When you have a guitarist who can take the coolest elements from the greatest players, mix it up and blend it together in a new, original and funky way, you are bound to get people to listen. Nuno Bettencourt did just that when he hit the scene in ’89 and he is still tearing it up today. On top of his game and getting ready to release some new material, Nuno was kind enough to take some time out of his busy schedule to let us in on what is going on in the world of Nuno and Extreme.
Guitar Connoisseur: With being the youngest of 10 children and all of your siblings playing musical instruments, were your earliest musical inspirations from your family, or was bands of the day, like Queen, Aerosmith, Led Zeppelin etc?
Nuno Bettencourt: Well, it’s kind of a combination of both, because of all the Queen and all the Aerosmith and stuff like that, kind of comes to you via your family. So, their tastes influence you as well as the musicians who play it for sure. It’s kind of a balance of both, you know? The stuff you do get growing up, comes through your family, anyway, older brothers and sisters and their collections and you know, of course, them as musicians and artists, it’s a huge part of who you become.
GC: How was Boston for you as a young musician? For example, I was fortunate enough to grow up in a place, where one weekend I would go to a club and see Richie Kotzen tearin’ it up, and the next weekend I could see Greg Howe killing it in the same or neighboring club. The “local” players were at a
NB: Yeah, without a doubt. There were always bands that we would watch, and even to this day we kind of question, how did we move ahead and they didn’t. There were certain guitar players and musicians that we admired growing up you know, all the bands in our town. Even a guy or kid who you’d go to his house or basement, and he’d do all that Eddie stuff, years before anybody else doing it and you would just sit there in awe and just watch. There were always those guys around that shaped you somehow.
GC: Who on the international scene were some of your earliest influences as far as guitar playing goes, and was it different as far when it came to songwriting?
NB: Well, I would always be attracted to the guitar players that were songwriters in bands, you know? Whether it was Brian May in Queen or, Eddie in Van Halen, or even Hendrix or Jimmy Page. These guys were all writers and composers, all of the guitar players that I did like, even Al Di Meola, was composing pieces, so, I always looked at them as composers, and that was really important to me.
GC: That leads right into my next question. So many of your solos are like compositions within themselves, although you have your own style, that approach to me is somewhat reminiscent of players like Brian May, Randy Rhoads and even Elliot Easton of the Cars,. Your attention to melody and groove, even within the crazy technical stuff you do, is very apparent. Where did that influence come from?
NB: Well, you mentioned them all, you know what I mean? I was talking about Elliot Easton even a couple of days ago, at a dinner, you know? I always felt that melodies were important, you play for the song. If it is a fast song, you can play a fast solo, but you still play for the song, the mood of it. I thought that was super important.
GC: You recently were involved with Generation Axe, with Steve Vai, Yngwie Malmsteen, Zakk Wylde, and Tosin Abasi, a dream for guitar fans. Could you talk about how you became involved with that and share some thoughts & experiences?
NB: Well I mean, I never obviously done a guitar tour like that, it was very new to me. I have been called a few times, throughout the years, to do like a G3, and I always felt like it was not my thing, you know, I never did an instrumental album. However, this time around when Steve, Mr. Vai called me, I mean, first of all, when he calls, you’ve got to do it (laughter). Well, he’s reached out before in the past, and this time around he said he knew where I was coming from, and he wanted to do it differently. He wanted to do some more collaborative stuff, make it feel like a place where I can do what I do and still sing songs and do that
GC: Now, with such talent on that stage, did you find there were certain players that you really felt you shared musical sensibilities with? if so, where they different than who you thought they would be going into it?
NB: The cool thing about those guys, all of them, I connect with as player. Even Tosin, who I just met, and didn’t know a lot of this stuff when I heard it. I grew up on a lot of progressive stuff and I grew up on a lot of this stuff that he was influenced by, you know, more outside the box kinda things. So, I felt a connection to everyone, I always loved all genres of music, so, I never really felt like, “Wow, I don’t get what they’re doing”. I mean, there are a lot of players that I don’t get what they’re playing, because they’re so good at what they do, but I mean, musically, tastefully, I get what’s happening pretty much. It was just a great experience, you know? I learned a lot from them, and it was just a great hang.
GC: When Extreme disbanded, and you were doing solo projects, like Mourning Widows, Drama Gods etc, did you try to specifically go in a different direction than Extreme? Also, did the musical climate of the time, bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Smashing Pumpkins influenced your direction at all?
NB: Absolutely, I think anybody would be lying, I mean, or they are not real, true writers and musicians, if they say they weren’t. You are always influenced by everything, I don’t care if it is not your favorite band, I don’t care if it’s not your generation. I loved Nirvana, loved Soundgarden, loved that whole era, that I looked at as rock to me. You can call it Grunge or whatever, but to
GC: Can you talk about how the disbanding of Extreme came about, did it have anything to do with the climate of the industry at the time? And can you then talk about the reunion?
NB: Yeah, it had nothing to do, a lot of people asks me, if the music changing, what was going on in the industry, it had nothing to do with it. Really, we were just burnout, burnout on each other, we didn’t know how to take breaks, our management didn’t know how to let us take breaks, and we were just on tour too much. If we did take breaks, we probably would never have split up, we would just take like a year off here and there. Instead we did, you know, fucking 10 years strait and then you just explode. You break up because somebody opened the curtain the wrong way (laughs).
GC: Yeah, I imagine when you had the kind of success that you guys had, the management just wants to keep the machine rolling, even if it isn’t the best thing for the individuals involved.
NB: Yeah, it’s true. You know, we were young, we didn’t know. We’d do our best, but we didn’t know when we’re supposed to take a break. We just wanted to keep going and going because we love what we do. And you know, you got to teach kids when there’s too much of anything and, when I say kids, I don’t just mean the age. You know, when you are new at something, it’s a new experience and you don’t know.
GC: Can you describe the song writing process for Extreme? When you bring in a songm do you have melodies & harmonies written and Gary just writes the lyrics? How does that work for the band?
NB: Pretty much the same as it’s always been, just like you said. Mostly music and melodies coming from my end and.., but, you know, I write lyrics as well, and Gary and I collaborate a little more on lyrics. Gary’s still the driving force in his lyrics, he’s a great storyteller and he collaborates on the music too. So, we do collaborate more now all the way around than in the past, but it’s basically the same.
GC: How did it feel to revisit Pornograffiti after all these years? There is a lot going on there. Was it a challenge to get all the parts down to play consistently every night?
NB: Yeah, I had to learn a lot of stuff as if I was in a cover band, it was very interesting to take that approach. It was very different. I mean, it wasn’t completely in my system, it took me quite a while.
GC: What’s in store for yourself and Extreme in the near future? New Album? Tour?
NB: Yeah, we actually plan to release something hopefully by Spring. We have about sixteen or seventeen songs that we are excited about.
GC: Great! I assume you have a tour planned for the summer, is that correct?
NB: Yeah, next summer we will hopefully start doing dates in support of the new album
GC: Do ever write material that you feel may not be a fit for Extreme? Pieces that you may use for a solo project or other artists?
NB: Yeah, I mean you never know. I’m producing some other artists as well. I have three young artists that I’m kind of writing and producing with. Plus, there’s this sort of a media company that I started, a label/media company that is called Atlantis Entertainment that’s kicking off this year. So, I am doing that as well.
GC: Do you have any specific warm up exercises or routines that you use before going on stage, or when you are off the road to keep your chops up?
NB: I can’t remember the last time I practiced.
GC: It’s all just playing then?
NB: Yeah, just playing. Although I have to say during the Generation Axe tour, I probably warmed up more than I ever have, just to make sure. When you are playing with those kind of guys, you don’t want to go on cold.
GC: I can imagine with focusing on playing more than exercises, the musicality still comes first over technique.
NB: Yeah, you try to play within your means, you know what I mean? It’s like you get to a point where, at least technically, you don’t try to do stuff that you sound like you’re trying to do it,. You kind of have been doing it long enough, where it’s like ok, I know what my limitations are, or what I can do. I mean, you always can get better I guess, technically, but it’s not something that I have been too concerned about. I mean, there are a lot of guys out there like, I enjoy enough, that play faster than I do, and cleaner than I do, and do crazy alternate picking and skipping, a lot of stuff that I see that’s pretty amazing, but I’ll leave it to them.
GC: As far as the gig with Rhianna, what were some of the more challenging aspects of that? Most people at first glance may think that that was an easy gig, but you were surrounded with other World Class musicians playing a lot of different styles of music that you may not play all of the time.
NB: Yeah, well it’s everything that you said, you know? Just playing different genres of music in different situations. You know, at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what you can play, or what you can’t play, all that matters is, if it feels right. When you’re playing reggae and your playing different music, you know, they can teach you the parts, and I’m sure we’re all capable playing parts, it’s really about whether we’re staying true to that genre, or making it feel great, you know?
GC: What were some of you’re favorite things about that gig? Was it the fact that they let you be you within the context of the music?
NB: Yeah I think so. I never really felt out of place doing it, you know? I never felt like I was playing with a R&B/Pop artist. I just always felt like I was in the zone that I played in, because you know, she allowed me to, she wanted me to do that stuff. It was it was kind of cool, it was a pretty cool gig.
GC: I’ve seen in interviews where Brian May of Queen was saying some great things about your playing, how does that feel when one of your influences speaks so highly of you?
NB: That was incredible, you know? I mean, it’s one of those surreal things where you kind of pay attention, but you don’t pay too much attention, because you can have a hard time believing how incredible that it is. I mean, just to come around full circle and learn from all these guys and then actually have one of them listening to your stuff and telling people that they appreciate it, it is pretty amazing!
GC: Steven Tyler as well, really seems to dig your talent, and you got to do some things with him.
NB: Yeah, definitely. You know, we were always excited about doing anything with those guys, because they want are one of our biggest influences.
GC:That’s awesome! Well, thank you very much for taking the time to talk with us today, and we are all looking forward to some new music from you guys soon.
NB: Alright man, thanks for taking the time as well, I appreciate it, always.
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