Interview with Fernanda Lira of NERVOSA
I recently had the pleasure of speaking with bassist / vocalist Fernanda Lira of the Brazilian metal band Nervosa, who also happen to be a 3-piece all-female band, who play with as much bite and energy as any male counterparts.
We chatted on aspects of the metal scene in South America, the band’s formation, and various thoughts on music, as she discussed how varied music genres influence her vocal styles, how her father influenced her love of metal, and the band’s very professional “slow but sure” aspect of business. And unlike what some might think of thrash bands in general, Fernanda is truly classy, with a very smart outlook on things and a fresh energy in the metal world.
It’s great seeing a female-fronted band, especially from Brazil, where you have a large population of heavy metal fans.
Ah, yeah, yeah, yeah. South America, Brazil, in a general way, South America is a huge metal continent. We have lots of metalheads around here. The scene is like, wherever you go here, in small villages in Bolivia to huge metropolises like in Brazil, wherever you go you will find a very solid local scene with awesome bands. Because of that, we have a lot of support. We have many loyal fans. I’m really happy and proud to be part of the scene and to be playing here. The fans are really cool, some of the best in the world. I’m very happy. They are so supportive not just to us in Brazil, but in general.
The thing that makes us have a very solid fan base around here is, before when we started, we wanted to send material to Europe and United States, we wanted to start with small steps. We never took steps bigger than we could. We always planned everything right, made a point to not make bad choices. We started playing our CDs and promoting in our region here, and then going north and south. Then when we finally started touring some countries in South America and Central America, then we went to Europe. We started building a fan base here before Europe. You start solid at home, and then do what you have to do outside.
I like your thinking of taking baby steps first and avoiding jumping into bad choices.
Yeah, I think this is pretty important. Lots of bands don’t work out because the guys gave up on music, or whatever. I know it’s cool to think big and put a lot of effort into something, but it might also be kind of tricky, because you might take a big step and then it doesn’t work out, you take the chance of being disappointed. If you take baby steps, like you said, you have more chances to take small but solid steps. Do everything calmly. Building a career is something that takes a lot of effort, but a lot of patience. I think we’re super lucky because stuff has been happening super-fast for us, but still I think we were very patient. I think this is one of the reasons why it has been working. We try to take the right shots.
You just gave me a great quote idea. You’re taking baby steps, but leaving a big footprint.
See? I’m making you philosophical, but that’s the thing.
You’re taking small steps, but you’re leaving your mark where people remember where you came from. It might be small but it’s all important.
Of course. That’s what I meant by solid steps. You’re going there, doing what you’re going to do, on your time, but doing it well. Doing it slowly, but doing it well, rather than doing it big but in a way that is not remarkable.
In South America, or rather in Brazil, is it more of a thrash metal or is all kinds of rock popular?
I think rock in a general way is big here, but not as solid as metal. We don’t have a rock scene around here, but we have a huge metal scene. It’s still underground, because there are a lot of people living here in South America, but there are a lot of people into metal and being loyal to metal. I think that’s the difference between these two scenes around here. The favorite genre from South American metalheads are the most extreme ones. Thrash and death metal is where you will find the biggest crowds now. A while ago it was melodic metal, and all that, and symphonic metal like Nightwish and Epica. These genres still have huge crowds here, but the thrash and death metal scene is more solid, there are more fans, and more stuff going on. You have thrash and death metal gigs going all the time down here, as opposed to symphonic metal.
And you know what, people ask me that, here in South America, of course… and my being South America, we have a lot of beautiful countries around here, and people are warm and welcoming by nature, but it’s not easy being South American. Social stuff, always fucked up, we don’t have basic services, a lot of inequalities, social problems, so it’s really hard to be South American in that sort of way. We face a lot of shit every day, but we don’t get crazy with that. We kind of face that stuff but we keep it inside. But when you have a metal band, or you go to a metal concert, or you listen to metal, when you are South American, it’s a way to release all that bad stuff that you face every day, that’s suppressed, in order to not be crazy. When you have a metal band, you write about all that shit that you feel on your daily routine, and then you feel kind of free. A bit calmer. Then when you listen to metal, when you’ve had a bad day, you’re all fucked up inside on the train taking 2 ½ hours to come home, inside very shitty transportation, and then you get home and you have no money to go out with your friends. This gets you pissed off, and then you put on Cannibal Corpse, and you feel calm. I think these two genres help us release the energy that we suppress in our daily routine. That’s why it’s our favorite genres around here.
Interesting. Some people need New Age to feel calm, but that could be unnerving too. So I get what you are saying, it’s whatever it takes to release that energy.
I think there is nothing better than extreme music to release that extreme feeling. And also we can identify ourselves in thrash lyrics that talk about political stuff and all.
Your band name – Nervosa. Are you named for the medical term Anorexia Nervosa?
No, no, not at all. People think that because it’s common. Nervosa is actually a word in Portuguese that means “angry girl.” It would be something like “nervous girl” or “angry girl.” When you want to say a girl is angry, you would say, “She’s so nervosa.” We speak Brazilian Portuguese, but still it’s a Portuguese word. When we were creating the name of the band… actually the guitar player who created that, and I just accept it. But when I was looking for a name, I wanted something short, something in Portuguese, honor to our mother language, something aggressive, something that could be understood in other parts of the world, and something direct, and something kind of female. It’s Portuguese, it’s short, it’s easy to pronounce, and easy to remember, and aggressive, because of its meaning. In Spanish it’s very similar. In English, it’s “nervous.” But in Brazil, you don’t use it only for girls. You can use it for whatever. Like “song” is “musica.” So you could say “That musica is nervosa.” So it’s not only for girls, but generally associated with girls.
After the 1990s, after Nu-Metal and Grunge came out, your sound is very refreshing in that it’s a classic thrash sound. I’m in the San Francisco Bay Area, and your sound is a lot like the bands that started it all out here. How old are you guys?
I’m 26. I’m the youngest. Prika is going to be 30, and our drummer is 30-something.
So you are all relatively young compared to when those classic bands came out. How did you get the influence from? How did you pick that style?
I understand your question. The band that made me want to have a thrash metal band was Nuclear Assault. I don’t think I was even born when they were released. I was born into a very metal environment, because my dad was a metalhead. My earliest memories involved metal. When I was 6 or 7, I had collections that my dad used to record on tape. He would put on from KISS to Suicidal Tendencies to Warlock. So since I was very young I was used to listening to metal. And because my dad is older, he was really into the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. So I started listening to metal from these bands of the 1980s. That’s my favorite school. All the bands I love, and my favorite albums, are from the 1980s. It’s something natural. My dad showed me them, and when I started looking for band’s discographies, I would start from the beginning, and naturally the albums from the 1980s. And of course with the exception of death metal, my favorite albums are from the 1990s. But it was just sort of natural, it’s just that sound, probably because I’m very influenced by what my dad used to listen to. All the classic albums are from the old school, and I’m really influenced by these schools.
What I think we do is we take these influences we have from the bands of the 1980s, which are the bands that made me want to have a thrash metal band, and taught me how to write metal songs, we take that and mix…like the quality of technology of today and new albums from old bands like Testament and Cannibal Corpse, and put it all together.
It’s nice to hear that you have that kind of respect, and are going back to the beginning and working your way forward. A lot of people don’t care about what came before them and only care about what they do today. You have that luxury of starting there, and all the decades of music styles in between.
You can pick and choose what worked, what didn’t work, and what would sound good mixed with something else.
I think this is pretty important. I don’t know the discography of all the bands that I like, of course not. Some of them, some here and some there. But that’s my favorite thing to do, is to go through the careers and see what I liked the most. But usually it lays on the 1980s, it’s natural, and my daddy taught me like that. So all the legacy of listening to metal from the 1980s and all these classic metal bands, I owe a lot to my dad.
I’d say you fit in just after NWOBHM and when thrash metal really started getting going in the Bay Area, before Grunge, and you’re doing a very good job of it.
We write the music we like to hear. I really love all these Bay Area thrash metal, and Florida death metal, and German thrash metal, it’s natural. When I have to write a song, it’s the kind of wreath that comes to mind.
I noticed that you’ve opened for bands like Flotsam & Jetsam, Exodus, Hirax, Raven, and bands like that. And Raven is one of my favorite metal bands. But in the way they dressed, and unorthodox style back then, some people didn’t get it.
In metal, at least for me, I have no boundaries. Of course I have the genres I like the most in thrash and metal, but I listen to pretty much everything.
Outside of heavy metal what do you listen to?
I listen to stuff that would surprise people. I’m a clean singer. I started singing like Queensrÿche and Helloween. I enjoy it. Nervosa is really the first band in which I sing growly and raspy. I really like to sing. I sing a lot in the shower. Because of that, I’m always looking for new techniques while singing. It’s just a hobby. Because of that, I listen to a lot. Also I listen to music to fit my mood, so I listen to a lot of soundtracks like piano soundtracks, and that have Mexican influence stuff. Things like from [director Quentin] Tarantino. And early rock like Jethro Tull, I love stuff like that. Besides that, still kind of rock and roll, but outside of that, my favorite, favorite genre is blues. I love the blues. I really do love blues. When I was in college, I wanted to do a documentary about blues. I think it’s just that it can be sad sometimes, and sexy sometimes, it just fascinates me. I love it. Also I like soul very much, and funk. But especially I like soul and funk because of the singing thing. There are lots of divas that do a lot of jazz stuff. For instance, I listen to Etta James, and Nina Simone, and Aretha Franklin. I listen to this a lot when trying to develop some new techniques, and even some pop stuff, to develop.
I know people will crucify me, everyone does, but I listen to Amy Winehouse and Beyoncé and stuff. I don’t always like the pop aspect, as it can annoy me, but for technique. It teaches me. You’d be surprised, as it teaches me new techniques even for singing thrash metal. So my taste for music is really wide. I listen to a lot of stuff that is not metal. Of course metal is my whole life. Everything I am, and everything I have – from friends to my job – everything is because of metal, so it will always be my favorite, but I listen to everything. So that’s cool. I think when you are a musician, it’s good to listen to other stuff and pick up some different influences and techniques. Funk has taught me different techniques on the bass. So it’s my crazy taste. And yet sometimes people have stopped talking to me after I tell them my taste for music.
Just so you know, I’m actually not a strict “metal guy.” I play and sing everything. I used to do much more of the metal thing until it got to be too much. But then I spread out into everything, while still respect where I came from. So I won’t be crucifying you. I have great respect that you are into all that.
I think it’s cool. You have to listen to whatever makes you feel good. That’s the thing, without any judgement. If you only like metal, that’s cool too, but you have to listen to whatever makes you feel good.
Who writes the lyrics in your band?
Me and Prika. It’s always half me and her. We are the lyricists. If the drummer wants to write some, that’s cool too. You have different views, and different ways of thinking, and different ways of writing, so it’s cool to make an album different. Sometimes I don’t agree with what Prika writes, and sometimes she doesn’t agree with what I write, but so long as it’s nothing offensive like cursing every word. or something specific, as long as you’re not offending anyone or anyone’s existence, I’ll always respect her opinion and he way of writing, and she does the same with me. It makes us really free in writing songs. But we also write about the same stuff, human aspects. Not only political aspects, but also human feelings, things relating to human behavior – arrogance, hypocrisy, and such. I think we really get along in writing. It’s different but still talking about the same thing. We don’t write about imaginary situations, which is cool, no problem with that, but for us we like to write like this.
Have you considered singing clean at all in this band?
On this new album, we have one bonus track, the 12th track, called “Wayfarer.” It’s blues metal. We felt like doing something different. I decided to even sing a cappella. I think it’s just for once. It was fun for a bonus track. But I think it doesn’t fit the general idea of Nervosa. I like the way I sing in this band. I think it fits the range on the lyrics and the lyrical content. I don’t think I could sing about corrupt politicians in a sort of [hums a light blues style]. Maybe one day when I have more time, I would love to sing in a soul band, but only as a side project to play here and there once in a while.
I look forward to seeing where you expand later. This is where you are now, and let’s see where you go later.
Yeah. That could happen. So maybe. Who knows.
As far as you being all females in the band – in the old days it was tougher being respected as females playing metal – what kind of response are you getting as females?
In the beginning it was more difficult because there are a lot more guys playing that girls. That’s natural and we knew that coming into this. Although, I think that’s changing, especially in South America. There are a lot of all girl extreme bands, but still it’s something new. And everything that’s new gets criticized easily, in a bad way. We knew that though, and knew that we would face sexism, especially in Brazil which can be a really sexist country, sometimes, in certain matters. So we would have to face that. I have to tell you, in the beginning, it was not easy. It was very difficult. There were a lot of people saying lots of shit about us. Stupid things like we only play gigs because we fuck promoters. We only get interviews because we send out naked pictures. These kind of stupid things. But as it was not true, we never gave a fuck about that. We were always laughing about it. In the beginning I was thinking, “These people don’t know me. Why are they saying that?” but now I realize it was only a handful of people, and they were saying it because it was their problem. Now it’s way easier, and even for the bands coming after us. People are starting to notice that girls playing is the same thing as guys playing. We’re all metalheads. We’re not showing off, we’re just playing. Now they respect us. Now they support us because they like the music. It’s cool to have girls playing.
Do you get male groupies? Or female?
[laughs]We get asked about this often. The answer is always no [real]groupies. We get more girl groupies than guys. Some girls would ask if we would kiss them on the mouth. But guys are really respectful. I can see some guys really like us or think we’re beautiful or whatnot. Like platonic. But they respect us. They come to talk to us, but express their support. Once in a while someone will ask for a hug, but always respectful, and I really like that. It’s really cool.
Then again, with guys, I think a lot of guys might get nervous around pretty, talented, intelligent women. They might be a little quieter.
Yeah, sometimes I feel that some guys might feel intimidated. I tell them to come closer, we don’t bite.
By the way, your English [speaking]is exceptionally good.
Thank you! I’ve been teaching that for a while. I had to quit now that I’m in the band. Of course sometimes I misspell some stuff, because I’m a native speaker, but I taught [English] for 10 years to kids. I used to teach for a while. I think just a few people could imagine me teaching kids, but I actually did love that. People are always surprised.
I had a question about the 2016 Olympics. Are they going to be ready?
[laughs]I’m really not sure about that. We all doubted the soccer championships would be ready. It was – kind of. No one knows how things are going, but… I don’t actually know about anything being built. We’re still recovering from the World Cup, but now I’m embarrassed. I just hope it’s not a mess. The cool thing is that Brazilian people are very welcoming. At the end of the day, when the people from outside the country come here, even if the events suck, they’ll have a good time because we’re super welcoming and like to party.
It’s just that Rio is known and respected worldwide for its color and excitement.
Yeah, yeah. It’s my favorite city in the world. It’s not saying anything bad about Rio or Brazil, but the politicians and the way they rob stuff so much that they never accomplish anything on time.
What is the largest crowd you have played for?
In European fests for thousands of people.
Outside of your own country, what are your favorite countries to play in?
That’s super hard. I think each place has its different vibe and energy and crowd. They are all special in their certain ways. Europe is fun when we go, because it’s different than Brazil, and because of their super huge, super packed summer festivals. America is awesome. That’s where most of the metal I like came from. The crowds are crazy. I didn’t know what to expect, but the audiences at our shows went crazy. And South America is so special, because here, yeah, we have the craziest crowds with such passion. So I can’t name any one.
How do you like being on Napalm Records?
It’s been awesome. A great label with support. They believed in our music as much as we did. We’re very happy with them. They promote a lot and support us in many ways. They are really patient with us, poor Brazilian girls.
You have a new album coming out, called Agony?
Yes, this is the second one. [Came out June 3]
Thank you for taking the time to talk to me. It was great to talk to you about the respect of old school metal.
Thank you, thank you. Talking about this stuff is like sitting at a bar chatting with friends.
And with that, off she went to her next interview. Meanwhile, I look forward to Nervosa returning to the West Coast sometime in early 2017.
Check out the latest album, Agony, and catch them on tour when they come near your town.