Jonathan Stier – From Brazil via LA

Brazilian born, world-travelled and Los Angeles based, Jonathan Stier is producing a unique amalgamation of sounds with his music


Alternating between English and Portuguese, sometimes even within a song, Stier is a singer/songwriter with a lot to say. At times filled with heartache, at others, entrenched in deeply political themes, Stier has built himself a firm foundation in his Brazilian roots, while encompassing the current state of folk.

‘Rather be a Nobody’ has to do with a culture where a small minority of people have all of the wealth and control. They demand that the poor majority conform to their ideals. They control the government, the media, and even the educational system

First and foremost, Stier is a storyteller and he found the right template to tell his stories by traveling back to his hometown of Belo Horizonte, Brazil, to record his new album Little Boy Sly.
Fly’s Jeremy Balius checked in with Jonathan Stier to find out what his music encompasses, where it comes from and where it’s going.
Briefly describe your background, from Brazil, to Colorado, to the world and then to .
I was born in Brazil where I lived until graduating from High school. I then moved to Colorado where I worked for a few months and then went on a trip. I ended up visiting about twenty different countries mostly in and Africa. I would take my guitar with me and was writing throughout that time. I eventually moved to Southern California where I studied audio engineering, mostly so I could have access to the studio. After school I was just wandering again when I decided I would go back to Brazil and record my full length album. I found some of the greatest musicians in my hometown and had a wonderful time just letting them play and add to what I had created. I came back last year and mastered the album here in LA.

Wherever inspiration strikes. Mostly it seems to happen in the middle of the night with my guitar in the bathroom, or sitting in a meeting daydreaming, or sitting in LA traffic (though those tend to be mostly angry songs about idiots driving giant SUVs)!

How important was it for you to go back to Brazil to record?
Incredibly important! The pace of life in Brazil is much more conducive to creativity. It also gave me the chance to work with some of the best musicians I know. Their contribution was invaluable. Of course being in Brazil during didn’t hurt!
In what ways have you been able to maintain Brazilian elements in your music?
It really depends on the song. On this album it comes out in the rhythmic drive to the music and the use of harmonies and chords. Of course it comes out when I sing in Portuguese.
Do you ever feel culturally displaced, being both Brazilian and American?
Yes. It is a strange place to be caught in. I have always seen myself as a Brazilian but the more time I spend observing and gleaning stuff from all the different cultures I’m exposed to, the less I seem to fit into just one. But I will always be first and foremost a proud Brazilian!
To what degree does the state of affairs in Brazil, whether political, social or other come up in the themes of your songs?
I would say the social aspects of the country are reflected in many of my songs, sometimes very directly other times much more subtlety. The first song of the album ‘Rather be a Nobody’ has to do with a culture where a small minority of people have all of the wealth and control. They demand that the poor majority conform to their ideals. They control the government, the media, and even the educational system. If you are not one of them it is almost impossible to get a high school diploma much less a college degree and even if you struggle through all that, employment is handed out to friends and and prejudice annuls all of the hard work you put in. Basically, you end up having to serve the upper class and grovel and kiss ass and buy into the bullshit they are selling, just to survive.
How have you seen your music and guitar playing grow over the last few years?
For a while I was exploring with rhythm and using the guitar as an almost percussive instrument. I am currently obsessed with alternate tuning and the blues.
In recent years, Brazilian music has seen a huge uprising worldwide. Is there anyone that you would recommend?
Lately I have been listening to everything Rosa Passos sings on. Caetano Veloso and are givens. If you speak or at least understand Portuguese I would recommend Djavan. He is an amazing writer though his music doesn’t necessarily appeal to an international crowd. Adriana Calcanhoto, Astrud Gilberto, and Beth Carvalho are all great. And if you like samba, you must listen to Gonzaginha. That should give you a good start.
To what degrees do other art forms inspire you, such as literature, art, etc?
Mostly they get me thinking and give me themes and ideas for the music. The song ‘Lucy Grey’ is a rare example where I directly reference the poem which helped inspire the song. There is a Wordsworth poem with the same name that seemed to weave itself into my song and fit so well into what I was saying that I had to keep it prominently in the song.
When and where is the best place to write a song for you?
Wherever inspiration strikes. Mostly it seems to happen in the middle of the night with my guitar in the bathroom, or sitting in a meeting daydreaming, or sitting in LA traffic (though those tend to be mostly angry songs about idiots driving giant SUVs)!
What are some of your goals with your music?
I want it to keep evolving and growing. I want it to make people smile and think and dance. I would also like to empower and develop other artists and help them get their music heard. My immediate goals are to find more distribution and maybe even an Indie label that might work with me to get my work heard, to tour and play for as many people as possible. I love it all. I love writing, recording and performing and I aim to keep doing it until the day I die.
What’s the best way to keep informed on Jonathan Stier news and where is your music available?
You can go to my website www.jonathanstier.com, sign up for the mailing list and we’ll keep you up to date on any info. My music is available on iTunes, Rapsody, Napster, and most of the online music stores. You can also buy a hard copy of the Album from cdbaby.com or at any of my live shows.
Most importantly, which Brazilian club do you support?
Only the most beautiful team in all Brazilian soccer! Cruzeiro Esporte Clube!