Portobello Express gives you a free ride in a time-machine: they fly you back into the late ’60s, early ’70s when rock and blues were in their peek and the same way, they let us have a glimpse of a possible future where live music, interconnectedness and actual stage presence are valued more. These days they are unusual to many, yet, the raw energy and professionalism let everyone befriend their songs easily. We’ve had an in-depth conversation with the humble, down-to-earth, real HappyBetty (happens to be an avid cook and sci-fi fan). Beware, actual thoughts are coming, some of them might make you think and wonder!
And while you are reading the thoughts of HappyBetty, leader of Portobello Express, listen to their new version of ‘The Sea Rises”!
Music Authentic: At Music Authentic, I like beginning with this question: “How did you sleep last night?” But let’s break this cycle with this: What did you last cook, but ordering and ready-to-fry don’t count!
HappyBetty: Thank you so much, I love the question! I like good food – no junk food for me, I boycott all fast-food restaurants – and I like cooking. As longstanding vegetarian I’ve learned that we are what we eat. Yesterday, I had a handmade Italian puff pastry spinach-ricotta casserole.
Music Authentic: Watching your videos, it strikes me what an energy you have on stage or at your couch-recording lately. Still, these days many feel drained and at loss. Where does your strength come from, especially during these odd times?
HappyBetty: You know what? I am a bit shy and never really wanted to be the front woman in a band! I am a bassist indeed and used to stay in the shadow. I guess that energy comes from the fact that I am awfully scared to get on stage or in front of a camera. Each time before a concert I refuse to get out. Then professionalism, music passion and my will to win the challenge outweigh. A kick by my guitarist sometimes helps, too, LOL! Kidding aside, as a positive thinking person, I give the best of me in odd situations: clean living under difficult circumstances!
Music Authentic: Your live shows portray a rock-flower era in its best, just like the late 60s and early 70s. Listening to “2-3-4” or “Aim for the sky” and even your stage name, “HappyBetty”, suggest you have an uplifting, positive persona. Around us people are afraid of the tomorrow. How do you think your life will be in a few years from now on?
HappyBetty: My stage name comes from a 1968 protest film by Bruno Bozzetto “Vip my Brother Superman”. I had a soul band when I was very young named “Happy Betty and the Vips” and the name stuck on me since.
I have tough times behind me: I’ve been ill, poor, desperate, alone, involved in weird episodes. But it’s ok: sometimes you have to experience the bad, so that you can learn to appreciate the good things that enter into your life. I got to know true happiness only some years ago and I can say that now I am happy. Regarding the future, I’m not afraid to die and when your time comes, there’s nothing you can do to avoid it: it’s your destiny. So, give the best you have until you can! In a few years I hope I’ll be wiser than today. This is my only goal: to be happy for what I have and what I do.
Music Authentic: You make and perform absolutely live and lively music which is quite different from what we can see at the today’s Top 40 lists (or we could but won’t mention K-pop, J-pop and who knows what). It feels and streaming industry also expressively wants artists and musicians to become mini-factories, saying quantity matters more. And honestly, we have all the software to do so. What’s your take on Machine Learning and the upcoming actual AI? Will musicians, artists ever be obsolete?
HappyBetty: To produce “software music” is in many cases a state of necessity: to find band members is often an uneasy task or you make your living with it and the more you make, the more you earn. I luckily don’t make music for money – I am not under this pressure. I need music to express my feelings or as an exhaust pipe for my frustrations.
“Sometimes your circle decreases in size but increases in value”. Musicians who have never been in a proper band before and/or never toured are missing a huge life experience that changes their relationship with the world of music and with other humans! Being in a live performing band makes you a team player and you can learn how to make compromises and be more enduring.
As for me, I will never choose a computer as a band member since I need the interpersonal skills of other humans to become a better one. This is also the reason why I do not have a recording studio at home.
To me what matters is the quality, not the quantity. The number of songs I’ve written that did not make it to the recording studio? I honestly don’t give a toss about what people or music industry think about it. All my songs are composed by me, an actual human being. They come from my brain only: no tricks, no machines, no artificial help. I wake up one fine day and I have a song in the old school rock and roll way. What you hear is what you get also on stage: a piece of me, not a machine. Up until there are people in the audience who feel this way, music keeps alive.
Music Authentic: Is there any difference between an artist and a musician? Which one are you more?
HappyBetty: I am not sure if I’m an artist: as a songwriter and a live performing musician I’m down-to- earth and I like to entertain people. Maybe “artists” have a more philosophical, visionary attitude towards music. A musician may be an artist, too. An artist is not necessarily a musician.
Music Authentic: As an indie you have the best opportunities these days, however, no one will ever come to say – as it happened in the past – “let me be your manager and we will make it”. So, wearing several hats is the part of everyday just to get to the surface of recognition. How hard is it for you?
HappyBetty: Being an indie is very, very hard and you had better not have any expectations. Sadly, many in the music field want just to use you for their own purposes, not to be music messengers or supporters. Like many other indies, I had upsetting experiences with radios, labels and so on. Sometimes there is no other way for a band that makes unconventional music like us just to do it ourselves
(the interview continues with more interesting questions and ideas below the photo – so, keep reading!)
Music Authentic: How hard is it as an active musician to learn how to publish, advertise and sell your own songs?
HappyBetty: It took me ages to get how it all works and it’s even more difficult if you are non-native English speaker. Luckily, there are some indie fellow musicians on Twitter who are huge team players and assisted me in an extraordinary way. Without them – you know who you are! – it wouldn’t have been possible for us to go any further.
Music Authentic: Are lyrics more simplistic these days making listeners numb and dumb?
HappyBetty: No, not really. I noticed on the contrary: lyrics are often more important than music. There are beautiful songs out there with heartbreaking lyrics and many of them are by indies!
Music Authentic: Let’s have some lighter tone questions! Would you rather live in the Earth in 20 years or be the part of the first Mars colony?
HappyBetty: As a huge Sci-Fi fan of course I’d choose to go to Mars!
Music Authentic: If you had a chance to play a superhero character in a movie or a series, whom would you choose?
HappyBetty: I have never been a fan of superheroes and comics; I find them extremely boring LOL! But… If I must choose, I would like to be Silver Surfer.
Music Authentic: Whose story had a great effect on your life?
HappyBetty: All people I meet every day have a great effect on me.
Music Authentic: Which artist do you recommend to listen to from the past or the contemporary era and why?
HappyBetty: In my personal opinion, to become an accomplished musician it’s essential to get back to the roots. Classical music is important. I personally am a big gospel fan, too, and I’ve learned to appreciate folk and blues; so I would recommend getting familiar with those sounds.
Music Authentic: Will you make a concept album or just singles in the future?
HappyBetty: It depends on inspiration and on money!
Music Authentic: Old values, so-called “traditions” seem to be over or at least put under the microscope saying “no more”. Where do you think our societies will be in the future?
HappyBetty: Austria is a small country and still very bound to traditions. As for me, I like it and I myself am a bit “conservative”, in some fields. We humans are usually critical and resistant to change and in our lives mostly led by simple emotions. Traditions differ from country to country; I fully respect them, nevertheless, some of them are basically just barbaric and uncivilized and it’s high time to get rid of them. It would be nice to have one language, one God, one coin, one tradition, one country. We are all citizens of a global world; we all have a stake in the future of a planet that we are obviously incapable of governing. Maybe less ego-talk and more willingness to listen would be a good way to start..
Music Authentic: What do you think the hardest challenges in society are these days?
HappyBetty: To treat people, animals and Nature with respect and to be kind to all.
Music Authentic: If you were the Prime Minister what would you start a change with?
HappyBetty: I would bind citizens by the age of 18 to attend a conflict resolution course to learn how to peacefully cope with different opinions.
Music Authentic: What things have been the greatest achievements for you through your art so far and what else would you like to accomplish?
HappyBetty: I was able to meet some nice musicians (and some bad ones, too!) and I was able to understand how group dynamics work, how to benefit from the strengths and weaknesses of band members and to learn from their and my mistakes. In the future, I really would like to get back on stage at a very big festival, nevermind where.
Music Authentic: Let’s wrap our interview up with a positive vibe: Any important project you are working on these days? What makes it precious for you?
HappyBetty: We are busy with shooting a video and recording a cover by a wonderful band from the ’70 that I love very much. We have already recorded a second single that will come out in autumn, a third single is planned to come out next year – a hard-rock song, again.
Music Authentic: How do you like spending your free time, what can really refresh you?
HappyBetty: Staying at home! My home is like my second skin: I like to read, to watch documentaries, to cook, to clean, to talk to my partner, to play music, to listen to music. Basically, as much as I like human contacts, I also need very much to keep distances and stay on my own to recharge the batteries. When I feel the need to be among people, I like going to concerts and small parties at my friends’. I’ve always avoided big crowds; I prefer small circles.
Music Authentic: What is your message to encourage others?
HappyBetty: I’m the last person on earth suited for encouraging or giving suggestions. I have myself still a lot to learn.