Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Brazil Connection #3 - Pin Ups

This week we are going to talk about a classic Brazilian indie band, instead of a current one. This is the first time I do that, and probably won't be the last. And there's no better way to start talking about the past than with the band that started it all, at least as far as I'm concerned: Pin Ups.

Pin Ups, ca. 1993(?)

The band, which started out in 1987, certainly wasn't the first Brazilian independent act, but it was arguably the first in a certain scene, one that was never named but left its mark on many people, many of which have bands today. A scene of guitar-driven bands who sang in English and sounded like they'd just come from London, Manchester, or New York. It was a scene that was ahead of its time, taking cues from influences that were known to very few at the time, trailing a path that would later be taken by many.

Pin Ups started out as trio: Zé Antônio on guitar, Luís Gustavo on bass and vocals, and Marquinhos on drums. Zé Antônio would be the only member to be in all of the band's iterations. Their first record was released in 1990. Titled Time Will Burn, it sounded heavily influenced by bands like The Jesus and Mary Chain, with some hints of Primal Scream's often overlooked pre-Screamadelica albums. Not all songs on the record are very inspired, but the overall tone and sound are always interesting, and showed that this band wasn't kidding around.

In 1992 they released Gash (A Mellow Project By Pin Ups), which, as the parenthesis suggests, presented a completely different sound. Gash presented mostly acoustic songs, with experimental instrumentation in the background. At times it sounded like a less drug-induced Spacemen 5. The compositions are also stronger this time around, and Gash is one of their records that aged the better, still sounding current and relevant to this day. This was when Alexandra "Alê" Briganti joined the band on bass and backing vocals, and she also sang the cover of The Beatles' "A Day In The Life", which closes the record.

In 1993 came Scrabby?, and with it, another turn. This is the loudest album by the Pin Ups; it's one of those records that sound like a punch in the face, in the good way. One could see a connection between the album's sound and the grunge influence, which was strong that year, but the band was perhaps even more influenced by garage and proto-punk bands from the 60's and 70's. Out of all the bands of the Seattle scene, Scrabby? sounds a lot more like Mudhoney than Pearl Jam.

Also in 1993, the band released a cassette tape called Not For Sale. The Pin Ups never shied away from pointing out their influences, but here they wear them on their sleeves, presenting live covers from 15 bands that explain their musical identity. There's Pavement, Beatles, Teenage Fanclub, Flaming Lips, Yo La Tengo, and much more. All the versions sound like Pin Ups, without bastardizing any of the original material.

In 1995 Jodie Foster came out, and it's where I would say the band really came into their own. It is in many ways a continuation of Scabby?, but this time everything is more polished: the songwriting, the recording, and the performances, which are much tighter. There's some great songs here that any guitar band would kill to have in their catalog, such as "Feel So Strange" and "Sell Out". The cover of The Jesus and Mary Chain's "In A Hole", much like Not For Sale, showed how the Pin Ups turned their influences into something their own, new and exciting. But it was "Witkin" that showed where the band was headed, with Alê on vocals and a slightly different feel.

Shortly after recording Jodie Foster, Luís Gustavo left the band, being replaced on vocals by Alê. In 1997, joined by a second guitarist, Eliane, and a new drummer, Flávio, the Pin Ups released Lee Marvin, which I consider to be their best effort, where everything came together. The melodies are poppier, but the instrumentation remains loud and fast. The result is some beautiful songs like "Loneliness", "Guts", and "You Shouldn't Go Away". Had it been released at a different time or place, I have no doubt it would be regarded by many as a classic today.

In 1999 comes the band's final release, Bruce Lee. It's more of an EP than a proper album, with only three new songs and an acoustic half-hour set. While it's a shame that the band ended at their peak, the opening track, "To All Of Our Friends", is a true gem, and a fitting ending to a great story.

The band officially ended in 2001, just before recording what would have been another album. Since then, they have performed live a few times, but so far that has been about it.

I don't often wish I were older, but the Pin Ups have that effect on me. I only started getting into this sort of music by 1999, when the band was already about to end. I remember reading reviews for Bruce Lee and thinking "now THIS sounds exciting!",  and I did find and buy a copy of Lee Marvin around that time, but I was still very green. I never got to see them live, and never really was part of that indie scene, though I often read about it and later would be friends with people who did. I've been fascinated by the band for a long time now, and would actually like to research them more and do something telling their story.

It's relatively easy to be an indie band - or an indie whatever, really - these days. It's easier than ever to access your influences, to buy and record equipment, and to produce something decent with just a personal computer. Promoting may or may not be easier today, so let's put that aside. Still, when the Pin Ups were active, things were not quite like today. To keep a band going for that long, in spite of all the cost, low sales (compared to mainstream acts), and other difficulties, is commendable in itself. And to do that while creating really great music, well, that makes them heroes in my book.

If you're interested in the Pin Ups' music, it's quite tricky to find their records for sale these days, especially outside of Brazil. There was no Bandcamp or Spotify back then, and as far as I know their records never came out overseas. It is possible (although still tricky) to find all of their music online for illicit download, but I hesitate to link any site hosting those files, as I don't know how the musicians would feel about that. I will, however, post here videos from some of my favourite songs whatever I can find by them. You can find some of their full albums on YouTube, too.

(Live, the recording from the TV is not the greatest, but I think it adds some lo-fi charm to it.)

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