NUNO BETTENCOURT On Playing With RIHANNA: 'It Was Really Cool To Destroy Some Of Those Songs'
June 26, 2023
In a new interview with Anne Erickson of Audio Ink Radio, EXTREME's Nuno Bettencourt spoke about what it was like to be the guitarist in Rihanna's tour band for several years starting more than a decade ago. He said: "I mean, look, it's Rihanna, first of all. She's a massive artist and she's super cool to hang with. The shows were ridiculous, the audiences. And it was amazing. When they first wanted me to do it, when she first wanted me and Tony Bruno to do it, I was, like, 'Why? There's no guitar on this stuff.' But they said, 'Well, that's why we want you to do it and rock it out.' And I said, 'I get to be me, right? Fully? My same sound?' And they go, 'Yep.' So that was really cool. It was really cool to destroy some of those songs. [Laughs] But, honestly, to play songs as iconic, and songs like 'Umbrella' and things, and add big guitars to it and all that, that was really cool. It was pretty interesting."
Nuno also talked about what it was like to share the stage with Rihanna when the Grammy Award-winning R&B artist took the stage in Phoenix on February 12 for her 2023 Super Bowl halftime performance. He said: "Unfortunately, the band didn't get a lot of love on TV, but we did do the show, yeah… Look, it was a trip for many reasons. One was the halftime show is iconic, and to be a part of it and rehearse at the stadium and be a part of that history. And also I'm a big football fan, so that was even iconic for me — just the fact that… the teams that were playing and being part of NFL and all that, it was a big bucket-list moment for me for sure."
Back in 2014, Nuno spoke to Guitar Interactive magazine about how he landed his gig as the guitarist in Rihanna's band four years earlier. "I've never done another gig where I was kind of, like… not my own, actually, really," he said. "And I'd been asked through the years to do stuff, even with not just necessarily pop artists but with other rock bands, and I've always declined.
"We had just finished an EXTREME tour and a friend of mine, who is a musical director, Tony Bruno, he hit me up. He goes, 'I know I've asked you ten times already, but I know you're in L.A., we're in L.A. Ri saw some of your videos. Would you consider doing…?' He just said 'three months' of this promo. And I was, like, you know what?! I'm in my forties, I've been sticking to my guns for so long and not doing anything else. 'Cause at first I said, 'No. Why would I wanna do it? There's really no guitar in that stuff.' And he said, 'Well, that's the thing. She wants it to be a lot heavier live.' And I'm, like, 'So I get to do what I do.' And he goes, 'Completely. Your rig…' [And I said], 'I get to ruin every one of her songs?' And he was, like, 'Yeah.' So I thought that would be fun."
He continued: "It's interesting. Anybody who's come to see that show, even from the perspective of journalists or magazines, whether it be in Germany or in the States, they come and interview me, but they don't plan on staying for the show. And I always say, 'Just stay. Just stay for a couple of songs.' Then they stay for the night and then they always end up sending me a text or an e-mail message apologizing, [saying that] they didn't know that there was that much musicianship going on. The drummer's from Stevie Wonder. It's, like, it's a real band, and nothing's on playback. We take the songs and we really play them; they're nothing like [they are on] the album.
"When people ask me, 'Why would you do something that you can do with your eyes closed?' And it's a difficult gig. The hats that you have to wear, feel-wise… You go from a basic pop song like 'Umbrella' to to reggae song to a club track to even, like, a punk song and R&B stuff. So the amount of different textures and feels, and to have to play along with these incredible musicians who hear everything, it's definitely not a punch-in-the-clock-type situation for me. Live, it keeps you busy. It's one thing doing your own thing, it's your own shit… It sounds crazy, but it's really challenging. It really is."
Nuno added: "Whatever people's perceptions are of whatever Rihanna is, it's definitely a different animal live — completely different. At first, even when I went to work with her, I was, like, 'Can she really sing?' A lot of times with the singers you hear now, there's a lot of that Auto-Tune element and you don't know who can really sing. But when I went to rehearsal, I could not believe how well she sang, and I could not believe how well she sings live.
"It was really messed up, because nothing is on track except for some bells and whistles sounds, and explosions — just sound-effects stuff — but every review was saying her vocals were on track, and none of it is. But it's incredible. I was actually going, 'Wow!' There's actually great background singers that they get purposely to somewhat sound like her vibe, and it was amazing. And it actually made me realize, even when you can do it, and you can sing, and she is, they're still telling her that she can't do it."
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