Joyce stands for the freshness of her bossa

Brazilian muse of alternative brits and Americans, the singer/songwriter – releasing her album made in Japan, Tudo Bonito – tries to keep her distance from electronica

Silvio Essinger
Marcus Valle, Os Mutantes, Tom Zé, Tom Jobim, Jorge Ben and Caetano Veloso alternate positions as Brazilian cult objects for the electronica, hip hop and rock crowds in the United States and in England. The muse in this area, though, is only one: Joyce. Singer, composer and guitarist, she appears in the favorites list of pop-avant-garde bands like Stereolab, Superchunk and Tortoise, thanks to records whose shapes barely deviate from the commandments dictated by Tom Jobim and João Gilberto by the late 50s. Her new album, Tudo Bonito, was recorded early in 2000 for the Japanese label Rip Curl and is finally coming out in Brazil on Sony Music, unspoiled by synthesizers, samplers, beats, electric guitars and DJs. It is a carioca (Rio de Janeiro native) album, filled with samba and bossa, João Donato’s timeless piano and compositions and Paulo Moura’s fabulous clarinet.

Even after the huge success achieved by Bebel Gilberto’s electronic bossa in the U.S., Joyce sees no reason to give up her own language so as to pursue more contemporary sounds. "The mix of electronica and Brazilian music is not exactly new", she says. "This idea of making an album with DJs was proposed to me back in 1995 by producer Brian Bacus, currently working for Blue Note. But I didn’t think it was coherent for me. I belong to another generation! Still, if they fancy remixing my songs, I’m ok with it." Anyway, the singer is glad to witness João Gilberto and Miúcha’s daughter’s success with the album Tanto Tempo. "Bebel is the right person, at the right time, with the right song. It is the same collection of events that beamed up Astrud Gilberto – who’s not even her mother(laughs)!"

As a matter of fact, Joyce’s career abroad is doing fine. "I have been to four continents, this year alone", tells the singer who spends about 40% of her time away from Brazil. "That’s my life, pretty nutty." She has recently been to Johannesburg, in South Africa, to play the Art Alive festival, one of the most important in Africa. Not to mention tours around Europe and the United States, besides Japan, of course. She is able to analyze the receptivity of the world toward Brazilian music. "Each people have a way of loving BPM, and all these ways are worthy", she says. "The market in Japan is quite solid, now, while Europe is experiencing a new boom – Scandinavians are very open, now – and the Americans never lost interest. Among musicians, it is hard to find one that does not speak a little Portuguese or who does not want to make a Brazilian album."

Collaboration with Donato
Tudo Bonito is one more project by Joyce and Japanese producer Kazuo Yoshida, who’s been recording the finest of bossa and samba for Japanese ears – and the singer has been working with him since the album Delírios de Orfeu (1994). Kazuo called for João Donato’s presence in Joyce’s disc. Donato played the piano, sang and co-wrote the songs Prossiga, with Joyce, and Falta de Ar (with his brother Lysias Enio), besides bringing in the classics Bananeira and Sambou, Sambou.

"I have known Donato since he returned to Brazil in the early 80s, but I had always been a big fan; he’s very inspiring, to me.", says Joyce. "As soon as he arrived, he was singing songs from my first album (from 1968) that nobody even knows." The both met again not long ago, when Donato played the piano in Ana’s (Joyce’s daughter) album, Futuros Amantes, which was released for the Japanese market, only (and produced by Yoshida, of course).

In Tudo Bonito, Joyce demanded that Donato show his class on the Fender Rhodes, whose sound was linked forever to the 70s jazz-funk. "He is one of the musicians who best used the Fender in the whole world – he has invented this thing, he’s created a language", she praises. On the other hand, Paulo Moura is imperative in the track Lamarca na Gafieira. The young André Mehmari, 22 years-old, was chosen to write the strings arrangements for this CD. The recordings took place in April, in Rio de Janeiro, and didn’t last longer than a week – Joyce is not keen on spending endless hours in studios. She goes for the first take, as opposed to the tiring process of recording 48 tracks for each song and then drawing the best pieces from each take and "making a Frankenstein". "When I’m recording, I am registering the moment. I like human sounds, the bassist’s finger, the foot on the pedal."

In the midst of a few covers (Só Tinha de Ser Com Você, for instance), the disc is based upon Joyce’s new material, like Adolescência, Anos 30, Galã Tantã and the title track. "I wanted to sort of continue what had started with Hard Bossa (an album that was released only in England, on Far Out), which is totally author-related." The singer owns the rights for that album, and considers the possibility of releasing it in Brazil on Pau Brazil – but that would be later, because Tudo Bonito is coming out in Brazil now. Besides, she’s already started writing for her next album on Far Out.

Always thinking of Brazil
Joyce sees no difference between making records for Japan, England or anywhere else. "Brazil is always on my mind when I’m recording", claims the artist, who usually chooses studios and musicians in Rio de Janeiro. "Even though my career abroad became very solid after 15 years, I don’t intend – unless an extreme hecatomb happens – to live elsewhere. Being here is what freshens up my music. When you’re away for too long, the music becomes stale." Joyce claims that she doesn’t care for market positions – her music is her music and that’s it. "I’m not going through that, but since things are working fine – my work, Mracos Valle’s work and a few others’ – some people have tried and done things alike. But things only work if they’re real", she says

And who would have imagined that, without letting go of her personal style, Joyce would end up conquering a most unexpected admirer: Mac McCaughan, leader of Superchunk. With his project, Portstatic, he recorded Joyce’s Clareana, besides using a verse from that song to name the album: De Mel de Melão. " I found it really funny. When DJs in London started to get interested in my music, that didn’t surprise me at all. I always knew that they had a dance edge. But when the same thing happened within the indie rock scene in America, that was quite funny", says the singer.

When the band Superchunk was touring Brazil, they had the chance for a little chat. "I asked: ‘Why me?’, and Mac told me something that I really enjoyed: ‘Because each of your albums is as fresh as the first one, they’re never overproduced, and always sound alive.’ And so it’s been since the beginning. On Feminina, which is 20 years-old, now, I only used some overdub for the strings."