Sergio Dias of Os Mutantes

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Sergio Dias: There was a bunch of guys in this hit parade [television show], in terms of musical styles, right– and that’s where we met Tim [Maia], he had just arrived from America – I think he was in jail in America, because of some dope or something like that, so when he started to sing it we were so much into the Four Tops and all those guys. And we knew all the backing vocals. So every time he would sing we did the backing vocals. So when we went to PolyGram, we introduced him to Leny Andrade.

Allen: Everyone thinks it is Elis Regina, because she did that song of his, but that was much later.

No, no that’s how he got into the business.

Allen: he’d probably been doing the covers of little Richard and stuff like that—

He was doing like the do you know , “I’ll be there to love and comfort you—that’s what he’d sing—that’s where we got the “Desculpe baby”. That’s from Tim!

Allen: Well that’s right on the back of Jardim Eletrico. It says something like “any similarities to Tim Maia…”

…are just a coincidence!

Allen: That wasn’t you making fun of him

No, we wanted to sound like him. You find a lot of those [jokes] in Mutantes.

Shira: That actually kind of connects to something I wanted to ask about. I read this quote from Caetano Veloso where he said that “he couldn’t mock anything that he didn’t love first”— and that that was really important to what Tropicalia was all about.


Shira: It wasn’t just to laugh at something and to make a mockery of it, it was really to actually embrace it and then incorporate it, digest it–

The Tropicalia thing was our piece of the action on the world vortex that was happening in terms of energy and movement like bar barn here and the Beatles in Europe and the French, all the students… that huge revolution that happened in the world. Tropicalism was like a kaleidoscope of all of those influences. We didn’t have so much information like today. So we got bits and pieces. Like from the flower power we just got the flower, we didn’t get the cannon. We were lucky. It was fun. There was once this girl she sent me a letter from American consulate. She was the daughter of the consulate in America. And she sent me a letter drafting me to Vietnam, I said what the hell is this—from the consulate in Rio, I think—she just got a paper and wrote. Crazy girl.

But you know, all this gave us a very broad perspective on all the things that were happening—Matisse, Dali, “Un Chien Andalous”—all these things—we were very deep into all of this. We were very lucky to be able to live these things at the moment, within the moment when those things were happening. You know, like the first time I came to America I went to Wilshire Boulevard, and it was ridiculous, it was a crowd of people, and everybody talking to each other, just saying hi and being friendly it was a beautiful thing. So beautiful, so beautiful.

We had a bit of suspicions because we didn’t know this kind of freedom. Even though we were free amongst each other, the people in Brazil were under a lot of repression because of the '64 coup d’etat.

And I remember I was sitting in Ashbury Park and I was straight as an arrow, I had no idea of drugs or anything like that, I was probably 17. I was sitting there suddenly I see this guy coming over from far away, far away, and I’m just there hanging out, checking things out, and the guy keeps coming, and he finally reaches me and said, “hey, do you wanna smoke?” and I said “no thanks”—I didn’t smoke, I had no idea what the fuck he was presenting me with. But it was this kind of feeling that was in America that was very beautiful that we could get. And also the Beatles thing and all the movements in England.

We had been into the arts since we were born, our family—our mother was a fantastic piano player and composer and my father was also a poet and a tenor, so we were surrounded by art. The good things about it was that very deep and serious people were hanging out, like the first violin player of orchestra was always there, the great singer of the opera were always there–So we were used to the best and that was great because

I was used to seeing my mother rehearse for 12 hours a day, so I thought, oh, so that’s the way it is. So that’s what I did.

Allen: I was always curious what you and your brother’s training in your instruments. Did you take lessons, or–?

No, no. We love the chaos

Allen: but I was so impressed by the sound of the show, it was so loose but together, and you’ve obviously been playing for a long time, you’re not 16 like you were when you started, but even on those first records it does have a–

Playing the songs now, revisiting myself when I was like seventeen, especially having been in America in the 80s, and playing all the jazz, all the stuff with the guys, it would be very easy for me to go in another direction. But it was impossible, because for example I hear a solo on “Top Top” or one of those songs, and I just cannot change it, because it was a helluva good solo, I cannot do a better one now—so I just play the damn solo. It’s great and it is really beautiful to see how committed we were in terms of what we did and what we really loved and how we put our efforts to doing something good.

Allen: Not bad for a seventeen year old.

I started earlier. I dropped out from school when I was thirteen, I told my mom that I was a professional—can you imagine, I dared to say that! She was one of the first women in the world to write a concerto for piano and orchestra, and she was an outrageous interpreter and composer. So I was used to see her coming back to stage like 12 times in the Municipal Theater, and this is a long stage—in Sao Paolo—

And so she never forced us to do anything so when I told her that I didn’t want to go to school, that I was a professional, she said, oh really, okay fine, so if you’re a professional, then you earn your money, as a professional. So I started to do classes.

Allen: To teach classes?

Yeah. And In six months I was earning almost the same amount of money that she used to give me. Then she bought me my first electric guitar. I just had an acoustic.

Allen: Did your brother drop out at the same time?

No, Arnaldo went all the way. He graduated. I’m the dropout. You know, I’m the youngest…they cut some slack

Shira: Another thing I read was that you had said that was when you are 17 or 13 you feel indestructible…


Shira: and you kind of are indestructible, because what else does that mean?

‘We were all indestructible. One of the greatest things that I think lately… Les Paul was such a character. But when the guy left, he was cool—and his last words [but he’s still alive!] were basically “fear not,” and that’s a beautiful thing to be—and this is basically indestructibility, because what we fear is death and aging and loosing your skills to be young. And rebellion and the possibility of creating again and again and again and not getting tied up by the idea of money. To understand that all those stuff are consequences not the main goal. So when he said that it was a really good boost for myself, very positive. This I think would answer the indestructibility thing.

For sure when we were kids we had to face in Brazil a lot of serious repression and we were under severe military government—a lot of people being killed, a lot of people tortured; it was heavy, very heavy. And nasty. But when you are a kid you have this thing, this war inside, this delight of going against whoever says that you can’t. And we were damn lucky that they didn’t arrest us or torture us or do anything like that because we probably would have lost faith. Because I think this is something very important to be spread out, we are, in a way, immortal, and we are, in a way, indestructible, that is basically what we are when we are kids. So why lose it?

It is the main fuel that makes you do the things that you have to do, especially when you are young. It’s the thing that makes you creative, and I think this is a must.

I hope we can still have it. Because you never know.

Allen: when you were writing and performing your songs with Mutantes during the dictatorship. How intentional were your political statements? Caetano in his book plays it down on his songs, he wasn’t really intending to bother anyone, he just happened to be friends with a lot of people who were revolutionary types…

You have to realize that the scene was very small at that time. There were no big tours; there were no huge sales of records or anything like that. No market, no nothing. There was television, a few TV and programs and gigs and festivals and all that. But on the other hand there were a bunch of people who were closer and were more intimate because of this. The thing was not as spread as it is now. For example, Beck did this album called Mutations, and they say it is because of us. I never met him. It’s an amazing thing. I would love to meet the guy because—

Allen: You haven’t met him?

No, I have never met Beck. I would love to meet him. [Also] Sean Lennon–we trade e-mails a lot, but I also have never met him–there are so many people that I would like to meet. What was I talking about?

Allen: about your political messages–

I think the main thing was when we were defied by the censorship, we would fight back—of course one of the examples is there was censorship, so you had to submit your lyrics and your songs to some asshole who would say, okay, this is political, or this is not political. That song that we played, “Cabeludo Patriota”—“My hair is yellow and green and blue and transparent and my dandruff is glitter and my heart is royal blue. This is the colors of our flag they did not let us use yellow and green because it is the symbol of Brazil. So Instead of changing the lyrics we just mutilate it, we put a noise over it—o meu cabella (shshhgegh)—and then this noise thing.

So everyone knew that we were censored then and that we did not kneel to them. So In the shows we just sang the damn lyrics the way they was so they end up knowing what was the thing. We had no idea of being political or of being extremists. I was 16 I was being influenced by everything, by the Second World War, and by Sputnik that went up. We saw all this it was beautiful to see x1, x2, the sound barrier being broken—it was a beautiful era, the fifties-and Chuck Yeager, all these cats—and then there was the music of Jimmy Smith, Barney Kessel, Les Paul, Nino Tempo, April Stevens, the Ventures, Shadows, Duane Eddy…all those cats were the guys who influenced us–there was Sarita Montiel of Argentina. Argentine singer…all the mariachis. We used to know all the songs!

Allen: You never had any intention, then of pissing off–

Yeah, we did, but it was a different thing—when we got into festivals, there was all the right wing, the left wing thing–we had no idea of this, we didn’t care about this. So for example, when Edu Lobo played [Moneteus], which was a beautiful song, and he was all leftist—the left side of the stage were the dressing rooms and we were there in the right side. And we went to his dressing room and we said, “Wow! Can I see the song? It’s beautiful…” And he was like “What is this, who is this guy—he is Americanized, with guitars and all this—he is the demon.” So nobody could really put a finger on what the hell we were. So when some of those cats went and said anything against us, we would kick the hell out of them later—you know, like in songs, like in the end of Don Quixote, we say, “dadadadadadadada—and then we have a laugh—and this was [a melody from] the song “Disparada”—I don’t know who wrote it, Jair Rodrigues was the interpreter. So that was one of the guys who was hassling us. They made lists of signatures to banish us from the festivals because we were using guitars.

Allen: That recording of “Proibido Proibir” is incredible–

Yeah, it is very powerful.

Allen: –and for the longest time I didn’t know if they were cheering or—

They were booing the hell out of it. We played backwards; we turned our back to them because they were throwing chairs at us. Everybody said, oh, this is a political movement; they just turned their backs—bullshit! We were just protecting our ass. So we reacted, but somehow every reaction we did was connected to some kind of political attitude. Because we were against anything that was against something—“C’est interdit d’interdir”—it is forbidden to forbid. We were hippies, we were rockers, we were mods, we were beatniks, we were everything—we saw like Ben Hur, and we used the song, mixed with Aida [on the intro to “Don Quixote”]. We wanted to be this, to live this, and it was a blessing to be able to do that.

Shira: I know that Tom Ze right now, with stuff like “Fabrication Defect,” is very much about globalization in different ways, about the inequality that results from that. Is Mutantes a political thing now, could it ever be a political thing?

I don’t know if it is a political thing. I know definitely that we are pro and against a bunch of shit. We gotta do something or else the world is going to collapse. This is our spaceship. We're gonna die. And so we have to do something about it. We gotta be ecologically aware. Arnaldo says, to burn or not to burn, this is the question—and

we have to change this and it comes to America now you guys have a huge responsibility on your shoulders. You guys had your coup d’etat in ‘63 when they killed Kennedy. America started to go in a different direction because of force from Stalin and all this Second World War thing—this affected the entire world. The coup d’etat in Brazil was backed up by America, as were all the other ones in South America. Because of fear of the war that had just happened—but there are better ways of earning peoples’ minds and hearts. In Brazil somehow it was very successful–not so successful in Vietnam, though—and I think that America is in a very delicate situation now,

Maybe counts its loss, mourn the dead, and take the leadership in the way as honorable as Kennedy did, as honorable as Thomas Jefferson did. You guys changed the world; it’s because of you that France had a revolution. The same Lafayette that was here was the guy that took the idea and the ideal, the republican revolution of America, into France—and it was amazing because it was countered by Louis XVI and they cut his head!

What I mean is you cannot force or push things and people to listen–you have to accept their freedom because this is the main killer of the constitution of America. I can say that I feel this because I am ten years in America, I’m part of America, and I am very proud of all this, very, very proud. All the dangers that happen, all the terrible situations that happen in these last years–maybe they are the result of too heavy politics, maybe we need more science, more leadership in the arts, more leadership in the humanities, and not only in the politics, because specially politics can be ruled by some many things. There are lobbies for guns and fire and tobacco. This is what is basically what is ruling the entire world. Now you guys are in the imperial order. And this is a very hard and yet a fantastic opportunity. So if you guys had the right guys—for example, I saw the movie that Al Gore did, which was amazing—I just couldn’t buy that he lost the election, he should have done something–

Elect both of the guys! Because that was ridiculous.

This war has been so devastating, this thing in Iraq and now pointing to Iran, and Afghanistan–It is a very dangerous thing. Ask the Greeks or the Persians. Check the stories. It is dangerous. You need a three hundred there, a Sparta. History tends to happen again. And America, you guys are colorful, your flag is beautiful—you have stars in your flag—but it’s something that has to be cheered and honored and respected.

I remember I was in school when Kennedy died. They stopped school and sent us home. We said what happened? And they said, “Kennedy was shot.”

The Brazilian government made three days official mourning because of Kennedy. This is the kind of leadership that you don’t buy. It is from the soul. This respect—it is the beauty of the X15, it is the beauty of all the fantastic things and developments that America did. If you guys think in 1929 you guys had the disaster of the stock market and you guys raised beautifully–Roosevelt–and the people here united so beautifully. And somehow I feel that this is not as physical as it was, maybe because of Internet—now it is very easy not to show yourself. But the good thing is to be there, and that was what America always did. When they beat Rodney King, my god! —I remember watching it—there were riots in places where there were no black people in America, and that was a beautiful thing to see. I could see that you guys were rioting not just because of Rodney King, but because of your rights as individuals, individual rights were trespassed—you could see people raising in Texas, in Washington State—places that are nowhere close to New York or Miami in terms of density of the African-American population. This was the last time I really saw America cry out.

The thing of 9/11 is a huge devastation. Of course, it is a pain that will never go away. but okay, we lost that and we had an incredible rape in the country but we have to overcome it, we have to be able to move on. And we have not to have a patriotic act that will stop your freedom and you can be arrested for 30 days–whoa, this looks like Brazil. I remember the first time coming here when they told me that I did not have to take my passport on the street. There are no ID’s in America. “How come there’s no ID’s?” Because that would be an invasion of your privacy, for you to put your digital print there. That was fantastic. I was created by all this, and if I am political now—definitely I am—but it’s so hard to express everything in one ideal. The beautiful thing of it is basically to embrace each other and know that in the little information that was given us from the beginning of history, that is where the hints are. If you go to the Catholics and you hear the ten commandments-thisis good-if anybody follows this, fine with me. Buddha—lovely! We need to cherish what is human of ourselves, of our souls. The beauty of perspective that we can have in terms of understanding the universe…When was the last Einstein? Stephen Hawking…Do you dig me?

But on the other hand, the music is our way. We would do political lyrics, but we are probably going to mock the hell out of it, and have fun—like today in “El Justiciero”—like el justiciero is Bush and Condoleezza—there were some weird faces, but it was amazing—but you cannot put on Condoleezza’s shoulder the entire situation of the American government and foreign policy. It is much bigger than that.

Allen: Describe what you think happened somewhere around 67 or 68, when the Apaches’ first album came out, and you see difference between Gilberto Gil’s first album, and his second one with you guys, and Caetano’s first album, and then his second album, and then your album—what happened that it all of a sudden went from lovely bossa nova to Os Mutantes?

We were so eclectic. You know when you start cooking, and you put every seasoning that you see in front of you on the dish? That was our recipe. We wanted pieces of everything, and we were basically living that. But I think the main difference is the fear not thing–we had no fear of experimenting. That was fun. Not only not to fear, but to have fun. That is what makes the difference with a great dancer or a great technician. The great dancer will never fear to fall, the technician will always go to the best that he can do.

The other guy, maybe he fucks up one day, who gives a shit, he is Nijinsky.

Allen: Do you feel like you pushed Caetano and Gil, then–?

Yeah, definitely. We were a hug influence on Caetano and Gil because they were Brazilian writers and we had all that huge and vast information between ourselves, Rita and Arnaldo and me.

Shira: One of the most immediate impetuses for the reunion, or the most direct, for you to get back together, was the show for Tropicalia with the art at the Barbican–

Mutantes is a magical band. It is one of those bands that are meant to be. Like the Grateful Dead, Jefferson Airplane Jimi Hendrix—they had to be. We are proud to be one of those.

When they did the Tropicalia thing and somebody came to them and said, listen, to do a Tropicalia thing without Mutantes is a flop, it is impossible, but then they said, well, this is impossible, because Mutantes no longer exists. Somehow this leaked to the press, and suddenly I was receiving e-mails. The first e-mail I got was from [Nikki] at Mojo magazine, saying hey, you’re going to play here again? —because I had played solo there, in London—and I said, “No, no—where am I playing? I don’t know” We had so many commercial offers, so many times–ridiculous shit, you know—they had no idea who we were. And I always thought that when we would get together it would be the same as it had been when we were kids—we would phone each other and say, hey, wanna play? So then radio stations were starting to say that we were already rehearsing, that we had been booked for the thing in the Barbican, and this and that—and we hadn’t even spoken to each other! So we started to phone each other and say hey, what’s happening—do you know anything—are you going to play somewhere? And Dinho, when he said okay, if you guys want to play–that was hit me, because he wasn’t playing, he didn’t touch a drum for thirty years—he never really said what the hell it was—he felt something, you know, he can’t really put it out. But when he said that–you have to pay attention to life, to the hints—that was the hint for me, I said uh-oh—because Dinho is a serious guy, and

He was going to have to work his ass off, and he knew that. So that was when I said, okay, let’s get together. We went to my studio, we got together, of course we made a horrible sound–But it was there, the magic. And that was where we started to say yes. And that, again, was a beautiful thing to see because fifteen or twenty days after we said yes to the Barbican, we had a tour in America, in important places—here! [Lincoln Center]—it is a first. We had no manger, we had no record company, we had nothing. So it was basically by peoples’ energy and requests. And suddenly we were all over the place, we were sold out, and we hadn’t played one note. It is a very beautiful and humbling thing to see this happening.

Allen: Have you played yet in Brazil, between the last tour and this one?

Yeah, we have played in Brazil.

Allen: Where did you play?

The first gig we did we wanted something special. We were invited by the city of Sao Paolo for the 100th anniversary of the city. We had about 100,000 people there. It was an amazing gig. The photo that is in the New York Times is from the stage there, from the moment we got in. It was a picture that somebody took from behind me, it is on my desktop—I thought, this is ridiculous, this is a sea of people—it is beautiful.

Shira: So it seems like even though the demand for the reunion might have come from Europe or from America, the reunion has been embraced in Brazil, as well.

Oh, yeah. And the beautiful thing is that the audience that we have is all teenagers! It is really amazing. Today was the first time with so many old guys there—what the hell is happening? The kids are on us, and this is beautiful, because I believe an artist is basically the reflection of their counterpart, which is the audience. We are able to mirror something that they cannot quite mirror. When this image is clear enough they relate to that. And it is amazing that 40 years later we are mirroring somehow this generation. It is a beautiful thing.

Allen: I wanted to confirm a rumor: Is it true that you were you asked by Roberto Carlos to play on one of his records as a backup band and you refused?

It kind of rings a bell. When Roberto Carlos was a rocker we were very into him, for sure. We played in his show many times indeed. One of the beautiful things about Mutantes is that we were never preconceived on any shit. When Roberto Carlos started to sing in the San Remo festival, we knew all the tunes from all the guys, we used to play “Al di la,” we used to know all of it, to play all of it—but it was kind of a shock to see him going in this direction, so commercial—I don’t know if we said no, I don’t remember, honestly.

Allen: And didn’t you also play on Erasmo Carlos’ records in the early 70s?

Erasmo is a hell of a guy. He is the rocker behind Roberto. He is the real spirit of rock and roll. He was the guy who always has been the rocker. He is a real icon. He had so many hits, and he was responsible for so many of Roberto’s hits also, because he shared the composition. And he is great. With Erasmo, what you see is what you get, which is just fantastic. A lovely guy, full of heart. Like his music.

Note: Allen Thayer of Wax Poetics worked on a Tim Maia compilation for Luakabop and shared interview time here with IMPOSE’s Shira Backer.