By José Oliveira & Rosine Alleva, Rock At Night EU Editors
It is perhaps for me, the most beautiful artistic surprise, in this pandemic maras, which deprived us of concerts for more than a year. In 45 years of music journalism, I had never met an instrumentally self-taught young woman, as SANDRA BULLET. A bit in the tracks of Paul McCartney, in his post-Beatles era. Born in Setúbal but established in Coimbra, she’s a Portuguese alternative rock singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist with an indie twist and an old school sound.
Sandra joined a rock garage band when she was 18 as the lead singer. Besides singing and writing all lyrics and vocal melodies without any previous musical education, she sometimes struggled to describe how she was envisioning her compositions. Out of that necessity she learned how to play the guitar. Being a curious person, she soon started to play bass guitar and even a bit of drums, since those were the instruments available in the band. Sandra never gave up music and after finishing her Master’s degree in Mechanical Engineering, she started to build her own studio while working full-time as an engineer, learned about recording, mixing and master, and soon started to record vocals and guitars for other artists around the world, also writing lyrics, producing, mixing and mastering. Today she has done more than 1000 collaborations for more than 70 different countries.
After a first EP, “Longe” released four years ago, Sandra is in complete excitement to go on the road, to present her latest opus and first album Somewhere In The Crowd, released on May 1st. Sandra BULLET has agreed to reveal in an interview to Rock at Night, what is behind the fifteen themes that make up this album and tell us about this wonderful “Self-Made Woman’s” adventure !!
RAN – What is it like to live in COIMBRA (where I was also born)? A university city that has an artistic past closely linked to the students and the FADO DE COIMBRA?
Sandra Bullet – Something I love about Coimbra is being able to be five minutes from the city center and live in a house, on a quiet street and feel in the countryside. It’s delicious! In musical terms, I undoubtedly liked that there were more opportunities; I think that was one of the main reasons that led me to the online market. There are spaces with conditions, there are events; but it is never very clear how these events are organized, at least for me. In relation to being a city of students, I think it can be seen as an advantage; yes it is true that in the Academy Fado is privileged, but there is space for everything. And the republics (students houses) are real opportunities for dissemination, for concerts, to reach more people.
RAN – Is it easy for a woman in Portugal to have a project as ambitious as this one, “Self-Made Woman”?
SB – Good question. Of course, it isn’t. Especially in a country where the arts are unfortunately seen more as an occupation for leisure time than a profession. However, from an early age I got used to challenging pre-conceived ideas. Being a woman I always feel that I have to prove my worth and fight a little more until I have the respect and consideration I deserve, but I think that my background in Engineering has helped.
RAN – Why did you get into music?
SB – I can’t tell honestly. I always loved to sing. If you asked me when I was 3 what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have said singer without any hesitation. Everything I do today, being a writer, composer, playing instruments, mixing and mastering, everything comes from the same passion. I absolutely love music. And it’s one of those things that is born with you, you just can’t define it.
RAN – When you started to “tinker with instruments” what were your influences?
SB – My first influences were undoubtedly the other members of the band where I was before. Then I started paying more attention mainly to guitar players as John Frusciante ( Red Hot Chili Peppers) for his emotional play or Jonny Buckland (Coldplay) for his simplicity. On the bass or the drums, I follow my instincts a lot, doing what seems to sound good to me.
RAN – Why did you study mechanical engineering, if you knew that your passion was music?
SB – Although I always knew I wanted to be in the music industry, I didn’t know that was possible. I was doing music as a hobby, with artists that saw music as a hobby too, and I needed to make a living. I worked in some dead end jobs, shops, restaurants, until I managed to save some money to go back to school. First thing on my mind was getting a degree that would offer me financial stability; I come from a family that didn’t have much and I didn’t want to go back to that. Secondly, I was studying something practical. I always loved to understand how everything works. So mechanical engineering was the perfect fit.
RAN – Was it an easy decision to trade engineering for music?
SB – Yes and no. I always knew music was my passion and that I wanted to do it full-time. But it’s not easy to trade a steady paycheck and a steady job for something that may work out or not. Besides, I’ve tried previously to make a living out of music and failed; I had to go back to engineering 6 months after I quit. But this time I already had something going, I had steady partners, ongoing works and my music income was raising every month. I decided to go all in, but I only told everyone after a month or so. I wanted to prove myself that I could do it before facing everybody else.
RAN – How did your parents and loved ones react to this incredible decision?
SB – My parents never questioned it; they always respected my decisions. I don’t have any other artists in the family; most of them have regular jobs. So they didn’t quite understand why this was so important to me. I know they were just looking out for me; after all life is simpler if you get a paycheck at the end of the month. In the beginning they did question a bit my decision. I think they thought I would eventually go back to engineering. But after a year they realized I wasn’t going anywhere, and that I was a lot happier than before. I know that they’re proud of me today, and that’s what matters.
RAN – You are a bit like a feminine Paul McCartney !! (laughs) Why did you decide to be, not only a singer but also a songwriter, multi-instrumentalist and producer?
SB– Wow, thanks. Songwriting came naturally in my early teenage years. I always loved to write poems, and actually my dad was the one who warned me that I shouldn’t rely on other people’s songs. And that hit home for me; I wanted to have my own songs. The rest of my skills and interests came naturally too. When I joined a band at 18 years old, I realized how important it was to know the basics, even if it was just for showing how I was envisioning a song in my mind. That’s when I decided to learn the guitar first, and later bass guitar and drums.
Then we tried to record our songs ourselves; needless to say they sounded awful. So I took an interest in discovering more and more about recording and audio software. I’m a curious person by Nature, I’m eager to learn. And I enjoyed all these processes. I started to expand my creative process. Doing everything myself gives me that space, that freedom. Now I don’t see myself doing it in any other way.
RAN – Let’s talk a little about some of the 15 songs which compose this last work “Somewhere In The Crowd”. What’s the meaning of this title?
SB– Right from the moment we wrote this song, we decided that our album, would have the same name as this song. It all started with the guitar progression, the rest just happened very naturally. It’s a song that talks about how we let our pride blind us, and about the importance of saying “Sorry’ before it’s too late.
RAN – It opens with “Everything’s OK”.
SB– Being the first song we did all together, “Everything’s OK” it’s a definition from our spirit back then; we were just having fun, doing what we loved. It’s a feel good, motivating song, and being the first composition, it was only right for it to be the first song of the album. “Follow your instincts, they won’t let you down, and then you’ll see, happiness will come around.”, this sentence is a perfect example of the spirit of the song.
RAN – “Blinded”. I really love this track.
SB – This song talks about how sometimes we get blinded when we love someone; and how hard it is to let go of someone who doesn’t love us back. I wrote this one for a friend of mine who was in this situation. It has one of my favorite bass lines of the whole album, very melodic and even taking the lead on some parts, while the guitar assures the basic rhythm of the song. It’s also one of the most dynamic songs of the album.
RAN – “Carry On”…
SB – One of our most iconic songs, it was always played on every live performance. The chorus was easily learned by the audience, and as a result everybody sang it, even if they never heard it before. It was done around the same time as Blinded, so it does have a similar sound, with clean guitars on the verses and a distorted chorus. The bridge adds a unexpected intensity though, adding a darkness that is consistent with the lyrics. It’s a liberating song, where we assume who we are, even when this is not accepted by the people that are closest to us.
RAN – “Leaving Home” is a beautiful Love song.
SB – The only song we composed with Hugo Ribeira on the guitar. It reflects well his jazz and blues inspirations on the guitar progression. Also one of the most dynamic songs of the album, it has five different time signatures to accommodate all the different parts. The guitar solo at the end was added by me on the production phase. It talks about leaving someone you love behind, and the pain that it causes when your decision isn’t accepted by others.
RAN – “Who’s the Fool” it sounds like a Punk song…
SB– Yes, you’re right. The Punk influences are very strong on this one; it was also the last Punk song we did together. It’s an anthem that celebrates being different, and how everyone should be proud of their differences, because only when we trully accept that everyone is unique, only then our society can be peaceful and happy.
RAN – “U Still R” , when Love resurfaces…
SB– The first lyrics and melody I ever composed. Back then I didn’t know how to play any instrument, so it was extremely hard for me to explain how I was envisioning this song. As a result, only with our 3rd guitar player Hugo this song came to be what it is today. Another one where the Jazz and Blues influences are visible. This one was also composed when I was a teenager and fell in love for the first time.
RAN – In “Why”, I love the pop/rock vibe .
SB – Another classic of all our live shows, Why?! is definitely our most commercial/ mainstream song. Also one of my first compositions, written when I was also a teenager. It has one of the most challenging metrics of all my vocal compositions. Being such an iconic song, it was an easy choice for the first single from the album.
RAN – Has “Which Way” really a lot to do with your artistic path?
SB – Another song that talks about following your own way, even if you have to do it alone. It is one of my favorite guitar arrangements of the whole album, but it was also one of the most challenging.
RAN – Oddly enough, you sing three songs in Portuguese in this album. Which language do you prefer?
SB – That’s a hard one. I don’t have a favorite really; I love both languages. Portuguese is harder though; there are more words and yet it’s hard to find the right one. I guess that’s why I started to compose in English. But I always wanted to try to compose in Portuguese. And then, it started to happen very naturally. Nowadays I let my heart choose which language will each song be. It’s not a conscious choice. The words just start coming in one language and I let it happen.
RAN – “Anjo Negro”. There is something mystical about this song, right?
SB– One of my favorite guitar compositions, and also one of the darkest, mysterious songs from the album. It was also one of the songs that happened very naturally and even during the production stage, everything came easily together. It talks about how sometimes the bad things are the ones that felt better; and how easily it is to get lost and addicted to them.
RAN – How do you explain that Asian countries are the ones that have most adhered to your music since the beginning?
SB – Two years ago when I started doing online concerts (the so-called livestreams), it was mostly in the morning, around 10 / 11am. I did it from Monday to Friday, five days a week, always at the same time . I think that was the main reason; I gained a lot of Asian followers there, mainly from India.
RAN – Do you have other interests besides Music?
SB – I love Nature. I love walking in a forest or on a beach, sinking in all that raw energy. I have a fresh water aquarium with native fish and plants from where I live that I caught and set up myself. I also like to take care of the garden and spend time with my dog. And sometimes I just like to watch a movie and eating home made popcorn.
RAN – What are your plans for the future? Where do you see yourself in the next five/ten years?
SB – I definitely see myself working with other musicians. It’s not that I don’t love doing everything myself, but there are so many talented people out there that could make my music even better. I would still be involved in the whole process though. I also want to make live shows around Portugal and maybe the world, who knows? I already have fans in many countries and I would love to connect with them this way. I also want to start sharing my message with other artists: that it’s possible to make a living of your dreams. I’m looking forward to share everything I learned and give these tools to other artists so that they can do it
RAN– Many thanks SANDRA, for this lovely chat on the phone! Hope to see you next September in our beautiful hometown.
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