Rui Pedro is a Toronto-based guitarist and composer who specializes in instrumental rock music. He is also, miraculously, a two-time cancer survivor who lost his ability to speak due to throat cancer (hence the name of his band, “Mute Sounds”).
A former percussionist and back-up vocalist, Rui had to start over in his musical endeavours five years ago after throat cancer took away his voice. He started teaching himself how to play guitar in almost record time through resilience and hard work.
As the guitarist, founder and leader of his band Mute Sounds, he has a busy work schedule of band rehearsals, gigs and recording sessions in Toronto, which is a testament to the strength of his character and the resilience of his spirit.
Rui took time out of his busy schedule of band rehearsals, gigs and recording to spend time with me during this interview.
Where are you from and how did you get into music?
I’m from a small town close to Lisbon called Caldas da Rainha in Portugal.
I got into music because of my father. He used to be an accordion player and he played the bugle when he was in the army. When I was around 6, 7 years old he bought a keyboard and started to teach me some songs, all by ear, because he never learned how to read music.
In addition to being a guitarist, what other instruments do you play?
I played Peruvian Cajon for many years plus some other percussion instruments such as flute and keyboards. However, I can’t play keyboards as well as I used to when I was a kid – only the basics now.
Who are your favourite musical artists, both past and present?
Artists, not bands, right?! So, Gary Moore, Dave Grohl, Slash, Joe Satriani, Corey Taylor and a Portuguese singer named Rui Veloso. He’s amazing.
Are there any relatively unknown (i.e., indie) musical artists that you’re a fan of?
There’s a band in Portugal who are pretty famous there. However, I think they deserve more recognition outside of Portugal. They’re called The Black Mamba. There’s a lot of blues/soul and funky influences in their songs.
And most of their songs are in English. I love their music.
How long have you been playing guitar and how many years did it take you to develop your own “voice” as a guitarist?
I started to play guitar during the biggest battle of my life, 5 years ago. I started teaching myself through YouTube videos the basics and then tried replicating the songs I like on the guitar by ear.
However, I started making my own songs right from the beginning and at the same time, played live with cover bands, but only with acoustic guitar – no leads. I wasn’t yet able to play leads, just chords.
And since I started to play, my strumming techniques were very distinct from other guitarists – probably because I played percussion for so many years.
But that gave me my own voice as a guitarist, so I started to become known for my playing style as well as my stage energy. Then, I came back to Toronto in 2018, and I started to play leads about 2 years ago.
You’ve had cancer twice. The second time, your throat cancer took away your ability to speak. Did you sing at all prior to your cancer experience? If “yes”, does your guitar style (particularly your lead playing) reflect what you would have sung as a vocalist if it weren’t for your cancer?
Yes, I used to sing. I used to do backup vocals and I used to sing karaoke too. I almost got into a band to be the lead singer, but at the time I was more focused on percussion.
And yes, I think my singing experience does reflect itself in my lead parts. I’m always looking for harmonies…of course it has to be in the same key, but I’m always looking for what I like to call “second voices”.
Are there any tips you can give to any aspiring guitarists who may be reading this interview? For example, do you have any warm-up exercises you like to use?
Warm ups are always good, but the best advice I can give is to be patient. Don’t look for shortcuts to play faster and always be honest with yourself.
You will play faster and you will play better, but it takes time and a lot of dedication. There will be times when you’ll feel like breaking your guitar in half…don’t! That’s the moment you need to stop and start again the next day. Again, be patient.
Who are your influences as a guitarist?
Gary Moore, Joe Satriani, Slash, Jonny Greenwood and Santana.
Can you give us a breakdown of your guitar gear (i.e., guitars, amps, pedals)?
Sure. My main guitar is an Epiphone Les Paul 2020 Gold Top Standard 50’s. For small gigs, I use my Boss Katana 100, and for big stages, my Marshall MG Series 100 Combo. In terms of pedals, here’s the list:
- Donner DT1 Chromatic Tuner
- Joyo Vintage Overdrive
- MXR Super Badass Distortion
- Digitech Whammy DT
- Dunlop Cry Baby
- TC Electronic Spark Mini Booster
- Rowin Noise Gate
- Donner Mod Square
- Donner Digital Reverb Verb Square 7
- Joyo Analog Delay
- Donner Viper Volume & Expression Pedal
Which artists have influenced your songwriting?
Joe Satriani, Radiohead, Foo Fighters, Pearl Jam, Limp Bizkit
How do you go about composing your songs? Do you consciously sit down and treat writing a song like a full-time job or do your songs come from sudden inspiration (or maybe a mix of both)?
Definitely a mix of both. Music is my full-time job, so If I’m not practicing or doing something related to music, I sit and I start expressing my feelings through chords. I always record everything with my smartphone, because you never know when today’s throwaway idea today might become something great tomorrow.
Are there any specific tips that you can give to aspiring songwriters who may be reading this interview?
In my case, I write songs, not lyrics. With that being said, you should always make a recording our write out your musical ideas on paper.
You can write 3 or 4 verses, and during the day you wrote them, you may think they are garbage. But if you documented what you wrote, you can return to those 3 or 4 versus later and they might fit perfectly in that new song you’re writing.
You’re currently based in Toronto, Canada. What’s the music scene like in Toronto right now?
I came back to Toronto because I’ve always felt that this town, honestly, not only the town, but the country of Canada itself, has valued artists much more so than Portugal.
Portugal is a small country with a lot of talent, but most of the people are still attached to an old mentality. On the other hand, Canada, its multiple cultures, looks upon artists with more respect and appreciation.
I’m going to give you an example: I can’t speak, due to the throat cancer that I had, but 1 month after I landed in Toronto, I was hosting an open mic on a bar!
I made a setlist with all the songs I knew on the guitar, and if anyone wanted to sing, I would play the song while that person sung.
That surprised me a lot. It showed me that everyone is treated the same here. Unfortunately, in my country, it’s way different.
I can’t complain, because I gave more than 200 concerts during 2 years back in Portugal, but most times it was with a singer, not as a solo act.
If Mute Sounds of the year 2021 could sit down with Rui Pedro of the year 2011 for a beer, what advice would he give to his younger self based on what he’s learned and experienced (both good and bad) over the past 10 years?
That’s a great question, Lee. It would be something like this (and let me apologize for my “French”): “Value yourself and stop being a pussy. Focus on your goals, focus on what really matters, and don’t give a shit about the haters, because that will hold you down.”
What are your short-term (within a year), medium-term (within 5 years) and long-term (within 10 years) professional goals?
Short-term, I’ll have to go with my growth as a guitar player. This will always be a “short-term” goal because music is an endless learning experience.
Medium-term, have my band Mute Sounds become nationally well-known and well-established in Canada.
Long-Term, touring worldwide. And I’ll work with all that I have to reach all those goals.
Thanks for this amazing interview Lee, it was a pleasure my friend! You Rock!
And of course, you can listen to his music over at Spotify.