Interview with Nuno Bettencourt (Extreme)

On the eve of Extreme’s first European shows in over 12 years, guitarist Nuno Bettencourt chatted with Metal Express Radio about their new album and his excitement at Extreme being back together again.

First of all, it’s great to have you back. How does it feel for you?

It’s a lot of fun. It’s changed in many ways, but in great ways. We didn’t expect just to come back after so long and say “hey we’re back”. It’s more of a re-acquaintance tour. We have to come back and regain the trust of the fans and the public but it certainly feels good to be back.

It’s been 12 years since you originally split in 1996. What was the catalyst that set the wheels in motion for you getting the band back together?

Money of course !! Money, money, money!! Ha!! No, really, if it was just about money we’d have done it a long time ago. We got together about four years ago, just for fun, in our home town and played 2 or 3 shows. We thought, let’s do it, why not? It’ll be fun. So we did it and it was great. It was good to see everybody again and the shows were sold out. At the end of it there was a sort of depression and I wasn’t sure why I felt so down. I said to Gary that I felt like an Extreme tribute band. We went out and had played all of the songs that people wanted to hear but there was something missing and that was new music. The thing that kept us moving along and kept us passionate was the next song. We could never play together just to make money or because we were bored or nostalgic. We needed to have the same passion that we had before and we said if we could go into a room and still have that chemistry and we come out with something that we’re proud of and that we’re excited enough to share with people then we’ll do it.

What were those initial rehearsals like? Did it really feel like all those years had passed?

In many ways no, but in some ways, yes. The first hour or so was pretty strange but it was like riding a bike and we soon clicked again. We thought we might be able to write 3 or 4 songs together but after two weeks we’d written 24 songs or so. The chemistry had definitely kicked back in.

Why did you split in ’96? Did you feel that the musical climate was not right for the band at that time or was there some other reason?

It’s interesting as people ask me that a lot but the musical climate had nothing to do with it. Anyone who’d heard an Extreme record knew that we were selfishly in our own world. We were never chasing trends or trying to be current or trying to sound like the past or future. Every record we did was uniquely different in that wherever our heads were at the time then that’s where we went musically. I think the end came because we were just burned out with each other. I think if we’d taken 3 to 6 months off between records we’d have probably done another 5 records by now. I think we felt that we were invincible and we were young and we thought we could do an album, tour, album, tour. We ended up bickering over stupid things.

Did you part on pretty amicable terms?

I think so. It started off with me picking up the phone and I said that my heart just wasn’t in it any more and I think that what we really needed was a break. It didn’t seem that way to me at the time and in hindsight I was just a bit naive. It was my lack of experience in being able to say that I wanted time off.

After you split did you feel the need to try something different?

I think the best way to analyse it is that Extreme were like your brothers and your family. The love is always there but sometimes the liking isn’t. Sometimes you just need to get away and travel away from home a little bit. You want to leave and try some different things and that’s what you think you need. So I did get away and I did some great things that I was really excited about and still very proud about. It’s a little like travelling and being in some bizarre country in the world, that was what Satellite Party was like for me, where you’re doing something that kind of seems interesting and it’s creative and you end up working with some people that you’ve admired and then you end up getting mugged!! You find yourself in an alley somewhere and you think, it’s time to go home.

What happened with Satellite Party? You made one album and did a UK tour then left?

It wasn’t what I’d signed up for in that band and what me and Perry had talked about. By the time the record came out in The States, and the album artwork not being about a band anymore rather than Perry and his wife, to being on tour with his wife on stage. If that’s what Perry wanted to do that’s fine but started turning into more of a cabaret thing for me and less Rock ‘n’ Roll. We’d done the European tour and I realised it wasn’t what we’d agreed and it was going to a different place and it didn’t feel right for me anymore. You know what? I thank them for that. It made me realise how special Extreme was to me to be honest. I finished those shows and had a couple of days in France and I called Gary and asked him if he was ready and he said “yes”!!

What did you make of Gary’s stint in Van Halen. That must have been the dream job for him?

Interestingly enough, the Van Halen fans in the band were me and Patrick. Gary grew up on The Who and Queen and all that stuff. He dug Van Halen but he was never a deep fan so it’s ironic that he ended up in Van Halen. Me and Patrick used to kick into a lot of the Van Halen songs at sound check and Gary used to go “Oh, OK then, here they go again on their Van Halen thing” and he’d go off to the seats and watch. He just didn’t know the stuff very well and Pat or me used to sing the stuff. So it’s interesting that he ended up in Van Halen. I was very excited for him as they were one of my very favourite bands. I used to go up to the studio while Van Halen were recording their album with Gary and I’d sit in and listen. Even then Gary said that he wanted to finish this record but if I wanted Extreme to happen again, just to give him the word. That’s how disconnected he felt to it.

In the last couple of months you’ve released a brand new album Saudades de Rock. In so many cases where a band has gotten back together and released an album of new material it’s fallen pretty much flat on its face. Fortunately, you’ve managed to avoid that trap and released an album as strong as Pornograffiti and III Sides To Every Story. You must be pleased with how it’s turned out?

I put everything into making an album and I listen to them and I’m very excited about them but then it’s hard for me to go back later and listen to them. It’s like looking at an old photograph where I think I should’ve done, this, I should’ve done that. I usually like most of the album but think I could’ve done some things differently. With this record I can still put it on now and I agree with my initial thoughts when we were making the record. When we finished it I said that I thought it was our best record and it’s the first of our records that I can listen to and haven’t got sick of. I haven’t listened to it and thought it sounded dated or wanted to change parts of it. I think it sounds like Extreme and I love the songs.

It’s not as immediate as say Pornograffiti, but repeated listens do reward the listener.

I think you’re right and I think that’s a good sign because every band that I’ve ever admired, it takes me a while to get into their music. I’m a huge Radiohead fan and you have to have an affair with those records to really understand them. It should be like that as then you know the record has depth and the potential to be a great record for years to come. When you get that instant gratification it’s nice but when an album has more depth and it takes that 4th or 5th listen and something clicks and you go “Wow, I get this!”, I think there’s something special about those records and those bands that are like that.

What’s immediately impressive about the album is the sheer variety of material on there from the balls to the wall rockers, the groove, edged numbers, the classy ballads and there’s even a touch of Rockabilly and Punk in there too. Was this diversity your intention when you started writing or is this how it developed over time?

As you know with some of the other Extreme records that’s always been one of our calling cards. It’s not done on purpose but we get into our own selfish world when we go to write and record an album. We don’t think about what’s current, we don’t think about calling Timbaland to record a track or two, even though that’s the only way anyone’s going to hear the record on the radio these days. We just go in and may the best man win or that should be may the best song win. Out of the 24 songs we had, we don’t think, “Can we really put “Take Us Alive” on this record?” It was one of the most exciting songs for us and it made the record. Even on Pornograffiti, we went from “It’s A Monster”, to “Get the Funk Out” and “More Than Words”; there was a lot of variety on there. We have all of those things under our belt, all of those genres and all of those bands that influenced us when we were growing up. We don’t sit there and do it on purpose, we don’t sit there and say, let’s write another ballad or we’d end up doing “More Than Words” ten times over.

You’ve just filmed a new video for “Ghost”. Can you tell me about that?

Yeah, word travels fast. We just did that last week. We knew that coming back with a new record that times had changed. First of all MTV does not exist anymore in America. Period. They play no music videos, they’re all reality TV shows. Even the new stations that were supposed to save the day started out playing videos now they’re doing the reality shows. It’s just become a big joke. At first I thought nobody wants to make videos now but I thought “Screw that!!” This band is a visual band and we are what we are and we love to perform. Visually we feel that we add a bit to the performance of the song. I said that I wanted to record 5 videos and we were going to do them in no particular order.
For “Ghost” we ended up being in Boston for 2 or 3 weeks and there was this old abandoned church. It wasn’t that we wanted to do it in a church, it was just a very cool, dark looking place. Not dark, as in concept, but dark as in terms of light and shade. The shoot went really well. We’ve also just shot one for “Interface” in Lisbon in the studio and some concept stuff around Lisbon. We’re also planning to do one for “Take Us Alive” and “King Of The Ladies” and we’re talking about doing one for “Run”. We’re considering what we’re doing now as an introductory thing to come back and reintroduce ourselves and whoever is willing to come back and take a risk with us again and we hope to show them that the band is actually better than ever now. I think sometimes when you go and see a band that’s been away for a while it’s a bit sad, not only for the record they’ve put out but also for the effort they’ve put into the performance. I think people forgot to tell us that we’re not 18 anymore but what you’ll see is a band that’s more aggressive and more exciting to watch than ever.

“Comfortably Dumb” features one of the best riffs I’ve heard in years. How did you come up with the idea for that one?

That riff is an old one that we jammed together and was supposed to be on the Schizophrenic album. It was a riff that we were working on and was not only one of those riffs that we held on to but I could sense something with it. Someone had said it had a Nazareth vibe to it, that’s Nazareth the band, and I’d never really thought that but when I played it back I almost fell off my chair. I thought why would this be in my head and it struck me that my brother Louis, who I’ve stolen every guitar idea from in my life, he is one of the most inspirational guitar players I’ve ever looked up to, he was a huge fan of them and I never got into them in a big way but it was like walking past the bedroom subliminal thing and when I came to work on the riff it just kind of popped up, it came out of nowhere. I really love that and I really get a kick out of something from years and years ago coming through. That’s one of the songs that we are so excited to be playing that we actually open the show with it. It’s probably not the smartest of things to do, open the show with a new song but that song is a great way to start.

The writing sessions were very fruitful and you ended up writing over 20 songs. What will you do with the extra material?

The stuff that we didn’t use… it was really, really difficult not to put them on the record. We pondered for a month whether or not to do a double record. There’s actually a lot more than those 24 songs, they were the ones that we wanted on the record. We thought it might be too pompous to come back with a double record after 13 years; it would be a case of too much information. We ended up using 13 songs but the other stuff is good you know. When we do a record in the future, which we will, we’ll use some of those songs but we want to make sure we celebrate this record for as long as possible first. We are going to do these shows then we’ll come back and do some more. We’ll do some different cities in the same countries and we’re going to take the time to rebuild our relationship with everybody.

You produced the album yourself. In the past you’ve used such people as Michael Wagener on Pornograffitti, why did you decide to produce this one yourself?

Let’s be honest about this. I know Michael Wagener’s name was on that record and I love Michael and I’ve seen him recently, he’s actually been to see the band play in Florida and he’ll be the first to tell you that he wasn’t even there when we recorded the record. He was there when we mixed the record but the reason we worked with Michael is that we were so afraid of producers coming in and trying to change the band’s sound. Michael’s response to the label when they played it to them was “This record’s done, what do they need me for?” so we hired him right away as he appreciated our production and where we were coming from and he let us do our thing. We realised that was an important element to us and at our age and what we’ve done in the past then if we can’t figure out how to arrange a song we’ve got problems.

It’s a great sounding album, very organic and “live” sounding. How did you approach the recording process?

Basically, that is it. In the 80’s and 90’s when a band had finished a take before anyone had even listened to it, the engineers and producers would add samples to the drums and homogenise it and make it very slick sounding and give everything that “Big” sound. What I wanted to do this time was capture how exciting we sounded in rehearsal. We wanted to go in and set up some great microphones and set up a reel to reel tape and just play exactly what we were doing in rehearsals. We didn’t want any extra production, we just wanted to capture the DNA of the band right now. That’s how we sound live and that’s how I wanted us to come across.

You’ve also got a new drummer, Kevin Figueiredo. He’s played with you in Satellite Party so you knew him well. Was he the obvious choice for you?

He was. I’ve worked with Kevin many times. We’ve worked together on the Population 1 and The Drama Gods projects as well as in Satellite Party. He’s one of those guys who you find and don’t want to let go. He loves Bonham, that’s really obvious but his feel is amazing. At first we talked about Paul Geary doing it but he was too involved on the managerial side, he looks after a load of bands including us and The Pumpkins and there was just no way he could do it. You have to see Kevin play to believe it and it’s not just the new stuff, it was more because of the old stuff. When you see the band live this time around you are going to hear those songs in a way you’ve never heard them before. He puts so much passion and energy into those songs that he’s reincarnated the old stuff.

He’s not just a drummer as he helped co-write a couple of songs and he helped with the mixing. How did the guys react to the “new guy” taking such a central role in the band?

I think we welcomed that. We recorded the album in Los Angeles and left us with 3 takes of each song and then everyone went home. Luckily, Kevin lives in L.A., like I do, and he stopped me from pulling my hair out and going insane and was such a help to me sifting through the material. He was just some new blood who was passionate. The other guys were used to me and would say “Oh, Nuno, he’ll take care of it”.

You’ve played some shows in The States with Kings X and now you’re in Europe. How have the shows been going?

The US run was great. We weren’t sure what to expect. It’s amazing that the fans are as passionate as we are and they really showed us a lot of warmth and how much they had missed us and hopefully we’ve been able to give them something back. It’s been really fun. We’ve got a lot of new, younger fans who’ve found us through Youtube and Guitar Hero and such things. It’s really interesting and has been a lot of fun. Our first shows in Europe were over in Spain and that was like a homecoming for me, we had a big guest list.

What sort of setlist are you putting together? Are you playing many songs from your new album?

I think there’s nothing worse for the fans to go and see a band where all they play is material from the new record. As much as we’d love the fans to love the new record it’s just an unfair thing to do, to play too many new songs. There’s a relationship you have with the fans, it has a lot to do with the past also. We try to balance it and do songs from each record. So those who’ve been there, it’s going to be a great re-acquaintance and will get to hear some new songs. Those who’ve never seen the band will get something of a history lesson.

You’ll be playing 10 shows in the UK. It’s been quite some time since we last saw you here. Are you looking forward to coming over here?

Absolutely!! I have to say that the UK has always been considered one of our homes. The reason being is because we were in the UK when we were breaking in the US and we broke in the UK way before anywhere else with “Get The Funk Out” so we have a kinship to the fact that the UK got this band and understood this band way before anywhere else. The fans are always very passionate and the concerts are always sweaty and crazy and we always, always look forward to going there.

I recall your first shows in the UK when you played the clubs and in particular the Riverside in Newcastle. The week you played there was the week “More Than Words” really broke in the UK. The club was packed inside and out as people tried to get in. What do you remember from those first UK shows?

I do, I have very vivid memories of that time and those shows. We were getting calls all the time about the songs climbing every week. It was really bizarre for us as we were hearing these reports then we started seeing differences in the size of the crowds. It was a wonderful experience watching it blossom.

I always felt it was good for you to honour your commitment to that club tour rather than cancel it and then play bigger shows or play on TV instead. Were you tempted to do that? Was it important to you to play those shows and keep in touch with your fan base?

The stuff that I would always fight for was anything to do with the fans. We wanted to do the right things for the fans and that even went as far as when we came back to London when we were bigger we tried not to do as many Wembley shows but we wanted to do more smaller shows at the Hammersmith and keep things intimate with the fans. We tried to do that as much as possible.

You moved onto bigger things over the years including playing Wembley Stadium as part of the Freddie Mercury Tribute shows. That must have been a big honour for you as Queen are a big influence on you?

We still talk about that as one of the top highlights for Extreme, actually not just Extreme the band, but one of the top highlights of our lives. There are bands you like, bands that influence you and bands that you get tattooed by. You have no choice; you wear them all over your body and in your music. They had such a quirky and crazy approach to music and they were so attractive to me and to Gary. To be invited to pay tribute to some one like Freddie who we admired so much. To play their songs and get that little feeling of what it would be like to play on stage with them and feel that love from their fans and also that responsibility to make sure you gave some love back to them. We got into trouble. We weren’t supposed to do any Queen songs; we were supposed to just do Extreme songs. The Queen stuff was for later with the band but we said “Fuck it man, we’re Queen fans and we want to pay tribute to Freddie” and we put together this medley which was phenomenal.

Do remember what you got to play?

We opened up with Gary’s vocals on “Mustapha” from Jazz and that tripped everybody out, we did the end of “Bohemian Rhapsody” and a couple more.

It’s a shame that the first part of the show wasn’t included on the video when it was originally released.

We were very disappointed with that. We were on tour in Asia and I saw the DVD and I was so excited as I wanted it on DVD and when I didn’t see us mentioned I was so disappointed. I even sent an email to Brian May telling him of my disappointment.

Moving back to the present day. After your UK shows you then head over to Japan and Korea. Have you been over there before?

We go from London to Japan for about 10 days and then to Korea and Jakarta.

How different are the Japanese crowds to those in Europe and The States?

We’ve been to Japan many times. It’s completely different to anywhere else. It’s like visiting a different planet. I know throughout Europe, fans can be different, even in the UK from region to region it’s different but Japan is just so different. They really get into the songs but between songs it’s almost complete silence. It’s not an insult, it’s a cultural thing. They are very passionate and loyal.

Just before I wind up, I’ve heard you’ve been working with Steve Perry recently. What’s been happening there? Will there be anything released? How’s he sounding?

Yeah, we’ve worked on some things. We get together once in a while, we’re friends and he was at the last Extreme show in LA. I’ve been trying to get him to put that record out he’s been working on. He’s definitely working on stuff. At some point I’m going to have to break into his house and take it and put it onto the Internet. He’s such a super talent and I just love his singing. He’s one of my favourites and I keep telling him that he needs to be back here, people need to hear him sing. He’s Portuguese you know. He’s one of the few people I can speak Portuguese with.

After your tour of Japan. What have you planned for next year?

We’re talking about recording a show and filming it for a live DVD and we’ll see how it goes. There’s pressure on me when there’s cameras there. I psychologically love to be in a zone when I play for people and no matter how great you are or how bad you are it’s just the moment for the day and you can take it home and they can take it home and that’s that. When things are recorded I don’t want to go back and look at it, I want to retain the feeling I had at the time, but we’ll give it a shot.


  • Mick Burgess

    Mick is a reviewer and photographer here at Metal Express Radio, based in the North-East of England. He first fell in love with music after hearing Jeff Wayne's spectacular The War of the Worlds in the cold winter of 1978. Then in the summer of '79 he discovered a copy of Kiss Alive II amongst his sister’s record collection, which literally blew him away! He then quickly found Van Halen I and Rainbow's Down To Earth, and he was well on the way to being rescued from Top 40 radio hell!   Over the ensuing years, he's enjoyed the Classic Rock music of Rush, Blue Oyster Cult, and Deep Purple; the AOR of Journey and Foreigner; the Pomp of Styx and Kansas; the Progressive Metal of Dream Theater, Queensrÿche, and Symphony X; the Goth Metal of Nightwish, Within Temptation, and Epica, and a whole host of other great bands that are too numerous to mention. When he's not listening to music, he watches Sunderland lose more football (soccer) matches than they win, and occasionally, if he has to, he goes to work as a property lawyer.

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