Os Mutantes always were, and still are, one of the most influential bands in the history of modern music. With their career beginning back in 1966, they remain loved and cherished by fans both old and new after over 50 years in the business. The São Paulo Tropicalia ensemble can easily claim to be one of the most recognised brands in Brazilian music and will be one of the highlights of the hotly anticipated Frontera Festival that’s due to take place next weekend at Studio 338 in North Greenwich.
We seized the opportunity to interview Sérgio Dias, founder member and band-leader throughout the eventful history of Os Mutantes.
Since his native country has found itself making the news headlines on a number of occasions in the past few months, we began our interview by asking Sérgio to describe what is going on in Brazil:
“It’s not easy to be specific for me, as I am living in the U.S. [the front man moved to Las Vegas 10 years ago], but it does seem to be six of one and half a dozen of the other. Dilma did wrong? Lula did wrong? Yes, they did, but so did the accusers. This is linked with the terrible legacy of corruption left by the Military Government that ruled from 1964 until 1986. It is a very hard evil to destroy. Fathers and sons do it without noticing it, like downloading music programs and breaking intellectual property law. As far as I can see, it is a matter of education, because it was totally destroyed by the military.
Unfortunately, it will take much more than an Impeachment to put everything in place. I don’t know, maybe Brazil needs to bleed as so many other countries in the world do to understand that what we are taking for granted today is worth our life’s sacrifice.”
When Os Mutantes were founded, music was a powerful medium to engage and raise awareness, with the band using it to change Brazil. Today, things are different:
“It is very difficult to change things through music nowadays. I remember that, 40 and 50 years ago, there were musicalTV programs and a lot of festivals. Nowadays we have basically nothing. The radio is just payola and the record companies have collapsed, thank God! The internet is the way to move.”
Os Mutantes music represents and narrates a significant period in Brazilian history, but what does being Brazilian mean to Sérgio?
“This is more than flattering, because we did not do anything for this to happen. It gives you a sense of humility. I am, we are all Brazilians, and this fact can never be replaced by any other gene or culture, we carry it in our DNA.”
The city where Os Mutantes formed is still a cultural and artistic Brazilian hub to this day. When it comes to music, São Paulo can be easily considered one of the liveliest cities in the country with some of the most famous new Brazilian acts like Criolo, Bixiga 70 and Metá Metá originating from there. We try to understand what Sérgio thinks about his city:
“I love São Paulo, but the city today is total chaos. Traffic is impossible and there are too many people living there: it has more than 20 million inhabitants! There are no jobs and the economy is stagnating. They have cut the funding for the necessary social workers and worst of all, there’s a lack of will from politicians.
The music scene relies on Government subsidies and most of the music venues are basically gone: they have all closed down, or at least the ones I knew. As I said, it is very hard for me to put my finger on when living in the U.S.”
It would take a book rather than an article to ask Sérgio what has changed since Os Mutantes were founded in 1966, but we wondered whether the musician’s approach to music has changed?
“Well in Os Mutantes, I’ve always done what I felt and wanted. I hardly followed what the commercial musical business would say, even if it was the right thing to do. If we changed or did not change our music and lyrics, it was because we felt that way, not because the music business asked us to. This is a no-touch situation for me because I always put heart and soul first, and money and recognition on the back burner, as a consequence”.
Since the birth of their second incarnation in 2006, Os Mutantes haven’t had to play the nostalgia card in order to attract a new audience. In fact, the musicians have always tried to develop a new path. We asked Sérgio how post-2006’s Os Mutantes differs from before:
“Basically we are still the same, but I don’t look back: I hate nostalgia and I like the new stuff. What would be the reason to have a band where even the new music would be directed or guided by the past? You don’t win a battle with a used strategy, you need to create to have fun!”
At the same time their fans have changed, increased in numbers and been rejuvenated:
“They are the most amazing and fantastic happening in my life. When we played at the Barbican in 2006, I thought I would meet people only of my age, but there were people of all ages: from 3-year-old kids singing ‘Ando Meio Desligado’ to the oldies like me. Actually, this is the only reason why I keep going, I feel to have a huge responsibility to them!”
So what’s the secret to their fifty-year-long appeal?
“I think it’s because of our truthfulness. We have always played music for the fun of it, for the discovery of mysteries and magic. To do this, you really need to be true to yourself or you’ll destroy all your work. For example, our latest album is dated 2013, so it’s already three years that we haven’t produced anything, but only now I feel the urge for a new record. I don’t do it if I don’t feel it. I’ve never pushed or forced myself to publish new music for the sake of it. I always merely live the sails of life waiting for the wind and then I follow it.”
As Sérgio revealed to us, it seems the creative wind has finally started to blow again:
“We will begin to record our new album in August or September this year, but I don’t know when we will finish it because I am not writing anything alone. I want to have full interaction with the band, so it will be whatever we see in each other’s eyes”.
As the interview drew to a close, we tried to figure out what the new album will sounds like and asked Sérgio what he is currently listening to:
“I’m listening a lot to Black Star, but the artists who are influencing my music at the moment are David Bowie and Ravi Shankar. Then, I recently went to see David Gilmour. Actually, my friend Phil Manzanera, who is playing with him, invited me and my wife Lourdes, so I had the honour to meet him. I would love to play a bit with him. What else can I say? I hear music in everything, it can be a door bell or a strange car honk.”
Tropicália Fest began at an impromptu bus stop for yours truly, as it did for most other attendees. I parked and then boarded a free shuttle bus to one’s desire. The shuttle bus was a classic yellow school bus in my case. Sitting behind a starry-eyed couple, with whom I…