Marinho: Lisbon’s Finest New Musical Export | Under the Radar | Music Blog for the Indie Music Magazine
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Marinho: Lisbon’s Finest New Musical Export

The Portuguese singer/songwriter talks about the highs and lows of the past year

Jan 20, 2021 Web Exclusive
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Filipa Marinho has spent a number of years playing in bands in and around her native Lisbon. But it wasn’t until embarking on her own solo project that she found her true voice. Written and constructed over a number of years, the songs which went onto become ~ (pronounced “tilde”), her debut long player, take on a very personal and somewhat autobiographical sphere for Marinho.

Released in October 2019 to a wave of critical acclaim, ~ should have been the starting point to an exciting twelve months where the smart money was on Marinho breaking out of the Portuguese underground indie folk scene and into pastures new. With numerous festival and tour bookings confirmed, Marinho seemed to be on the precipice of global recognition.

However, the Covid-19 pandemic stalled that somewhat. With live shows pretty much ground to a halt and festivals cancelled, 2020 proved to be more a time of reflection than progress. Nevertheless, Marinho’s work has been recognised by the people behind Eurosonic Noorderslag, and her set at this year’s online event was one of the festival’s most eagerly anticipated shows.

Before that, Under the Radar caught up with Filipa Marinho and found her buoyantly optimistic about the future, whatever that may bring.

Dom Gourlay (Under The Radar): It’s been a difficult 12 months with the Covid 19 pandemic particularly impacting the music industry. How have you adapted to working as a recording artist during this traumatic time?

Filipa Marinho: I’ve had to adapt in every way possible. I’ve never talked about this publicly before, but in February 2020 I officially quit my full time job so I could dedicate my time exclusively to making music. I’ve played in bands before but when I started Marinho I was working full time for brands and booking agencies. It was always within the music realm, but mostly behind the scenes. Marinho started going so well with the live shows and everything else, that I felt it was the right time to fully step into it. Then the pandemic started about three weeks after I quit my job, which was ironic and even laughable for me! At the time anyway; it’s not so laughable now. At the beginning everybody was saying it was so weird like being out of a dystopian movie, whereas now we’re all going stop the movie now, it’s not funny any more. So I’ve had to adapt completely, not only learning how to make better home recordings when trying to pre-produce new music. But also how to technically produce better live streams, which I’d done before but in a very rudimentary kind of way. Just mentally with everything to be honest, I’ve had to learn how to respect a rhythm of things. Whether it’s my mind and my mental health, and knowing when to step back and stop, and breathe. Or whether its respecting the flow and rhythm of my songwriting. So its been a very big year in terms of learning and self-development for sure.

Has it impacted on the way you write, or even the way you look at the world in general?

I think it’s changed the way I look at myself more than the world. I don’t feel like there’s much going on in the world right now that’s much of a surprise for me. Although its a pretty scary place to live with everything that’s going on all around the world, but at the same time our fears just became more and more materialised. Which is the scariest thing for me, even if its not that big a surprise. I was more surprised about how I’ve changed. I guess I have a new capacity for dealing with certain triggers and stressful situations. So my songwriting is evolving more instrumentally and musically into areas which I hadn’t let it before. Also, I was listening to a lot of Steely Dan during the summer so my songwriting has been impacted by that as well. But then there’s a lot of poems and lyrics that I write which address issues I’d already started thinking about even before the pandemic.

How has the Portuguese government responded to the pandemic? It’s been pretty shambolic here in the UK in terms of mismanagement from our government.

In some areas they’ve responded well, in other areas not so much. The UK doesn’t even have live shows at the moment, right?

The majority of live music venues in the UK haven’t even been allowed to open since March 2020. We had a couple of months between August and early October where socially distanced, all seated shows were allowed to take place in some venues but that’s as good as its gotten over here.

We had a lockdown in March and April much like the rest of the world. Then when it all started opening up again, live shows all started coming back, whether it was music or theatre. We also had limitations and restrictions guided by Covid regulations which meant everyone had to wear a mask while sitting down having a distance of two meters between each other. So in terms of financial sustainability, that hasn’t come back yet. It’s still not financially viable for promoters and bands to go out on tour or even play a lot. So its been mostly dependent on public funded shows. I’ve had the luck and privilege to still play a lot more shows than many of my musician friends have been able to. I just had a show two days ago which was amazing but it was also publicly funded, which is obviously not the norm. So in terms of going to shows, whether as an artist or music fan or technician, everything slowed down a lot. It didn’t stop completely, at least not yet, although we’re going into a new lockdown this week because over Christmas the government decided to make everyone happy and let them spend time together with their families over the festive period. Now we’re paying the price for that. So it has been up and down, although I do believe our government and public health systems have dealt with it a lot better than other countries such as the UK. But its still pretty shitty for everyone, to be honest.

Your debut album ~ (pronounced “tilde”) came out in 2019 to widespread critical acclaim, so last year should have been the one where you broke through into new territories. Having been forced to cancel all touring and festival plans for 2020, does it feel like you’ve lost momentum and had to start from scratch all over again?

I don’t know. I’ve had a few guesses as to why I’m dealing with things in a certain way, but is doesn’t feel like I’ve lost momentum. Obviously I was bummed out at having so many shows cancelled. I’d not only planned to play more shows abroad, but also in Portugal as well I already had some big and important festivals lined up for 2020. All that went to shit. I was sad about it, but at the same time I thought don’t worry, it will come. Just continue to make good music and continue to be yourself then good things will come. I don’t know exactly why I have that kind of approach to it? Maybe because I was nearly 30 when I started making music as Marinho. I was 28 when I started recording ~ (tilde). I hope this doesn’t sound presumptious or condescending, but if I was 20 years old when this happened I would probably have seen it as the end of my career and God’s way of making fun of me. Whereas now I think if you put in the work and put in your soul, good things will come and good people will come to join you. Just doing an interview like this is proof to me that things are heading in the right direction.

The songs on ~ (tilde) seem very personal, if not autobiographical in their lyrics. Was that always your intention when writing the album?

It is completely autobiographical! When I write I do it to try and make sense of everything that’s going on in my life or everything that’s going on in my soul. One day, I’d love to try and write for other people rather than just myself. But I’ve also thought I don’t know how I could ever do that because my impulse to write is always very, very personal.

The arrangements and structures for the songs take in many different styles and genres, whether it be traditional folk (“Joni”, “Ghost Notes”) or more of an indie rock sound (“I Give Up And It’s OK”, “Not You”). Was that something you were conscious of while making the record?

I think it comes from a lot of places. First of all, writing the arrangements was a collective effort between me and the musicians that were in the studio with me. For example, with the guitar arrangements I was producing them and giving a lot of creative direction. But there was also a big input from my brother (Guilha Marinho) who’s also the bass player for my live shows. He recorded a lot of the bass and guitars for the record, so there was also a lot of his musical history that came out of his fingers and went into the album. We didn’t have explicit influences most of the time. Things were just emerging as the songs were being laid out and the music was forming itself. There were a few moments where I directly gave some references that I love and in this case for example, for the guitar solo on “Ghost Notes” - if you can call it that - I specifically asked the guys to sit down and listen to Big Thief’s “Paul”. There is a point in that song - I’m not sure whether it’s Adrienne Lenker’s or Buck Meek’s guitar parts - where the guitarist is playing two or three very simple notes yet they cut so deep. I wanted them to have that same feeling for me so Big Thief’s “Paul” was a big influence on “Ghost Notes”. For “Window Pane” I asked the drummer (Diogo Sousa) to listen to Liz Cooper & The Stampede’s “Mountain Man”, which I love. So there are bits and pieces of direct influences here and there, but it was mostly just a group of like-minded people from similar musical universes even though they’re parallel to each other and studio magic happened!

With the likes of yourself and Lina_Raul Refree being among the most prominent names at this year’s Eurosonic Noorderslag event, it seems like Portuguese music is finally getting the recognition it deserves on a global stage. Why do you think it’s taken so long for this to happen?

I think it’s because we make do with very little. Just imagine being from a small village and it has a music scene mainly because people have nothing else to do so have to entertain themselves in the best way possible. The younger generations start coming up with new genres and they’re very creative. They come up with new ideas using very little resources, and that’s how I’d describe Portugal compared to a lot of the world. It’s a much smaller country and therefore, market. So that’s what I think started happening. People started getting access to more tools and resources with home studios. They used the internet to learn more and more techniques, then suddenly things started to have a global calibre. So there are a bunch of artists I’m very proud of and excited about. Some of them are my friends. Some are people that I’ve never met but am really inspired by and I really hope that this decade is the one where the rest of the world starts to wake up to Portuguese talent. Whether its Portuguese speaking lyrics or in this case English, there’s so much good music going on here.

How do you prepare for an online event such as the one you’re playing for Eurosonic, particularly as the audience will mostly be made up of people from within the music industry? Does that make it any more daunting?

It does make a difference. It’s not the same energy when you’re performing for a camera as it is an actual live audience, but then because of the dimension of Eurosonic as a festival and how it supports artists in the production of their live streams it will also be a lot more developed than on a smartphone camera. Whatever it is, its different but then you still know there are people watching at the other end of the signal. I try to remember that, and I try to be as genuine as I can the same as I would be if I was on stage. Sometimes it gets awkward for me but then that’s also a good thing. The more awkward I feel on stage, the more I’m going to have the need to connect and say personal things. Some things a little more serious, some a little more stupid but I’m still gonna have the need to connect so that people know I’m there. That I’m not just playing to four walls. That I’m playing for them. I’m a little bit of an entertainer so I have that need to connect with people and to have and to know that I’m there with them. It’s something I can also put into practice, even if I don’t have an actual audience in front of me.

Will there be a follow up to ~ (tilde) and if so, have you started working on it?

There will be, yes. I’ve started writing new songs and I might even play one or two of them for the Eurosonic gig.

What advice would you give to a new artist just starting out?

I’d tell them to be themselves, as cliched as that may sound. Just do what your heart tells you is the right thing to do. Whether that be the kind of music you’re making, to the people you end up working with.Don’t accept to work with a manager, PR or promoter that doesn’t speak your language or get your music just because they say they have the right connections or contacts. Because if they don’t share the same values as you, that relationship won’t last and it’s super important that you keep an energy of truth around everything you do. I truly believe if you do that, good things will come and the rest will fall into place.

Are there any new artists you’d recommend for Under the Radar and its readers to be checking out?

I’ve played with many inspiring people whether they’re Portuguese or not. For example, I opened for Anna St. Louis in 2019 and she was incredible. There are some great Lisbon acts too like Monday, who I truly love. She’s probably my favourite act in Portugal at the moment, and I’m lucky enough to share a flat with her. Her last EP is called Room For All and it brings me to tears every time I hear it, especially the title track. There are so many good acts right now such as Time For T and even Portuguese speaking ones like Maria Reis. It’s a great time for new music.

The album ~ is out now.

Rewatch Marinho’s ESNS performance below.


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