Nuno Bettencourt talks Extreme's Pornograffitti
Although he now tours the world's arenas as Rihanna's guitarist, Nuno Bettencourt made his name as a guitar hero for a generation of players in Extreme. He's looking forward to recording a new album with the band – alongside singer Gary Cherone, bassist Pat Badger and drummer Kevin Figueiredo, but before that they've returned to the record that remains their crowning achievement.
The four-piece are currently revisiting the classic Extreme II: Pornograffitti on a world tour, including a UK run in July. We spoke to Nuno about his reflections on the album, and how it feels to revisit it onstage.
Where did the idea to play Pornograffitti in full come from for this tour?
“We did it years ago in Japan. You tend to be against the novelties, but I figured from a fan perspective, if I could get Van Halen to do the whole first or second album I would show up for that so I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We tried it and the good news is that we do that and then in the second half of the show we do the leftovers from all of our other albums as well. It’s different and interesting. It was a challenge but I have fun doing it.”
How did it feel to re-learn some of the deeper cuts from the album?
“It’s not even just the deeper cuts, it’s the ones you’ve been playing. To do it in album form and in order, it changes everything. To start a show and do More Than Words so early, it’s such a different live perspective to stay true to the album. Doing it this way is crazy, it almost goes against nature in terms of what you would normally do live.”
Were you tempted to play around with the order of the album?
“At first when we decided to do it I was under the impression we’d do it front to back because that’s what makes it fun. But when we got to rehearsal I remember Gary saying, ‘What do you mean? We can’t do it in order.’ I said that was the whole purpose of it. We’ve been doing live shows forever, if we’re not going to do it in order then why bother at all?”
© Katerina Mezhekova
What particular tracks are you looking forward to revisiting?
“When I First Kissed You and a song like Money, which I don’t think we’ve ever played live outside of clubs in Boston. Both of those songs take me back to our club days. I’m looking forward to playing the obscure stuff and new songs as well. We tried our best to get an album out before this tour because we didn’t want it to be a nostalgic thing because we have never done a run without new music. I’m pushing hard to at least do a handful of new songs.”
Does going back and playing these old songs influence the way you’re writing the new material?
“It definitely does. It kicks you in the ass a little bit. I try to stay in the moment, but going back and revisiting this makes you feel the spirit of it. It’s cool to pump a little bit of that steroid into the new stuff.”
What is it about Pornograffitti that has made it stand the test of time?
“I have no idea. I always had trouble listening to it for some reason. It’s like looking at an old photograph. You understand why it was done at the time but it was a snapshot of that time period. There’s some great stuff on there but there’s some stuff on there that a year later I would have done differently. But I think everybody thinks like that.
"For some reason I always felt like everything was super fast at the time. I don’t know what we were or weren’t taking at the time but the tempos were super fast and the pocket…everything is really manic and some of the dynamics are lacking. I’m still proud of it though.”
Preparing for this tour must bring back memories of touring the record first time around…
“It does. It’s very nostalgic. I hate to use that word because you hope that you have lots of new music still to offer and we are in the process of doing a new record as well. We have many songs that are already done, but this is like going to a Halloween party with a Pornograffitti theme so it’s great to revisit it.”
The album brought you a massive amount of success…
“It was an amazing time. It’s that album that broke the innocence for us. We were just a young-ish band that loved touring. We were doing it for all the right reasons. In the UK, we always had a special relationship with the audiences because it wasn’t More Than Words that broke us, it was Get The Funk Out that broke first. That was what we had always dreamed of.
"We wrote and love More Than Words, but the first impression of an audience hearing that as opposed to Get The Funk Out always created a misconception of us in the US. We took care of that pretty quick, when people saw us live I think they thought they were seeing the wrong band. The UK, from day one knew what we were.”
Gear and More Than Words
Does it bother you that the success of Pornograffitti will always overshadow everything else you’ve done since?
“With any success there will always be a little bit of a negative. But I always think, ‘Hmmm, would I prefer the album to be huge and have a little bit of trouble or would I rather be working at Burger King?’ With More Than Words, we wrote that so we are that I’m just happy people can connect with any of our songs. If that song opened the floodgates for us to be able to tour the world over and over, how could I be unhappy with that?”
What gear will you be bringing over for the tour?
“It’s going to be the [Randall] NB King amps that I’ve been using. I might be bringing a few different guitars. We just did a version of my Washburn Signature guitar with a carbon fibre neck. At first I was like, ‘Huh, you guys want to do what?!’ But we gave it a shot. When they sent it to me I couldn’t believe it. I’ll be bringing that guitar on tour. The neck is super fast, there’s no wood there to slow you down. I’m excited to use it. It’s almost like you’ve been running with ankle weights and then you take them off. It’s crazy.”
Looking back, what are your memories of recording Pornograffitti?
“We had a nightmare on our first album and went through two producers. I decided on the second album to take the money that we were supposed to use for pre-production and we went into a studio and cut the album with no producer. We finished the whole thing without telling the record company.
"We knew they wanted a producer so we got as close as we could to how we wanted them and we brought in the engineer Bob St John to work on them. The label then sent the tracks out to producers. Michael Wagener came back and the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Sounds great, what do they need me for?’ And we said, ‘He’s hired!’ So 80 to 90 per cent of that album was already recorded before we properly went into the studio.”
Did you realise at the time how strong an album it was?
“When you’re in that mode you don’t realise what you’re doing. I did feel that More Than Words had the potential to be something big, only because of how different it was. But that song is the furthest thing from a hit if you look at it, there’s no big chorus and at the time there was no acoustic on the radio. The label didn’t want to put it out as a single. They thought it was folk, but I knew there was something special about it. We fought to get that as a single and it ended up number one in just about every country in the world.”
Extreme’s Pornografitti Europe & UK Tour 2014:
Tue Jun 17 Mannheim, Germany – Alte Seilerei
Wed Jun 18 Brussels, Belgium – Ancienne Belgique
Thu Jun 19 Amsterdam, Holland – Milkweg
Sat Jun 21 Clisson, France – Hellfest
Mon Jun 23 Paris, France – Le Bataclan
Wed Jun 25 Milan, Italy – Fiera (with Aerosmith)
Fri Jun 27 Barcelona, Spain – Razzmatazz 1
Sat Jun 28 Bilbao, Spain – Santana 27
Sun Jun 29 Madrid, Spain – La Riviera
Tue Jul 01 Lisbon, Portugal – Espaço Armazem F
Fri Jul 04 Manchester, UK – O2 Academy
Sat Jul 05 Glasgow, UK – O2 Academy
Mon Jul 07 Birmingham, UK – The Institute
Tue Jul 08 London, UK – Forum
Wed Jul 09 London, UK – Forum
Thu Jul 10 Cologne, Germany – Live Music Hall
Fri Jul 11 Nuremberg, Germany – Rockfabrik
Sun Jul 13 Holland, Weert – Bospop Festival
More info: Extreme-band.com