Henrique Couto Strips Down to His Ukulele
By Kyle Melton
While Dayton has long served as a breeding ground for musicians employing a bevy of instruments from guitars to synths to mandolins, the humble four-string ukulele seems to have made little impact on Dayton music. Armed with an amplified version of the ukulele, one exceptionally flamboyant individual seeks to change all that: Henrique Couto.
A Dayton native, Couto relocated to New Jersey several years ago and found work as an editor in the exploitation film industry. Although the cost of living finally caught up with him, forcing him to return to Dayton, before his departure from the East Coast, Couto took up an instrument that redefined his life course: the ukulele.
“I started playing ukulele just about three years ago,” Couto recalled. “It is amazing what severe boredom and an abysmal dating life will do. I played my first open mic in Philadelphia just before I moved back to Ohio, and I became hooked on it ever since.”
As one of the few [if only] acts performing primarily armed with a ukulele in the Miami Valley, the multi-talented Henrique Couto does not tread on the familiar territory of notable ukulele practitioners such as ‘60s icon Tiny Tim, but rather seeks to establish his own form of bizarre presentation.
“When people see the uke, a lot of times they expect a kind of novelty act,” admitted Couto. “They expect ironic cover songs, and they almost always bring up ‘Tiptoe Through the Tulips.’ Those issues are starting to disappear though, as ukulele is getting more and more mainstream thanks to acts like Julia Nunes and Danielle Ate the Sandwich, two talented singer/songwriters who branch away from comedy very well.”
Although Couto does not shy away from spectacle with songs such as “Miley Cyrus is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child,” his use of an amplified ukulele certainly distances him from the traditional connotations of the instrument. Earlier this year, he self-released his debut album, “Uke or Consequences,” aided by his backing band, The Tallywacker Express. In promoting his album, Couto embraces every potential opportunity to turn people on to his music.
“I’ve found the best way to get word out is to leave the house as much as possible.” admitted Couto. “Play open mics or play on the street to try to let people see what you are doing; of course my main promotion tactic is more specific to me. I have a pretty apparent appearance and style and I can be a little bit abrasive. I will meet people at the store, in line at the post office, nearly anywhere and entertain them just a little bit. If they start to express interest in me, I point out the performances and releases I am involved in and try to get them involved. A lot of the shows I play I catch people I met at the post office, a lot more than I ever thought possible.”
While earning a reputation around Dayton performing on the ukulele, Couto’s muse also has led him down a path that includes film production. In addition to the two music videos he’s produced – for “Drunk Girl” and “Miley Cyrus is Pregnant with My Two-Headed Love Child,” respectively – Couto also recently issued the feature film, “Faces of Schlock,” which is out nationally via Independent Entertainment. A recent local screening of his film “Slay Ride” for Horrorama at Englewood Cinemas, however, caused a minor uproar due to its perceived imbalance between nudity and violence amongst the audience.
“The films before it featured gallons of blood, relentless murder, and rape,” explained Couto. “My film received complaints from a small portion of the audience … because I showed naked women; two fully nude women with shaved pubic hair to be exact. The opening shower scene in the film is extra long as a sort of tongue-in-cheek take on exploitation films. When the girl finally gets stabbed to death, the audiences seemed to be relieved. Isn’t that wild? We have some really screwy ideas of what is acceptable and what isn’t. I didn’t put naked people in my film to be a sleaze, I put them in my film because people want to see other people naked. They may pretend they don’t, but EVERYONE is more interesting when they are naked.”
Although some may find Couto’s current use of nudity in his films and his previous work in exploitation films morally questionable, his work in the latter engrained in him a work ethic that has translated into his musical endeavors.
“Exploitation films are all about giving a specific audience specifically what they want, and that is what I try to do with my work in music and film,” explained Couto. “I believe that when you have an audience that likes what you do, you have to respect them and never short change them. Don’t get caught up in any sense of entitlement, be thankful every day that even 10 or 20 people come to your show or buy your CD, because they can feel the appreciation and they’ll always come back for more.”
For more information on the music and films of Henrique Couto, visit www.ukeordie.com.
Reach DCP freelance writer Kyle Melton at email@example.com.