Brazilian Girls dancing their way to Cleveland

Andrew Hampp

The Brazilian Girls are bassist Jesse Murphy, drummer Aaron Johnston, keyboardist Didi Gutman and vocalist Sabina Sciubba.

Credit: Andrew popik

Funny thing about a band that calls itself the Brazilian Girls: None of the members are Brazilian, and only one is a girl.

That’s what virtually every press write-up from the New York Times to Billboard will tell you about the most talked-about dance band since the Scissor Sisters. Which means the Brazilian Girls have accomplished what they set out to do when they selected their ironic name nearly two years ago.

“It was mostly to get attention,” said drummer Aaron Johnston with a laugh. “There could be a million answers to that question, but it’s just like calling a band Free Beer or something. It’s definitely not a serious name. We’re not very serious people.”

Nonetheless, Brazilian Girls could easily be the name of the fan base they’re likely to win over with their seductive blend of jazz, Latin and electronic music. Their self-titled debut album would sound absolutely appropriate in a sunny, beach setting. It even features songs sung by luscious lead singer Sabina Sciubba in languages such as English, French, German, Italian and Spanish.

What’s more, the band’s line-up is just as eclectic as its music and language selection. Singer Sciubba hails from Rome and was raised in Munich and Nice; keyboardist Didi Gutman originates from Buenos Aires; bassist Jesse Murphy is a native Californian and Johnston is from Kansas City.

The four musicians’ paths crossed just two short years ago in the metropolitan melting pot that is New York City, at a fledgling jazz club called Nublu. After playing together for a year and a half during Sunday night jam sessions, things began to accelerate for the Brazilian Girls.

“Everything happened super fast with this plan,” Johnston said. “Everybody brought what they had to the table. We got all this material together and had, like, four songs together within a couple months just from playing a New York club. Nic Harcourt from KCRW got ahold of (our first EP) and started playing it out there, and it just kinda blew up. This little club started getting totally packed.”

The intimate vibe of Nublu will still be felt on the band’s first nationwide tour as well. Rather than a trendy, big venue like House of Blues or Beachland Ballroom, Brazilian Girls will play Cleveland’s Fusion restaurant in the Warehouse District Wednesday.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Johnston said of the tour. “They’re putting us in different rooms — not your typical rock venues. I kinda like that idea. I would rather be down on the floor with the people rather than up on some big rock stage.

“If you’ve ever been to Nublu, we’re just surrounded by people. I have people sitting next to me when I’m playing drums. It’s a really kinda nice intimate vibe although people are dancing and kinda rocking out.”

Another staple of the Brazilian Girls’ live show is Sciubba’s eye-catching — or rather, eye-hiding — wardrobe.

The quirky lead singer never shows her eyes during a live performance, and goes to great lengths such as lacey eye-masks, quirky sunglasses and even masking-tape X’s to cover her visage. Her distinctive stage persona has garnered her comparisons to Grace Jones and Bjork, with a little bit of Violet from The Incredibles thrown in for good measure.

“There’s a mysterious element to it that people get drawn into,” Johnston said. “She did it one night at Nublu and a bunch of people freaked out ‘cause they couldn’t see her eyes. Maybe they wanted to, maybe they didn’t. (She) just kinda kept that going in various forms.”

With a new album, a hot tour and a coveted slot at this summer’s Bonnaroo Festival, 2005 is bound to be the breakout year for the Brazilian Girls. Johnston’s goals are simple, however, so enamored is he still by his band’s rapid ascent into the limelight.

“I hope to just keep the music fresh,” he said. “I hope to keep that same spirit of how it all started at Nublu. That’s the best feeling for me, I think, and that’s the best feeling for people in the audience. I just hope we can keep that going wherever we play.”

Contact pop arts editor Andrew Hampp at [email protected].