If you enjoy good quality melodic hard rock, you are in for a treat. Spektra, new band formed by singer BJ with Jeff Scott Soto and Alessandro del Vecchio as producers, brings us a refreshing take on the genre. BJ is joined by Leo Mancini on guitar, Henrique Canalle on bass and Edu Cominato on drums, some of whom are former members of Tempestt, a band that released one great album in 2007 and left us all waiting for more. And more is what they bring us with Spektra’s first release “Overload”, an album filled with catchy tunes and excellent musicianship.
Chaoszine had the pleasure of talking to BJ about Spektra, his long-time musical partnership with Jeff Scott Soto, and the future of rock music in Brazil.
Hello and thank you for talking to Chaoszine. How is it like to be a band releasing its first album during the pandemic?
BJ: Hello, it’s my pleasure. This pandemic brought about a new situation. The artists and the professionals involved with the entertainment industry, the hands-on guys who make a living out of it, the roadies, the sound technicians, the stage managers, the band’s management, and everyone who surrounds the artists, we all took a blow with this pandemic, and had to somehow reinvent ourselves. But as far as the studio work is concerned, we could dedicate ourselves a lot to this project because, all of a sudden, we had more time in our hands. Spektra’s record sessions were already planned for 2020 before the pandemic, but the release date was postponed over eight months. Everything was delayed; the record company (Frontiers Music Srl) is very active and they managed to survive this whole change in the music industry over the past few years. They’ve managed to keep the fans who want to buy physical copies of the albums and who enjoy melodic rock; now they’re expanding into heavy metal, as well. This makes them one of the biggest labels of the sector in the world nowadays. They work really hard, and we can only imagine how this pandemic changed everything for them, as well. So when they postponed our release date, we understood completely but still decided to deliver them the finished product on the date we had previously set, which was already our commitment. So working on the arrangements, the back and forth with the producers, all of that was accomplished remotely.
So the album was recorded remotely?
BJ: Well, I recorded my vocals at home. I have the equipment it takes, I also record jingles and stuff for ad campaigns. I had made some trips to the studio in May and June 2020. The streets were empty, everything was in lockdown so I decided to do it home, instead, to be on the safe side. I found the same equipment they had in the studio, and whatever I couldn’t get my hands on friends helped out, sent it to me via courier, and I started to test it all at home. The way you sing on an album is different: there is a certain volume I have to sing when recording my style of vocals, it is very demanding. Besides, the walls need acoustic treatment, there can be no reverberation. So I put curtains, duvets and cushions everywhere and turned a room at home into a studio. I recorded one of the songs and sent it to Jeff Scott Soto, who produced the album, and he asked what set up I had used, because he wanted to get the same! That meant he liked it, and said I didn’t have to go out to the studio after all, it sounded incredible, and I should keep it going. So I recorded at home, and the other guys did the same. The guitars were recorded like that and then re-amped at the studio. Except for the drums, which had to be done in the studio anyway.
You have a long career in rock ‘n roll, and an important part of it was Tempestt, which released one great album in 2007 leaving the fans hungry for more. Now you have a new band with the same guys, but it sounds a bit different. Can you tell us about it?
BJ: It’s interesting that you ask this because a lot of people misunderstand that. Even though they will find the same energy, the same chemistry, it is a different project. This does not annul Tempestt. There is no comparison, it’s just different. Maybe we will even play some of the Tempestt stuff, for old time’s sake, but Spektra is a new venture.
What about your long-time musical partnership with Jeff Scott Soto?
BJ: It all started when we were invited to play with Jeff in 2002 by the Brazilian record label Animal Records located at the Galeria do Rock in São Paulo. It was the tenth anniversary of the company so they wanted to bring someone of that calibre to perform here. But it was way too expensive to bring Jeff’s whole band so they asked us, an early version of Tempestt, to play with him. So Jeff listened to a couple of original songs we had recorded and really liked it. He is an idol of ours, I’ve listened to his music since I was a kid so it was fantastic to meet him. And we clicked right away! We met at a barbecue restaurant here in São Paulo, we had lunch, had a few laughs, had a few drinks together, it was great. He developed an admiration for our work, as well, and there was an immediate musical connection. He even asked me to sing with him during the concert. From there, a friendship evolved, and we have been friends ever since. In 2004 he returned to Brazil with his band so we opened for him as Tempestt. Richie Kotzen also performed on that occasion. So in 2007, when we released our album “Bring ‘em on”, he said to us “you gotta be released in Europe”. So at his suggestion I went to Sweden Rock Festival with a credential and a backpack full of our CDs, hung out backstage and gave our album away to anyone that I found out was a music journalist. That way we got lots of good reviews from high level music magazines and, thus, landed a record deal for the European market. So in 2008 we toured Europe. Then in 2009 I joined the new line-up of SOTO. That’s when we started writing music together and working together for real. Edu Cominato, Spektra’s drummer, also works on Jeff’s projects. So we’re like family!
What are the musical influences for Spektra?
BJ: There is a bit of everything, really. This is my first pure melodic rock album, and that style is my essence as a singer. All that I’ve recorded and released before, as a singer, it’s all me, but my true essence is melodic hard rock and AOR. So the influences are Bon Jovi, Winger, Journey, Toto, Talisman but also Queensrÿche. Three of the songs on the album are pure AOR: “Just Because”, “Lonely Road”, and “Back into Light” all of which bring a modern element together with the AOR characteristics. At the same time there is a firm foot in hard rock with heavier riffs. And in my voice, you can hear influences like Steve Perry and Jon Bon Jovi, the latter a true idol for me. Jeff Scott Soto is also obviously a great influence, after all, we work together. I’ve been in his band for over ten years and I truly learn a lot from him, always. Nathan James, from Inglorious, says I’m Jeff’s Richie Sambora… and I get it because Jeff wanted a lead singer to sing duets with him, not simply a backing vocalist. It’s funny because the reverse happened on Spektra’s album: all the backing vocals were done by Jeff and me, and for the duets it’s Jeff singing opposite me. Which is great because our voices are completely different but go well together.
Besides Journey, we can also hear a lot of Europe in your music.
BJ: Yes, totally! Europe and Joey Tempest are gigantic influences for us, how could I forget? Especially all the “oh, yeahs” in the beginning of the songs, like on “Out Of This World”. So whenever people tell me my voice reminds them of Joey Tempest’s I am so thankful and truly honoured, because that man has a very beautiful voice, he can sing the hell out of anything.
Spektra was a project you had with Frontiers Records Srl so you put the band together as you wanted to. Can you tell us a little more about the genesis of the band?
BJ: Frontiers Records Srl had released Tempestt in Italy so we’ve been working with them since 2008. One day Jeff (Scott Soto) approached me, because he had a project to release with Alessandro del Vecchio as producers so he sent me two songs, which I recorded and sent back to them. They heard it and were certain I was supposed to be the singer on the project, still unnamed at the time. They sent the contract to close the deal with me right away. But having worked with Jeff for a long time, and also having partnered with Frontiers before, they told me to pick the name of the band and the musicians, which showed they had confidence in me. That’s when I said I didn’t want this to be a one-off thing, just a project for one album, but a real band going forward from here. So I chose the guys whom I trust the most, that I know have everything to do with this kind of sound we’re making to make this happen for real. I am now at the head of this project, and if anything goes wrong you can blame me! But this is not a solo career, it is a real band.
Do you guys intend to tour after the restrictions of the pandemic come to an end?
BJ: Yes, in spite of the situation, things are moving forward. We already have plans. It’s great to see work you do with love and dedication move forward, both from me and all the band members. They have done such a great work with such excellence, I have to say that my bandmates are fantastic! I’ve known them for so long, in some cases over twenty years. I kind of know how much I can expect from them. But it’s even better when they go beyond that and astonish you with amazing playing. All of them. And this happened many times over the course of making this album. They truly amazed me to the point of tears. For instance, if Leo sent me a guitar solo in two versions I was like “please, man, don’t do this to me, how can I choose?” Also, Edu’s drum fills I mean, amazing stuff, Henrique’s bass, man, really great, they truly amazed me. So all that being said, the album, which was released just over a month ago, has met with great reception, and we’ve already had some invitations to perform. Animal Records is our label in Brazil, they bought the rights to release the physical copies of “Overload” out here, and they told us the album is selling really fast. I think this album has a lot of truth in it, that’s why people are enjoying it and getting physical copies. So we really want to have a release concert to mark this important moment for us, but we have to do it responsibly, the pandemic has to be more under control for that to happen. And as we want to play to a full house with no restrictions of masks and distancing we have to wait for the right time. We don’t want to be the reason for an irresponsible social gathering at this time. We have to be safe about this. Besides Spektra I do an acoustic tour in Switzerland and Spain every year with my buddies Jorge Salán and Andy from Vanadine. I think it’s going to happen this year, at least it’s scheduled. I am an optimist, and I hope it’s all going to get better. At least here in Brazil most people are taking the vaccines. So I’m really hopeful to perform live in the near future.
Now let’s talk about something a little different, which generates some controversy. Since the advent of smart phones people have been going to concerts and instead of watching the real thing going on in front of them, they watch everything through this little screen to make sure they’re getting a good shot while filming it. As an artist on stage, what’s your opinion about that?
BJ: That’s a great question, I’ve never given it too much thought. When I go to concerts as an audience member it gets in the way. The wall of cell phones blocks my view, it feels a bit surreal. Some people really don’t watch the show, they spend the whole time looking at this little screen. But while on stage it doesn’t bother me that much, I don’t feel like the energy in the room has any less warmth because of that. So I think that it is worse for the audience members who really want to watch the show than for us who are on stage. As an artist it doesn’t bother me, because it feels like the people filming are enjoying it so much that they want to have it so they can watch it again, because it’s important for them. So that’s two different opinions from each vantage point. I have even seen people arguing because of that when I was in the audience of a festival abroad: two grown men with grey in their beards. How insane is that situation? So I feel like people should be able to film, but in a way that doesn’t get in the way of the rest of the audience who is actually trying to watch and enjoy the show.
Some people said that rock ‘n roll is dead, but the scene here in Brazil is thriving with very good bands. What is your opinion on that? And do you have any suggestions of Brazilian bands for our readers?
BJ: It is a bit of an exaggeration but I understand those who say that because they’re fed up with how things have been going, especially here in Brazil. Rock is not dead, the fact that my new band is selling lots of physical copies of our debut album kind of shows that. As rock ‘n roll musicians we go through a lot. Nowadays, we are a little bubble in the music industry here in Brazil, and within this bubble everyone has a lot of complaints. For example, at the Sweden Rock Festival, there are five stages. If a Swedish band plays at the same time as a huge band, like Megadeth, for instance, 90% of the Swedish people present will go watch the Swedish band’s show. No one told me that, I went there twice, in 2007 to promote Tempestt, and in 2014 I performed there with Talisman. This is how they empower their bands from their local scene. And here I hear people complain that they don’t want to pay 30 reais to go to a Brazilian band’s concert, but they will pay 300 to go see a foreign band. So the scene is being hurt by ourselves. I’m not accusing anyone of doing this on purpose, it’s just that this has happened over the years and has become normal, somehow. Besides, there is a group of people here in Brazil that think that if it’s not foreign then it’s not good. And I’m saying this as a guy who has almost 30 years’ career and who has lived in Brazil all this while. This mentality is not just about rock but about everything. They think nothing we do here is ever good enough and you’ve got to be foreign to be good. It’s like a vocalist as good as or even better than someone in a successful foreign band cannot exist here. So the solution is to make the scene stronger and I’ll ask fans reading this now, please, people, follow the Brazilian bands on social media, that is a great weapon that we have. We don’t need mainstream media like television anymore but without your support it gets really difficult. So let’s listen to Brazilian rock, don’t discard it without giving it a go, there are so many great bands. Frontiers Records Srl is a company that has signed a lot of Brazilian artists lately like Alírio Netto, Nando Fernandes, both great singers, the project with Raphael Mendes, Icon of Sin, and the bands Landfall and Electric Mob, and I’ll obviously forget to mention other artists. Other great bands that are not on the label, like Kingbird, bands from all generations, we’re all making great music here in Brazil so much so that Frontiers is betting on all of us. There is a lot of talent out here so support the local artists, buy their merch, go to their concerts. These days we make a living mainly out of concerts and merch. But we are resilient, rock will make it through these trying times.
Thank you again for taking the time to talk to us.
BJ: Thank you!
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