Talking “Pistoleira” With Gabeu & Alice Marcone
By Felipe Oliveira, Contributing Writer
We have talked about Gabeu and Alice Marcone here before. But now it’s time to talk to them. Two familiar names in sertanejo, the equivalent to country music in Brazil, they teamed up to release a new single together, called “Pistoleira” (“gunslinger”). We chatted with them about the new song, their origins, the queer community they found by creating a festival, and more. The interview was conducted online in late October.
So, to start, I’d like to ask Alice to describe Gabeu to those who don’t know him and Gabeu to describe Alice to those who don’t know her.
Alice: Oh, my! Gabeu is the prince of queernejo, with a repertoire and a passion for sertanejo in its most diverse and multiple expression, and… I identify a lot with him because of his passion for the history of sertanejo, his desire to revisit it, to revisit the hillbilly imaginary… So, I think Gabeu is this very conscious person, or someone who is studying to become more and more conscious, of what it means to reclaim sertanejo as an LGBT person. And he’s also a wonderful, very girlish, perfect queen. (laughs)
Gabeu: I love it! Very effeminate!
Alice: Yes, a gazelle, honey.
Gabeu: Well, Alice Marcone is our queen of travanejo, sertransnejo, sertanegro [words related to being trans and black in sertanejo]. She has a very strong message of diversity, not only the narratives of a trans woman, but she also brings the racial component into country music, revisiting, rewriting, re-everything, reinventing even, the figure of trans women and black women in sertanejo, and mixed-race women, you know, because she has this very strong discourse too.
I want to know if you had any fears about starting a musical career.
Gabeu: I was really scared from the beginning. I have always wanted to work with music, but I didn’t think there was a place for me. I didn’t think there was a market for me. I didn’t see the possibility of doing something in sertanejo. So, when I had this idea of really bringing these narratives to sertanejo, I thought long about it. “Wow, it’s a very original idea, I don’t think anyone has done it before. But why haven’t they done it? Is it because it is way too bold? Too dangerous?” I kept thinking about these things a lot. And I actually thought that I could offend both the traditional people of sertanejo and the LGBT audience that is more focused on pop music. So, it was a long shot, I could be hated by everyone. I was really scared, but I started to slowly see a possibility, you know? And then people started to appear, we organized Fivela Fest, and here we are.
What about you, Alice?
Alice: It was pretty similar to me. I have an EP that I released in 2016 for an alternative electronic pop project I had back then. And growing up queer in the countryside was also growing up a Little Monster, you know? Pop music was part of my cultural formation, just like sertanejo, it was a big presence in my life. Sertanejo was around me organically and I looked for pop music on the internet… it was a bit of a contradiction. In pop music I found the possibility of elaborating an LGBT experience, you know, these references closer to what I felt in my sexuality, in my gender identity. In 2017 I also started working with cinema, and I ended up moving on from music. I did a couple of shows and that was it, music was kind of disappearing from my life. And then I had a very strong period of creative block, I wasn’t able to find a genre, an artistic expression in music that made me go “Wow, that’s it”. Then one day, one night at home, at a party with my musician friends, those drunken nights [laughs]. I had this insight, like, “Sertanejo is also part of my history”. And from the moment I found Gabeu’s work, my feeling was of complete enthusiasm, of euphoria. I was sure that this was what I was supposed to do.
And how people who were close to you react to it? Did they think it was a joke, did they take it seriously? How was the reception of the people who already knew you for other things?
Alice: I really feel that any fear or resistances concerning my own process came a little after I released my first song, “Noite Quente.” I think I’m still trying to understand the response. I think it’ an ongoing process of understanding our audience, finding our audience, captivating our audience, expanding this debate. But in fact, there is a resistance.
What I want to say is that after I released “Noite Quente,” artists who supported me when I was a pop singer, turned their backs to the sertanejo singer. I felt this resistance much stronger after I released the single, because I was in a magical euphoria, right? And “Noite Quente” was really well received by LGBT people from the country, or that came from the country and are now in big cities, and this is very magical. But some LGBT people who are already from big cities, who have this urban component in their identity elaboration, I feel that they have resistance about my work.
Did you experience anything like that in your inner circle, Gabeu?
Gabeu: Well, I don’t have a musical trajectory as Alice does. She had other musical projects, and I didn’t. My first musical project is “Amor Rural.” Professionally, I started in sertanejo. But when I started thinking about launching myself as a singer, and I started talking to my father about it, I wanted to do pop music. I couldn’t imagine myself in sertanejo, I’ve had moments where I vehemently denied sertanejo. And for a long time I heard from people in my house, people around me, that pop music and music sung by a Brazilian person in English wasn’t something that turned well. Because I also used to sing in English. And I don’t feel that people said that to discourage me. But they were actually being honest, they didn’t see a market for that. My father had told me that a lot of times, maybe he was afraid that I was deluding myself too much about something that would never happen.
Do you think 16-year-old Gabeu would have made something like “Amor Rural” or “Sugar Daddy?“
Gabeu: Hmm, Gabeu… actually I wasn’t Gabeu, I was Gaybriel [laughs]. I wrote country songs back then. I would look for beats and stuff from producers on the Internet, and I would find free stuff, which I could use as long as I didn’t profit from it. So there were a lot of things, a little more pop, more country-pop, even rap! I did a little bit of everything, but there was nothing like “Amor Rural.” “Amor Rural” is better! [laughs].
What about you, Alice?
Alice: Hmm, When I started playing the guitar, I was an indie rocker little monster sertaneja, lost in the countryside. I wrote several songs at that time, all in English too, can you imagine?
Gabeu: Why did we do that?
Alice: Right? So… I thought of the songs as indie rock, progressive, a crazy mix. The first song I wrote in my life is “Pistoleira,” which we are releasing now. The melody from the verse is the same, but we reworked the song a lot. I changed the lyrics to Portuguese, but the basis of the melody and chords is the same as the first guitar composition I did in my life. And I wrote it thinking it was a rock song. There’s still the guitar in the production, there are pop elements too, but it’s a sertanejo song. And “Noite Quente,” for example, I wrote in college. Once again, a melody that I have reused. In fact, the verses were also written back then. I got to produce a synth pop ballad of this song, after I released my EP. The chorus was different …
That’s what I was going to ask, because the chorus in “Noite Quente” is very sertanejo, right? I was listening to it the other day and my mother was like “Are you listening to sertanejo?” [laughs]
Alice: [Laughs.] Oh, I love that! That’s right. The melody in the verse is the same. The lyrics too. Then I wrote a new chorus, a new bridge, a new structure, leaning towards a more sertanejo sound. And I think this process in my first compositions has a lot to do with my background. They have a lot of pop influence and you can see that in the production of both. Now that I’m writing songs specifically thinking about sertanejo, I think different things will come up. But these first two songs are remnants of that past.
And do you think that if you had tried this before, when you were young, the result would have been the same? Would we have “Noite Quente” when you were, let’s say, 16?
Alice: I was already writing when I was 16, even before that. But the lyrics, the messages, the imagery, the genre was different. Both mine and the songs’! [Laughs.] [In Portuguese, the same word is used for gender and genre, so there’s a wordplay in there]. And I think it changes everything.
What do you have to say about “Pistoleira,” the new single?
Gabeu: Go ahead sweetie, the song is yours.
Alice: It’s ours! Well, to talk about this song, I have to talk about the general concept of my album. To create each track, I start with the metaphorization of a folklore creature. In “Noite Quente” we had the werewolf and in “Pistoleira” we have Iara, the mother of water, mermaid of rivers. [In Brazilian folklore, Iara is a mermaid who seduces and hypnotizes men with her singing voice, drowning them after the fact.]
I reworked a melody I had, presented it to Gabeu, and he proposed a new chorus, a new chorus melody, and we made the song. Starting from this metaphor, we can expand. A good part of my compositions will talk about love, as a good country person. They are going to talk about relationships, putting me as a woman, occupying this lyrical feminine self, and always talking to a masculinity that is full of complexities. Then the folklore creatures come to help the metaphorization of these relationships
“Noite Quente” talks about this werewolf masculinity, which loves me at night but disappears during the day. “Pistoleira” and Iara come to talk about a female or effeminate figure. I think Gabeu’s presence is very interesting in this song too, because we’re dealing with feminine ideas. The lyrical self is feminine, so we’re dealing with femininity in all its spectrum. Both in the body of a woman and in the body of a gay man. I think this is very powerful.
We have this empowered woman, who seduces and devours, who will seduce the man and then kill him. It’s a destructive passion for the man, but not for me, not for her. And we play with that a little bit, with this image of a man who thinks he’s all dangerous, all macho, a womanizer. But the truth, honey, you’re the one who doesn’t know who you’re messing with. You’re the one who doesn’t know our little secret. This maiden is a pistoleira [laughs]. And then, from there comes a whole construction of other possible metaphors. And we have that in the images.
We will not have a video for now, but there is a lyric video, which is animated. And we propose a dominant female image, that leads the man in the dance, that eats the man, and now I’ll stop talking!
Gabeu: You already told everything about the song! [Laughs.] I like the song a lot, since the beginning when Alice came up with this idea. I already wanted to record with her, I want to make it clear. Then she came up with this idea, and when she said that we would incorporate Iara, I screamed [laughs]. And I really like the different moods that we have in the song and in the lyric video. The word gunfighter evokes this bang-bang, Western movie imagery. And I think there is a lot of this vibe in the lyric video and even in the promotional photos we did. But the looks also have an editorial sense, this aesthetic part that I think is missing in sertanejo. Fancy things, accessories. A very interesting aesthetic concern. And when you hear it, it’s a song you want to dance to. There’s a mix with what that comes from my work…
Alice: I think that’s something nice to mention. Fabrício, our producer, knew how to put the personality that we had already developed individually, in each part of the song and I think that’s very interesting.
Gabeu: It’s a remarkable thing in the song. When you hear Alice’s part, you can hear her whole identity in the arrangement. And when it gets to my part it’s the same thing. And you notice that change, but it’s nothing like “Wow, it’ a completely different song”. It’s very subtle, Fabrício did a wonderful job.
Alice talked about her EP, so now it’s your turn, Gabeu. What can you tell us about your album?
Gabeu: Nothing (laughs). No, I’m kidding. It’s a 10-track album and it’s the biggest project of my life. This project is the most precious thing I have done in my life. And the general idea of the album is to explore different possibilities of making sertanejo, or queernejo. I’m gathering influences from a lot of different sources. I’m studying sertanejo a lot. Not only that, but I’m also very passionate about country music. So I am researching a lot about country music, listening to a lot of things.
Each track is very unique, very different from the other, but I think in general everything ties up well. Everything is sertanejo, but each song has a different influence. “Amor Rural” has this 90s romantic vibe, “Sugar Daddy” is a Calypso song, a rhythm from the north of Brazil. There’s American country in there, there’s mariachi, which is a very strong Latin style, there’s a song with a [Brazilian] funk vibe. It’s a big mix of rhythms and themes.
The pandemic impacted your work, right? There is nothing good about it, of course. But have you used this time to think a little more about your projects? How has it been for you as artists to deal with the pandemic?
Gabeu: I used this time to review a lot of things about my album. Things that were already done, but that I thought could be improved. So I did it and the result has been interesting. Mentally speaking, this pandemic is the worst. But it allowed some time for me to work on the album and I think it will be good.
On the other hand, I’m experiencing a lot of ups and downs. I’m on an emotional roller coaster. There are great days, there are days when I’m very inspired, creatively speaking. Then I want to write, go to the studio, record. But there are days when I ask myself why I started this whole queernejo thing. Why did I do that? (Laughs).
Alice: Well, it’s tough. For sure the pandemic was a slap in the face. I released “Noite Quente” on March 13th, a Friday the 13th [laughs]. Then the next Monday the whole quarantine thing started. So everything was canceled, right? The concerts I had scheduled… That was very hard to take and it still is.
It’s not cheap at all to make music, to make a music video. There’s a money component brought by the pandemic, in addition to the influence in our personal creative processes. The bigger income of an independent artist comes from playing concerts. And this is very violent and exhausting. But luckily, I primarily work with cinema, and screenwriting did not stop. We keep writing scripts and having meetings by Zoom and stuff. So I have a job that lets me survive.
In this sense, forgetting the financial and economic part, it is certainly very important for me to have this time for doing research, mature, and reflect. So when this album comes out, it will be a lot more interesting, a lot more cohesive than if I was in a mindset like “Oh, I need to release music to keep Spotify algorithms happy with me”. Once everything’s broken, once we’re all fucked up, then let’s take it easy. Let’s be like Sade and take 8 years to release an album [laughs]. But I think there’s this duality, you know.
To finish, I’d like you to talk about the importance of finding a support community within this genre. We went over internal and external struggles, but now we are seeing this support community. And you talked about other people, listeners who identify with you. So what does it mean for you as producers, but also as consumers, to be part of this movement?
Alice: I found comfort, and love, and hope, and truth in our collective of LGBTQIA+ sertanejo artists. I’ve been talking about it a lot in therapy. Without these people I think I would have really killed myself. It’s a very strange place to be, being the first transgender in sertanejo. To be one of the very few black people, bringing this agenda. But having this collective sense, being so close to these people, not competing, supporting each other, is a totally different logic than what I experienced in pop music.
I really love receiving messages from little trans people from country areas. It touches me a lot. I didn’t expect that. This is a very positive surprise. Just as I had the negative surprise of seeing people turning their backs on me, and it hurt me a lot, it’s very invigorating to see people from a more traditional background, people who are straight, cis, anyway. People who are not in the LGBT community, looking at our work and enjoying it, joining us, and willing to help in some way. This is really wonderful. And I see this as a new community that is being formed.
And for me this is the biggest value of my work. It goes beyond being a trans woman, or a black woman, because it rescues a heritage that is part of sertanejo’s history. It has to do with ecology and with the history of Brazil, and oppression to women, to Black people, to indigenous people, to gypsies. There are new collectives that I have been discovering. New potentials that our work can help reverberate. Enough of trans people singing only…
Gabeu: [interrupting] There’s more to LGBT people than pop music.
Alice: Yeah, exactly.
Gabeu: I think Fivela Fest… we haven’t talked about Fivela Fest yet. It was very important to strengthen this community that started being formed last year when I met Alice, when I met Gali [Galó, non-binary singer], when I met [drag queen sertanejo singer] Reddy Allor. Organizing this festival brought a lot of people together. The festival was going to happen in June, in person. Then we decided to do it at another time. But when we saw livestreaming as a trend, we reformulated some things and made the festival online. And it was the most beautiful thing in the universe.
It was bigger than I expected. It exceeded my expectations in terms of attendance and quality. The shows were very well produced, the speeches were very sharp. There were discussion tables that were also very important to discuss these issues of diversity, which we have been talking about for some time. But not only from the LGBT community, we brought other important topics, like Alice discussing Blackness, Gali talking about women behind the scenes. And I think all of that strengthened the movement and brought many people together.
We are in a very good moment. And being supported by the audience is very important too. People from a lot of places, LGBT people in rural areas, they look at us and say “Wow, finally!”. Or also people who are straight, cis and totally out of the scene, with no connection to anything, but look at us and find it interesting. They see potential there, something they like. I don’t know if it’s the music, I don’t know if it’s the visual aspect, but there’s something they like. This is very, very rewarding. This is priceless. Do you wanna say something about Fivela Fest, Alice?
Alice: I think there’s something interesting that we have been thinking for a while now about the meaning of queer. Even the spelling. We have been thinking about changing it. Not using it written with Q anymore, which is the American way of spelling it, derived from how they theorize about queer theories. Change the writing for cuír, make it more Latin America. And I think Fivela Fest, as Gabeu pointed out, brought discussions about gender and blackness, but we also talked about ecology and its relationship with sertanejo.
I think Fivela Fest was very important to think about this constant writing of what it means to be queer. What is queer after all? It’s everything that escapes heteronormativity as cultural performativity linked to capitalism. So there are several other branches. I think it’s very important to think about all of them.
And I think Fivela is doing this and it is moving the conversation forward. These people who approach us, I think they have potential. Sertanejo was so homogenized through history, it was so affected by the cultural industry. I’m not talking about a distant past, but those industrial processes happening more recently. Sertanejo was so homogenized that I feel that even those people who consume it and are in these rural contexts, they’re also dissidents.
We have dissents in these contexts that are not necessarily about being LGBT. And in some way, we represent and voice those fractures, be it about gender, sexuality, race, anti-capitalism, anti-agro-industry money. We bring it all with us in a much broader, more powerful community that in some ways reframes and enhances the idea of queerness. So Fivela Fest, for me, if I have a prospect for the future, is that it is more and more like that. More and more a fight against a hegemony that acts in different ways.