream circuit outside of Portugal. The press is very supportive, and help out new bands from Portugal, Europe and America that are trying to make it in Portugal -- so that's very good! It opens the doors to the audience, and that's the most important thing. As far as sales, though, it is very hard to sell records in Portugal. Most of the records, when they come out, have about two weeks of sales and then they start being copied.

STARPOLISH: You mention the fact that although all its members are Portuguese, The Gift performs in English. Why is that?
GONCALVES: Back in 1994, there was no band in Portugal singing in English -- especially no successful English-singing band. We decided to sing in English because aesthetically what we wanted to do had more to do with English then Portuguese. Portuguese is a very beautiful language, but is not very connected with Pop or Electronic or with what we wanted to do. So we tried it in Portuguese and we didn't like it. The decision to sing in English was based on what we heard at home, and that was American or English. If it's not American and if it's not English, it's from Sweden or Germany or Iceland, like Bjork, and it [still] arrives here in English. So, of course we are influenced by that.

STARPOLISH: How many people are in the band at the present time?
GONCALVES: The band has four members. There's me, my brother, Sonia, who is the lead singer, and Miguel, but on stage we have much more that four members. The first tour we had in Portugal, we went out on the road with 14 members, with strings, brass instruments and percussion. Right now we cut back a little bit and have nine musicians on stage.

STARPOLISH: Carrying that amount of people around on stage for a tour has to be expensive. Does it make it harder financially?
GONCALVES: Yes -- it is very hard financially, but we did it in 1994 with 14 musicians on the first tour. You'd be surprised, but we played almost 100 shows in Portugal in two years. Portugal is a very small country, but we played 100 shows. Within those 100 shows we played in auditoriums, festivals, in big squares, in big clubs, we played everywhere -- and we always brought the 14 musicians with us. On that tour it was very, very hard to get money from the shows. There are at least 20 people on the road with us for a tour. Because we are a little bit successful in Portugal, we have some clubs that pay us and give us the door, and some mayors that have invited us to play their [towns and cities], and we have some big festivals. We are not rich, but we try and cut costs based on how much we receive.

STARPOLISH: Your music is comprised of a lot of different musical elements and instrumentation. How would you describe The Gift's music?

GONCALVES: In one word, I would call it "pop." I know that in America when you say "pop" you think of something similar to Britney Spears, but [in Portugal] it embraces many things -- everything from Oriental to electronic to rock. The main focus of our band is the songs. Since the beginning of our careers, the beginning of ourselves as musicians, we've always listened to songs, and that's what we really like. If you tell me to say one word, I would say "pop," but I need you to understand that our music is not the normal pop. We have elements of electronic -- and when I say electronic, I mean some of the old sounds from the 80s, and synthesizers -- and we mix it with the strings from the orchestra, the horns from the jazz section, and we have a bridge between all the string sections, and that is the voice. Sonia has a great voice with many different characters. She is not only one person on the record -- she is like three or four people on the record. She can transform herself very well within these environments. And that's what we did. With Film, we were free to do whatever we wanted to because everything is justified within the name. It is the creativity and freedom that gives a record its final shape.

STARPOLISH: What are your plans for The Gift in the United States?
GONCALVES: In the U.S., we are going to be at CMJ in November, and we are going to perform some more showcases around New York and Philadelphia. What we are trying to do is to show our music to as many people as possible. The thing is to be there for the important shows, and try to get agents and labels there to see a live show. Then we are going to see if we can license the record for America. We will be [in the U.S.] for three weeks, and in those three weeks we are going to try to present ourselves to the press, to booking agents, and to record labels. Then we'll see what happens.

Chris Mugno
in Thursday, October 17, 2002

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