Sérgio Dias is a bonafide legend as a founding member of psychedelia/samba/tropicalia mashup originators Os Mutantes. He's one of those rare people who immediately make you smile, whether he's merely chatting with you or on stage singing and playing. Os Mutantes were asked to play Wilco's Solid Sound Festival (photos and review of day 1 here, and the final two days here) and I had a chance to talk with Dias after he finished sound check.
How did you get invited to Solid Sound? Were you aware of Wilco’s interest in the band?
Sérgio Dias: No, we heard about it via our agency. I knew about the festival and it was fantastic to get the notice that we were asked to play.
Have you been able to see any of the bands this weekend?
No, we just got in today. We are in the middle of a tour, and played Portland last night.
Is this weather [hot and humid] reminding you of Brazil a little bit?
Oh yeah, definitely. It sure does (laughs).
One notable aspect of your early career is that the government didn’t like what you were doing.
You paid the price and spent some time in jail I believe?
No, not in jail, thank god.
Bands like Pussy Riot, a high profile case where they were jailed- do you feel that the rebellion in music against draconian policies is still alive, or has it waned a bit?
For sure it is still alive, of course. Our new LP, Fool Metal Jack, it’s a lot about America. It’s not like a protest album, but it’s about awareness. At least for myself. There are songs about foreclosures, and the title track about a guy that is dying on the field. I see these kids in the army, get on the plane…”our armed forces!” So glamorous. But when you are alone there, dying…it’s a whole different story. I see the kids with pimples, and they have no idea. There’s a lot on this album.
From your start in the turbulent ‘60s, what sort of social changes have you seen currently and how do you state that with your music?
There is a big movement happening right now in Brazil, I don’t know if you are aware of it. There was a small spark, when they tried to raise the bus fare by twenty cents. The entire country raised. Now we are having serious manifestations. More than 250,000 in the streets for more than seven days. The police were extremely brutal, using rubber bullets against the people. The people are saying “no violence, no violence” but they are getting shot at. It is amazing to see that as Brazil has always been seen as sheep.
But now they are rising up a bit.
Now it is beautiful to see the ‘sons of the silence’ rising up.
You have fused psychedelia, samba, and tropicalia very successfully – do you take any inspiration from contemporary music today?
When we came back with Os Mutantes in 2006, the thing became such a rollercoaster that honestly I haven’t had time to listen to anything. Two things that I have heard come to me. One is an organ player improvising on a pipe organ in France in a church, Jean Guilout. It was the most avant-garde thing I have heard in a long time. He twisted the arm of Stravinsky, the guy is outrageous.
Ravi Shankar passed away (I was his student) and I was listening to Anoushka, his daughter. Normally she was under his wing and she did an album called Travelers, which is a fusion of Indian music and Spanish Flamenco. It was a fantastic thing because both have Asian influences. Beautiful work that she did. I have just ordered a Rikhi Ram sitar for myself.
Will that be part of the live repertoire?
I am using one now, but that is what sparked getting one, and with my master passing away. I still have some years so I want to be good at it.
How’s the band’s reception been since the restart?
It’s been absolutely crazy. When we did the Barbican show I thought it was going to have people of our age, but it was a surprise, a total surprise. It went so viral. We were rehearsing for the Barbican and hadn’t played one note and we already had a tour here in the US for seven places, venues like The Fillmore, Pitchfork Festival, Webster Hall, Hollywood Bowl. It was like ‘Woah, what the hell is this?’
And then you see the kids, and it gives you enormous responsibility. I am not going to be playing “Satisfaction” for the rest of my life or anything like that. We are on our second album already now, which is great. I would never be part of a band that is a dead band.
You don’t want to be a museum piece, you want to keep growing.
No way, no way. So I am very happy. The band is great and I am very happy with the album. It’s funny because when you write under the Mutantes umbrella, it’s another vibe, another energy. It’s fantastic, it’s a beautiful thing.