When it comes to being like our parents, some run in the opposite direction while others, like The Red Betty, embrace the gifts bestowed upon them via their biological makeup. The Red Betty’s parents were both into the arts, and in time so was this style-blending musical maven. We talked about her upcoming release, ‘Couch Fables,’ her parental roots in music, and also how she’s managed to blend her Brazilian ones with, of all things, country music. Find out how The Red Betty does just that, and more, in this back-and-forth exchange.
Kendra: Having grown up with two parents who were immersed in music, was there ever a moment where you thought you might not head down the same path?
The Red Betty: That is a great question. I think I always knew music was going to be a constant part of my life, singing, and playing, even if just amongst friends and family. My parents separated when I was young and most of my time was spent with my mom, as my dad was playing the nightlife quite a bit. I think my passion for instrumentation came undoubtedly from him and being in awe of how he could play the guitar, the bass, the piano, and even the drums sometimes, unbelievably well, whenever the band needed. From my mom, I got the love for singing and for appreciating good music, no matter the genre. I would be singing the bossa nova one minute, the blues the next, and a gunge tune after that.
What I think I didn’t anticipate was that I would develop such a strong love for songwriting, or much less that it would lead me down a path of being able to share my songwriting and performing with a broader audience. I am eternally grateful to my parents for creating a foundation of courage and freedom, which allowed me to explore and express my vulnerability through music. That encouragement was not only a catalyst to my passion for music, but it was also the propeller to feeling comfortable enough as a songwriter to bear a lot of very personal feelings and memories, which are showcased in the new album. It’s been an incredible journey of self-discovery, which would not have happened without the musical spark they created.
Kendra: Of all of the South American elements to incorporate into your take on Modern Country, you’ve found a way to marry that with the percussion of your Brazilian roots. What about the percussion from South American music that has always made it a standout for you?
The Red Betty: Percussion in my view, has always been responsible for how I felt the rhythm in a song. Whether the lyrics or ensemble of the song were happy, sad, crazy, lost, or angry, I always found it captivating how the beat told me how to feel about the experience. It’s always been very visceral for me.
I remember at an early age, observing people’s reactions to music and wondering whether they felt the same way I did about the beat of a song. From church clapping and stomping, through more grandiose memories of watching the percussion blocks of the samba schools parading through the Carnival celebrations, for me, the colorful Brazilian and South American percussion meant that you felt the music, intensely and unashamedly, in your core. People who didn’t dance were suddenly stomping their feet and bobbing their heads, however awkwardly. That was the power of percussion. It made you shed your inhibitions and give in to your feelings, thus creating a very powerful vehicle for self-expression.
Another important early age moment for me was realizing that the accessibility created by the South American percussion, transcended any social means. You know a guitar, drums, and other instruments might require some financial investment, but it was different with percussion. I would see percussion instruments made from everyday items, like soda bottles filled with rocks, and drums made from cans, things like that, and the sound those instruments created brought people a lot of joy. A good percussion line made people want to learn the words of a song, made them forget their problems for a moment and want to join in.
As a songwriter, your biggest hope is that the listeners will connect with your message and find a way of rediscovering their own experiences through your sound. I find that South American percussion has always enabled me to do that and so I hoped that others would feel the same way and find the same comfort in its sound too.
Kendra: On the flip side, country music – for the longest time – was one of the most traditional styles out there. What artists do you think helped pave the way for more experimentation in the genre and are they influences of yours in any way?
The Red Betty: Yes, country music has been considered very roots, for a very long time, but I think that over the past decades, a lot of very successful artists have paved the way to experimentation in country music. Their fearless approaches to modern country music helped pioneer a new country sound. Country music has changed, no doubt, it became more modern and broke generational barriers, without losing its character. Americana music was a very big contributor to that also, as there were artists who broke some of the “genre” barriers and showed us all that it was ok to add glitter to our cowboy boots.
There are so many innovators in these genres, that it is hard to throw names out there without catching some heat for forgetting someone. Blake Shelton and Jason Alden gave us that “spoken” rap and hip-hop style country, Dolly Parton transformed traditional country over the years and will soon be releasing a rock album (talk about transcending!), Chris Stapleton who has performed with artists of every genre, Shania Twain who MTV’d country music, in an era dominated by boy bands and bubblegum pop, I mean what can you really say about the talent and foresight of these artists, right?
On the Americana side, how can you not mention Brandi Carlile, a veteran of this industry who opened so many doors and created so many firsts. I’ll let my geeky side show for a moment and say that she has been a poster on my wall for a very long time. True sound inspiration there! Allison Krauss, who peppered bluegrass into modern country and has now brought Robert Plant (yes, Led Zeppelin’s frontman himself), into the American scene, with a fantastic new album. Just amazing!
But I would be remiss not to mention that I come from a long line of passion for blues music. I associated blues and country a lot because of the storytelling present in both genres, which always enticed me. Back in Brazil, in the 80s, I discovered Joanna Connor – queen of the slide guitar– and she inspired me to want to learn to play the guitar. She is this beautiful woman, who fiercely and unapologetically carved her musical legacy in a male-dominated blues world. It blows my mind. Fast forward many years later, I was lucky enough to meet her and was amazed by how encouraging and attuned to the value of musical fusion she was. She has been a pioneer too.
Kendra: Your album ‘Couch Fables’ made me think of sitting around the TV as a kid with my family, and even today. With that, if you had to pick a TV show that would pair well with the record, which would you choose and why?
The Red Betty: That is fantastic. Yes, family memories and togetherness were big influencers to naming the album. The name was also fitting for the fact that the entire project began during the pandemic, where home was where the heart – and every other aspect of our social lives – was. I think that one show which comes to mind would be ‘That ‘70s Show,’ only because it’s all about the everyday experiences and memories of people like you and me. That’s what the album is about, memories, of family, of love, of places, and of situations and people, which helped shape us. It’s a soundtrack of life experiences, which I think connects us all, regardless of our backgrounds.
Kendra: You also tend to lean towards the nostalgia of life in your lyrics. I’m a very nostalgic person so I appreciate music that does transport me back to a time and place. For you, what’s something or someone that always makes you sort of want to celebrate the past?
The Red Betty: My family, who is as colorful as the sounds of South America. I grew up with family stories which celebrated cultural diversity and created a tremendous appreciation for how fortunate our lives were and are, in contrast with adversities that many of our ancestors had to brave. Storytelling has always been big in my family and there were a lot of generations preceding that of my parents, which were plagued by illiteracy and hard times. Not always being able to read and write fostered an amazing tradition of word to mouth stories. That was instrumental in teaching me about who I am and where I came from. To this day I am drawn to storytelling and how you can draw out so much emotion and create so much connection to people and places, from simply sharing your story. It’s truly incredible.
Kendra: So time for a side note – with love in the air this month, I’d love to know what is the #1 song you’d put on a mixtape as part of a Valentine’s Day gift?
The Red Betty: Wow, that is a difficult one. So many good ones. If I had to pick only one I think it would be “Boundless Love” by the late John Prine. It’s a song about gratitude; being grateful about recognizing someone’s ability to provide unconditional love, despite our flaws.
Kendra: Lastly, with your latest single, “Mama, Let Me Tell You” out now and ‘Couch Fables’ on its way, what else is in the works as we head towards the spring?
The Red Betty: Once the album is out, I’ll be taking some time to connect with listeners. I’m working on a schedule for performances and bringing the storytelling of the album to folks who want to listen. Share memories but also create new memories. I’m excited about all 2023 has in store!