Recently, Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt appeared on DragonForce guitarist Herman Li’s YouTube channel where the two discussed all things guitar. Among other things, they touched upon Bettencourt’s famous gig with Rihanna’s touring band.
Recalling how he ended up playing for the pop star, Nuno also reflected on one misconception that your usual rock fan guitar player might have — performing this music is far from an easy task. Looking back on how it all came to be, Bettencourt said (transcript via Ultimate Guitar):
“I’m thinking, ‘How hard could that be? She’s a pop artist.‘ I was fucking wrong. It was difficult because — if you really listen to Rihanna stuff, which you should, it goes from reggae to a club track, to trap.“
“The hats you have to wear to really make it sound [good]… The musicians that you play with, they’re no fucking joke. These are musicians’ musicians… The greatest players in the world.”
Going further into the matter, Bettencourt explained how Rihanna’s band incorporated guitar into music that previously had very little to none. He continued:
“First I said, ‘Why would you need me? There’s no guitar.’ ‘That’s why we want you to come in.’ ‘So I get to be myself?’ ‘Yes, [bring out] your rig, rock out to great songs like ‘Umbrella’, make them heavy…’ It was amazing. I got to do so much with these tracks.“
“And when I got in that room, when I was playing with these guys, is they’re not playing it like [it is on] the album. They’re like, ‘Let’s make this thing. Let’s stretch a bit.’ Great keyboard players, great bass player. Everybody was amazing on that tour — background singers and Rihanna.“
When it comes to mainstream pop music, there’s always this stereotype, at least among rock and metal fans, that these famous musicians can’t really sing. But according to Nuno, it’s quite the opposite in Rihanna’s case. He continued:
“You know, a lot of people ask, ‘Can she sing?’ Hell yes. She never mimed once live. Productions these days have a lot more auto-tune. And they used it on her, [but she] didn’t need it. It’s more of a sound, like, ‘Oh, let’s tune this girl up. Because this girl can sing for sure.’ I was really impressed.”
Bettencourt also recalled how rock journalists who interviewed him during his tours with Rihanna didn’t feel like staying for the show. However, when they did, the journalists were impressed. Nuno explained:
“I [would] say, ‘Look, do me a favor. You’re here. We’re starting in an hour, grab some popcorn, the seats are great. Check out a couple of songs and then leave.’“
“I saw them after the show. They’d come back with their pass and go, ‘What the fuck!? We apologize, we had no idea it would be what it was.’ And I had features, and long stretches of solos and the band was insane.“
“It was really amazing players to watch play right in front of you doing hit after hit with a crowd. It was really different than what everybody thought it would be. And so after that, everybody started coming down and enjoying what it was, because I got to really play on that stuff.”
Looking back at the production value of Rihanna’s live shows, Nuno said:
“Oh, it’s ridiculous. Dancers everywhere, fire everywhere – it’s like a KISS show in a pop world. It was amazing. You get to sit on a pink tank with her, and play a fucking beautiful song. The pink tank was 250,000 bucks for fuck’s sake! Rock guys aren’t going to pay for a pink tank [laughs].”
As far as music goes, Nuno admitted that individual songs weren’t really challenging, at least not technically. However, having the flexibility to cover a variety of styles and working with different arrangements is a challenge. As he explained:
“It kept you on your toes. People don’t realize that easiness is not a technical thing. Because, technically, [it’s] probably not difficult. But it was almost like a gig I had been training for my whole life, and I could see why they had problems finding somebody.
“I grew up on [those] different genres, different things. And if I hadn’t had all that — Beatles stuff, all the reggae stuff, funk stuff — there was no way I could play this simple shit.”
Apart from playing guitar for Rihanna’s tours since 2009, Nuno Bettencourt also appeared on Rihanna’s recent Super Bowl performance. And although a member of the singer’s touring band, he also did some studio work for Rihanna. Albums “Loud,” “Talk Talk Talk,” and “Anti” feature Bettencourt on one track each.
As for Extreme, the band’s fans have been anticipating a new album for many years now. Their latest release “Saudades de Rock” came out way back in August 2008, meaning that it will celebrate its 15th anniversary later this year.
However, in a last year’s interview with Eddie Trunk, Extreme frontman Gary Cherone revealed that the band has something brewing up. He said:
“It’s like the news cycle is so quick you [can’t] put out a whole record and not set it up, at least tease fans. I kinda lean towards trickling out a little bit.”
“I think this is some of the best stuff Nuno [Bettencourt, guitarist] and I have written. I think he would say the same thing… There’s only one Nuno and he outdid himself on this record, his solos blow me away. I’m proud of a lot of the songs on the record.”
So far, the band hasn’t made any official announcements on the matter. However, they’ve been doing a series of teasers through their official website and social media profiles. The series of these brief clips are expected to end today, February 28.