Rhythms of a Brazilian dream
Through an interesting and serendipitous chain of events, a Canby native has watched a small dream he thought unattainable, come to fruition.
When Justin Hansen graduated from Canby High School in 2007, he embarked on a journey that took him to many places – Eugene, Chile, Indonesia – before depositing him in Brazil and placing an opportunity to rekindle a lost love right in his lap.
The result has been a musical career in Brazil with a band called "The Gringos," who are enjoying local and regional success – and a desire to expand in 2018.
To say it's been a long, strange trip is to not do the experience justice.
"Boy, has it been an interesting and exciting experience," said Hansen, who was visiting his parents over Christmas.
In high school, Hansen and some friends had a garage band and did a little gigging around the area. He played bass and the music bug kind of bit him.
"I remember one of our first gigs," he said. "It was the homecoming parade my sophomore year when we played on a trailer running around the city. It was a little tough playing as the truck kind of bounced around, but it was a fun experience."
After high school, Hansen attended the University of Oregon, where he majored in Spanish and Latin American studies. During that time, he took a class to learn Portuguese, which planted the seed for a Brazilian visit someday.
Little did he know that this seed would soon grow into a musical journey he thought long gone.
"I joined the Peace Corps out of college and they sent me to Indonesia, where I taught English for two years," he said. "It was my first experience teaching, but I was still interested in going to Latin America, so I looked for teaching jobs so I could travel abroad."
Well, as luck would have it, there was an opening in Brazil. And that opening came with some fellow teachers and administrators who were musically inclined. They had a small band but were looking for a bass player.
Enter Hansen's application that noted under the "hobbies and other interests" section his musical background and experience as a bass player.
"They told me to bring my bass and we could jam and play a little bit," said Hansen. "I remember that first night I was there, I was already learning some of their songs. I lived with the lead singer and one of our guitar players. It was pretty cool."
And that's how "The Gringos" got rolling. Three days after Hansen arrived in Brazil, the band had its first gig. That was in August 2014.
"We started playing small little bars around the area," he said. "Over time we've gained a pretty solid following in the region and have started expanding into neighboring states."
The group's first album came in 2015. It's second, "The Animal Kingdom," dropped this past year.
"We've continued to evolve our sound as a band," said Hansen. "There's a big difference between our first and second albums. And in 2017 we signed with a nationwide label and did a big show near Brasilia, which was pretty cool."
While Hansen continues to teach, the goal is to make the band a full-time profession moving forward. The Gringos deliver a fusion of psychedelic blues rock, according to Hansen, with influences "from our roots here in the U.S. We take influences from classic rock, blues and jazz."
Hansen noted that there are a lot of genres of music in Brazil, but there are also many similarities to America in the music scene. Groups like RUSH, The Doors, Pink Floyd and other classic rock bands are very popular in Brazil. Hansen also noted that as a bass player, his work seems to be a little more dialed-into in Brazil.
"I feel that, as a bassist, my instrument and role in the band is more heard and more appreciated because rhythm is such a vital part of music in Brazil," he explained. "It's more appreciated than it might be here (in the U.S.). And people dance more in Brazil. It's a dancing culture and they'll dance anytime they can. But the two musical cultures are the same in other ways."
The Gringos' first two albums were recorded in a home studio with the band creating the music and producing the albums. They have about six songs in the works for the next album, which Hansen said will likely start recording the middle of 2018. Also in the new year, the band is looking to get a tour going, either around Brazil or South America. They are also looking into the possibility of playing Europe or the United States.
"Going international is the name of the game for us at this point," said Hansen.
For now, the band will play in support of "The Animal Kingdom," a work that Hansen said is a concept album.
"On this album we focused on some 'soundscapes' between the songs, so that this album will be a full listening experience for people," he said. "A lot of the sounds we created in the studio. This album tells a story about beings coming from outer space to have the human experience on earth – an outside perspective and how humans fit into the animal kingdom."
From the family home on Meridian Road between Canby and Aurora to concert venues in Brazil, it's easy to see that Justin Hansen has had quite a journey. It's a journey he's excited to continue even as he recognizes that it almost didn't take place.
"I have been pleasantly surprised," he said about what has transpired. "I always wanted to do music. In the Peace Corps I kind of accepted reality that it wasn't going to happen.
"When this kind of came up, I thought 'Oh, this will be cool,'" he added. "I didn't have any expectations at first, but now things have taken off and it has been very, very exciting.
"It's also been a challenge as we grow as musicians and also learn the business side of things," he added.