It’s almost hard to imagine, but having grown up beachside in Rio de Janeiro, singer Alexia Bomtempo saw fit to leave and seek her fortunes in the big, chaotic metropolises of New York and Tokyo (notably, all three are subjected to over-romanticized images of their actual realities). The former is the city she now calls home; the latter embraced her for a pair of four-month residencies, and decidedly won her heart.
Her latest album, the tellingly titled Chasing Storms and Stars, will be released September 22. In anticipation, BlackBook premieres here her beautifully haunting new single “I Thought About You” – a deeply poignant meditation on lost love, broken dreams and the soul-searching confusion that comes with revisiting those memories.
Alexia will also be performing this Saturday, August 12 at the Roxy Hotel’s The Django (as part of Brasil Summerfest); this video of a sultry 2016 Sofar Sounds live performance of her song “Mexico” in New York City will have to do until then.
At this pivotal moment, we caught up with the singer to discuss her new album, her very international life and being a Brazilian in New York. She was also thoughtful enough to turn us on to her fave places in Tokyo.
You relocated to New York a few years ago – how has that affected your music? Have you picked up on specific influences?
Being in New York has significantly affected the way that I view and make music today. I moved here with an open mind, eager to embrace the freedom of the city and take in new experiences, which has offered me the chance to explore and be exposed to so many different genres and scenes. It allowed me to collaborate with artists from all over the world and to maintain an international band. I don’t think this would be possible anywhere else. Brasil Summerfest was a big part of what brought me here four years ago, and I quickly fell into the East Village Nublu scene, which embodies this borderless approach to music.
And do you find it has put you in a different mindset?
Living here has forced me to be a more resilient person and a more focused musician. The level of talent in New York requires you to go deeper into the meaning behind the art that you make. I’ve become aware of how valuable time really is. If you are going to be here longer than a year or two as an artist, you have to commit to the pace of the city. The way of life here creates a sense of accessibility, it’s common to see your heroes eating the same food and sharing the same sidewalks as you.
Have you found that Americans see you as a Brazilian artist, or just an artist?
I believe they see me as an American artist with a strong Brazilian influence. My entire life has been evenly divided between these two cultures, which has shaped my identity as artist.
Your debut US album is coming out later this year – what can we expect that is new or different for you?
My first two Brazilian releases were heavily influenced by bossa nova and Brazilian popular music. For my new album, I didn’t try to make an album centered on a specific genre, I just began writing and was deeply affected by my surroundings, not only in New York, but also in Asia and the deserts of West Texas. My partner in music and in life, Jake Owen, is a Texas-born, Brooklyn-based producer; we began exploring sonic territories where I had never wandered before and it was a very liberating experience. We managed to sew together a mixture of sounds incorporating cinematic strings, Brazilian percussion, electric guitars, and psychedelic keyboards.
Your Django show on the 12th will be a tribute to Domingo by Caetano Veloso and Gal Costa; what does that record mean to you?
Domingo is one of my all time favorite records. I love the quiet, post-bossa nature of the arrangements, the innocence in Gal’s vocals and the deep imagery that Caetano could already express in the lyrics at such a young age. I have spent countless lazy Sundays listening to these songs and, regardless of where I am in the world, they always bring me straight back to Brazil.
How long did you live in Tokyo? What did you find particularly inspirational about the city?
I’ve done two four-month residencies in Tokyo and two tours of Japan. I am always taken by the efficiency of everyday life activities. Everything works as it should, the trains are on time, people follow the rules, and even if you buy a candy bar it will be wrapped to perfection in beautiful paper. There is a sense of respect and deep care for others like I’ve never seen anywhere else. I never feel like I’m being taken advantage of which is remarkable considering it’s a sprawling megacity of over 10 million people. Kindness is a common currency and I’ve made some very dear friends in Tokyo.
Alexia’s Tokyo Favorites
Get lost in this paper paradise. The Ginza store has been around for nearly 100 years and features twelve floors of distinctive stationary goods. From beautifully patterned Japanese paper to high quality pens and journals, you can find the coolest souvenirs, and even write a letter and post it from the shop. Efficient, like everything in Japan!
I love vintage clothing, and some of the most notable pieces in my closet come from small Japanese vintage shops. Koenji is undoubtedly the best district to find one-of-a-kind period pieces, with over forty shops scattered throughout the hip neighborhood, which is also home to some great izakayas.
One of the deepest and most impressive inventories of vintage guitars and amplifiers I have ever witnessed overseas. This boutique embodies the Japanese fascination with American and British rock & roll hardware. Bring your credit card, these museum quality pieces don’t come cheap – but it’s worth a visit just to see them.
As a ramen enthusiast, I couldn’t leave Afuri off my list. This casual spot never fails to amaze me with its delicate noodles served in a mouthwatering hot broth with a citrus twist. The good news is that there are a few branches around the city- so if you’re ever in a pinch for a ramen fix, this is the place to go.
If I ever miss Brazil while in Tokyo, I hop on a train over to Barzinho Aparecida, in the Nishi-Ogikubo neighborhood. The details of the decor and perfectly curated soundtrack instantly take me back to my childhood in Rio. Owner “Willie Whopper” is a most impressive Japanese ambassador for Brazilian culture. His wife Kumi cooks my traditional soul food favorites such as feijoada, pastel, frango assado and pudim (she also plays a mean triangle in a Japanese Forró group).