Say hello to Beast; an electro-fusion band based in Montreal, Canada. Their sound is like nothing youâ€™ve ever heard before yet the combination of soul, rap, electro, rock and jazz collides with glitz and fair. Beast is quickly becoming a fan favorite with a recently released self titled debut album that is backed by a riveting live act. The duo consists of singer / songwriter Betty Bonifassi and composer / percussionist / producer Jean-Phi Goncalves and was brought together as somewhat of an experiment as Goncalves explains…
â€œThereâ€™s a part of everyone, we can call it â€˜the beast inside,â€™ that needs to be expressed. And these little demons we have could be a constructive strength if they are unburied, dissected and understood. That’s what the album is about and that is what we tried to do in our own lives by making this music.â€
Format: Let’s start with a quick introduction, who is Beast and what are you all about?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: Beast is a collaborative effort between Betty Bonifassi and myself. We’ve been working together for two years but we’ve done a lot by ourselves previously: Betty has been singing for 20 years, she’s worked on some very successful projects including Triplettes of Belleville and DJ Champion. I’ve been playing drums and producing for my own projects Plaster, Afrodizz as well as for other artists like Ariane Moffatt and Lauryn Hill. On the Beast album, I composed and played the music over which, Betty lays her voice, lyrics and melodies.
Format: The story goes that Beast originally started off as somewhat of an experiment, until recently that is, when you released your debut album on iTunes. How did this happen?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: Yeah, I was working on some music that was supposed to end up in my composer’s demo. I wanted some vocals and I have known Betty for years (partly because Montreal’s music scene is like a small village) but never really worked with her. So she came to the studio and did her first rap ever for â€œDevil,â€ which is the opening track on the album. It was very convincing and we ended up working on two more songs (â€œFinger Printsâ€ and â€œCityâ€) a few months later. Once again the chemistry was spot on, it was explosive — I had no choice but to ask her for more — we felt we had something precious developing from the collaboration. The more we worked on it, the more serious we became about the project.
Format: After not too many shows, Beast is known to have superb stage presence. Would you consider yourselves naturals?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: We belong on a stage more than in a studio – we’ve been doing music for 20 years each and weâ€™ve done it in garages, rehearsal spaces, bars, clubs… The studio experience is nothing new to us but it’s not the same as playing live.
Format: Beast recently performed some shows at the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin, Texas. How did the audiences react?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: SXSW is mainly a music supermarket. It’s more about music business people meeting and discovering new talent than it is for the fans. Also the album was released in the US only a few months ago so there’s a lot to do before we’ll get a real fan-base in Texas!
Format: Did anything interesting go down whilst at SXSW?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: We got some interest from influential music festivals and booking agents but all of that is still to be confirmed!
Format: The quick rise of Beast has allowed you to perform at some major events, like SXSW. What do you feel you can do for the Canadian music scene? Are you holding it down for Canada at these national shows?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: I wouldn’t have the pretention to say so… but here is a funny quote from Big Shot Magazine album review: “This album might even be good enough to forgive Canada for Celine Dion”…
Format: What is your favorite city to perform in?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: Our hometown of Montreal, without a doubt! We can sleep at home after the show… and the crowd is always electric.
Format: What is so inspiring about bees and honey-combs that you made them your theme for the Beast official web site, album cover and music video for â€œMr. Hurricaneâ€?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: The bees are a metaphor for the power of small things. We are scared of those little beasts but we need them; a big part of the ecosystem depends on them. They work together, as a society, and they are a good example of the efficiency of collaboration. Beast exists because of collaboration.
Format: How does it feel being categorized as â€˜experimental trip-hop,â€™ â€˜pushing limitsâ€™ and â€˜innovating music for the future?â€™
Jean-Phi Goncalves: Whatever we did, consciously or not, Beast is the blend of two universes, each fed by many influences. It’s a little like musical genetics, it is for sure a good feeling to hear comments or reviews that say we are unique but I really think a band needs time to develop its sound. It is too early for us to be categorized as something new or innovative – the second and third albums will define that.
Format: Who inspires you musically?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: We love soundtracks: Enio Morricone, Danny Elfman (for Tim Burton), John Barry (James Bond). I love Rage Against the Machine for the drive, Portishead and Goldfrapp (Felt Mountain) for the mood, Talib Kweli for the flow, Madlib for the grooves, Radiohead for the melodies, Bjork for the arrangements…
Format: There seems to be a lot of emotion in the music you guys make, what emotions are you trying to release?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: The record evokes the cycle of pain (physical or emotional). Being hit by pain, living with it, analyzing it and finally exorcizing and killing it. There’s also an inexplicable anger in the music. I don’t know where exactly it comes from but this music acts as a therapy, it helps us to unwind. I wanted this music to be complete: from a slap in the face to the caress, so there’s a lot happening here in terms of emotions.
Format: Is there any type of message that Beast is trying to relay to its fans?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: Thereâ€™s a part of everyone, we can call it â€˜the beast inside,â€™ that needs to be expressed. And these little demons we have could be a constructive strength if they are unburied, dissected and understood. That’s what the album is about and that is what we tried to do in our own lives by making this music.
Format: If Beast had gotten together earlier in your careers do you think the outcome would have been as appealing / innovative?
Jean-Phi Goncalves: I like to say it took us 20 years to do this record. It’s the addition of all our musical and life experience. Earlier would have been different but not necessarily better. I’m the kind of guy that believes things have their purpose and most of the time they are for the better.
More Info: www.beastsound.net