Complicated Animals uncomplicate indie nova

Complicated Animals


Craigslist brought them together. Vocalist Mônica da Silva was seeking out a chance to start musically exploring her Brazilian roots. Guitarist Chad Alger was looking to collab on a Brazilian music project. Complicated Animals was born out of that connection, transforming bossa nova music into a style they’ve dubbed “indie nova.”

That indie nova sound is best experienced on the duo’s brilliant 2011 LP Braslissima, released under Mônica da Silva’s name. Braslissima oozes with mid-’60s cool, merging the sound of London’s Carnaby Street with Rio’s Ipanema Beach. Tracks like “Aí Então” have all the markings of modern bossa nova classics, and compositions like “Maria Waits” invoke Nick Drake with a Brazilian lilt.

They’ll play at Union 50 next Wednesday. Before the show, I dialed up singer Mônica da Silva.

NUVO: Your mother is from Belém, Pará in Brazil. Your father is from Grand Rapids, Michigan. Both of these states are internationally recognized for their amazing music heritage. Michigan is known for Motown, techno, and hard rock and Pará is known for carimbó music. What sort of music were you hearing at home while growing up?

Mônica da Silva: It was so all over the place. I grew up on a lot of Brazilian music. My mom would play Vinicius de Moraes  and a lot of classic bossa nova like Jobim, and Gilberto. Those songs were a huge part of my world. My parents listened to a lot of everything, from opera to The Beatles. I was born in the United States. I grew up in Michigan, but we would go back to Brazil to spend time with family for three months every year. 

NUVO: You coined the term “indie nova” to describe your sound. Break that down for us.

Mônica da Silva: People kept asking us to define our sound and it’s not just bossa nova. When we started out we did describe our music as bossa nova, but people would come to the shows assuming we would be doing covers of the classic bossa nova songs. I love those songs, but we write our own stuff. Because I’m American and Brazilian the music shows both sides of me. I love indie music and Brazilian music. Our sound is a blend of both of those styles. We blend the old and new: modern production elements with a touch of vintage bossa nova.

NUVO: I know you’re touring a lot with this project. Have you been able to play in Brazil? Have your recordings gained any traction there?

da Silva: No we haven’t played in Brazil yet. That’s one thing I’m really wanting to do in the upcoming year. The music industry is different in Brazil. People don’t buy a lot of music and they don’t listen to it in the same way. There’s a lot of downloading from torrent sites there. But people have loved our music there and we’ve had some attention from journalists.

NUVO: There’s been an intense focus on Brazil in the international media with last year’s World Cup and the upcoming 2016 olympic games. Has any of this interest in Brazilian culture trickled down to the music?

da Silva: For sure it has brought a lot more focus onto Brazilian music. Last year during the World Cup we were contacted by the music director at ESPN and he licensed one of our songs for their World Cup coverage. He heard our music online and thought it was awesome. ... A lot of the people in the U.S. who do know about Brazilian music are older, because they were around during the time when Brazilian music came to the forefront with “The Girl From Ipanema.” I think it helps our group that I’m Brazilian and American. We do a song in English and then we go to a Brazilian song. I think that helps us to expose the music to new audiences. It helps to open peoples ears and minds to the music.


Kyle Long pens A Cultural Manifesto for NUVO Newsweekly and in 2014 began broadcasting a version of his column on WFYI.

Recommended for you