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The Guitar Hero Series: Joe Vasconcellos
Written by Ava

The Guitar Hero series on Jemsite features interviews with guitarists and musicians who may not have star status YET, but their current situations have shaped them to be who they are--determined, fond of their craft, and heroes in their own right. Perhaps you'll see in these upcoming entries the next Jimi Hendrix, Melissa Etheridge, or Duane Allman. Or perhaps they'll become household names by doing what they do best--ripping a mean riff!

Don't call him merely a guitar player. Joe Vasconcellos won't just play one instrument, or put himself in one music genre. Perhaps it's the fact that his family background is a plethora of cultures including Chilean and Brazilian. Perhaps it's because he loves all people and all things and wants his music to say so. Perhaps it's because he wants everything he does (play drums, write music, strum guitar, and combine Latin Rhythims with intense lyrics to reflect the beauty in the world.

That's why you can't confine him to one category. And that's why Joe Vasconcellos is this week's Guitar Hero.

How did you become interested in guitar and being a musician?

I never considered myself a real guitar player. Maybe it´s because I see myself much more as a percussionist.I loved music since I was very young. My Dad was a Brazilian diplomat and my Mom is Chilean. Due to this, we travelled a lot: South America, Asia, USA , Europe. That gave me the chance to learn a lot of different cultures and I found myself as a percussionist in a certain point of my life. Maybe it's the name Vasconcellos...I don't know.

Anyway, my approach with the guitar is a bit like a love story. There was always a guitar at my house. It's typical because it was always there. My relationship with it started as if it was a percussion instrument. I stayed on the same chord for hours looking for a cool beat rather then worrying about harmony. My brothers wanted to kill me. I still have that lovely instrument. It´s a "Signorina" DiGiorgio, made by Romeo DiGiorgio. It's a real jewel with a lovely Brazilian sound. I think, I wanted to be a musician since the first slap in my butt...I don`t really know. I realize that the guitar is the most important tool in my relationship with music. I make songs with the guitar, I relax myself with the guitar, I´m a real happy human being when I have a guitar by my side. Still,I feel myself a bit amateur sometimes. I've seen so many great guitarists in this journey. I think this makes me a very humble musician.

How would you describe your music?

It`s hard to describe one's music. As a South American musician, I fed myself with so many styles. You might find them all in my music. Of course, there is a particular care for the rythmic language that gives a special flavour to what I try to express.

What guitarists/singers do you look up to?

I love people like John Scofield, Mike Stern, John Abercombie, a lot of eighties, John Lee Hooker (SENSEI!) I think,Ben Harper is so cool. I love African beats like: Tinariwen, King Sunny Ade, Ali Farka Toure, some Antibalas. My son showed me a TVOTR show that made me regain faith in human kind (my kid is 9yrs old!) Of course, my relationship with Brazilian music is what I love most! Egberto Gismonti, Rafael Rabello, Claudio Jorge, Jorge Benjor (king of the balanço!!) Tom Ze, Rodrigo Campello, Baden Powell, Toquinho, Caetano Veloso,Toninho Horta,Joao Gilberto,Lenine,Gilberto Gil...Joao Bosco,so many great guitarrists and song writers that I could use a lot of space... In Chile: Violeta Parra and Victor Jara,still surprise me, but there are a lot of new bands like Entrama, Fractal, Congreso, Antonio Restucci and many others,that are making a very keen job.I told you,I hear a lot of stuff...my kid is showing me some Metal crazyness and it sounds...AWESOME! I`m really into looking for music from the Far East and south India,here is a lot of things I haven´t heard yet and it´s fascinating to keep on surprising oneself by the means that our times offer us.

Your songs have a lot of messages in them about the environment. Why is the environment so important to you?

In this great profession, we get to travel a lot and see a lot of great and marvellous things and a lot of sad things. One of the most sad things is to see how deteriorated our planet is and our relationship to it. Things are getting worse and we don't have time anymore four ourselves and each other. Money makes the world go round...then it also makes the world go crazy. No stress, please! It's time to take five in nature...thats the least we can do as humble life-loving human beings, no matter what it takes.Try to keep it real with a big smile and a nice flow thru your art! I´m worried because I see a sort of suicidal tendency in all this and don´t understand why! We all live in the same planet!!!

Why do you put what you feel about the environment in your songs?

As I said, it´s the least we can do.

Why is music the way for you to spread your message?

I relate with people thru art and music. If there wasn´t music, maybe I would be painting, cooking, dancing...I need to be in touch with life!

Tell us about your song, "Los Peces No Gritan" ("The Fish Don't Cry.")

I was invited by Oceana (Joe is a celebrity supporter of this ocean conservation organization) one day in Santiago and had the chance to listen to Andrew Sharpless´speech about about what is happening in our oceans,in a moment. He said, "Imagine yourself as a small little fish...you can't cry...nobody listens..." That stayed in my mind and the song came out. It's a sort of an organic drum´n bass with a very dramatic batucada evoking factory ships and a very sweet call from a Mapuche poet called Leonel Lienlaf. I was also,invited to participate in a Mediterranean campaign of the oceanogrphic catamaran called Ranger,a marvellous experience, where I met a lot of unknown heroes and also did some takes of the video clip of the song.

What advice would you give to other guitarists who want to send a message or help the environment with music and their guitars?

Try to inform yourself, keep in touch, try to learn another language, expand your universe, open your heart and try to be part of it all with your talent and don´t forget...you don´t need to be a virtuoso to make things happen...less is more, now more than ever!!
 
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