Expresso Transatlântico is a Portuguese band that has been making waves in the music scene with its eclectic and innovative sound. The band consists of three members: Sebastião Varela, Gaspar Varela, and Rafael Matos. The trio met in Lisbon, where they grew up surrounded by music and culture. They started making songs together across the Atlantic Ocean, while Gaspar was touring with Madonna on her Madame X tour. This is how they came up with their name, which reflects their transcontinental collaboration.

The band’s debut album, “Ressaca Bailada” (Danced Hangover), was released in 2023 and received critical acclaim from the Portuguese press, who considered it one of the “Albums of the Year”. The album showcases the band’s diverse influences, ranging from World Music, Alternative Rock, Fado, Funaná, and more. The band describes their musical style as creating a “Caldeirada” (Fish Stew) of their musical inspirations, without adhering to any particular genre.  The band also incorporates elements of Portuguese culture and language into their music, such as the distinctive sound of the Portuguese guitar, which Gaspar and Sebastião inherited from their great-grandmother, the fado singer Celeste Rodrigues, and their great-great-aunt, the iconic Amália Rodrigues.

The band’s international journey kicked off at the Opening Ceremony of WOMEX 2022, where they performed for a global audience for the first time. They were amazed by the warm reception and the genuine curiosity and appreciation for the Portuguese guitar. This experience opened doors for future performances abroad, such as COLOURS OF OSTRAVA in the Czech Republic. The band is also preparing for an exciting year ahead, with new releases, a unique film/live session, and several gigs both in Portugal and abroad, including Primavera Sound in Porto.

In an exclusive interview, the band members shared their insights on their musical process, their influences, their challenges, and their aspirations.

Gaspar, what was the experience of working with Madonna and did it influence your music or the way you perceive showbusiness?

Well, it was undoubtedly one of the best things that happened to me in life. At the time, I was 15 years old and was faced with various things I had never thought possible to do and see. I feel that by working with Madonna, I had for the first time an interest in doing and experiencing different things in my art. I began to have a new way of looking at art in general and a huge desire to never stop doing it. It was undoubtedly the year when I had the certainty that I would never give up on doing and saying the things I wanted to.

How did you guys collaborate across the Atlantic while Gaspar was touring with Madonna and what were the challenges and benefits of this process?

Initially, the idea of starting a band didn’t really occur to us. We were simply enjoying playing together, which is what we love to do. So, there weren’t any significant complications because we weren’t actively considering it; it just naturally evolved. When Gaspar returned from the tour, we decided to gather everything we had done and began to take things a bit more seriously.

What is the concept behind your album “Ressaca Bailada” and what message do you want to convey with it?

Ressaca Bailada is a cry for happiness and an homage to freedom and euphoria while we dance around, celebrating.

How do you approach songwriting and what are the themes and stories that you explore in your songs? Is it difficult to tell a story without lyrics?

We always start composing a song with a clean slate. We bring together everyone’s ideas, remembering what initially brought us together: a shared space to create, built on absolute trust in each other. Subconsciously, we often end up telling a story. Spending a lot of time together, both on the road and in our daily lives as a band, exposes us to experiences that become the starting point of our creative process. We draw inspiration from what we see and hear in Lisbon, our hometown, which greatly influences our music. However, this influence isn’t forced; it’s simply a reflection of who we are. We never try to impose anything. In fact, we believe that having no lyrics takes listeners on an abstract journey, evoking emotions on a deeper level.

How do you guys incorporate elements of Portuguese culture and language into your music and how do you make it accessible and appealing to a global audience?

Honesty is a keyword for us. We’re not concerned with fitting into any particular style or genre. Instead, we aim to reinvent the music that shaped our upbringing, without constraints. Growing up in Lisbon, and all coming from musical families, we naturally incorporate the city’s musical essence into our music. It’s an integral part of who we are as artists.

How do you, as a band and as individuals, cope with the pressure and expectations of being considered one of the “Albums of the Year” by the Portuguese press?

Above all, being recognized for our work fills us with immense pride and warmth. It’s truly a wonderful feeling. We don’t feel the need to adhere to a specific path or target a particular group of people. We believe that what defines us as a band is quite the opposite. It’s that feeling of openness and readiness to embrace the unknown.

How do you prepare for your shows and what are the essential items that you bring with you on tour?

One of the most fundamental things for us is getting to know the place where we’re playing. This isn’t just about the concert itself; it’s about immersing ourselves in the whole experience… that helps shape the way we create music. Before each show, we gather together for a moment to share a few words about the upcoming performance, to acknowledge where we are, and to reflect on what brought us there… Of course, a few beers are always welcome. And to Gaspar’s dismay, we often sneak in a cheeky shot of whatever we find backstage while he’s playing his solo.

How do you handle criticism and how do you respond to the different opinions and reviews that you get especially from social media?

If we’re talking about constructive criticism from our team or people close to us, we listen. If it’s just any kind of criticism, we just smile and wave.

Gaspar and Sebastião, how do you feel about being part of such a prestigious and influential musical family and how does it affect your identity and expression as artists? And how do you honor and pay tribute to the legacy of Celeste Rodrigues and Amália Rodrigues in your music?

Growing up in an artistic family was really significant and important. We consistently had exposure and access to culture, which was great for personal and artistic development. It’s gratifying to acknowledge that our family has experienced and continues to experience success and recognition for their work. However, we don’t feel obligated to bear the burden of those incredible legacies that both Celeste and Amalia left behind. Nevertheless, there is an undeniable influence of both of them in our art, as we grew up listening to both and interacting with Celeste, our great-grandmother. So, they will always remain one of the very foundations of our personal and artistic lives.

Sebastião, you have a background in cinema and photography. How do you use that to enhance the visual and aesthetic aspects of your band and what are some of the influences or references that you draw from?

I believe music and cinema are symbiotic in the universe of Expresso Transatlântico. They both inhabit the same metaphysical realm. As a song begins to take shape, so do its visual elements. Translating a song into film is always a challenge, but I find my way by immersing myself in the music. It certainly helps that I’m involved in the song’s creation, honestly, both music and visuals emerge simultaneously. The feeling is always consistent. The music videos I create offer just one of many possible interpretations of the music. I draw inspiration from various cinematic sources, but I must admit that conveying an image through its symbolic meaning and using that to craft a narrative truly demonstrates the mesmerizing power of cinema. In my opinion, few have mastered this better than Kenneth Anger, who sadly passed away last year. His film “Lucifer Rising” (among others) stands as a beautiful example of his exceptional work.

Rafael, how did growing up in a family of musicians shape your musical journey and aspirations?

Music and art, in general, have always played a significant role in my family. My father, who is an incredible musician, introduced me to this lifestyle from a young age. It didn’t take long for me to realize that I wanted to follow in his footsteps. He laid the foundation for my artistic education, introducing me to my first records and taking me along to many of his concerts with SeBENTA, his band. Through these experiences and conversations over time, I gradually began to grasp the workings of the industry. They have shaped me into the musician I am today.

Rafael, you were born and raised in Lisbon. How does the city inspire your music and creativity?

I truly believe I was born in the perfect city; I wouldn’t trade it for anything. The city’s vibrant energy, its people, the “miradouros”, the neighborhoods and “tascas”, and the rich musical diversity – all of these elements deeply influence the music I create with Sebastião and Gaspar. I wouldn’t ever want to create music without incorporating the essence of the city into my process.

How do you guys evaluate the current state of the Portuguese music industry and what are some of the opportunities and challenges that you face as a band?

There still exists a general lack of cultural support in Portugal, and not just in regard to music: it’s the case for every area of the arts. Small artists struggle to find opportunities and, even when they do, their projects are rarely given the recognition they deserve. This is because there is no way for said projects to reach much of the public. Even so, it is heartening to see more and more new artists popping up, each with their own new sounds, ready to take on the challenge of elevating portuguese music.

What are some of the upcoming shows or projects that you are working on and what can we expect from you in 2024?

We’re in for an exciting year ahead. We have new releases prepared, and we’re currently preparing a unique film/live session featuring some Beautiful people. Additionally, we’re thrilled to be performing at Primavera Sound in Porto, as well as several gigs both in Portugal and abroad. We’ll keep everyone updated on all these developments through our social media accounts.

Expresso Transatlântico @expresso_transatlantico
Gaspar Varela @gaspar_varela
Rafael Matos @__rafaelmatos
Sebastião Varela @sebastiao_varela
Creative Director: Vasco Oliveira @vascovision
Stylist & MUA: Lucas Luz @mynameislucasluz
Creative Director’s Assistant & BTS: André Sombreireiro @andresombreireiro
Styling Assistant: Joana Ribeiro @joanaribeiro___
BRANDS: Gant, Harry Lambert x Zara, Portugal Jewels, Marcelo Almiscarado, Ana Maricato, Marciano, RO Archive.