Whether it’s being a guitar virtuoso, a decorated singer-songwriter or an established record producer, Nuno Bettencourt has succeeded in making a name for himself in the rock community and beyond.
While he’s best known as the guitarist and co-founder of Extreme, Nuno has embarked on a variety of side projects over the years. Including a solo career that first began upon the release of his 1997 debut ‘Schizophonic,’ a series of dates with Rihanna and a recent involvement in the South American tour with Kings of Chaos in 2014, Nuno Bettencourt is clearly dedicated to his craft.
Considering the fact that Extreme was one of the numerous hard rock groups that found a claim to fame back in the 1980s, the band’s impending appearance at the Cathouse Live festival on August 15 is clearly a heavily anticipated one.
Music Enthusiast recently had the pleasure of sitting down with Nuno at the iconic Rainbow Bar and Grill to discuss the early highlights of Extreme, the band’s involvement with the all-star tribute to the late Freddie Mercury and the excitement surrounding the first annual Cathouse Live festival.
You have an impressive resume. Have you ever taken a moment to reflect on the last 25+ years and all the musicians you have performed with?
Nuno Bettencourt: Oh yeah. Listen, not only the last 25 years but just now and it continues, you know? I’m so lucky to not only – think about whenever you come to the Rainbow or whenever you think about all the things that you’ve seen and done through those years, but also even just recently I got to perform with Steven Tyler and Kings of Chaos in South Africa, you know? Billy Gibbons, and the guys from Guns N’ Roses, and the list goes on. The other night, a week ago today, it was Billy Sheehan and Lucky Strike in Hollywood and it just continues. I’m very blessed, you know.
You were the youngest of ten kids in a very talented family, but you wanted to be an athlete. When did that dream pass and the dream of being a multi-instrumental musician, playing drums, bass, keyboard, and guitar begin?
That’s interesting. Well, I think when you blow out your knee three times, you kind of decide what you’re not going to be doing the rest of your life. And you know with my family there was a lot of instruments around, so I just played while I was injured. I always loved music, but I was… you know, at one point I realized I’m not going to be a receiver for the New York Patriots or play soccer for Portugal. I had to make a decision and get good at something.
Can you tell us about your signature guitar and the relationship with Washburn guitars?
I’m still with Washburn. Washburn’s kind of like been with me simultaneously through, one on one, through all of these years and through all this stuff and the N4 that I played. I still play the same one and it kind of becomes a part of you and what you do, you know what I mean? For no other reason than selfishly wanting your guitar.
You built your guitar, correct?
Yeah. The reason the guitar had no paints and it ended up that way is because when I was younger, I used to gather parts from the store. I couldn’t afford a proper Jackson or something and I would just get somebody to put the parts together for me and cut it down a bit so it would be smaller. All that stuff.
Do you still play the same guitar on tour now?
Yeah I do, I do.
Extreme was formed in 1985 and went on to be named the “Outstanding Hard Rock/Heavy Metal Act” in the Boston Music Awards in 1986 & 87. Wasn’t that prior to the release of your self- titled album?
Oh, that’s great! That’s just based on our local status? Look, at that time we were definitely one of the most popular bands in Boston.
You’re from Boston?
Yeah, we all come out of Boston. We all came out of, as we say Boston, New England, Massachusetts.
Extreme went on to release a self-titled album in 1989 and the final track on the album “Play With Me” was used in the cult favorite Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Was that song originally written for the movie?
No. That was just on the first album and we’d gotten a call that they wanted to use it for this crazy chase mall scene. It just felt really cool to go to a movie and see. It was the guitar solo, you know, repeat, going crazy. That was kind of cool.
It’s been said that Extreme’s big break came on the second LP, ‘Pornograffitti,’ from 1990, which showcased the extent of your guitar playing on acoustic. Why do you think the songs “More Than Words” and “Hole Hearted” have stood the test of time?
They were hits. I think you never know why, but they’re just the songs that connected with whomever they connected with worldwide. They’re just, I guess they’re solid songs as far as, you know, in that connection. It affected people the way it should be affected, you know. We’re still trying to push albums forward and still trying to reconnect in that way. We’ve always had great hardcore fans and while we’re touring, a lot of the fans have come to see Extreme. Thankfully. I mean, they love “More Than Words” from the heart, but it’s not… they’re very passionate about the other stuff as well, so we’re very lucky that way.
You and the members of Extreme have received some strong recognition over the years. Extreme played at the Freddie Mercury Tribute Concert at Wimbley Stadium in London to raise AIDS awareness in 1992. What was the reaction to this and how was Extreme given this opportunity to be part of this tribute to one of the greatest vocalists of all time?
I was already nervous going on because we were doing something that we weren’t supposed to be doing. You were asked to play… when Guns played, they played Guns songs. You’re supposed to play your own stuff and then later there’s a jam, but we were such Queen fans that we put our own tribute and our own medley together. We kind of got in trouble for that because we played songs that people were supposed to play later, but we didn’t care because we were there to celebrate that man, Freddie. So we were already nervous as hell, because we were about to play a lot of stuff in front of millions of people on television but we knew it but we made this crazy medley that we’d never performed live. But when Brian gave that introduction, I almost shit myself. I didn’t know whether to vomit, I didn’t know what was going on. I couldn’t believe he actually said those words. I mean, that’s definitely a highlight of my life and the band’s career. We were just invited because I interviewed Brian for a guitar magazine and he realized how much I knew about Queen and how much I was passionate about them.
I watched the video and you guys were phenomenal, I was taken back myself. It was nice to see all of those fans and then as far as Extreme it built a further fan base because of that.
Yeah, it was crazy!
I want to talk about the Cathouse Live on August 15 which is why we’re here today. Extreme was one of the bands that didn’t play at the infamous Cathouse during the 80’s. Did you ever get the chance to experience the club?
I did. I’ve been to the club, but Ricky didn’t like us very much, I don’t think. I think he saw us as out of it. I think it’s funny ‘cause I just remember doing it the first time and I was always under the impression that he hated me for some reason. So I was surprised we were even asked to do this, and I think Riki had such an allegiance to what happened here, you know. Hopefully we’ll become friends after this, but it was always a legendary thing, always. We always knew about it. It was the West Coast scene, we had a different scene on the East Coast, but we knew that the Cathouse was a big part of it.
What can the fans expect from Extreme at the Cathouse Live festival?
Listen, one thing about Extreme: if you saw Extreme in ’85 and you see Extreme now, I don’t know, I would think the band is even better now and more energetic and more passionate and even better live. I know a lot of bands probably say that and want to believe that, but in this case it’s the truth and they’re going to see probably the best that we are, that we’ve been.
What are you looking forward to seeing at the Cathouse Live?
Oh everybody, from L.A. Guns to Tom Keifer. I know Gilby’s playing… you know, all the bands that came out of that scene, a lot of great talent. I haven’t seen the line-up. I think that Dangerous Toys is playing?
I mean, I think we did some gigs with them in the past a hundred years ago, so it’s going to be amazing to see all these bands.