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Joao Terra

The interview…

How would you describe yourself and your music?

JT: I’m Joao Terra, I’m 29 years old and I moved to Liverpool about 2 years ago. It’s hard for me to describe myself because when you do that you put a limitation somehow.

Music-wise I feel more like a folk artist, blues, if I can put it this way. But if you say you are a blues player, people are going to expect you only to play blues and anything else is going to sound weird or your audience is not going to get it. So that’s why I try normally not to label myself.

You recently changed your personal Facebook profile name, why was that?

JT: I hope people don’t take it the wrong way, but I don’t want to be found on my personal profile on Facebook. I want to have a normal life with my friends. It’s quite tricky playing music and having the audience asking if you’re on Facebook, you give them your business page details but they don’t want that, they aren’t interested, they want to be your friend. It’s quite tricky because, and don’t get me wrong, we meet for one night only and I don’t want to be your (Facebook) friend, I have no interest in that on a personal level, I’d just like you to follow my music (business) page, not expect us to be “friends”. That’s why I changed - to keep separation between my personal and business pages.

Where in Brazil are you from?

JT: Close to Sao Paulo - a beautiful place in the countryside, in the hills about 1.5 hrs drive away - my dad owns a small hotel. Sao Paulo is the financial capital of Brazil in the middle of the country. Definitely not for me, like every big town, everybody is in too much of a hurry. 

Any Brothers and sisters?

JT: I have a sister who lives in Switzerland and two brothers living in Brazil. My older brother is with my dad running the business, my other brother has a separate career and has a wife and kids.

Are they musical too?

JT: My dad is a songwriter. My two brothers play guitar and drums.

When did your interest in music develop?

JT: From the very beginning, because of my dad being a singer-songwriter. He used to rehearse all the time at home and I would fall asleep on the couch just listening to them playing. When I was about 8 or 9 years old I was already playing guitar or drums because that was our normal environment, it was natural for us.

What style of music? Local/traditional or blues/rock?

JT: My dad is a funny guy because he doesn’t play any cover songs, he just plays his original music. And it’s a mix of everything, you know, a mix of blues and rock n roll, a bit of Brazilian country. But obviously he just loves music of any kind, but I would say more like rock and blues, that kind of stuff.

Obviously it’s a cliche about all Brazilians playing Samba music, is it unusual for somebody to have that interest in blues and rock which you have? Do most people tend to prefer the traditional styles of Brazilian music?

JT: It’s normal in Brazil, for a musician, they get to know how to play bossanova or samba or whatever. It’s the Brazilian cultural thing. But I would say, yes, it was a little bit unusual then but not nowadays though. Nowadays it’s so much easier to find, just go on Youtube for example and you can listen to anything you want to. 

Samba or bossanova is more like an old, traditional thing. The newer generation are more into different kinds of stuff, I would even say like pop. The same pop here in the UK is the same pop back home.

We are like, you know, probably over 200 million people in the country and I would say Sao Paolo, Rio, a few cities down south, the music scene is quite big, and in Rio they have the festival “Rock In Rio”. I’m not sure if they still do it now, or how often they do it, but it’s a huge festival with some pretty famous bands, even Pink Floyd, or maybe just Roger Waters himself, I’m not sure if it was Floyd or just him.

Who are some of your favourite artists who inspired you to get into music?

JT: I would say, everybody who knows me knows this, but I’m a big fan of John Mayer. I love his guitar playing, his song-writing, he’s the full package. I love Hendrix and Stevie-Ray Vaughan, BB King and Robert Johnson, an old blues player from back in the day.

I’ve been listening a lot to Gary Clark Jnr which is a kinda new one now, Joe Bonamassa that kind of stuff. But also many others too.

How old were you the first time you performed in public?

JT: I don’t know, to be fair. I played a few gigs with my dad, I played drums for him. And I played in a few bands as well as a teenager. We used to have a band, we used to play punk rock, like Rancid and, you know, Ramones or even Sex Pistols. For us in Brazil that’s quite unusual. We even used to dress up and have Mohawks.

My dad was always into soul music, like Otis Redding, that kind of stuff, so I really got into soul. I’m not sure when I first performed but I would say maybe 14/15 yrs old. Obviously it’s pretty exciting, that band feeling, my first band feeling, we used to play festivals and everything back home, it was good fun. I was lead guitarist and a friend of mine was the lead singer. I’ve never been into singing that much, it’s just a thing that I tried a few years later.

How did you feel the first time you got up as the front man?

JT: That was tough for me, it still is. Like some people don’t believe it, they think that I’m not, but I normally say that I’m shy. If you notice, it’s hard, it’s really rare for me to face the audience. You probably see in my gigs, I never face the audience, I just look to my guitar or my pedals. I’ve never been able to look and get what people are actually feeling. Sometimes I think it’s bad for me because I think I should be more into the audience. But I’ve always seen myself much more as a guitar player than a singer. But if you want to get somewhere you’re going to have to sing a little bit, so yeah, I started singing like maybe three years ago, not more than that.

Performing at The Cavern Club, Liverpool.

Performing at The Cavern Club, Liverpool.

Could this shyness explain the hats?!?

JT: Definitely! If I can I’m even wearing sunglasses so I feel hidden! But, yeah, the hat, I definitely feel like I’m hidden somehow.

What lead to all of the tattoos?

JT: My mum, she’s got a tattoo on her arm which she’s now redone into a big, beautiful one. My dad was definitely not into tattoos at all though he was the musician of the family, he’s never been supportive of tattoos at all.

I got my first tattoo when I was seventeen back home, my mum supported me but my dad didn’t. and then after that I always wanted to have one arm sleeve done, then when I looked in the mirror I felt something was missing here, so I had my hands done, then my fingers. Then when I looked in the mirror I thought I need to balance now, there’s too much ink on one arm and none on the other. When I got my second sleeve done I would look in the mirror and think there’s something missing in the middle now! So then I’ve done my chest and up to my neck. Don’t even ask me how many, I have no idea!

Do many of the tattoos have a special significance or are they mostly decorative?

JT: Some of them, especially the written ones, they’ve got meanings, but not all of them. Some are just pictures I’ve liked or somehow are a part of my life, I’ve got flowers, birds, a gypsy woman, two geishas. All of them are related to my life in some way, I wouldn’t put something on my skin which was totally meaningless.

Is that a Route 66 sign?

JT: That’s for my mum, she was born in 66 and the name I call her, Ida, is on there (although her actual name is Ligia). I have one for my dad too on my ribs, which is lyrics from one of his songs. It’s something like “look inside and find yourself”, but in Portuguese. 

It’s basically a way to express myself and I see myself nowadays as an artist. I see loads of people who are artists or musicians and they don’t look or act like artists. They get on stage and they act like, I wouldn’t say normal people, because we are all normal people, but…do you get what I mean? If you are an artist, you’ve got to act like an artist somehow. You see all the famous ones like the Stones, The Beatles, they used to dress a certain way, they used to get on stage and look cool. A good example here in Liverpool now are Xander and The Peace Pirates, they dress so cool, they put hats on - they look like pirates!

When/how did you and Mariana get together?

JT: We met in Brazil three years ago. People can’t believe it, we are very sure we are soulmates because we’ve been together from the very first day we met. From that first day we’ve never been apart. It’s a very, very, true love story. And she’s very supportive of my music career, she brings out the best of me.

How did you both choose to come to the UK, and Liverpool particularly?

JT: Because of Mariana. She’s got a very good opportunity to do her PhD here at John Moores University. We met two months before she was due to leave for the UK. And I was like I’m definitely not planning to move country right now - but here I am! I’m not going to get into detail on that because it’s a long story! But I don’t regret a minute, everything’s been so, so great for both of us and now she’s almost done and what we’ve both done is amazing. Basically, I decided to come to the UK because of Mariana.

Did it take long/was it difficult to get accepted and become established on the local music scene here?

JT: No, not all. Although I do struggle a little bit to fit in even now because I’m from another country, I play differently, I have my Brazilian accent, but somehow it’s always helped me. In the beginning it was little bit tough for me to get gigs because I was just a new guy in Liverpool playing music and people come from all over the world to do that here in Liverpool. But somehow I’ve always been able to stand out, For me it’s a priceless experience, coming where I come from.

Did it take long to get used to the Scouse accent?

JT: Ah yes - I still haven’t! When they start talking to each other with quite a thick accent it’s very hard for me to understand. But I’ve noticed it’s not just me, even people with English as their first language can struggle!

When you write a song are you ever concerned you may be revealing too much about yourself in the lyrics?

JT: Lyrics are always tough for me. I’ve got loads of songs ready to go on the guitar, all the melodies, all the guitar parts are done, I just need lyrics. Obviously there are a few things which matter to me, I’m not just going to write a song which is totally meaningless. All of my lyrics, they are about myself. I’ve maybe got a few songs about life in general, but mostly in my lyrics you see “I” instead of “it” or “you”. I write loads of love songs for Mariana and our story, for me it’s endless so I can write more love songs, but lately I’ve felt I need to write about something else, not just love. Yes, it’s cool, but a whole album just about love - you need to write about life itself, the struggles, or for example, about me being here, a Brazilian guy in Liverpool. But as I said, lyrics are always tricky for me, I struggle to write. English is not my first language but I don’t think it’s as hard to write in English as it is in Portuguese - for example we haven’t got the word “get” in Portuguese and it’s a word used so much in English, you can use it for everything. But it’s always hard for me to write whether it’s in English or Portuguese.

I try to write songs which people can relate to and make them feel “that was written for me”.

How did you get the Terra Blues Band together?

JT: I was busking once in Liverpool and Damian (Rowe), the drummer, was just walking past with his girlfriend and he started staring at me and I’m thinking that guy either loves me or he hates me because he couldn’t stop staring at me. Then he left and I just carried on playing. Then he came back and he said “brother, you’re playing John Mayer so beautifully, here’s my card, if you ever need a drummer, guitar player or even backing vocal just let me know…”. So that’s how it started. We got together for a jam along with Danny (Bradley) who I’d already seen playing and singing. It was funny because at that first rehearsal Danny was playing bass, but the sound felt a little empty with just me playing guitar and singing and Danny said he can play a little guitar as well - so he plays and we are like “what the **** are you doing playing bass??!!!” And then we found Jack (Birkett) to play bass for us - even though he’s a great guitarist as well!

We played a few covers gigs, the gigs at Studio2 and some at Peaky Blinders but unfortunately we all have so many other things going on as well, Danny with his solo and comedy work, Damian with his acting, Jack is playing in three bands, it was difficult to keep it all together. For us it was all about fun rather than trying to get serious with a band.

Tell me about Rossa Murray & The Blowin’ Winds.

JT: Rossa has been doing music here in Liverpool for the last 6 or 7 years and is one of the only people I know who is doing music for a living. He’s a great songwriter and musician and a very nice guy. 

I got together with him from the very beginning and Rossa Murray & The Blowin’ Winds started with the two of us. We’ve had a couple of drummers and bass players, but now we’ve found the right ones for us. And we’ve just been touring, we played Ireland from the extreme north to the extreme south, we played Belfast for I’d say 250-300 people - lots of Rossa’s crew, everybody was singing, it was a very nice gig for us in Belfast. And then we did the UK tour as well. We’ve also got a few songs streaming on Spotify. It’s been great.

We’ve now taken a break because it’s been a couple of months touring and we always thought we’d take a break after it. Just one month’s break to breathe a little bit, then we’ll probably be playing again next month. But it’s been great. 

Joao with Rossa Murray & The Blowin’ Winds.

Joao with Rossa Murray & The Blowin’ Winds.

Were there any particular things about touring which you really liked or really hated?

JT: That was a funny situation because I’m the oldest one, they are all early twenties and I’m nearly thirty now, so I’m like the Grandpa and I’m always complaining about stuff because I’m picky! I just really need a decent bed, decent shower and decent food, that’s all I ask.

What I really loved was all the support, people were very supportive, and being on stage every night playing, that was basically the fun part of it.

I wouldn’t say that I hated anything, I just got tired. There was a point I just got really tired, physically and mentally because we were traveling every day and sleeping in a different bed every night. Packing and unpacking all the time, setting up the stage all the time with the guitars and amps then packing it all away again, but that’s just part of the deal.

When I first met you, I took in your persona of coming across as a pretty cool, laid back guy but I also quickly got the impression you’re very organised and very driven. 

JT: I am. I’ve always been like that, and sometimes it’s bad for me. I’m exactly the way you’ve seen me, if I want something, I want it now. I don’t want to wait until tomorrow or next week. Sometimes it’s good because it gets things done, but sometimes it’s not because some things just do take time. Especially if you’re closing a deal, you have to be patient sometimes and I’m definitely not! I’m very fast with everything. I always have to tell myself to hold back in some situations. But sometimes I feel like if I’m not the one making it happen nobody else does.

A very good example was when I felt something needed changing to improve a song we’d recorded, whereas some people may be happy to settle for how it is, I won’t. I’ll always want it to be as good as it can possibly be.

I guess you need at least one perfectionist in a band!

JT: Yeah. Not like me though…I’m too much!!! You’ve just got to find the balance, I know that I’m too much. I’m so hard on myself as well. But you’ve got to be able to see what’s wrong, you’ve go to step up sometimes and say no, it’s not going to be like that.

Do you have to put a lot of work in to keep the gig bookings coming in?

JT: Yeah, yeah. It’s a sort of work, when I’m not gigging I’m working on my Instagram, on my social media, always sending people links about who I am. I do that a lot, getting in touch on Facebook or even just walking in and giving people my card. But at the beginning of this year I had to get a part-time job in a restaurant because I wasn’t getting enough gigs, but then things got a lot better and I’m now able to afford to choose to play gigs I like the most. Sometimes if I need the money, I do take gigs which are not my favourite ones to do, but it’s easier for me to get more gigs now than in the past.

What did you think when you first heard a recording of your singing? (Eg. We sound different to ourselves in our heads due to the sound travelling internally through our head than we do to others - a recording allows you to hear yourself as others do). Better or worse than you expected?

JT: I think nobody likes their own voice. It’s hard to ask that question and get somebody say “I love my voice”! You’re never going to get that answer. So, I kind of hate my voice when I hear it! But I started to learn how to accept that, like, that’s my voice, I’m never going to change it so I might as well enjoy a little bit of it. For me, it’s even harder because I don’t see myself as a singer. Even though I’m lucky enough to get the gigs and have people coming up to me telling me “you’ve got a great voice”, “you’ve got a beautiful voice”, and it’s not just once it’s lots of times, but I don’t get it, I don’t think I have.

I’m definitely not a really great guitar player either but I’m much more comfortable playing guitar than singing. But you’ve got to sing if you want to get somewhere. At least I can sing in key…sometimes!!! But I’ve never liked my voice. At some point in my life I really want to have some singing classes, to improve my breathing and learn how to explore my voice. That’s basically what I need.

When you write a song do you write it specifically to be performed solo or specifically with the band in mind?

JT: That’s a great question. When you start playing with a band you change the way you see things, the way you listen to things. I think it’s very nice to write songs thinking about the whole band, especially if you’ve been together a long time and you know how people play - my drummer does this, my bass player does that etc. You can write a song and imagine how the drums and bass are going to sound. For me, I’ve always been able to write songs for either solo or full band, but I would say writing for the full band is my favourite.

Do you find it more difficult to write a song in English than you would in Portuguese?

JT: No. But the wrong thing we can do is try to translate things, you know, write in Portuguese then try to translate it into English, it’s never going to work. You’ve got to live the English thing, the part of the language, the expression, the way you talk, the way you use the language. Even some friends of mine, they write a song in English but it sounds weird, it’s not right, they’ve clearly put it through the translator. It doesn’t have that feeling. For me, it’s easier to write in English, but it’s easier to express myself in Portuguese.

Do you dream in English or Portuguese?

JT: You’re the first person who said that to me. You’re the first one who approached me with that concept - apart from myself. I don’t even know if I read that somewhere or somebody told me, but  they said you really learn how to speak a foreign language when you dream in a foreign language. But I dream in both languages, sometimes Portuguese, sometimes in English, it’s just weird.

How do you relax outside of music?

JT: I’m a big fan of tv shows and movies, but maybe Mariana is more than me. But I can’t sit in front of the tv for more than an hour, I have to take a break. So, Mariana gets really peed off, because if we’re going to watch a really long movie, like 2.5 / 3 hours, I have to take a break at least three times. I just can’t watch the whole thing.

We love travelling, whenever we have a chance, even if it’s just for only a couple of days. 

And music too, sometimes I play music just to relax, not being on stage, not having that pressure.

What’s next musically? Is it mostly centred around Rossa and the band or do you have some solo stuff in the pipeline?

JT: I would say getting fucking rich and doing nothing!!! (Laughs). 

We just moved into this new place and my life is calm now and easy, and I don’t want to rush things now. I’m 29, I have my wife, we are both still young and we’ve got loads of places we want to visit, both of us. Now I’m not so in a rush - I’ve need to get there, I need to get famous - if something’s going to happen, it’s going to happen eventually. I’m just playing some gigs, obviously I’m trying to play as much as I can, festivals and everything, original stuff, Rossa’s band as well, but I’m definitely not the way I was last year for example - after gigs all the time, knocking on doors, I’m a little more relaxed now. I don’t want to leave, I really like the new place and like staying home playing music, cooking and going out for a gig to make a little bit of money. But I’m definitely not in a hurry.

Finally...have you got used to the weather yet?

JT: The weather…I think so. But I’m going to be honest with you, I fuckin’ hate the winter here! I hate it with all my guts! Especially because, even though I work at night, I’m a day person, I love the sun. It gives me energy, I get so energised,  it gets me living. The other day, I saw a friend off at Lime Street station, it was about 6.30/7pm and it was already dark and cold, and I’m like “it’s that time of year again!” When it starts getting dark at 3:30pm, and so cold, I don’t like that at all. But you can’t change that, you just have to go with the flow.

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