Joana Duarte (The Happy Mess) talks to 60 Minuten!

The Groningen Report
The Happy Mess is an eclectic project of a multi-faceted indie band signed to Sony Music. On their second album “Half Fiction” they’ve set themselves free, reappearing as a more playful and experimental group. They serve emotional songs that go from pop to rock and have their folky and electronic moments. The Happy Mess from Lisboa is known for live performances full of energy bringing together the audience and the band in a party atmosphere. The Happy Mess are: Miguel Ribeiro, Joana Duarte, Rui Costa, Pedro Madeira, Joao Pascoal & Ze Miguel Vieira. During the big Eurosonic Noorderslag Festival (ESNS) in Groningen/The Netherlands in january 2017 I had the big pleasure to talk to Joana Duarte, singer and composer of “The Happy Mess”. Even I didn’t know this band before ESNS started, I got interested through their amazing video clips. Please enjoy our talk!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Happy messy woman, are you ready?

Joana Duarte: Yes, I’m ready!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Thank you for making this talk possible!

Joana Duarte: Thank you for this happy mess! (Laughing). It’s a pleasure!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: It’s the first time you are outside of Portugal with your band „The Happy Mess“?

Joana Duarte: Yes!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: How does this feel for you?

Joana Duarte: It feels great! (Laughing). To be here at the Eurosonic is a big step.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Can you please explain the meaning of your name „The Happy Mess“?

Joana Duarte: It happened by accident. When we started our band we made a list with some names. Then, in the end, most of us decided to use „The Happy Mess“. This choice came by chance. When we went further, this name became completely right for us. And you know why? Because we all are really messy! We are six persons and totally different in our ideas, but of course, we also have a lot in common. Like this we also share a lot of daily mess.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: You were first friends with each others and then started the band?

Joana Duarte: No. This band changed already some members. In the beginning we were all friends, but then through the time we got new members as well. But in general, it is really important for us to be friends. Otherwise, it doesn’t work. We are family. A happy messy family!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: It looks, you are already very popular, at least in Portugal?

Joana Duarte: That’s true. We played on all of the important festivals in Portugal, organized through very big phone brands like Vodafone for example. These are the names of the festivals: NOS Alive, Vodafone Paredes de Coura, Super Bock Super Rock, MEO Marés Vivas, Festival do Crato. We also played in the theatre’s and clubs around Portugal.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: How did it happen that you became so popular?

Joana Duarte: In 2012, if I’m not mistaking, we released a song called „Morning Sun“, produced by Fred Oliveira of Krypton Films, who is a very fantastic musician and producer of mostly hip-hop, soul and pop bands and artists in Portugal.
He also played in „Braquo el sistema“, a Portuguese born band. He worked with our single „Morning Sun“. We released the song and the video and the most popular radio station in Portugal, which is Radio Comercial, played our songs and it became a number one hit for a while. The most regular listener audience looked for a contact with us. Then our success started. After that we released two albums and we are now creating our third album, which will be released by Sony Music, just like the second album.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Wow! That’s really special!

Joana Duarte: Yes. (Laughing!)

Bernd Ihno Eilts: It feels so holy!

Joana Duarte: (Laughing very much)!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: I told you earlier, when we met in the Portugal Lounge this morning, that I couldn’t find any information about your band written in English on the internet so far. Then I checked your videos for getting a more clear image of all. What I saw then, made me feel very special. The quality of your videos is so strong, is so refreshing and so modern. For me this was a big inspiration! Do you feel like the videos or are they just a combination of what the band and the director of the videos want to share?

Joana Duarte: No, we are the videos. We have this interest to connect our music with the qualities of other special artists, that we like and love in Portugal. Mainly in Portugal. But we also work with a Brazilian collective, that made the CD cover of our last album „Half Fiction“. It is called Colectivo NoveCinco, from Rio de Janeiro (novecinco.com). The cover of our first EP “Untitled Zoo” was made by the Estonian artist Janno Saft. The image of our first album „Songs From The Backyard“ was taken by a very famous Portuguese photographer. His name is Rui Hermenegildo. In the videos, we want to work with people, who we trust and who work in our way of spirit. Then we work with artistic friends. We have a publicity producer who helps us in every single moment while we create our albums. He opens our way in artistic fields. They all support us very much and very well. With all this help it is possible for us to make all our special videos.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: My next question belongs to the message of your band, your music and your lyrics. What do you want to say, if you put it in words for me now?

Joana Duarte: This is a strong question! I like strong questions! (Laughing). Mostly, we are really engaged with a context, a political context and relationships with people. Like individual, one by one, then also related with people globally. I don’t think we work on really specific things or themes. It is more individual. But even about global ideas in relationships and social and political behavior and presence.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: What is your message? Yesterday I talked with Nelson Graf Reis „We Bless This Mess“. His message is very clear. He said: „Life is cool. You just have to choose for it“.

Joana Duarte: (Laughing)!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: When you choose really for your life, you get into the flow, and it’s happening.
This message is in all his songs and even very strong in him as a person. That was very interesting to hear and find out.

Joana Duarte: With him and his music it’s much more easy, I guess. Because it is mostly a one person band.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Exactly! But now I am only talking with you as one person representing a whole band.

Joana Duarte: For me it is probably different than it is for our other band members. Sometimes I don’t like to reveal, also because I write songs myself. I write the lyrics even for other artists. Mostly then people want to know about the meaning of course. But most of the time I don’t want to talk about it. First of all the music speaks for itself. Then the words also includes some kind of mystery, which is very important for me. I don’t want to guide a person so much in a direct understandable way. For me, there exists liberty and freedom. Especially in understanding my lyrics for others. I don’t want to guide clearly. I want to leave it like it is. I give just an input and it is really important for me to share this. Then you receive my message and transform it in your own understandable way.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: I remember a video I saw last night, „The Invisible Boy“. People were busy making sports, fighting against their own life situations, they fall and stand up again but recovered and changed. These pictures are so strong, the portraits of the people looked like pieces of a modern art show. Video as a piece of art. But now, it’s the music plus a video, very interesting. This video looks like an exhibition catalogue, every single frame. Very strong and independent!

Joana Duarte: (Laughing). Thank you!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Then I like to see, you are dancing in your videos. That means, you are also a dancer!

Joana Duarte: Yes, I am. I studied contemporary dance, it is also a big passion of mine. I do a lot of dance movements in our concerts.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: You have all this special energy and you have to use it!

Joana Duarte: It’s me! In the video called „Heaven“ the producer asked us to choose something we like the most to do in daily life. It is representing us most of time, showing how we are and what we love to do the most. We came up with really good images. It was important, because it represents somehow the elements of the band.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: How do you compose?

Joana Duarte: It depends. It is a technical thing.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Maybe you need some influences, some support, some inspiration?

Joana Duarte: It depends. The first album was mostly made by the singer and guitarist Miguel Ribeiro. Our last album „Half Fiction“ was more a collective composition. We were together and wrote all together. For this process we stayed in the village with the name Paredes de Coura in a forest. This protected landscape is called Paisagem Protegida de Corno de Bico. There we stayed some days isolated, located in the north of Portugal. It was really amazing. We had great contact with the locals there that live mostly with their sheep. It was nice and special, to compose music there. Even now, last year, the end of november we went there again to compose more music for our next album. It is amazing, because we are all together, so available for our music and the sounds there in the nature. Normally we live in a very busy city, Lisboa, and we are all always moving between different spots. But there it was very nice. Right now we are composing together like a collective. Of course we have a lot of inspirations. Sometimes we listen to artists that are related to our native language. There are special artists we appreciate, the way they transform and innovate.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: What is your main influence?

Joana Duarte: For me? I have a very strong relation with abstract expressionism. A long time ago I also studied art and architecture. But before I felt relieved and could find myself in this art form. During the past years my life changed a lot, but still I feel a very strong attachment. I was in London two month ago and every place I went I had big opportunities to see abstract expressionism. This I loved! Any moment I get in touch with this art form has always a big impact.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Which kind of abstract expressionism you like the most?

Joana Duarte: It’s more the European way. I love Karel Appel and the Cobra artists. Jean Dubuffet also touches me a lot. I think, I feel the movements inside very much what attracts me. It also has a political and social gesture that I like.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: When we look at the political situation in the world right now, it’s a big mess, right? It is very chaotic and we can see this everywhere.

Joana Duarte: Yes, it’s a very big mess. We are political not stable anymore, where ever we look. This is really uncomfortable. Especially for me, thinking about the people living in those situations, and even me, living in the same situation. Because I’m a human of this world. It is like living in the same house. I wish to take care more about people, much more than I can at the moment.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: In combination with this situation, how do you see then the message of your music? You describe your band and music as a happy mess, right?

Joana Duarte: (laughing).

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Is it, for example, you see in any mess around also some kind of happiness? That you can have the choice to see also beauty?

Joana Duarte: I think, it is really difficult to live in this world, from my perspective. We need to have a big joy for our life. So that we can at least survive and get the strength to not give up. It sounds maybe very dramatic, but it’s like this.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: It can be dramatic. There are many people who have a dramatic life. There are also many people that don’t have a choice. They just live their life as it is. Then I guess it’s so much important you get in touch with some uplifting. Whenever it’s raining, you still can see some sun and enjoy it. When I listen to your music I find this quality.

We were checking the time, another radio interviewer was waiting to talk with Joana. But Joana decided to continue for a few more minutes.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: In your video „Backyard Girl“ I noticed a lot of aesthetical moments and also intimate ones. To work and show something like that is just great.

Joana Duarte: Yes, that’s true.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Can you explain a little bit, why you choose these pictures?

Joana Duarte: The director of this video was free to do whatever he wanted. We gave him this permission. Mainly, we are a man and a woman singing and he wanted to bring that kind of relation more clear and widely to the front.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: There is also a painting element inside, next to all the black & white images.

Joana Duarte: Yes, it is. He is a really good director, he is using the photography as a powerful component. But, like I said earlier, we were not deciding. The video on Youtube got many reactions from people all over the world and the number of views is still growing.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: It has more than 700.000 views! Really a lot!

Joana Duarte: It’s global, not just in Portugal. (Laughing).

Bernd Ihno Eilts: What does your life look like at the moment in Portugal? Why do you live there or are you thinking maybe about moving to another country?

Joana Duarte: It is a very difficult situation to live in Portugal at the moment. We have this political and financial crisis, which is very aggressive to the people. We have to cut our savings. A large amount of people are not living well. It is also important to say, even when things are bad, it still is our country. We are born there, even I’m not such a nationalist. But now I still think, I should be in Portugal. But in the future I will for sure leave, at least, I think about it. Sometimes, it’s really difficult there to do, what you really like. Until now, it always kept me there.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: I think, you will come and move to Holland!

Joana Duarte: (Laughing)!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Do you think, you are a spiritual person?

Joana Duarte: I think, I am. I don’t believe in religions, God or Gods. But I believe in people and persons. This is the spirit of the things and life around us! (Laughing).

Bernd Ihno Eilts: How are you in private, when there is no music around?

Joana Duarte: I am very relaxed and even very intense. For myself. But I try to balance this intensity with the understanding of myself in relation with the world and people’s lifes around me. I try to understand people.

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Thank you very much Joana! Let’s take some pictures, with you and me please.

Joana Duarte: You know, we have a title on our album called „You & Me“, that is our composition!

Bernd Ihno Eilts: Thank you for letting me know!

For more information please visit: www.facebook.com/thehappymess/

Interview: Bernd Ihno Eilts
Photography: Zoltan Acs (Portrait) and Bernd Ihno Eilts (Concert).

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