Ed Motta: Behind the Tea Chronicles

By 06 December, 2023

Ed Motta is a fun “intellectual”. However, many of those who follow him from afar, or just because of the controversies caused by his acidic comments, will disagree. But anyone who watches the artist’s daily live broadcasts on Instagram can say that the statement is true.

There, at different times of the day, he interacts with fans, addressing (and criticizing) the most varied subjects, from music to wine. I comment on speaking to him that I am a spectator and his immediate reaction is a laugh of satisfaction. “It’s pure entertainment”, I say, to break the ice and we actually get into the main topic of the conversation: Behind The Tea Chronicles, his 14th studio album.

Sitting on a classic brown sofa, in front of his piano, which also serves as a support for a red lamp, Ed is surrounded by shelves of records. Our visual contact is through the Zoom screen, he in Rio de Janeiro, and I in Campinas, a city in the interior almost 100 km from São Paulo.

From the album Criterion of the Senses to the recent one, the time interval was 5 years. During this period, despite all the chaos that affected the world, the musician did not stop working at home. He began to slowly build the foundation of something that he still wasn’t sure when he would finish. “I was working slowly, little by little, but I didn’t even know when I was going to record, when I was going to come back,” he observes. “I was doing it without commitment, recording on Garage Band.”

After completing the album’s foundations in his home, the project was structured in the studio. With 11 songs written in English, Behind The Tea Chronicles was inspired by films and series that were part of the musician’s childhood. Therefore, the lyrics talk about crime, misdemeanors, sabotage and careers that didn’t work out.

“I grew up watching Kojak, Baretta, Magnum, Mission Impossible, Colombo, Barnaby Jones and Streets of San Francisco… everything that was on Brazilian television in the 1970s and ’80s”, he says . “This greatly influenced the narrative… it’s like a scene on the port pier in which the guys arriving slowly [exemplifies the sound: ‘they stopped, they stopped’)… they shoot everyone and the smallest one, who seems to be the weakest, survives , huh!? (laughs).”

Always exemplifying his explanations with sounds reproduced by himself, Ed Motta leaves no doubt in anyone who listens to him. He does this all the time, even when talking about why it is easier to write in English than Portuguese. And this is not because he wants to reach a larger audience, because when it comes to Brazilian music, “gringos” (foreigners) prefer music performed in Portuguese, which in his view is a difficult, complex language full of rules.

“One of the things that happens with English on soul, funk, R&B, gospel records… the voice, in the USA, is lower. The guys keep their voices down. You take, I don’t know, Steve Wonder, [the song] ‘All I Do’; Stevie Wonder’s voice is very low. This makes the bass sound more powerful. In Portuguese, if you don’t say it loud, you don’t understand (for example: it’s all bang, pum, thump, popcorn, avocado) (laughs).”

In addition to the language, the album has versatility. Ed believes this is the version of Dwitsa (2001) with lyrics. The variation of styles, all very well executed, goes from soul to jazz, flirting with funk, rock (in that Prince style) and even country. There are several nuances with a wealth of details in the instrumental tracks, which is the result of the partnership with Michel Hrasdisky, the person responsible for writing the scores for each instrument based on the demo tape created.

When talking about the quality achieved with this form of work, Motta remembers that it was also one of the dreams of his friend Cassiano, one of the great singers and composers of Brazilian black music, who passed away in 2021. “Cassiano was a guy who made music like that level and I learned a lot from watching and living with him,” he reflects. Learning is present in the swinging “seasoning”, especially in souls and funky songs, which was one of Cassiano’s main characteristics. “I feel his influence, at some points, even though the album is in English.”

A perfectionist through and through, Ed Motta says he produced the album in the “Quincy Jones scheme”. “Everything written… is how the guys do it there [in the USA].” He says he knows that the producer and conductor works like this because he read the book The Invisible Man: The Story of Rod Temperton, the Thriller Songwriter by Jed Pitman, which tells the story of Rod Temperton, author of Thriller and several other hits.

“He is a master to me. I’m into Quincy Jones, but with a budget here in Tijuca [a traditional neighborhood in Rio de Janeiro]. Then I suffer, right!? Because this man is inside the studio… the guys have gigantic sheet music. Everything written for everyone. Those who don’t read it won’t be called, because otherwise they’ll be lost… then there won’t be time. Music has to be at hand so we can talk about other things.”

Even with a low budget, the attention to the smallest details pleases the artist. “It’s more of a business for me (laughs). I’m supposed to listen and say: wow, that’s cool!” Therefore, he also demands from those who are in the studio with him in the Ed Motta way. “Michel always spoke to me in a slightly more serious way, but I couldn’t take it. He started joking, saying: ‘Yeah, don’t do that thing there, because this is a black record, okay? You can’t throw everything down’.”

If he was already like this before reading the book, after reading it he was even more impressed with Quincy’s degree of perfection. “Reading this man’s book messed with my head,” he says. “He says it like this: Quincy Jones only left the room when it was perfect. This could take 15 days. They say that the drums for ‘Billy Jean’ took 15 days to record before it came out the way he wanted. Then, when people listen, they say: the guy wasn’t crazy, he was right, he really got better.”

With limited time for a conversation that could yield more, I ask if any songs had to be excluded from the repertoire. The answer was positive. Two were removed because they clashed with the others. “You can’t be afraid to talk, take it out and keep it for someone close to you,” he says. “You have to be calm and cool at this time and not become childish, like: damn, I love this song. You might love this song, but it doesn’t fit with the record.”

Following this premise, Ed intends to show some things saved on his various hard drives, including songs in Portuguese. He just didn’t promise when.

“I think about making singles with things from other waves, even in Portuguese, because people think like this: Oh, Ed Motta only sings in English. It’s crazy, right!? Just because I make records like this, am I prohibited from singing a song in Portuguese? I’ll do it in a little while, but it’s boring and that has nothing to do with it. I’m not doing something evil. It’s because it’s a business that I think has to do with style.”

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