Os Mutantes decided everything was possible and tried to prove it across a set of albums that were national classics at home in Brazil but which never even made it to the States until a foreign exchange student accidentally left her copies with the boys in Redd Kross. Low End Theory resident and Blank Blue guitarist Nobody (Elvin Estela) speaks with Mutantes co-founder Sérgio Baptista about helicopters, honesty and the brand-new Mutantes album Haih.
What I love about your new record is that it doesn’t sound like you guys are trying to recreate your old sound—it just sounds like you picked up where you left off.
Sérgio Baptista (guitar/vocals): That’s definitely what I was really wanting to do and I was very happy that I could do it in terms of being able to be faithful and honest to our legacy and not looking back in any way—no way. We are in the 21st century and we are different people now and it’s very important for us to be honest and play what we feel. I think we were very blessed in being able to do something I consider is honorable to our legacy.
That’s an incredible approach to recording, especially for a band that hasn’t put out anything in a while. This is a perfect addition to your discography—it doesn’t stand out as ‘the modern record.’ It’s definitely just a timeless record.
If you don’t put yourself in danger of being spit upon, then you are not really alive. Then it’s just going to be a mock. And we owe so much to the people and the kids and everybody that we have to at least open up our hearts and souls the best way that we can to be naked in front of them and let them look at us. Now we are different—we are fatter, we are older—but that’s who we are. That’s how Mutantes would sound now and I think with all the flaws and wisdoms that came with age—I think that’s the most important thing that you have to do as a producer or artist is basically to just assume all of it and be ready to expose yourself. That’s basically what an artist has to do.
Put their balls on the line.
For sure. That’s what we always did and it’s what we’re doing.
What’s the point of art if there’s no risk involved?
Exactly—it would be sad. I think it would be like spitting in the place where we eat. We are able to see how important these people are and how much we owe them. What we can do is be as completely honest as we could and put our hearts the way they are.
You talk about being a lot older but your voice hasn’t aged a bit—what’s your secret to eternal youth and voice?
I’m not older; I’m younger for a longer time. You cannot lose your child inside. If you let your child die then you are in trouble.
I wanted to ask about this urban myth about your guitars—you had a fuzz guitar with each individual string going to its own fuzz pedal?
Yes. All the electronics are inside of it.
Each string had its own processor?
Yes. When I was with my brother and Rita only, all the job of texture and solos came down to myself. I had to fill in all the sounds and I had a need for sound. We lacked harmonies and I wanted to be able to play chords with fuzz, but if you play a chord with just one fuzz you have intermodulation and you have a bad sound and you cannot get the chord clean. So I spoke to my brother who was building the stuff, and he said the only way I can do this is to do one pickup per string and then through a fuzz individually and mix all of them together and I said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ So we did it and it sounded great.
I saw Mutantes in L.A. in July 2007 and my favorite part of the show was when you were pretending there was a helicopter above the audience with the guitar.
All improvisation. It was basically the sewing machine pedal that I used on ‘Bat Macumba’ but in a different manner. It normally was mechanical but then we made it possible to use digitally. It was impossible to use that thing more than five minutes because it was connected to the engine of the sewing machine.
It was actually running through a real sewing machine?
Oh yeah. The guitar was coming in and out of it. With the axis of the engine and how you could vary the speed, he would cut open the sound of the guitar extremely fast and this would create several different harmonics and things that make that crazy sound. It was something that was not practical, so now in the digital era we were able to produce this in a way that it is possible to play with it. So I’m using a lot of it in the record.
Did you ever think of manufacturing and making it widely available to the world?
Yes, definitely. The name is Green Devil. Because the sewing machine was green.
I would definitely use a Green Devil pedal if you ever put one out.
I’ll do my best—definitely. So you think I should go for a helicopter again?
You haven’t done it since that show?
No. Ok—I’ll do it again.
I thought it was hilarious. I kept looking back, I was like, ‘Man, this is the greatest showmanship right there.’ You should have been the guy making guitars for kids in the ‘60s—we’d have a lot cooler stuff like sewing machine effects pedals.
Yeah—twenty years before Ovation we were using a piezo on the bridge. If you hear any of those songs like ‘Dia 36,’ that crazy sound of guitar that sounds a bit like an acoustic—it is a piezo electric.
‘Dia 36’ is one of my favorite songs by you guys.
I think it was one of my best lyrics. It was from an American guy who came here and I made the lyrics.
Who was the American guy?
It was John something—God, I don’t remember. He was a crazy guy—like albino, like the brothers Edgar and Johnny Winter.
And he was the original writer of the song?
He was—when we played, he just entered the stage and he was totally out of his mind and he was screaming and it was great. It was really amazing. I think he wrote the song on a dulcimer and I really loved his song. I got it and I wrote the lyrics for it and it was great.
To me you guys are one of the premier psychedelic bands that ever existed—I really think that it’s amazing that thousands of people today can relate to a psychedelic band from back then. What do you think that says about psychedelic music from that era? In history, it might be seen as a flash in the pan because it was only five years of music. But so much came out.
It’s amazing for us because we didn’t know that we were psychedelic or anything like that. There was no psychedelia at the time, at least not in Brazil. The first album came out in ’68 and there was no drugs involved in any of the albums.
So to you guys, you weren’t making psychedelic rock—you were just making whatever you wanted to make?
Yes. It is amazing that it fell on the slot. The way that we used to gather information was like a kaleidoscope in pieces and then from the flower power, we just got the flower not the power. We didn’t even care about the power—we just loved the flower. You know the girls and the free love and all the beauty and the colors and the music—we didn’t realize it was Vietnam behind it.
In America it was definitely about the protest, but for English bands it was more about the girls and the flowers. What bands from across the world were influencing you guys down in Brazil?
Everybody. Sly and the Family Stone for sure. Beach Boys, Mary Ford and Les Paul, Jimmy Smith, all the operas. We had a huge and very big spectrum of music which we drank from. Like Sarita Montiel from Spain and all the mariachis from Mexico. We were into everything—all the cats, Barney Kessel, the Ventures, the Shadows, all of them.
And it all combined to create what you wanted?
Oh yeah—take my solos. They were very Ventures-oriented at the beginning. I think the great thing about it is that all the record companies and all those people were into the music. The money came much later. Nobody was worried about being a star or selling a billion dollars in records. I think people were just making music from the heart and the honesty that we had in doing this—I think that’s maybe what draws people to listen to us.
Do you think that people can make music from the heart again today?
Oh, for sure. We’re doing it. I think this new album definitely. There is no thought behind it—this is just the music playing the way it came to us in terms of inspiration and everything. There is no gimmick behind it.
You said you always had a need for sound—where did that come from? If you guys weren’t doing psychedelics like the English bands, what drove you?
I think it probably came from NASA. I was raised with like the X-15 and the X-2 and knowing all the names of the cats—like the guy who broke the sound barrier. All those things were so important for us. I heard the Sputnik—we put on the shortwave and listened to the ‘bleep, bleep, bleep’ and it was an amazing era. All of this—the technology were so much in our veins, and all these things were happening so we always were connected to it. Especially because my brother was such a genius and proud of making all this stuff.
So it was space and the technology of the time?
All the science and technology and all the avant-garde things that were going on at the time. There was Picasso and all of this was influencing us a lot. Modern art and all this was a must for us. I think that was translating to sounds.
How long did it take to record this album?
It took about a year. We took our time—we didn’t want to rush everything. Especially because of everybody’s schedule and the bunch of things that everybody was doing and of course the beginning of the year was very had because Arnaldo left the band and we took our time.
What does the name mean?
It’s a Shoshone language. It means ‘raven.’ I was passing this crow in France and trying to get its picture and I got his picture of him looking at me looking like he was saying, ‘Get ready ‘cause you’re next.’ He was pissed with me. And I got the crow photograph and I was watching a movie about the Clark expedition and the Shoshone thing—I’m very involved with this area because it was such a magical place in America. I started to know of Nevada as such a great state. You go to Las Vegas and you forget the Strip and all the mountains are so magical and you have the fantastic lake and you go thirty miles to the other side and there’s snow—then you’re in the desert. You can feel the Indians there. You can feel the energy of America—which was great. I saw the documentary about the Clark expedition and there was this girl who I don’t remember her name—Sacajawea? She was very important symbol for women as an endeavor or entity and she saved the journals of the expedition and she was the one who guided the expedition—which was great. And so I started fooling around trying to get a name in Shoshone and I found a dictionary on the internet of Shoshone. I wanted to do like ‘Lightning Crow’ but the lightning word was like ten words together—it was huge. I couldn’t even pronounce it, so I just had ‘crow.’
You would have had the longest album title ever if you used the whole thing. Almost longer than Devendra Banhart’s first record.
The most amazing thing about your show last year was that it was completely sold out—but your records were never released in America when they came out.
It was something that was really amazing to me, too. When we played in 2006 at the Barbican and one month after playing there we booked about 8 shows in America in the most brilliant places like the Hollywood Bowl and Fillmore and the Pitchfork Festival in Chicago—and we hadn’t played one note. That was really amazing. Now having all these things happening and playing in America and having so many people that are involved with us, it is something that makes you very happy and humble about it because you know that it was so spontaneous—it’s a beautiful thing to see.
OS MUTANTES WITH DJ NOBODY AND BUYEPONGO ON FRI., AUG 28, AT THE ECHOPLEX, 1154 GLENDALE BLVD, ECHO PARK. 8PM / $28-$30 / 18+. ATTHEECHO.COM. OS MUTANTES’ HAIH RELEASES TUE., SEPT. 8, ON ANTI-. VISIT OS MUTANTES AT MUTANTES.COM OR MYSPACE.COM/OSMUTANTES.