Backbeat: Os Mutantes’ New Line-Up, Songs at L.A.'s Sonos Studios

Esmeria Bulgari, left,  and Sergio Dias roll through one of Os Mutantes’ best-known numbers, “Bat Macumba,” at the Sonos Studio in Los Angeles. (Photo credit:  David Morrison)

Sergio Dias came to the Sonos Studio to discuss the new album from his band Os Mutantes, but KCRW DJ Mario Cotto was much more interested in getting a history lesson about how Brazil produced such an adventurous psychedelic band in the 1960s.

Guitarist Dias, who founded Os Mutantes with his brother Arnaldo and singer Rita Lee in the mid-‘60s, says the style that came to be known as tropicalia was the result of music they heard on short wave radio. They would catch pieces of songs from the U.S., the U.K. and elsewhere in the world and piece it together

“To us, it was rock ‘n roll,” he told the youngish crowd assembled at the Sonos Studio, which currently has an art show, “Bugs,” featuring the video work of Tom Kuntz and sonics by Dan Deacon. “It was our version of flower power.”

KCRW DJ Mario Cotto, left, gets a smile out of Os Mutantes founder Sergio Dias while discussing the revolutionary Brazilian band’s origins. (Photo:  David Morrison)

The son of a concert pianist, Diaz said he decided he was a professional musician at the age of 13, forming Os Mutantes when he was 15. With contemporaries Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil and others, they forged a new style in Brazil that leaned more heavily on rock sounds from England and the U.S. than the bossa nova of Rio or the MBP pop the marries samba and folk styles with international pop. Decades after its creation, their music, also more progressive in lyrical subject matter, attracted fans such as Kurt Cobain, David Byrne, Beck, Flaming Lips, Devendra Banhart and Of Montreal.

Os Mutantes went through numerous lineup changes in the ‘70s before calling it quits. Diaz was well into his second decade of a solo career when he was asked if Os Mutantes would reunite and appear at the Barbicon Theatre in London in 2006. He said he was shocked by the audienece.

“They were all young,” he said. “I’m 62. I thought I would be playing to people my age. Everywhere we would play after that we were surprised. We sold our most merchandise in Lawrence, Kan., right there in the middle of the U.S., a place we never thought we would play.”

DJ Mike Jones, left, aka Kuato, and Roni Size hang out at the Sonos Studio prior to Os Mutantes’ performance. (Photo:  David Morrison)

Following the Q&A, Dias performed solo, playing songs from the new “Fool Metal Jacket” that comes out April 30 on Krian Music/Varese Sarabande. He began with “The Dream is Over,” inspired by the foreclosures he saw in Las Vegas after moving there in 2009; “Ganja Man”; and the title track, a twist on “Full Metal Jacket” that refers to the naive youngsters sent off to war.

The new edition of the band – including bassist Vinicius Junqueira and singer-percussionist  Esmeria Bulgari– joined him for performances of  “Technicolor” and “Bat Macumba.”

Os Mutantes return to Los Angeles on May 2 for a proper gig at the Troubadour as part of their 12-date West Coast tour that begins with an April 27 appearance at the Austin Psych Fest in Texas.