That North America has had limited exposure to Paul Furtado a.k.a. The Legendary Tigerman – aside from a performance at Joey Ramones’ birthday party (2007), a tour with Jarvis Cocker (2009) and a slot at the Montreal International Jazz Festival (2011) – is a cryin’ shame. Well-loved in Europe and (interestingly enough) in Japan, this Portuguese vocalist/multi-instrumentalist specializes in down and dirty rockabilly and blues-infused garage rock. A passionate lover of both photography and cinema, his fifth Tigerman release, Femina – a dangerously sexy collection of songs featuring various equally sexy female guest vocalists – comes bundled with super 8 companion videos that he directed himself. Taking a break from recording for his current project, Furtado describes the first steps of his bad-ass saunter down the road of “rude” rock and roll, what drives him to stay ‘amateur’, and how when Tigerman gets a plan, he just plain does it, baby.
You’re recording in France now?
Yes, in Toulon. I’m doing a project around the music of Nico. I’m recording a few songs with a French band and the songs will be the soundtrack for an upcoming exhibition about her.
You’re very involved in film projects, aren’t you?
Music and cinema and photography are things that interest me a lot.
In your Instagram bio, you say, “Amateur, always.” What do you mean by that?
I mean amateur in the truest sense of the word: someone who does something for the love of the art and not for the money. Although I’m a professional musician and filmmaker, I always keep my art very much apart from the way of economic success.
You also wrote, “Others think, I just do.” Is that a sort of personal mantra?
Yeah, because I’m a doer. I don’t stop if I don’t have the money and I can’t find a studio – I just record at home. I don’t stop because of problems with means. When I want to do something, I just do it.
What’s the attraction for you to blues and rockabilly?
Well, the first music I started to listen to was garage and rock and roll, and the first record I remember buying was The Sonics’ Boom. I started to listen to The Cramps when I was 15 or so – and they covered songs from the 50’s and 60′s – so I started to check those originals out. Then around 18, I discovered the old blues artists and their stuff from the 20’s and 30’s, and I also listened to a lot of Portuguese music. But what made me feel alive was all the really rude rock and rollers, and the garage and blues musicians.
Why is the blues so universally loved?
It started in Africa, went to the USA, over to Europe and back again to the USA. It’s all over and everybody has changed it a bit along the way, but I think it’s that primal, animal quality of the beats and the rhythm. The lyrics are about life, love, sex, problems…all people relate to those subjects.
Felix Fung of Chains of Love told me that playing 50’s and 60’s-style music allowed him to feel part of a tradition. Do you feel the same?
I don’t think there is really a lot of tradition with art and recording and rock and roll because it’s made in so many ways with so many different results.
How did you learn to play guitar?
I had this band when I was a teenager, and I had the opportunity with them to be in the southern United States and to learn how to play guitar. Anyone who I could play with – anyone who could teach me something – I would try to learn from. For me it was very natural. This is the music that has always meant something to me and this is the music that I want to make.
How was the persona of The Legendary Tigerman born?
(laughs) That started with a Rufus Thomas song – one of my favorite songs – called Tiger Man. A lot of one-man bands in the 30’s and 40’s had larger-than-life, weird names. Back in ’99 when I started this solo project, it was the first time I’d performed on my own because I had always been in bands and never a front man. ‘The Legendary Tigerman’ kind of became like my Superman suit. It’s something that I wear to do this thing that is technically difficult to do: playing various instruments, live, on my own.
So if Legendary Tigerman was born from a one-man show, why a duets album with Femina?
I don’t see it really as a duets album. When I hear the word ‘duets’ I think of something cold where people go into the studio and re-record something that’s already been done. Femina is an album of complicity. The whole idea for the album actually came from a movie I had wanted to make and when I wrote the music I thought it would be for a film, not an album. The movie was to be about a single moment in the lives of various women: a specific, single moment in which they all come to a crossroads. When I couldn’t find a producer for the movie, I started thinking an album with different women could capture those moments that I had wanted to get on film.
How did you choose who would sing on the album?
I didn’t really choose. As I was writing the songs, they’d make me think of certain people and I would follow in that direction as I continued writing. For example, I always like to include covers when I record a new album and I’ve wanted to record These Boots are Made for Walking for a long time. I wasn’t happy with my singing or the way I was playing it and so I thought of Maria de Medeiros – because I had seen her do it live – and the direction that she could move the song into.
I’m guessing you record live in the studio?
Yes, normally I record everything live and I like it like that. I like that urgency of recording moments. On Femina, I wanted to record every person live – which made it very difficult to do. Of course, I wanted to film everyone too, so I traveled a lot and it took a lot of time. But I think the magic of the album is in those moments of complicity in the studio. Capturing the moment is so very important.
What was the writing process like?
It was different with everyone and it was very spontaneous. With Peaches for example, I sent her the original idea for She’s a Hellcat where she was just singing in the chorus.When we got together in Lisbon, she added some new parts and they were really great, so I changed the music a little bit to fit them. I’m so happy with how that song turned out: a perfect mix of hip-hop and rock and roll. With almost everyone, the contributions were quite substantial so the album ended up being one of collaborations. I think that’s the secret to why the record is so good: it was the mixing of the ambience and the art of so many talented women.
What did you learn by partnering with them?
There was an understanding and a connection with each of them that was immediate. When I decided to invite them to play with me, I was really opening up the music and willing to take whatever suggestions were given, and that is something I normally don’t do. The result is so cool because there was so much really, really good input.
Femina has been released on iTunes in North America – do you know how its been received?
No, not really (laughs). I’ve been so busy touring all over Europe since it was released [in 2009]. It’s been really, really good for me. I’ve been showing my films in various festivals, too. I’m so happy with what’s been happening in Europe I have no idea what’s been happening in North America (laughs).
Any plans to come to North America to tour?
Hopefully I’ll be playing the Montreal Jazz Fest again this year, and later in the year I hope I can play some dates over there, too.
Asia Argento, Rita Redshoes, Lisa Kekaula, Phoebe Killdeer, Cláudia Efe, Cibelle, Mafalda Nascimento, Maria De Medeiros, Peaches, the Cais Sodré Cabaret, Becky Lee and Drunkfoot all appear with Furtado on Femina. Past releases by The Legendary Tigerman include Naked Blues (2002), Fuck Christmas, I Got the Blues (2003), In Cold Blood (2004) and Masquerade (2006). When he’s not wearing his Tigerman suit, Furtado’s the lead guitarist and vocalist for Wraygunn. To learn more, visit Facebook, follow @Ltigerman on Twitter, or view the Femina album trailer on YouTube.