In Conversation, Janluska
Gianlucca Pernechele Azevedo, the Curitiba-born, São Paulo-based, multi-instrumentalist, composer, music director, producer and performer is redefining what contemporary R&B sounds like. Janluska, the versatile Latin Grammy nominee, is just getting started.
Janluska’ willingness to learn stands out. Putting relationships first and and trusting the process is what makes him a great communicator. His production credits are no joke. It’s no coincidence the list keeps getting bigger and bigger every month.
Fresh off Marina Sena’s European tour, he’s been her touring guitarrist since her acclaimed debut solo album, ‘De Primeira‘, we had an extense conversation about his career, musical identity, momentum, his relationship with Iuri Rio Branco and what’s next.
That’s something I’ve been trying to figure out myself for years now. I like listening to a lot of R&B, alternative, rock, rap. The question for myself is: how does that compose my identity? What do I do? Throughout the years and producing, you end up knowing yourself in the sense of the tools, melody-wise, harmony-wise what you like. That starts building up an identity. It’s something that’s been taking quite some time.
Right now, I’m in a place where I’m just starting to feel comfortable. I’m starting to know what my sound is like. How am I gonna describe it? There are some things that come up, like an acoustic guitar. That’s something that comes from folk and I try to blend in with R&B, complex harmonies, maybe gospel too. Some things that I listen to don’t always overlap.
How does my Brazilian identity come into place in that scope? I’m starting to overlap things from whole different areas. There’s sampling, that comes from beat making; also, some more instrumental stuff that I also like. There’s a lot of great Brazilian Fusion instrumentals that I always listen to. That doesn’t overlap. I try to bring all that into what I produce. What that amounts to it’s my go-to melodies, harmonies or sounds. Maybe that’s just research that’s gonna last the entirety of my career.
From what I’ve heard, you’ve been consistent since the very beginning. R&B has different shapes and forms, but yours is guitar infused. You’re quite punctual with the drums and keep things to the minimum. No overproducing, no grand gestures. Some try to make the most out of a track, but it does not land. It’s distracting.
Yes, that’s a good point. That’s something I worry about a lot. I try to keep that minimalistic approach each time. I like to do the puzzle quite right. My ear fatigues really fast and I cannot listen to it anymore. It’s very distracting, exactly what you said. It’s very interesting that you caught that.
Let’s talk R&B for a minute. I hear a lot of SOULECTION influences. ‘Dancei’ de Bruna Mendez comes to mind. When did you first encounter this? Were you big into music forums?
I grew up with a lot of white-based influences like rock and folk music. I encountered R&B when I was a little bit older. It was on two different instances. First, studying and playing guitar led me from rock to fusion then to jazz. Naturally to R&B. Also rap and jazz samples. Rap has a lot of R&B and gospel, especially American. Here in Brazil you have a different approach to some music influences. In parallel, the first thing that came to mind was D’Angelo, which I love, released his comeback in 2014.
He recorded every instrument in that album.
He won the Grammy for that and I remember the internet was all fuzzed about it.
I didn’t know D’Angelo because it was not a part of my musical background. I just got straight into that. I started listening to more and more stuff. It was a very pivotal moment for me.
I do like R&B but I don’t have this deep knowledge. I just like listening to it. D’Angelo has a great documentary. It’s about his career and process. He spent a lot of years without releasing anything being this big star. He was over sexualized and has a lot of discussions about it. Influence-wise, more modern stuff.
That’s the beauty of that genre. If you listen to some 90’s Neo-Soul, Jill Scott, Maxwell, Erykah Badu even Usher and have a whole different conversation. That era had an interesting perspective when it came to composition and vocals. Your music has a modern feel to it. It all makes sense now. You don’t go that far back, not even on vocal runs.
Yeah, it makes sense. Although, the artists you’re working with don’t always come from that background. It’s not something that I try to emulate. We try to do our own thing. Those vocal runs are something very gospel. Church here is very different. We have different musical accents. We do have those huge vocal runs here, but we go to pagode, samba, and that’s a different universe.
I end up working with more artists that have indie and folk influences that don’t do vocal stacking like that and are looking for some classic gospel. I don’t think I’m that guy. I don’t have that kind of deep musical knowledge. I have to study.
You’ve been a musician since an early age. Full time production for others came in 2017. How did that come to be?
I grew up in a very musical family, with various musical incentives. My dad also plays. Music was always a thing. I remember being little and going to a friend’s house and music was not present. We don’t have a musical structure, it’s not a career. You cannot consider it. Growing up, it wasn’t something that I’ve ever considered, but I’ve always played.
I started gigging when I was 14. I started making my own money around that time. It was, always, on the back of my mind, but I had chosen a different path. I studied Engineering for a bit. I was mainly gigging, but not producing. I did my own compositions when I was 16. One day I thought, ‘maybe I’ll just try to do this for a year’. In the meantime, I lost my place in university, it was not an option to come back.
That was the greatest year for me, it was pivotal. I met a lot of people in music, it swallowed me. I started getting a lot of work, gigging and then I started producing. It was not much time after that I landed Tuyo which is perhaps what drove me to meet a whole bunch of people. I’ve been working outside of Curitiba, my city. I don’t think I’ve looked back ever since.
Did you meet them while gigging? I know you played with them live for a while.
We met in 2016, they are also from Curitiba. I was doing some roadie stuff. I don’t remember exactly how I met them, but it was not in a producer context. In 2017 they asked me to produce one song, a version of Radiohead’s ‘Nude’. We did that and it turned out great. I’ve never produced anything, it was very raw. From that on we did the album next. ‘Pra Curar‘ was released in 2018.
What was your first big break?
I thought that was your very first producer credit, but also I listened to Jenni Mossello’s ‘Jenni’ and was wondering which came first.
I had Jenny before. We had a band together, she was a vocalist. She was the first to go solo. Her husband is her drummer, he’s our drummer as well, and started producing. He called me and Jack, who also produces in Tuyo, and the three worked on that record. That was my first experience. I was not in charge of any critical decision. I was there aggregating in the process. It was very different from Tuyo. Jenni was family stuff, we were all together working. Lucas, the drummer, was in charge of critical music production thinking.
Bruna Mendez’s ‘Corpo Possível‘ was release in 2019. You produced a couple of high profile singles. Before the pandemic everything was just starting to build up.
Your perception is really on point. The pandemic killed momentum for a lot of a lot of people too. There’s this thing that was happening before, but a lot of young beat makers, producers and artists were mainly doing their stuff through the internet. I met people through gigging and shows. I was not much of an Internet guy. Lots of artists that were about to release music or were just starteing on projects had to hold back.
Long distance recording became a thing and opened up the market for lots of people that wouldn’t have that kind of access. What I think happened was that lots of these young producers, mainly in Brazil, had their shot at things that maybe were not possible in that context before. The internet was so big, so saturated. Everybody was locked up at home making their own stuff and trying to survive. Overall, the pandemic was shit for everyone, but it had its consequences on the market.
I started doing a lot of remote recording. I worked with people that otherwise I would have never met or I would not be a choice because I was in Curitiba.
I had to come to São Paulo to work with these people. Maybe in the second period of pandemic, the first semester of 2021, I saw lots of new names. I’ve got to know a lot of new people that were very underground before. Maybe it was a combination of both, what they were doing with the internet becoming this even bigger thing for people to reach out and communicate.
We were discussing the momentum. What were your plans before it all hit? Were you focused on gigging and just touring internationally? Maybe just producing or even releasing your own music.
I was about to move to São Paulo, which is where I am now. At that time it was not an option. The question came up: so, what do I do now? I had lots of plans. I was recording with Tuyo, we were just starting the second record. I’ve also been wanting to release my own compositions, ‘ok, I have this project and I’m starting to get some more, but I need to move to São Paulo because I’m going to be able to work more, better and study more’.
2020 was not a very productive year for me. I didn’t do my stuff. I got a few other projects besides Tuyo’s. Gigging is not something that I do now. I like doing it, but it’s not my focus. With Tuyo, I was in charge of producing and naturally that became, ‘we have to translate this for the live performance’. Also, Marina Sena, the artist that I accompany now in guitar, came up in the pandemic. I was working with her producer, Iurio Rio Branco, recording some guitars at distance.
I recorded for her album by chance. It’s just a coincidence. That translated to the live performances too, ‘we have this playback thing and also need the guitarist and you do both. Can you come with us?’ That’s the two main gigs that I did. I did a bunch of the smaller projects as a guitar player, but I’m not that guy. A lot of people are going to do better guitar playing than me.
The Grammy nomination came in 2021 for Tuyo’s ‘Chegamos Sozinhos em Casa’. Did it change anything? I’m talking about your behavior towards the industry, the way that people perceive your work. Does it really mean something other than the so-called prestige?
I’m not sure. I don’t think it even changed anything, prestige-wise. It’s a very political thing. Of course, we were all very happy with the nomination. It happened during the pandemic. It was very weird because it felt like it happened, but it didn’t happen. It became this Instagram thing that’s there, a nice subtitle and that’s about it.
Terno Rei’s ‘Gemeos’ seems like a big departure from your discography. What compelled you about them? Did you understand the language from the get-go?
I wanted to produce a band instead of an artist. I feel that the producer’s figure, the producer from the 90s that isn’t hands-on, is not grabbing the guitar and doing everything. It’s more the psychology aspect to it. That’s something that I’d like to do because it’s very different from producing a single pop artist.
Terno Rei is a four person band and we added two other producers. Language-wise, the first thing you pointed out, was something that I had to delve into. They had a lot of different references that I didn’t quite grasp. It was a bunch of 2000s easy rock. I didn’t have musical language. I had to listen to a lot of different stuff and that was really nice. As a producer, that was really interesting because you start noticing different stuff that maybe you can use to your favor.
‘I’m not sure that this is something that I personally would do in my stuff’ and that’s very healthy for the process. It takes a little bit of the ego out, for me. ‘Is this song working? Does that work translate as the band wishes it? Does that correlate to the vision of the other producers and everyone involved?’ I had a lot of musical input and it was a very ‘productiony’ album. We did a lot of string arrangements.
I don’t feel like I did it right, yet. I’m talking about sitting back with the band and working with them to get the best result possible. It was a process that I learned a lot from.
I’m producing Viratempo and feel that I’ve matured in that sense. They came to me with ideas for songs, but didn’t have the album yet. ‘You wanted to do everything. You’re a band. Come back with something’. That was a different kind of production. That came from Terno Rei. I missed something with them and I’m trying to do better this time. They have different references, a bit more in the scope of what I listen, but still very different from what I used to doing.
It’s always a challenge putting yourself in a third party mentality, seeing if the process works and what you need to make for a song happen. All of this without being the composer. It’s me saying, ‘we don’t have that melody yet, this is not the chorus’. It’s a hybrid, so I have that place and also going in and recording. I’m not gonna grab the guitar and record myself. I’m just gonna grab the guitar and play something, ‘now you do it’. That doesn’t happen because my production was always beat making and being hands on. I’m trying to manage both worlds right now. That’s also building up my identity as a producer.
When do you and Iuri Rio Branco meet? Now that I think about it, that was my first encounter with your name on a track.
Iuri is a much older than me. He’s been producing for a really long time, He’s actually from Brasilia and then moved to São Paulo. One day I was with some friends, back in Curitiba, and then someone showed me ‘Diz Pra Mim,’ this Jean Tassy track that kind of blew up. I listened to it and thought it was great, I loved it. I picked my Instagram and sent Iuri a message.
We started talking. He’s a really great guy. He sent me a track that he was working on. I recorded some guitars and was so nervous. I spent hours trying to find something to send. I remember he just used one line of the guitar. He opened up this opportunity for me and I was incredibly grateful. He liked it, it worked. When I came to São Paulo, he went to pick me up and I came to his house. We recorded some other stuff. We became friends.
He was this kind of older brother vibe, I kind of look up to him in that sense. He’s a very insightful guy, very intelligent and has been around for a while. I’ve learned a lot from him, of how the industry works, what’s important. A lot of that minimalistic approach to producing comes from him. He’s the guy that says, ‘dude, this is over producing. This is not important’. He’s gonna brutally say that to you. I started thinking that there’s more, there may be different stuff that I should be worried about, production wise.
It opened up a lot of opportunities. From Iuri came Jean Tassy, someone that I absolutely adored. I got to meet and work with him. They credited me with the production, which was also very nice. They didn’t need to do that. Iuri was the producer. I’ve produced a bunch of tracks before, but that’s not always how it goes. Then came Marina Sena. We bonded a lot, worked together and then did a lot of stuff. He is a mastermind.
I know she has an avid fanbase. How does it feel being part of something that’s so big? You were touring in Europe last week with her and have a couple more dates in Brasil. Talk about performing, absorbing that energy and just living up to the expectation of a follow-up album. How do you embrace all of that?
It was intense. I met Marina when she was in Rosa Neon, an alternative band that was really big in the independent scene. I met her through that and met Iuri through rap. Iuri is more of an urban guy, so I never pictured them. In my mind, they come from different scenes. When they got together and did her album, ‘De Primeira’, they reached out, ‘you wanna come with us and do two concerts?’ It was during the pandemic, it was live streaming performance. The team was just us three and another producer. That was for the first show.
Then, for the second show, we already had one more person in the team. By the time of the third or fourth show we had this team of almost ten people. Everything changed really, really fast. Seeing Marina, who’s from a different background, getting really famous, really fast? I think that injection was a bit of a mindfuck for her and for us too. I’ve never been a part of something like that. From ten to twenty people in the team and I don’t even catch up with every addition.
Structurally, it was very interesting because it’s not that I landed a gig that was already big. I got to see how the process works as money comes in and as the fan base grows.
That was crazy. I had to put in perspective how many people are necessary to keep the project going. It’s so many people involved now, it’s work. It’s always been work, but before it felt more like a family. It started growing and now it’s this big huge company with a lot of people working. That was intense. I think it was a crazy ride for her also.
You mentioned the follow-up album, ‘Vício Inerente‘. I have no idea how it must have been for her, but she was not worried. Neither was Iuri. They were confident in the work. That made me learn a lot: it’s about the process, it’s about the album. They were not falling for the expectation, but focusing on the process.
I’m drawn to projects that I think can do something new or interesting and that’s not always the case. I’m not sure that’s a rule, but the bigger the artist, the bigger the number of people involved. If you get an artist signed to a label, it’s great. I’m not comparing, but I think these people reach out. I always listen to stuff because I’m looking out for projects that may be interesting. Viratempo was one of those. I liked it and I saw it as a challenge.
JUNE is my friend and she’s really great. It was an opportunity to also do the music directing that I like. I want to get better at it and study. She also presented that opportunity for me. I played very hard keys for that. I’m not a keyboard player and I had to study a lot. Those projects help me grow. Ultimately, I have faith that the numbers can grow and we can make good music. I try not to focus on that.
My main focus right now is to be more organized. I know you’re asking like music-wise, but I feel the need to structure the next step. I have a couple of albums booked for the year. It’s also like a year where I need to make money, so I’m doing everything I can to be here in São Paulo. My main step next would be releasing my ‘producer record’.
I’ve been studying what I want to do for a number of years now and it’s like a return to the times when you first started making music. There’s a raw, naive aspect to it. I felt it got lost over the years, but with its own merit.
That was me working, trying to study and doing things like pop, R&B and alternative music. Going back to the beginning of the conversation, overlapping and finding an identity. I’m focused on that, but have to balance that with a bunch of different projects. That’s why I said that I’m focusing on being more organized so I can do everything and not burn out.
Si estás enfrente de una puerta, tocás el timbre, ¿quién te abre?
That’s an interesting question. I was gonna say like Justin Vernon, he’s the first name that came to mind, to be honest with you. I’m such a fan. When I sit on it, I just wanna be at peace and happy with whatever I’m doing. I feel like that’s very haunting, everything that I do, I end up having this feeling of not being productive enough, good enough and constantly comparing myself to others. I think about that a lot. If I could open that door and just be at peace for a while?