Mosquitos singer Juju Stulbach may be the only woman anyone ever picked up by using the line, "Hi, you're a musician."
Stulbach was working in New York on a film when guitarist and then leader of the indie band am60 Chris Root was visiting the set. Stulbach was humming to herself, and Root approached her asking if she wanted to work on a CD. When Stulbach protested, "I'm not a singer," Root disagreed, basically saying, "Hi, you're a musician."
Not too long after that Stulbach returned to her native Rio de Janeiro, with Root close behind. The two hung out on a beach writing songs and were at work on an album when Root got busted for drug possession and returned to the US, bringing the CD's rough tracks with him. Back in New York, Root paired up with Jon Marshall Smith to finish the project. Stulbach eventually returned to the US as well, and Mosquitos was born. The trio was soon signed to Bar/None Records.
That was four years ago. Stulbach and Root have since gotten married and the group is now on their third album, the just-released III, which, like both other Mosquitos albums, chronicles their relationship.
Why the simplistic name? "We thought about other titles," Stulbach says, talking to us from the back of the Mosquitos touring van somewhere in North Dakota. "But we decided the album is not about any one thing, it's about the next step for us. So this would be III, just III.
"The first album was like falling in love, that first part of a relationship when everything is new and wonderful. Now we have a more mature love, a love about commitment and accepting. And so, this album is more mature, too."
Mature and mellow, apparently. III has a laidback feel to it. The melodies are soothing and instantly familiar. The music, while uncluttered and uncomplicated, is nonetheless complex. This isn't the Brazilian beach party music that Mosquitos PR reps like to tout, but it is authentic and seems a logical progression from their previous releases.
Stulbach says she understands the continuing beach party reference but no longer finds it accurate. "Our first CD, that was a party, maybe. But now? My life is not like that anymore. I genuinely love my husband, I love my life, I love to be alive, but that doesn't mean that it's always fun like a party, because it's not. Sometimes it's like a party, but sometimes it's horrifying and scary.
Horrifying? Scary? III doesn't convey that at all. "Are you sure it doesn't?" she laughs. "No, really, I think sometimes an emotion like fear, it doesn't have to be loud or big. It can be quiet. I think in this CD we show a lot of different types of emotions, but because the overall sound is soft, then people think it's all happy."
That misconception is understandable given that even when Stulbach is singing about a broken heart, her soft Portuguese accent and whispery voice make it sound lovely: "When you didn't come back to me/my heart it was broken/I thought you were joking/I was sure you would be back/But I'm not tired of waiting/I'm not tired of praying/I am not tired of singing and saying your name out loud."
This is, refreshingly, miles away from the profanity of hip-hop or the explicit sexuality of reggaeton. Of rap and hip-hop, Stulbach says, "That is usually very angry, very forceful. I hear that kind of music, and I don't want to do that. I want to send out love, calm, happiness. That other kind of music is popular, yes, but just because it's popular, we don't have to say, 'Hey, me too! I want to do that!' We are not choosing to be unpopular because we won't do that, we are choosing to be popular in a different way. In a way that is less destructive, less noisy."
That may be the only thing that is less noisy about this interview. Trucks whizzing by and the chatter of her band mates in the background often make it hard to hear Stulbach. "I'll talk louder, okay? I might not say anything more important, but I'll at least say it louder," she jokes.
It's the relationship between Stulbach and Root that is almost always the subject matter of Mosquitos' songs. Chronicling the phases of a private relationship on an album meant for the public might seem a little much to some, but Stulbach says she's comfortable putting her life under the microscope. "You know, even though we are writing about what we are going through, our real life, by the time we write about it and it becomes a song, it's different. Maybe in my real life I am wearing a blue dress when something happens, but when I make a song about that, the dress is red. That seems like something small, but there are enough small changes like that that add up and after a while, it's not anything like what actually happened to me."
"Yes, it feels raw and naked to be on stage, basically living my whole life out for an audience. But even if I wasn't on stage, I think living would still feel raw and naked. It's about how honest I am, not about how many people I am honest with. If I am honest, then my life is scary and I am exposed. With one person, or with one thousand people, being honest is scary."
When told that having a conversation about being raw and naked on stage, without being, well, actually either raw or naked, would be a rarity with most male singer/songwriters, Stulbach laughs.
"Really? Oh, that's sad, isn't it. That men wouldn't talk about this. But I don't know, maybe you could have had this conversation with [my husband] Chris, he has a lot of feelings.
"I'm just about to get my period, so maybe that's also part of why we were able to have this conversation today because I'm very sensitive. Being a woman, it's sometimes hard. I love being a woman, but it's a hard time for women now because this business, it's all about the men. Even the sensuality has to be within the limits of a very narrowÉ(Beep, beep!) Oh my god! (Beep, beep!) Oppenheimer just caught up with us on the road," she laughs.
The next minute or so is lost while the Mosquitos' opening band, Oppenheimer, blares their horn and the two bands shout greetings at one another. Finally, Stulbach comes back to the conversation.
"I'm sorry (still laughing). They are so funny, those guys."
Oppenheimer is an Irish pop duo that says they love "kraut-rock, synthesizers and soundscapes." This is the pair's first US tour.
A Brazilian beach party together with Belfast electronica -- that sounds like quite a mix.
"Yes, we have a Brazilian/Irish/American party going on, with black and white and brown people, every color, every shape. I guess we could add an Eskimo, but then we would have to charge more (laughs). We want to keep our ticket prices down so we can't add too many more kinds of people (laughs). For this price, all you get is Brazilian, Irish and American peoples. But that's a lot, don't you think?" Mosquitos performs on Saturday, October 14, at Walter's on Washington, 4215 Washington. Call 713-862-2513 for more info.
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