Kiko Loureiro

“As musicians, we have to explore everything. I’ve studied classical and Brazilian music, and I’ve played rock. I’m also into Japanese music, Indian music, flamenco, and tango from Argentina. It doesn’t matter to me. Good music is good music.”

So says Brazilian guitarist Kiko Loureiro, who certainly practices what he preaches, exploring progressive heavy rock with his band Angra, ’80s-era virtuoso shred on his 2005 solo release No Gravity, and bossa-tinged fusion on his latest solo effort, Universo Inverso [Boosweet]. Loureiro deftly melds intricate Brazilian rhythms with soaring melodic themes and burning solos. Snappy Wes-style octaves co-exist with Beck-approved lyricism and Di Meola pyrotechnics—all delivered with a dynamic and creamy tone. Not content to merely be fluent in a variety of guitar styles, Loureiro also speaks English, French, Japanese, and Portuguese. Watch for him to be taking over a continent near you soon.

What inspired you to learn guitar?
When I was 11, an acoustic guitar teacher came to my house to give lessons to my sister. She got bored with it, so I took the lessons instead. I wasn’t that serious, but I really enjoyed playing acoustic guitar. Brazilian music is based on the nylon-string guitar, so everybody in Brazil has a classical guitar at home somewhere. I started by learning some classical pieces, but I later got deeply into rock music by Kiss, Iron Maiden, and Van Halen. Then I wanted to play electric, so my mom bought me a copy of a Gibson SG. After that, I went more into fusion and Brazilian music. I always had teachers. I like the idea of being around someone who knows more than I do.

Your latest record sounds very different from your previous projects.
The longer I play, the more confidence I have to mix in all my influences. I had done records that showed my rock side, but I also play with friends in the jazz clubs in Brazil, who have nothing to do with the rock scene. That keeps me fresh. I love the challenges of different musical concepts and recording methods. For example, when you do a rock record, you track drums, then guitar, then bass, and then you overdub your solo. With Brazilian music, you put everybody in the same room to allow instant musical interaction.

What gear did you use for Universo Inverso?
I play Tagima—they’re a Brazilian company—and ESP guitars. For this record, I plugged a handmade Telecaster-style Tagima into a Brunetti amp. The album is mostly guitar, cable, and amplifier—although I used an MXR Zakk Wylde Overdrive on the solo to “Feijao de Corda,” and we also added some effects in the mix. I put a .012 set of D’Addario strings on the Tagima, so I have to play harder to get my sound. When you have heavy strings and less distortion, it’s pretty much the hands that are creating the tone.

How did playing with a piano on the album affect your approach to the guitar?
You really have to pay attention to what the other guy is playing, because you have two instruments that can play harmonies. In addition, a jazz setting is like four guys having a conversation. If one of the guys is saying something interesting, you just shut up and listen. Playing riffs in a rock band is more like giving a speech. You write it down ahead of time, you make sure it’s good, and then you give your speech with everything under control. I like both ways of playing.

Are your solos improvised?
On Universo Inverso—and even on my rock records—all my solos are improvised. That’s the way I play at home, too. I don’t like to practice the same thing over and over. On this latest record, we could correct some things with the guitar, but the piano and drums were recorded in the same room, so we couldn’t redo those parts at all. We would track each song three or so times and choose the best take.

What are you listening to for inspiration?
I like Paco de Lucia. His playing is really technical and emotional. I still listen to Deep Purple and Led Zeppelin. I love Satriani and Jeff Beck. Beck is one of the greatest. I’m also into traditional Brazilian composers such as Tom Jobim. He’s sort of our Cole Porter or Gershwin. I like Toninho Horta and Egberto Gismonti. But I only really listen in my car. When I’m at home, I don’t listen to music. Whenever I have a little time, I play.