Different image than album cover itself, courtesy of chi.remezcla.com
Born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, she was hooked at an early age to many Brazilian samba and MPB artists. Monica would join her siblings Bruce and Erica Driscoll in forming the group Nectar but had limited success.
Deciding to go solo by 2004, she would team up with guitarist Brett Ratner while living in Chicago. The group Socialite Fiasco did moderately well and produced an album, Miles From Nowhere.
But perhaps her big break to date was the 2010 release of my choice for this week’s album selection, Brasilissima. Albeit the album title is easy to pronounce, but slightly difficult for the relative novice to properly spell on popular search engines–the pace of the songs is as close to carefree, laid-back, calm, soothing, and effervescent as albums go in this day and age.
My favorite songs are the opening track, the slow ballad “Maria Waits” (the pace nearly duplicates on Track 9, “In Love, Intoxicated”). I also enjoy hearing the slightly faster tempo song on Track 6 “That’s Not The Way”, and Track 8 with “Surface.”
Going into another realm, Track 7 almost steers clearly into 1980’s Hello Kitty girly pop with “Minha Gatinha” (or “My Kitty”). Overall, Monica’s voice brings back some vivid memories of Astrud Gilberto, when 50 years ago the world famous Getz-Gilberto album hit on the Billboard Hot 100 charts for an outstanding 96 consecutive weeks (over a year and a half before the Beatles Invasion took firm hold on the U.S. music scene). She also reminds me also a bit of Lisa Moroni, commonly heard on the Cafe Roma compilation series, of which I profiled in this blog in 2013.
Teaming up on the album is Chad Alger (initially was a drummer), who helped co-write most of the songs while surviving a major blizzard that paralyzed Grand Rapids in the winter of 2008.
I got the chance to email Monica shortly after the Memorial Day holiday weekend, and I asked her not only what message she is trying to tell fans on this album–but what also intrigued me the most, the cover shoot done on a hillside as evidenced by this really neat picture:
Image courtesy of digplanet.com
1. Who were your musical inspirations growing up? Any special traditions in your household when you were young?
As a child I was exposed to all types of music. My mom, who’s from Belém do Pará, Brazil, told me she learned English by listening to the Beatles, so their music was always on in our house. I was inspired by their catchy lyrics and melodies. I embraced Brazilian music, too, especially Bossa Nova and MPB. Some of my biggest inspirations were Jorge Ben, Caetano Veloso, Vinicius de Moraes, Tom Jobim, João Gilberto, Astrud Gilberto, Nara Leão, Marisa Monte…the list goes on. Later on, I got hooked on Seu Jorge’s music–especially after watching the Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou. His David Bowie covers were so amazing. I love that they just put him in the background of practically every scene. Just him and a classical guitar. So cool!
As for traditions, we didn’t really have anything out of the norm that I can think of. Brazilian families love to dance. Sometimes my mom would put on some Samba and my sister, brother and I would dance. My family was super close, and we always hung out together.
2. Do you have any hobbies outside of writing, singing, and touring?
I have a huge list of hobbies, but some of my favorites are traveling, cooking, learning languages, drawing, writing children’s books, and hanging out with my pets. I’m a huge animal lover. I have 2 dogs, Penny Lane and Juju, and 2 cats, Chuck Norris and Suzuki Meowski. They’re my “fur-babies”.
3. The cover to the album that I am profiling–two questions on that: a) How did the outdoor shoot come about, and b) When you first got your hands on the album, what was your initial reaction?
The outdoor shot for the cover of “Brasilissima” was kind of a spontaneous idea. My guitarist, Chad Alger and I knew we wanted to get some shots outside, and our photographer, Agnes Lopez said she knew of a great spot not too far from her house in Florida. There was this lush, green grassy hill. The photo looks like it was taken somewhere out in the country, but it was actually right near some busy streets. We had to cross over a construction site to get to the hill. A construction worker even came over to tell us we had to leave. It took some persuasion, but we managed to convince him to let us shoot there. It was kind of tricky balancing on that hill in my heels.
I was very excited when I got the album in my hands for the first time. It was so cool to see the whole package come together, after working on the project for so long.
4. What message(s) are you trying to convey on the album? My favorite song is, “Somewhere.”
Some of the messages or central themes of the album are about living your life to the fullest, doing everything 100%, being in love, seizing the day, having fun, accepting people from all walks of life, not discriminating. Those messages are very important to me as a person. I’m always trying to spread the love. “Somewhere” is kind of a dreamy song about the ups and downs of a relationship. You kind of feel like you’re losing yourself, when you realize the other person isn’t reciprocating your feelings.
5. Any plans to watch the World Cup? And what do you think are Brazil’s chances on winning in their home soil?
I am definitely watching the World Cup. I just found out that ESPN is going to use my song, “That’s Not The Way” in their World Cup programming both in the USA and internationally. I’m over the moon about this news. I definitely think morale will be high with the Brazilians being on their home turf. I’m hoping and praying they win.
Monica was also kind enough to share with me a pair of her favorite videos. Here she is with Chad Alger first in “Push Me Away”, followed by where she managed to get a chance to have her heels on mostly solid ground in “Ai Entao”:
No question about it, Monica is definitely worth checking out. She regularly tours the South and Midwest, and hopefully the sky is more than the limit for her great singing. And if there was an All-Star team, Monica would definitely be towards the top of my list as a fabulous Brazilian jazz singer.