National Album Day ambassador and Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt on the art of the long-player

National Album Day ambassador and Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt on the art of the long-player

This week sees the return of National Album Day

The sixth edition of the annual celebration will be focused on the ‘90s, with special releases set to come from Blur, The Cranberries, REM, S Club, Wu-Tang Clan and more. 

Among the ambassadors are Declan McKenna, Gabrielle, Pip Millett and none other than Nuno Bettencourt, the lead guitarist of Boston rock band Extreme. 

Extreme returned to the UK Top 30 recently with new album Six. Here, Music Week meets the group's guitar legend Nuno Bettencourt to talk about the importance of National Album Day and why artists mustn’t give up on the LP format, the state of rock ’n’ roll in the digital age and what it was like working with Rihanna… 


We see plenty of artists come on board for National Album Day releases, but not all artists want to be ambassadors. Why did you want to get involved in that role and fight for the long player format? 

“I get how we have to move with the times, but I think there's still something to be said [for albums]. Some of the best comments that I get and enjoy have been ‘thank you’s: a ‘thank you’ for curating an album that someone can get into their car and drive for 50 minutes listening to it, or put on some headphones and go on a bit of a journey with it, an album that makes sense from the second you drop the needle, to the end of it, an album that you want to relive again and again. 

“The danger of playlists and songs being separated is that you can [lose] the album. I'm sure we’ve all bought albums from favourite bands which we’re just not sure about. I’m a big Radiohead fan, but I remember they would switch up their vibe so much down their album that sometimes I’d listen to it and be like “Do I like this?” I would give up on it and would just listen to one or two songs in my playlist I would have lost out on [otherwise]. You have to have an affair with the album, and I realised that as much as I wasn't sure about the Radiohead [at first], all of a sudden, I was obsessed with the whole album because I gave it a shot – two, three, four listens from front to back and I was like, ‘Oh my god, I can't believe I almost thought this wasn't good.’ Then I couldn't take it out of my CD player for months. So, artists, don't give up on making these long play pieces of art that are like watching a feature film.”

On top of being the ambassador for National Album Day, you're a guitar legend. What do you think of rock’s place in music at the moment? 

“I'm hearing from people that I work with that everybody's up in arms about AI right now, for instance. But I welcome it, in a crazy way. I think AI has been here for a long time. I think a lot of pop music is less humanised, there is less instrumentation, fewer vocals, or it’s autotuned [to the point that] you're losing a lot of the emotion. So, I think it's been heading this way anyways. What I like about that for rock 'n' roll is that the genre cannot be created that way. Rock 'n' roll is about imperfection. It’s the ‘non-version’ of AI, so the cleaner, the more perfect, the more processed music gets, the better it is for rock ’n’ roll.

“I believe rock ’n’ roll has always been a little bit of an underground bastard stepchild, and I think when it gets too popular, it gets worse. Even a band like us, putting out an album now that shouldn't really have a shot and getting the reaction we got, to me it wasn't just a compliment of, ‘You guys did a great album, or you're a great guitar player,’ I think it just showed how starved people were for something that has humans playing it. People want to hear the passion, emotion, angst and the beauty of imperfection that is rock ’n’ roll, that is just four guys getting together in a garage and playing. When you see it live [therefore], it's exactly like what you're hearing. I think that human element is why I think this album is touching people. Yeah, it's decent songs, decent guitar solos, but I believe when people see the Rise video and hear songs like Other Side Of The Rainbow, it's the mythology of rock 'n' roll that they love and miss. 

“We’re a band that are passionate about how we look, what we’re wearing,what we're doing in our videos and on stage. It's the whole package that we used to love about every band that we grew up with. It was never just the songs, it was about the culture. A lot of that now gets lost because bands are [focused on] marketing and social [media]. It's less about doing the album and it's more about how many followers, likes or views they have. We’re chasing data so much [these days] and the data is deciding whether we're great or not. An album has nothing to do with that, a song has nothing to do with that. It's great if we can reach millions, but it doesn't mean that the album is good or bad.” 

The cleaner, the more perfect, the more processed music gets, the better it is for rock ’n’ roll

Nuno Bettencourt

How would it feel to be back on the road, and with the new album? Extreme fans have waited 15 years for this…

“The whole thing has been kind of crazy. We have done the US, Australia, Japan and we're coming over to the UK in late November, early December. As always it takes us 300 years to do one album, but we released [this one] with the same intent that we always do, you go all in and believe in it from the first song to the last song. But the reaction was definitely a bit shocking at first, especially with Rise coming out. I mean, a band that's in their 50s and early 60s are not supposed to get this kind of love or reaction. Back in the 1900s you put out a song and it would take months to find out if people liked it, if it hit the charts, if people were coming to shows. Now you put out a song and within an hour, two hours, everybody's letting you know what they think, by [online] views, by comments, by likes. The business is different. You hit the spacebar and the whole world hears. So when we saw that going into the millions of views within such a short time, it was really amazing. It was exciting.”

How did you approach Extreme’s latest album Six because you've got so many influences in there?

“The thing about the Extreme album is, always expect the unexpected! It's always been that way, even with Pornograffiti or More Than Words. You’ve got to remember there was no acoustic rock music really out,  unplugged was not out at that time. So everybody was like, ‘What is that song doing on that album?’ We were hearing the same [now], like , ‘Wow, why is Beautiful Girls on there? That's so different for you guys.’ 

“The answer to why it’s on there? Because we wrote it. The best songs always win. We always have three or four songs that fight for that slot, but we don't just choose our favourites, the ones that end up on the album are the ones we can't remove. We always like to treat the album as a journey, it's almost like a three-course meal in how you have to keep people interested, the first four or five songs are your appetizers, and then you risk a bit by giving them the meal, you bring out The Mask which is socially driven, you bring Save Me which is dealing with suicide and our own peers, like Chris Cornell and Chester [Bennington], and then going into Hurricane which is about life, loss and losing one of my best friends. Then you close it out with dessert, after X Out, you’ve got Beautiful Girls, Here's To The Losers, and you go a little bit lighter. And that's your whole meal. It's like a really great sit down where you're like, ‘Man, I just tasted so many different things in so many different flavours.’”

You’ve been working a lot with Rihanna on tour and at the Superbowl, how did you navigate that transition from rock guitarist to playing different styles of music?

“It was interesting, did I ever imagine being a guitar player for an artist like that? No, absolutely not. I was always in my own band and in rock ’n’ roll, although I grew up on R&B, pop and everything from The Beatles to Janet Jackson. A lot of people were like, ‘Ahhh, you're doing this pop gig!’, but when I stepped into that rehearsal space, [I realised] that she could really sing, I thought a lot of stuff was going to be on track but it never was for her. Also, I could not fucking believe the musicianship and the quality of players [in the band], they could outplay me in jazz, fusion, pop. They were guys that played in church, that came from Philly, Chicago,, I mean, Stevie Wonder's drummer! And the jams that we would have backstage and in soundchecks, and how creative we got within her songs. When you hear this stuff live, we're not just playing the album versions of these songs. It was really fun. I learned a lot playing with those guys, I was never part of a pop artist that had dancers and big production and stuff like that. It was really interesting, quite a cultural journey.”

PHOTO: Frankie Pepper

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