Written By Jordan Reisman
I used to date a girl who got her iPod mini engraved with the quotation, “Where words fail, music speaks.” I withheld the seemingly endless amount of criticism I had in my head because at 15, I was led to believe that my unconditional submissiveness was what made me appealing. Now at 22, “submissiveness” takes on a different meaning. Also at 22, the quotation begins to ring true.
It’s a lame sentiment, I know. It’s something that you’d put as your AIM away message in 2004. Then again, the lamest of phrases reflect a large degree of truth.
Music seems to have a language of its own, even though the lyrics of a song might be in, like, Portuguese or something. Portuguese happens to be just the language that Jerome and the Psychics primarily sing in. The Brasil by-way-of Bloomington, Indiana garage revivalist outfit released their debut LP, The Nova Guarda, in October of 2012 and made the stylistic decision to sing almost entirely in Portuguese as a Midwestern band.
This might sound like a terrible career move but for Jerome, they’re making it work. And to be clear, the only Brasilian member of the band is Jerome Assad, the lead singer and a native of Rio de Janeiro. His family moved to West Lafayette, Indiana when he was five and he’s been splitting his time between Brasil and Indiana since.
He told BTR about that move, “We moved to Bloomington because I decided to attend Indiana University when I moved from Brasil. I no longer attend the school but all of the musicians currently in the band are IU students. Bloomington was merely the place I wanted to go to University.”
It seems that the town itself was not the draw for Jerome but the school. Though Bloomington does have an impressive rock n’ roll history. John Cougar Mellencamp hails from the Midwestern town, as do the minor key enthusiasts Murder By Death, and the deeply influential folk-punk record label Plan-It-X Records. But the refreshing aspect of Jerome’s non-allegiance to the town is that he’s just happy making music. Too many bands and artists overdo it with their hometown pride (ahem, New York Hardcore.)
“Bloomington sure has a lot of music. I’m oblivious to the happenings of the folk stuff (though I know for a fact once a year crusties invade the town for Plan-It-X Fest) so it’s definitely still there. There’s a lot of stuff going around that’s garage-y that I’ll dig, like Apache Dropout and the more surf pop styled Triptides. We are definitely not townies though. Townies are proud to be stuck in the Midwest. We’re just making the best of it.”
That last point just oozes rock n’ roll. Too often bands become diplomats for the town that they’re from and feel the need to represent it as a whole. Jerome and the Psychics are just from Bloomington, that’s it.
Some people believe they were meant to live in another time, and some bands share this very same feeling. A great product of this longing for the past is retro-style recording, and The Nova Guarda most definitely has that. It seems the aim of this is to evoke a more organic recording process free of auto-tuning and wobbly bass drops. This could be taken as inauthentic, shedding itself of the responsibility to accurately portray the 21st century’s musical advances. But what’s cool about retro records is that they DO represent the now. They represent the freedom to sound however you want in your record, and to not be stifled by the limitations of your technology.
“We merely want to record the way our favorite bands recorded. We want it to sound like there’s a band blasting away in your ear. We’re not exactly a psychedelic band by any means. We take out all the complicated elements and try to capture a live band going at it. Some people think it’s cool, and that’s alright, but I know I can get a good sound without having to mess around with the recording. The band is what really matters.”
Even after proving to be a competent contender in the neo-garage movement, that is not what sets Jerome and the Psychics apart most. It’s the language they speak. While it may fulfill some hipster niche to sing old songs in a different language (Have you HEARD the Life Aquatic soundtrack? They totally sing Bowie songs in Portuguese!), Jerome is singing songs in the language that he identifies with. Genuine intentions will neither submit to trends nor go out of style.
“I am personally Brasilian, and I write about subjects that relate to me. As I have spent quite a bit of time in the US and quite a bit of time in Brasil, the lyrics I write reflect both perspectives. I seek to reflect only that which my soul can provide. While we are mostly informed by American roots music and 60’s pop, we bring a notion of American music in a Brasilian flavor that simply does not exist. Most Brasilian bands influenced by American music miss the heart and soul of what makes American music great, and it’s our desire and pleasure to reflect that.”
American music with a Brasilian flavor sounds tasty, and like a Feijoada stew, Jerome and the Psychics satisfy a hunger that’s gone largely unfulfilled in the States.
One seemingly tough part about being a Portuguese-speaking band in Indiana is that most of your fans simply can’t understand what you’re saying. The fans need to know the lyrics because otherwise they can’t identify with your really important lyrics about your really deep problems! Unfortunately this self-serving attitude is the basis of much of American music, ignoring the fact that music is still an aural process. Not discounting the importance of words but Jerome and the Psychics get along just fine with their music AND lyrics creating a force that will make you dance.
“People lose it at the shows when the set takes you somewhere. Sometimes it’s dancy and funky and dirty, and sometimes it’s balls to the wall aggression. Music is an international language and regardless of our lyrics people usually don’t have trouble following the music.”
This music needs to be followed for the reason that Jerome and the Psychics create their own language of pop chaos. Their lyrical content, as they explain to the blog Musical Family Tree, hinges on the weird. They say that “Jaqueta de Coro” is about “some leather jacket punk running around his girl’s house and her parents giving him shit.” The last track on The Nova Guarda entitled “”Eu Nao te Falei” is about Brasilian playboys, the “middle/upper class guys who sell pot on campus and are pretentious dicks.” Quite the closer!
When asked if there are any advantages to being non-American musicians in America, Jerome answered, “Being non-American means if you get drunk on tour and call out all the white people, they won’t get too pissed at you.”
Rock n’ roll knows no borders.