Art imitating art

“For me, everything is kind of political, but in a way, everything isn’t,” announces Brazilian Girls vocalist Sabina Sciubba. She’s just woken from a nap, and — according to bassist Jesse Murphy — sounds a bit like a crusty Italian fisherman.

Sciubba (pronounced Shoo-ba) explains that the group’s song “Pussy” is about, well, “exactly what it says.”

“If there weren’t any censorship and there weren’t any taboos, we might not have thought it was funny to have a song that [says] ‘pussy, pussy, pussy, marijuana,'” the singer says. “In the U.S., it can’t be played on the radio, but in Europe it was chosen as a single.”

Adaptation is overrated

It’s this sort of offhand rebellion that makes the New York-based foursome so appealing.

But, if you’re a fan, you already knew that. You probably love the Brazilian Girls because they’re too fashionable for the runway, too dark for film noir and too cutting-edge to be simply lumped in with club music. You love them for their irony — they’re not from Brazil. But then again, if they were, the name would just be lame. You love them for the way Sciubba makes dirty lyrics sound all tropical-sunny, and how pretty much every other word (and she’s singing in five languages here) comes out vaguely sweaty and writhing. Oh, and you love them for being Eurotrash, even though they’re from everywhere but Europe. Except Sciubba, who’s lived pretty much everywhere in Europe — which is only part of why you wish she were your new best friend.

The band’s self-titled debut, released on Verve earlier this year, dabbles in a variety of sensual moods, from seductive numbers like “Lazy Lover” and “Sirenes de la Fete” to the pulsating “Dance Till the Morning Sun” and the aforementioned, Caribbean-flavored “Pussy.” Their live shows are more lounge-naughty than rock-cool, with Sciubba appearing in gawky, fetishistic art-house garb.

To some extent, they don’t care if they can be packaged and spoon-fed to the more pedestrian dance-club crowd. “We got it all established at Nublu,” Murphy explains. Their home-base, a tiny East Village club, had the group playing right on the floor, elbow to elbow with their audience. “We worked it out in a real local, organic way,” the bass player adds.

But what works in New York’s insular hipster culture doesn’t always translate off the island. “We’ve gone through different phases where we’ve tried to adapt, but now we’re just like, ‘whatever,'” Murphy shrugs.

Sciubba expounds: “People who come to our shows generally have a silly bone, because we have a sense of humor. [They’re] not too conservative, not necessarily the Bush voters.” She laughs, “It’s people looking for something else — because that’s who we are.”

Next stop: Fantasia

The New York Times described one show this way: “Sciubba made her entrance encased in something that looked like giant cotton underpants … for the rest of the set, she wore a kind of sexy-turnoff outfit, including unfashionable white pumps and a blindfold she could see through but which hid her eyes.”

“It’s kind of fun,” the singer says of her dare-to-scare outfits. Some she makes herself — others are fashioned by friends or up-and-coming designers.

“I’m a girl,” she announces in a confidential tone. “It’s so much more fun if you have an outfit you can play around with on stage. I like how the audience responds to it.”

“It’s kind of like burlesque, when she dances and gets into it,” explains Murphy. “There’s the DJ feel, where [the music] stays in one place and builds. And Sabina [adds] this visual thing. Hopefully it’s more surreal — but I’m not trying to make out like it’s all Fantasia.”

That kind of avant-garde showmanship has worked well for the likes of Bjoerk, allowing the elfin maverick to swerve from soothing ballad to punk-tinged caterwauling. And invention was key for icon Frank Zappa. But artistic savvy was the downfall for ethereal ’90s dance group Morcheeba — despite rave reviews.

“How do you sum up Morcheeba, a band who have always defied categorisation and whose main objective over four albums has been never to repeat themselves?” the defunct British group’s online bio queries rhetorically. Comes the answer: “You could invent an entire new genre for them.”

The members of the Brazilian Girls have crossed literal and figurative continents to invent their own genre. But maybe there’s nothing new under the sun, after all.

“I was just thinking of Morcheeba,” muses Sciubba.

The Brazilian Girls return to the Orange Peel (101 Biltmore Ave.) on Tuesday, Oct. 11. 9 p.m. $15. 225-5851.

About Alli Marshall
Alli Marshall is the arts section editor at Mountain Xpress. She's lived in Asheville for more than 20 years and loves live music, visual art, fiction and friendly dogs. Alli is the winner of the 2016 Thomas Wolfe Fiction Prize and the author of the novel "How to Talk to Rockstars," published by Logosophia Books. Follow me @alli_marshall

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