Os Mutantes Profile Page
|Cover||Artist / Album||Category||Rating||User Rating||Buy|
|Cover||Artist / Album||Category||Rating||User Rating||Buy|
A Conversation with Sérgio Dias of Os Mutantes
Before the long-running style Musica Popular Brasileira settled in as Brazil's national favorite, evolved a form of boundary-shattering multi-dimensional pop art music called Tropicalia. A combination of classical, folk, rock, samba, and bossa nova, Tropicalia thrived in the governmentally terrorized country for only a brief period.
In the mid-60s leading the way of this music was the giddily experimental Os Mutantes, which began as a trio made up of brothers Sérgio (guitar and bass) and Arnaldo Dias Baptista (keyboard and bass), and Rita Lee (vocal, percussion, and effects). The group started out as part of Six-Sided Rockers, but expanded from there with Os Mutantes' several albums of mad pop meets musique concrete.
Fans of Gilberto Gil, Caetano Veloso or Tom Ze, and recent artists such as Beck, David Byrne, and The Fiery Furnaces should not resist the band's indescribable albums (all of which are now distributed by Light In The Attic), and do everything they can to see them on tour in the United States this summer. This historic tour marks their first US visit, and first full tour in over thirty years.
We spoke with Sérgio Dias recently about the band's career, their albums, and the upcoming shows... Read on below!
Are you excited for the upcoming tour?
Oh for sure, it's going to be really nice!
What's the set-up for the new shows?
The band has ten guys. Me and Arnaldo and Dinho from the original, and then there are two keyboard players, one of them is like a multi-instrumentalist, he plays flute and recorder and cello - a bunch of instruments we need to be able to make this happen. A percussion player, Simone Soul, a girl we need who is fantastic, which we need to cover all the sound, the different parts, including the backing vocals. And there's Zélia Dunkan who is going to be our guest. Have you ever performed in the States?
Not with Mutantes. In 1967 I was at the Fillmore, watching the Ten Years After play, and now 30 years after I'm going to play there! It's even been a while since I visited North America. I think about seven years, but I was a resident in New York for eight years, starting in 1980.
Why did you leave New York?
I find that I felt better in my own country. America's like a second country for me for sure, but Brazil always gave me so much, and it's not like I was just homesick, it's more than that. At that point, America gave to me everything that it could give to me. In terms of music, and musicianship, and all this, it was very hard for me to live in America and try to make my own work, because I was always on the road and playing with this guy or with these other guys. Being a signed man takes up too much time for you to be your own artist. And that was something that I couldn't live without.
Who were you touring with in the United States?
Oh boy, a bunch of people! I toured with L. Shankar, and Far-Pareem and Alito, and also Jeremy Steig; a bunch of guys.
How did Os Mutantes get back together for this reunion?
It was kind of magic, really, because so many times so many people tried to make this thing happen. I think the complete reason is that things happen because they have to. It's not because you want to make a band that you are able to make one. For the Mutantes it is an accident. It is an act of God or whatever. It is something that does not happen every day. And I think now it's happening the same thing, but from what I've been observing, I think that the playing is going to be for the rest of the world, not just Brazil. This request didn't really come from Brazil. Especially the tour in the US, and all the things that are happening to us are pointing us outside Brazil.
Who was primarily responsible for setting up this tour?
Luaka Bop put us in touch with Tom Windish at the Windish Agency. Mutantes owe a lot to Luaka Bop, David Byrne, and Yale Evelev.
He's a great agent. When Light In The Attic started as a production company we did a lot of shows with Tom in Seattle. They seem to be really devoted fans of all the artists they represent.
Yes, we are very happy with them. And I'm hoping that this won't stop at this point. You know, Sony just called us today, and our manager's going to have a meeting with them tomorrow morning here in Brazil. They want to probably do a DVD and a CD out of the tour.
I remember you and I talked about it what must have been five years ago.
And it's wonderful to see it happening. Is your brother Arnaldo excited?
Very. It's really great to be playing and look at the side and then he's there, and then you look at the other side and Dinho is there.
Have there been any Brazilian shows?
No, we're going to play here only in the next year. We won't play in Brazil yet.
How did Os Mutantes originally form?
We had a group called the Six-Sided Rockers. We had this group that was formed by me, Arnaldo, and Rafael, and Pastura. And Sueli Chagas went to the States, moved to the States, she was our main singer. And we had to replace her with another girl. And this didn't happen, as she didn't sing as well, and we were used to Sueli, who was so good. And then we started to make pressure for her to leave because she was really bad, but unfortunately Rafael was in love with her, and so there was a dissension in the group. So she left, but he left also, and left behind me and Arnaldo and Rita. And that's how we started the Mutantes, from a sub-division of this Six-Sided Rockers band.
What influences were going on in your lives, as young people there, what specific musical and other influences were going on that helped you to create this music?
Well, we were born in a family of musicians, and of art. My mother was the first woman in the world to write a concerto for piano and orchestra. So all of our childhood, our cradle was classical. And my father was also a great tenor singer and a great poet. We were always involved with everything in terms of music. We were always in the Municipal Theatre here, and our entire family was very artistic, verses or write, or several different types of music. My grandfather was a viola player here, not a viola from classical, but a viola from the country here, it's an instrument that we have here, kind of a twelve string but with ten strings. With a different key - like the one that we use in 2001. Regional music. So we were totally involved with these things, like on Sundays like when the spalla from the orchestra would come and play, my mother would come and play, my father would sing, some guy would be performing. It was incredible, it was like being backstage all the time!
What about pop influences?
Sure, all the time. We were listening to all the music. We would listen to things like the old Samba singers, the old school of Brazilian popular music, there was also a lot of jazz also influencing us, David Brubeck, Les Paul, Alek Baksik, Nat King Cole a lot, Jimmy Smith, we were so much into them. Everly Brothers, Brenda Lee, all of it. We drank music, man. Rock and roll influenced us. I think I got stinged by Elvis a little bit, when I heard "Jailhouse Rock" for the first time when I was five. I remember that I was throwing a pillow and jumping up and down on the couch of my aunt, for like an entire afternoon, just listening to "Jailhouse Rock."
Would that be on Brazilian radio?
No, it was a single that my cousin bought, and I think that was the first real bug of the rock and roll thing, was "Jailhouse Rock" for me. It blew my mind.
Was it hard to find those records in Brazil?
Yeah. We used to tune the short waves into the BBC a lot to be able to get the notion of what was going on. It was our Internet! Short wave was great.
What about when American rock and roll and the British Invasion started happening, was that seeping through the airwaves?
God, when the Yardbirds came out I remember learning "Jeff's Boogie"! That was such a challenge. Also, the Ventures were very influential on my playing. The two guys that most influenced me would be Nokie Edwards from the Ventures, and George Harrison I believe.
When did you see that something new was happening with the music that you were doing with Os Mutantes?
It was immediate. While we were doing that, we were having a huge response in every aspect. There were so many people against us, also so many people for us. It was easy to see what we were doing was something important. When you see so many people throwing things into the news, you know you're doing something right! But they were trying hard to put us out of business. There was several rallies against guitars! Gilberto Gil was in one of them. He was in the first one. And then later he played with us.
Gilberto Gil was in a rally AGAINST guitars?
Yes, because they felt trapped in a vice by the Americanism of guitars, and that was not very national, and all this stuff. All those phobias, those crazy things about being too influenced by the Americans. But on the other hand, we were very much influenced by the English bands, not so much the Americans. But it was great, man.
What about radio? Were your records being played then?
No. What is happening now is really a great and important thing. If you look especially as an historian especially of the music business, Mutantes is everything you can say that is wrong as a producer, or a company A&R guy or whatever. We never played in radio, we don't have a golden album, we never had a 'hit' - and we are so damn important. Because we now live in an area in Brazil where all the music is so pasteurized, everything is played because of payola, everybody pays the radio to play. The system of corruption in the business is so firm, so strong, and so institutionalized, that it is devastation in terms of the creativity. And it is great to now be in the spotlight, without doing any of those things. We are living proof that the system is wrong.
It's very similar in the United States. For your records, fans spread by word of mouth, basically.
That's beautiful you know, because on the other hand you see everyone there preparing everything, the Milli Vanillis, and all this stuff, the business is awful. Can you imagine Jimi Hendrix coming up to a record company today with a demo under his arm, and say, "Hey my man, I want to play you 'Are You Experienced?'" and play them a song like that which is 15 minutes long? He wouldn't have a chance.
When did you first hear about this younger generation outside Brazil digging Os Mutantes?
It started to pop up like popcorn, really. Suddenly, I receive an e-mail from some guy in Iowa, you know, some guy 16 years old saying if I was from the Mutantes, and he had heard the album somewhere. Kurt Cobain started to cite our band as an influence, and then L7, I think David Byrne, so many people. It's such a beautiful thing seeing our music touching so many people that are opinion-formers, the people that are creating the new stuff, the avant-garde, are basically the guys who are discovering us, and that is very humbling, it's a very big honor for us.
Do you hear Mutantes in the groups of today?
It's hard. I want to be able to spot this and say okay, this is - definitely, in Brazil there are many bands influenced by Mutantes. I don't know about there (America). I know we've had an affect on Sebastian - what's his name?
Belle & Sebastian?
Yes, that's right, Belle & Sebastian. They recorded some stuff. And I listened to it and I saw that they sampled my guitar, going 'da da da da,' and that's me playing there. And I was like, 'Wow! Why didn't the guy play that, it's so simple?' But I think it has something to do with the sound, you know?
How was the first Mutantes album received in Brazil? I know you had fans, but was there a general population consensus regarding it?
Nothing much, man, it didn't really - it wasn't played on the radio,, we didn't sell a bunch of albums, it was just. Now is happening much more, to our own lives. You know a difference between passion and love? Normally passion is like a huge fire, right? Love is simply that is building, it builds. And I believe that Mutantes albums were like a falling in love situation, if you know what I mean.
Do you have a particular album that's your favorite that you recorded with Os Mutantes?
No, it's impossible to pick. It wouldn't be possible for me to put a finger on one. They're all so magical, especially now you know playing again and using a guitar with all the sounds, I'm amazed, with the amount of things that we did, at such an early age it was really amazing, to see what I was playing when I was 16, 17 years old. And to then reproduce it is great. I was 16 or 17 around the time of the first album, as was Arnaldo.
Some of the arrangements on the records are so incredible.
It is, and that's the great stuff that we're going to do - we're going to do all the impossible ones live! We're going to play the hard ones, all the real difficult ones.
Are you going to use any of the electronic instruments that your brother Claudio originally built?
All of it!
What was going in Brazil in the mid-60s?
I don't know, man. Honestly, because what happened here in terms of politics, is that there was a coup de tat, which was awful. It was very difficult to deal with, my father was arrested, he was a politician. It was very, very bad. And there was a lot of traps against us, always the chance of being tortured. It was very bad in Brazil. It was really a shame. We should have fought more against it.
What gets me is that you were able to continue making this music through a period of time in which it would have been very easy to remain silent.
It's true, but the thing is, you cannot give up yourself. You can give up art, but not yourself. And so we would pay the price if it came to that. But even if we were going to have to pay with our lives or whatever, especially when you're young you don't measure the consequence. You just do what you have to do. The great advantage of being young is feeling indestructible. And you know, in reality you are.
How do you mean?
The concept of fear is basically what stops you. And that's basically what we learn when we get older is fear. Fear is the first enemy of everything. And in the end, we are indestructible through the things that we do, through the things that we leave, how we influence people, how we change the DNA, all of this, your involvement in life changes people.
It's totally amazing the way that things have started to fit, it's like a puzzle. Suddenly, it's like if you throw all the things in the air, and they start to fall into the right positions by themselves.
You know what's fantastic to observe, to see, is to see it happening twice. When it happens the first time you just live it, but now you can observe it, now you can see the wheel of fortune, the wheel of life, moving - and it is something that is a sight to see, especially when you're more mature, you know that this all has nothing to do with you, you know?
When Gilberto Gil and other bands were forced to leave Brazil in the early 70s, did you ever think that Os Mutantes were next?
Oh sure! We were warned that we were going to be next - not only leaving the country, but being tortured, and all this.
To actually create and perform under those conditions, it must have been very tense.
Well, you guys were doing your own job also there. You were also facing a coup de tat, because if you think of Kennedy's death. You cannot think of this being an accident. The coup de tat that was happening to the entire world at the time was basically generated in America, and that came over to the entire South America, the coup de tat wasn't only in Brazil. It was in Chile, Argentina, it was all over; the idea of not allowing the world to be Communist. And I think that you guys were having a lot of troubles also with the Vietnam stuff, it was kind of the same, imagine tomorrow if you were leaving to Kuwait or to the Gulf. There are a lot of guys who are passing through this now.
It is very hard for me to see, because I love so much America man. I owe so much to the States you know for so many of the principles, the principle of liberation that France took from you guys. And that was a beautiful harvest for the entire world. And the harvest is hard to see now. America is suffering so much, so many times losing its own original feeling. For us, we are outside, and we see this happening, and it was so sad.
I remember when Kennedy died and they sent us home, that was here in Brazil, in the middle of the afternoon, and we didn't know why they were sending us home. And when we arrived at home we knew that Kennedy was shot. And they declared an official three days of mourning in Brazil. That's an amazing thing, because you know so many people don't like Bush, and what he's doing with foreign policy and all this, but can you imagine the respect that Kennedy had, for Brazil to declare a three day period of mourning, for your president that had been killed. America had such a beautiful charisma, it has it still. It's nothing that can't be relived. Os Mutantes are living proof that things can happen again!
I wanted to ask you about the trippy effects and the use of acid on the music of Os Mutantes.
No, no, no, no, no. We never used anything. We were totally straight until the A to Z album. I think we were much more creative without the LSD than we were with the LSD.
Really? How so?
I think we were more, how can I say that, it's a tough question. It's hard to define something like that so pinpointed, what I would say is that with LSD you lose a lot of your own identity, yourself, and the self could not work too much maybe for the Zen side. But the individuality of the performers, they were extremely important. It's okay, you might have a more homogenous and unified spiritual presence on the A to Z album or whatever, or under the influence of LSD, but I wouldn't say that this would be as good a contribution as a band that is formed by three or four or five individuals that are real, totally integral in their individualities, but they give themselves willingly to each other. The willingness I think is the key of the thing. I think the last thing that the Beatles said, is a very important thing, it's a great legacy, that the love you take is equal to the love you make. Because it is the last thing the Beatles said on Abbey Road, their final album together.
For you, what are the essential albums of the Tropicalia days?
Well, gosh, all of the early albums are extremely important for those early stages. The Tropicalia album was very important, our first five records, there's also Gal's album which was great. Caetano, no doubt, And there was a single that was made, a double single, which has like four songs, which is a very important record. That was by Mutantes and Caetano Veloso (Caetano Veloso E Os Mutantes Ao Vivo / Philips, 1968).
We were in a small nightclub in Rio, and we did this, we performed there, and that was where I performed the bloody national anthem, and that was their reason for putting Caetano in jail.
Tell us about Os Mutantes performing on Brazilian television.
We did a lot of television. And there was a time that we had a TV show, for a very small period of time, before Caetano was arrested and all of this, but it was a show, we had no script for it, we decided to do whatever we wanted to do, and it was live. It was great. So we were there with a bunch of guys and suddenly we would say, 'Okay, what are we going to do next?' So we grab like Tim Maia, Jorge Ben, and Mutantes, and we improvise, and that was television live. And it was really great.
I wish I could see that.
Well, it was all burned, unfortunately.
That's so sad.
Well, maybe when we're in the States we can make CBS open up their studios for us for a new show (laughter)!
That would be wonderful! But at least with this tour you'll be able to get out and play some music for your fans again.
Oh, it's going to be lovely, man. The shit is that you cannot put everybody in the same bag! I wish I could be with my friends in America, and I wish I could be with my friends here in Brazil, it's too bad it's so far. All those VISA things, the barriers, it's too difficult. But it's going to be great to be in the States again!
Thanks so much for the wonderful conversation.
It's my pleasure. It will be great to meet you there!