This June, Brazil’s Tim Bernardes sophomore solo album Mil Coisas Invisíveis (Thousand Invisible Things) turns one, a collection of deep-seated tracks of Tropicália (a Brazilian music movement that gained popularity in the sixties), samba, and contemporary indie folk. Written while on tour with his band O Terno, his sound meets at the intersection of raw and polished, his gentle yet stern vocals deliver the perfect sound of sofrencía, or suffering, a translation that Bernardes shares with an intimate crowd at the bottom of Laurel Canyon that gathered to kick off his US tour in April.
Based in São Paulo, Bernardes is a Latin Grammy nominated singer, songwriter, composer, and producer who is inspired by Brazilian music of the sixties and seventies. He produced, directed, and mixed his latest album, a skill adapted from his musical upbringing and experience with O Terno.
Flaunt spoke with Tim in between his travels amidst the US and Europe to speak about his musical process, his latest album, and his current tour.
Tell me a little bit about yourself and how you discovered your love for music.
Well, my father is a musician here in Brazil, so I grew up in a very musical environment. [My parents] taught me how to use the record player very early. And I would love to go to shows and at some point they noticed that I was very into music and when I was like six they put me in music classes for drums and guitars. And I always liked it. But I think when I was 15 I started to be more obsessed about playing and discovering bands on my own, and I found some friends who started a band in school. So at like 15, I felt like I wouldn’t be able to do any other thing for my life, and went to music college. By that time, I had already started my band. We now have four albums that I did before I did the solo thing. It was very gradual. But the band did well in the Tropicália scene in Brazil. Then I started to do my album’s arrangements.
Are you still making music with O Terno?
Since COVID, we haven't been touring. But we released an album in 2019. So I did my first solo in 2017, and then I did this album with the band too. And we were touring and writing. I was doing both things. But after COVID, since I was doing the new album, we were already not touring. We decided to wait and see, but what we'll probably do is a tour next year. But now I've been focusing more on the solo because there's a lot of things happening. I can travel alone. I can go to more places and all. So we're going to do a few more–as like special moments–smaller tours.
You’re responsible for almost all aspects of the production and creation of your past album. What are the pros and cons of having that creative control? Do you ever run into issues wearing several different hats?
Yeah, sometimes. I already was the producer and songwriter, in O Terno’s albums. So when I started, when I did my first solo album, it was fun to play all the instruments the way I wanted. So it was fun. This time, with this album, it was my first time where I was only doing the solo thing. Most of the time, when I was recording, it was like we were isolated. I couldn't play with other musicians because of COVID, but it's nice to have the control. But many, many times you just need other humans to play with you. Especially my kind of music, because I don't use metronomes and this more-production kind of recording, I do everything very organically. So sometimes it's hard for you to feel that you're playing together with the other instruments. So sometimes I'll just call them and [ask], what do you think of these songs? And we were very [close] friends, so I missed just going out to a bar and having some drinks and getting away from the studio. So because of COVID, that was hard. But mainly I enjoyed doing things with a lot of time and paying attention to the details. And when I did the arrangements for strings and bass and all, then I went to a bigger studio and recorded with musician friends that would play the classical instruments too.
And what does your creative process look like? How do you start a song, and how do you finish it?
My way of writing songs normally is not like those composers that will just sit and try to write a song. Today, I feel I always have my “antenna” while I'm living life. So, many times in the streets, when I'm walking, it feels like many of the songs–I start to have the idea when I'm walking through the city or something. Normally, I think of lyrics and melody together. I don't do one before the other. And then, I'll probably just run home and finish it. So from time to time I look at the songs I have and I started to–with this album, I was just starting to see how they connect each other with the subjects. It's very interesting how they always, in a way, [connect] and it's in a revealing way almost as if when you're telling or analyzing your dreams after you wake up, like you notice that, “Oh, it is interesting that this and this subject caught my attention, caught the attention of the antenna and all.” So normally I'm an artist that seems like I don't do a lot of albums, like every two years. I just gather–what songs do I have? What are my favorite songs? What would be my favorite way to record this? Arrange this? So it's very artisanal.
After one of your previous tours, and before the making of your most recent album, you said that you were very stressed, and that you noticed your “rational thinking was saturated.” Since the creation of Mil Coisas Invisíveis, have you come to terms with what you were originally feeling before this album? Emotionally, from the beginning of this latest album to now, how have things changed?
Well, things around me changed a lot, around all of us. Because this interesting perspective, inner perspective realization that came to me was like when isolation started, COVID started and I was very stuck in thoughts and at some moment I realized, “Who's thinking?” It was something like an identification with the whole, and not only with subjects, and that was interesting. It came more as glimpses or reminders of when I was engaged with something and was almost like, “Oh, this is only like the preoccupations of my mind, this is not my entire self.” I was very into contemplating this and trying to explore, what was this thing?
I feel like COVID also gave us a lot to think about, that we could die. It gave some perspective. So as I was doing the album, I was noticing that many songs already communicated with these extra rational, more spiritual matters. Then I started to write songs that were also on that path, and made the album to be, in a subtle way, something that could flirt with this subject.
I didn't want to do a super specific, esoteric album, but I would like to do simple songs that were connected more to the “being” thing and instead of “doing” or “thinking.” Going back to the road and touring, it's a lot more of distractions. In the first tour with Fleet Foxes last year in the US, in the middle of a song, I was like “Wait a second. Like, where am I?” And I was just looking at the venue or the trees or many, many of [the concerts] were outdoors so I was looking at the moon. I've been trying to remind myself of presence in a way, but it's more challenging when you're doing more things and now I've been traveling more and all. But it's interesting. I think that's where that initial glimpse has gotten to for me at this moment. In a way it's something that even if I'm not relating to that perspective all the time, it's something that you can't forget. You can't unsee. Once you're looking at a square and for some reason, you look behind and you see it's a cube, even if you're just seeing the square, you know it’s a cube.
What have you kind of learned through your collaborations? How does working with other artists impact you personally and musically?
Well, there's something that I really like about collaborations, since my main work is so on my own and I get very into details and picky, it feels like when it is a collab–especially if it's a song that is not on my album– feel it's kind of freeing to give and try to perform and create without the heaviness of having to direct the whole thing. Just being a singer or just a lyricist. So I really like it, it feels like a vacation from my own way of approaching [music.] So I really like that. And after, it is always really cool, like the fruits that can come from that too, like with Fleet Foxes, going to tour with them, you get to know different people…it’s a great excuse to hang with people. I like to be like “let's do a song.” You get to spend a nice afternoon talking about music and trying to do stuff. So I really like it. It feels almost like vacation. Like a holiday from the main concentrated work.
I know that you just finished your US tour. You're on a little break and then you go to Europe in June, right?
What was this past tour like in the US? Did you have a favorite city [to perform at]? Any favorite shows?
It was really, really nice. I was very happy to see that the people showed up. Great, caring, loving audiences. There were some shows, [there] would be like a lot of Brazilians. Some shows there would be no Brazilians at all. So it was an interesting mix. San Francisco was for some reason very special, and the vibe was great. The venue was very beautiful. I played many times in theaters in Brazil for audiences that were sitting, and some of these shows were for people standing, which was interesting. Sometimes it was a little more noisy than I'm used to, but it was fun too. But in San Francisco, I just asked before I sat, “Would you like to sit on the floor?” And people sat on the floor, and it was a lot of people. So I felt it already gave me a boost. It was a very interesting situation. For me it's very exciting too because it's new audiences, people that really haven't seen me live. I feel like it's stimulating to try to be connected with the audience and be playing in different setups because in Brazil, I have normally have more structure to make all the shows have the same setup in a way. In the US, I had to improvise more because it was the first time going. So clubs were different from each other, even like equipment and all. But actually that was very stimulating. I felt like a new beginning in a nice way.
What do you do in your free time to stay in touch with yourself that's not work related, that just makes you happy and keeps you sane?
Well, lately I've been reading more, like this area of consciousness psychology, and then sometimes spirituality or mysticism. I've been very curious and I feel like reading about this stuff and trying to do the analogies with yourself. It's many times very interesting to self-study. I also end up playing music, it is also my pleasure when I'm not working. So I like to play piano in my house or listen to music. I really like to walk through my neighborhood. Especially just being outside. I also like getting to watch long lectures about the things I’m reading on YouTube.
I really like to get some nice food and just watch endless lectures about something.
It's nice to be home, cozy when you don't have to travel. So I'm very–I don't like to go out so much. I'm not a super party person, so I like staying home, walking with my neighborhood, this kind of sucked in with my family, my friends.