INTERVIEW: Fernando Aragones (ANIMAL VENTURA)
If sinfully smooth vocals and dynamic melodies are your thing, then chances are you've already heard of Byron-based, Brazilian-born multi-instrumentalist Animal Ventura (aka Fernando Aragones). Diverse and irresistibly unique, not only do Animal Ventura's tracks fuse funk rhythms from his native South America with adopted Aussie folk rock stylings, this one-man wonder also weaves in virtuosic dub looping to his vibrant live shows, granting an unforgettable experience that will leave you floating off into pure bliss.
It's very little wonder that this eclectic artist was so quickly embraced - from skate parks in South Brazil to surf breaks in Australia, Animal Ventura rapidly stormed the industry with numerous festival appearances and gigs throughout Brazil, Europe, the UK and New Zealand, as well as chalking up some Aussie royalty supports including The Presets, Art vs Science and The Beautiful Girls. In fact, Animal Ventura is currently trekking around Australia yet again with The Beautiful Girls on their national 15th Anniversary Tour, but in between sets this funk-tastic artist took a few moments on the phone to talk new music, breaking expectations and how some garage punk rock led to sublime looping infamy.
TIANA SPETER: Hi Fernando! I won't keep you long today, I know you're right in the middle of a massive tour at the moment. But to head back in time a couple of years, you have quite a unique backstory that's led to this...from Brazil to Byron Bay with a whole lot of stops along the way. But what actually brought you out here to Australia in the first place?
FERNANDO ARAGONES: In the first place it was a couple of things...one is kind of like, explore the world and see open opportunities, and the other was probably the language, you know, to improve the English and also the beautiful beaches in Australia. That's probably it! But essentially I just sort of had an urge to get out of my comfort zone and come and see the world, and so I pretty much picked the furthest place I could go from Brazil (laughs). It's the other side of the world really, and here I am twelve years later.
TIANA: And you're finally now in Byron Bay, which is quite known for its music scene, and your style especially suits that scene quite perfectly. But what are your actual thoughts on the Australian music industry since you've been here for quite a few years now? Does it feel like a supportive environment or is it still something you're figuring out?
FERNANDO: I think It's definitely a supportive environment. Since I got here to Australia, in the first week I got here I was already in a band with a couple of Australian guys and they embraced me and showed me a bit of the industry and how it works....and since then I've just been playing gigs around Sydney, I used to live in Sydney and just moved to Byron about three months ago. And I spent all this time in Sydney and I made some really good friends, really amazing musicians and had the opportunity to play with some really good musicians. So, yeah, it's very supportive I think from my perspective - maybe I got lucky, I don't know! But in saying that, there's still a few things that I'm still figuring out, especially now that I've put an album out and have been on tour, playing some good venues. So still figuring it out, but amazingly supportive.
TIANA: That's awesome to hear! And along the way you've supported some pretty massive Australian bands, I know you've played with The Presets, Art vs Science, and of course The Beautiful Girls who you're currently traipsing all over the country with. But do you like these bigger shows better or do you still prefer the intimacy in some of those smaller venues?
FERNANDO: Yeah, I really like both! It's funny, the first gig I played with The Beautiful Girls on this tour was on the Northern Beaches in Sydney - it was a packed house, a sold out show and very noisy and rowdy and sweaty. That was pretty fun, and then the very next day we went a played in this theatre in Milton and it was a bit of an older crowd and very, very polite (laughs). So that had that theatre environment, really good sound...and I really enjoyed both! It just depends on the vibe, really. But I think I'll probably go with the sweaty room and rowdy crowd, I think I prefer that. And there's more energy I think going around the room, it's not just people staring at you.
TIANA: And in terms of your style and sound, I've read that you grew up playing punk rock and reggae back in the day in garage bands, and obviously there are a lot of influences in your current music that are easy to pick up on...but what are some of the bands you actually grew up listening to kind of prompted you into this funky, punky style of music?
FERNANDO: I have an older brother so I sort of followed his tastes musically, probably from about 8 - 12 years old. And he was listening to a lot of Bob Marley, and a lot of soul and blues, he's a harp player and we grew up listening to a lot of blues and soul and reggae. And then once I got to high school I started a band with a couple of mates in high school and then it was just straight punk rock, like the Ramones, and then from there it was all those Californian bands like NOFX and Bad Religion. And then we discovered Sublime down the track, and I remember the first song I heard was a cover of Bad Religion where they pretty much mixed the punk/hardcore and reggae in one song and that sort of blew my mind away! So I was kind of like "ok, this is a bit life changing here". So, yeah, Sublime is the biggest influence of my playing and growing up as a teenager...but I always liked a lot of the heavier stuff too, heavy metal stuff. And I started playing in really different bands, in reggae bands, and then sort of a Brazilian popular music band, like samba and even more alternative Brazilian styles. And then I went into a phase of listening to a lot of Ben Harper and Jack Johnson when he kind of first came in on the scene. Then I moved to Australia and I got straight into some Kiwi music like Fat Freddys Drop. And the Australian music as well has always been a part of it, I remember all the surf movies back in the day had a lot of Australian music like Midnight Oil, Australian Crawl and Men at Work...so it's a big spectrum of different influences! But my main ones are Sublime, Ben Harper, Bob Marley, of course, and Jimi Hendrix and all that blues and rock stuff as well.
TIANA: That spectrum definitely comes out, listening to your new album 'Forrest St.' under the Animal Ventura name, there is so much going on in it, there's so many stylistic twists and turns that you take with it, it's incredible.
FERNANDO: That's really cool. I've had a couple of reviews actually, of the album, and some say they really loved the album but it's a bit too eclectic in a way...but I think cos it's one production it sounds concise, but has a lot of different styles of music and from a listener's perspective I think that's more interesting so you don't have that same sound going on the whole way through.
TIANA: Well sometimes if it's too same-same it all blends into one and suddenly you've head the whole album and not even realised it. That conceptual thing can work, but yours still flows while keeping you on your toes. But back to you, you've been kicking around for a while on the international scene, but Animal Ventura as a solo or side project was launched in 2015...what prompted you to take your music into more of a solo adventure?
FERNANDO: Well, I was playing in different bands, I play drums and also guitar and stuff, but when it comes to songwriting I always did it myself in the bedroom, so it was always a very personal thing. And back then I was performing under my own name as Fernando Aragones, and I think a lot of people thought because of the name that I play salsa or something, or just Latin or Spanish or flamenco music, stuff like that. When I thought about the name Animal Ventura, I was trying to get out of that box of Latin music, which I've never actually played - there's a bit of an influence there, but it never was Latin-style music. I've got a few songs in Portuguese, but when it comes to songwriting I always write songs in English. So Animal Ventura was definitely to try to get out of the box of Latin music that my name sounded like, and just to create an avenue to release my own music. It is a solo project, but I do sometimes play and collaborate with other musicians, so it's kind of like a collective. But it's an avenue to release my own music, pretty much!
TIANA: With this Animal Ventura project especially, you've become quite renowned for your looping skills, which I feel is something that has now crept into the mainstream with a lot more artists raising the bar and putting it out there...is this something you've always done, or is it something you've developed more as Animal Ventura?
FERNANDO: It's something I've always done, I've kind of been doing it for a while. Cos I was doing a lot of solo gigs in bars around the place, I always felt like I needed something a bit more and I remember my ex-flatmate went away for a few months and he left me his looping pedal...that's probably like 2007, I'd say? Ten years ago! So I thought "cool, I'll try this" and started looping and beatboxing and stuff...then I thought I might as well try it in a gig, so I brought it to a gig with another delay pedal and experimented there. And once I'd played it in little bars where it's a bit quiet, I could try and experiment a bit more. I've always been a drummer as well as a guitarist and a songwriter, and I always felt that I needed a bit of a beat to play along to, so eventually I got another pedal, like a distortion pedal...then a pedal board, and it kept growing and it eventually grew into this thing, now I use a sample pad where I have different drum sounds. So I connect them to the looping pedal and it becomes a full song, and I've got a pedal that can turn the guitar in the bass so I can do bass lines, and all of a sudden it's a full sound gig, but it's all by myself! And it's quite interesting, I really love doing it and in a modest way I think I've perfected it now to something I'm really comfortable with. And it's all live, there's nothing pre-recorded or anything else, I start a song from scratch. And what makes it more interesting is the fact that that it never sounds the same twice, sometimes even a mistake can be like a new thing, I'm always discovering new sounds and new ways to play a song. It's interesting to me first, and I think that appeals to the crowd as well. Now that, like you said, there's a lot of main acts like Tash Sultana doing it, and a bunch of other people doing it as well, people are starting to get it more. A few years ago, people would think "oh this guy, he's off his head!", you know? This guy with his backing track! And a lot of people still don't get it, a lot of times in my shows between songs I have to explain what's going on. And then people actually get it, and understand and appreciate it.
TIANA: So you're nearly halfway through this huge tour with The Beautiful Girls gifting everyone with this looping sorcery...what's the tour been like so far? You mentioned earlier the Northern Beaches was great, has it been a good reception along the way with the other shows as well so far?
FERNANDO: Yeah, it's been really, really great. I'd done one tour with them in the past, a couple of years ago I toured with them but it was less dates, a much smaller tour. It was a different band as well back then for The Beautiful Girls, they were doing some more electronic stuff. So I did that tour, which was great, but this one is a special one because they are celebrating their 15th anniversary of their first and second albums. And they've brought back the, sort of, roots sound of the band with the three-piece, and these shows are slightly bigger with better venues. The reception has been amazing, and of my shows too, I'm getting a really good response from the crowd which is really great. There's one song The Beautiful Girls have been playing every show and I jump onstage and sing with them, and it's a good moment! It's a highlight for me, I get to sing with them, so it's pretty fun. And we're really good friends as well, which makes it a lot easier to be on the road 24/7.
TIANA: One song I imagine you'd be playing along the way on this tour is the new single 'Animal' from the 'Forrest St.' album....I know you've mentioned in the past it's your favourite on the album, what is it that you love so much about this track?
FERNANDO: You know how with an album you go through phases, like you have one song that's your favourite at one time and then you change to another. But this one, it's just the feel of the song, and the chorus really hits me in a way. I think the production as well of the song is quite nice, and I've got a good friend singing backing vocals as well, she did an amazing job. The horn section is pretty amazing too! So yeah...it's just the whole vibe of the song, it's got a cruisy vibe, almost like a driving on the beach with the wind in your hair (laughs). I think it's got a good vibe and the meaning of the song, really, it has to do with the whole name and concept of the Animal Ventura thing...which is, in a short way, that we are human beings but as a species we are also animals, we're not very different from any other animal deep down. There's a bit of that in the song, and I think it's a combination of those things.
TIANA: Well it might sound like I'm just saying this, but it was actually my favourite on the album as well. I'll definitely be busting that one out all summer! Well, I wish you all the best for the rest of this awesome tour and no doubt will be seeing and hearing a lot more of Animal Ventura in 2018! Thanks so much!
FERNANDO: No, thank you! I really appreciate it.
ANIMAL VENTURA IS CURRENTLY TAKING SOME SERIOUSLY SMOOTH GROOVES AROUND THE COUNTRY WITH THE BEAUTIFUL GIRLS - FULL TOUR INFO AND MORE BELOW:
BY TIANA SPETER