Os Mutantes founder Sérgio Dias talks new album and American politics
Songwriter talks about the Las Vegas strip and forgetting the lyrics
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AUSTIN -- Os Mutantes have mutated, literally, over the course of their long history. This week marks another morphing, with the release of the Brazilian band's "Fool Metal Jack," which features founder Sérgio Dias and company performing the most English-speaking songs of any of their studio albums.
The psychedelia and Tropicália roots stemming from Os Mutantes' formation in 1966 are still there, but the personnel of the band -- even since reuniting in 2006 -- has changed. The political voice has become stronger, if not just more matured. The bobbing buoyancy has more and more hints of melancholy. After decades of influencing artists like Nirvana, David Byrne, Jimi Hendrix and Beck, Os Mutantes (Dias at least) has allowed in new influencers to the group's music, collaborating with Tom Zé, Of Montreal, Devendra Banhart and others.
I sat down with Dias, 61, over the weekend at the loud and buzzing Austin Psych Fest, where the band helped headline. We talked about "Fool Metal Jack" -- out today (April 30) -- American politics, changing band members, Paris and forgetting lyrics.
Listen to "Fool Metal Jack" in full here.
This new album has the most English language songs of anything you guys have ever done. Was there a conscious choice there, that you wanted to do something that was distinctly English speaking? And why?
I’m living here. I’m living in Las Vegas. Basically been seeing so much of the U.S. and all, the way that this is affecting the United States and myself and that’s basically what I’m talking about in the album. The first song “The Dream Is Gone” is about foreclosures. And then “Fool Metal Jack” is about you see those kids born in the Plains, dress up in the military full clothing and they have pimples and they have no idea what it is really war. And it’s been so many of them and so far nobody understands it yet. And so I made myself the “Fool Metal Jack” so I’m dying there. So it’s very graphic. And "Ganjaman" is about us and the political situation here, like Thomas Jefferson is coming from the dead for a new revolution.
I wonder what the Fathers of the nation would think of what is happening now. Kennedy died in ‘63 and I remember in Brazil we had like a three days of national mourning. That was impressive for a foreign leader. And so I always wonder now, what would happen if something happened, if we would still have the same kind of feedback? The U.S.A. is the front of the line of the world now so there’s a lot of responsibility. How do you present yourself? How do you manage to be a leader?
So it’s very important not to forget how to be like the common people, common normal people because this is a place where there’s so much beauty and because of “by the people, for the people,” and all this. But now there’s so [many] things happening. Knowing Brazil, for example, our coup d’état, but now I see the Patriot Act, for example, that takes your guys’ rights. U.S.A. is a place where you normally get a yes as an answer. In Brazil you normally get a no, whatever you want to do is no. Even after the coup d’état died, or in ‘86, there’s a lot of remains of it, which is basically the worst is corruption. Very, very bad there.
There’s been such a political change even since you guys got back together in 2006. That is seven years of massive political change. There are so many outright political songs on this because it is overtly American, not just English-speaking.
The Bush Era was a disaster for this country I think. It was very bad. I don’t know if it’s healthy just to go for revenge. How can I say – practical. And America’s a very practical country. As a leader, you have sometimes to understand or try to understand the rest of the universe that you’re being leaders. With the Bush’s was, was so hard. I don’t understand how you guys didn’t rise up with the war stuff first, because the thing was weird.
Some people did. And that’s part of the atmosphere here: you’d think it would make a difference.
I know what it is to be in fear all the time, in Brazil for example. Even though we would be defiant, I don’t think that’s a good thing for America. You guys have to throw this fear away because it doesn’t make any sense. Because of what it is for me to be an American. So many movements came from you -- the freedom thing, [civil] rights, the women liberation, resistance to Vietnam and all this, which was fantastic. You guys were very active because of your own freedom.
Talk about musically how you have changed between now and your last album four years ago.
Well, it’s a totally different this album from the others. I don’t know because I don’t think of it when I’m writing. It just writes and that’s how I let the music come.
What lessons did you learn? What challenge did you take from on your last album that you felt like you applied to this one?
I learned that I should always be faithful to my own music – always. Whatever what – no matter what. A lot of people try to influence this album saying that we should go to this direction, to other direction or whatever. And I just stood there and I said, “No, no, no.”
It’s been like this, in the past I had people saying, “Why don’t you make a song like the Bee Gees” or something like that. That would be the same as, “Why don’t you make something like Kurt Cobain or whatever.“ It doesn’t make any sense to us, you know.
You’ve collaborated with a lot of new artists and a lot of artists have cited you as an influence on their music. Is there any musical artists today that inspire you?
Anoushka Shankar. She just did an album called “Traveling.” And what she did is she mixed the Indian music and the mastering of it with the flamenco thing. And that was a wow because they’re close, but they’re so distant. I mean, and you see like her playing on a sitar what Paco de Lucia would be playing on an acoustic guitar. It is extremely inspiring
Have there been many artist that you’ve wanted to collaborate with, that you have plans to collaborate with?
I want to collaborate with the guys in the subways in Paris, you know. Because it’s outrageously good. I saw this guy, he was an accordion player. Outrageous. And there were some guys at the bridge just playing flutes. And just – they’re magical. Very magical.
You’ve got a new album out this week. Do you get nervous with the release of new music now, even 50 years on?
I’m scared to death because I’m awful with lyrics and I’m scared sh*tless, pardon my French, because I know I’m gonna f*ck up.
Do you have any tricks that you do when you think you’re about to forget them?
No, it’s like a disaster always. For example, “Balada del Loco.” My God, I always mix up, always, always. The only way is just laughing of it because I gave up.
With the personnel that you have with the band now – and it’s changed so much. What is the strength of this current incarnation, this current personnel?
I think it’s basically to be able to portrait the original things when we were kids --which is to be a kid and be young and restless, like that soap opera. And be able to be totally free, you know. They can do whatever they want. Whatever whoever wants to do, they do it. And that’s the fun of it.
So what made you move to Las Vegas?
I went there for the Grammy because we were nominated and I never stepped on my own in Vegas. I know America top to bottom but, I don’t smoke, I don’t gamble, I don’t do anything. So I had that stereotype idea of Vegas. So but when I went there and I saw the mountains, you could feel the spirit of the Indians and all the stuff. It was amazing. It blew my mind. And you go like 30 miles there you have Lake Mead. Then you go 30 miles up and you’re in the snow at Mount Charleston. And you’re so close to L.A. So close to everything. And it’s a no-traffic place which is fantastic. And you can drive intelligent. The people is warm. The people is nice. I mean, Las Vegas is the most tropical place I ever seen in my life. If you go to the strip, that’s total nonsense, which is all is what Tropicália is all about.
What factor does age play into your music? Do you ponder and work lyrics around the idea of aging at all?
Not at all. I don’t feel aged at all. I feel basically the same as I was. Of course, the body has different ideas, you know. You have like pain in your back or whatever. But I don’t know, I feel the same. It’s very good. It’s great to look back and so I look forward because my life so far has been such a magical thing. It’s been so good. I can only thank. I’ve been very lucky.