Os Mutantes sees career resurgence

For them, the best way to get from point A to point B is to forget about point B and the absurd notion of having a destination in mind to begin with.

In the free-range, kitchen-sink psychedelia of Brazilian brain-wringers Os Mutantes, linearity is treated as an allergen and every last creative impulse is catered to like a guest at a five-star resort.

“Space out / Go loco,” they sing in helium-huffing voices on the fittingly titled “Look Out.” “Don’t let them step into your future / A mustang / A burrito / Anything goes if you can picture.”

The group lives up to their words on the tune in question, where shamanic incantations, bubbling electronics, trilling organ and schizoid guitar all chase one another around like kids playing tag.

The song is one of the definitive tracks on an album devoid of clear definition, “Fool Metal Jack,” Os Mutantes’ latest record and 10th overall in a career that’s spanned five decades. Clamorous funk jams, honey-voiced lullabies, Portuguese-language daydreams and bustling, ever-mutating rock ’n’ roll may seem incongruous with one another on paper, but on “Fool Metal Jack,” they commingle freely, naturally.

It’s the sound of a half-dozen musicians emancipated from the shackles of genre designations.

“The great thing about this band is that everyone has total freedom,” says 62-year-old singer-guitarist Sergio Dias, who founded Os Mutantes in 1966 with his brother, Arnaldo Baptista. “If anybody wants to play whatever they want at any time, this is what is going to happen, you know? It’s basically a huge party of music.”

This particular bacchanalia began 45 years ago with Os Mutantes’ self-titled debut, one of the most deliriously uninhibited albums in an era of experimentation, which would go on to be ranked No. 12 on Mojo magazine’s “50 Most Out-There Albums of All Time” and No. 9 on Rolling Stone magazine’s countdown of the top 100 Brazilian records ever released.

What the band did most skillfully on “Os Mutantes,” as well as subsequent releases, was ground their avant garde explorations, like the electro-acoustic gene splicing of musique concrete, into vaguely hummable pop and rock structures.

Initially, Os Mutantes was lumped in with the Brazilian art and culture movement Tropicalia, but that was more of a reflection of the difficulty of trying to categorize this bunch as it was its shape-shifting aesthetic.

The group never achieved much commercial success, but their legend slowly grew, with such vocal fans as Kurt Cobain, David Byrne, the Flaming Lips and plenty more lauding Os Mutantes’ creative boundary-pushing.

Over the years, many members have come and gone, but the one thing that has remained constant is Dias, a man who personifies the free-thinking ideal at the heart of the Os Mutantes catalog.

During a 30-minute conversation with him, topics included the nature of existence, astrophysics, Carl Sagan, outer space and inner peace.

Speaking with Dias is akin to chatting with a musically inclined philosophy professor determined to soak up every drop of life like a stretch of desert absorbing precious rainwater.

“If you’re aware of your existence now, most of the time you’re thinking about your past or projecting yourself to the future,” he says. “Normally, you don’t live in the moment, which is the most important thing that really exists for us. I think about that a lot.”

The son of a pianist mother and a poet and opera singer father, Dias was almost predestined for a career in music, which began at age 12 when he got his first acoustic guitar.

“At 13, I told my mom that I was not going back to school because I was a professional musician,” he recalls. “She said, ‘OK, so you don’t go to school, but then you’re going to have to earn your money as a professional to at least buy the things that I used to buy for you.’ So I started to give (music) classes, and in six months, I started to make the money that she was spending on me. Since then, I’ve never stopped.”

Dias may have never stopped, but Os Mutantes did for a time, taking an extended hiatus from the late ’70s until the middle of the last decade. Since then, Os Mutantes has experienced an uptick of interest in their music upon reconvening in 2006 and playing Chicago’s indie rock Pitchfork Music Festival, where the band performed in front of 15,000 people.

More touring followed. So did a couple of Latin Grammy nominations, which brought Dias to Las Vegas.

He liked it so much that he decided to stay, moving here a few years back.

Dias wrote about the experience of buying a home locally on “The Dream is Gone,” the harrowing first track on “Fool Metal Jack.”

“I was looking for a house and I ended up in a foreclosure,” he says. “We visited this couple who were losing their house, and that was awful. It was a terrible feeling. I could feel what they were feeling. It moved me a lot.”

Dias’ voice brightens, however, when talk turns to Os Mutantes’ career resurgence of late.

After so many years of confounding expectations, it was as if the band had become oblivious to idea of even having expectations in the first place.

“The way that the thing happened, it was totally viral. There was nobody involved in it, not even us. We didn’t know anything about it. We had no idea,” Dias says of renewed demand for Os Mutantes. “That gives us a sense of responsibility of having to continue. We have to keep on writing. That’s the least that we can do.”

Contact reporter Jason Bracelin at
jbracelin@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0476.

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