When Os Mutantes takes the stage Sunday night at Grand Central in Miami, fans will be seeing much more than a rock show. They’ll be witnessing history. The legendary Brazilian psychedelic-rock band, led by founding frontman Sergio Dias, was part of the political and cultural “tropicalia” movement of the ‘60s in Sao Paulo, when artists and musicians clashed with the military. The group harnessed that revolutionary energy to create music that mixed traditional Brazilian sounds with the melodic pop of The Beatles, efforts that went on to inspire musicians including Nirvana singer Kurt Cobain and Talking Heads leader David Byrne.
Today, Os Mutantes remains vital, performing in support of its new album “Fool Metal Jack,” which according to the New York Daily News, “shows as much vim, creativity and sheer weirdness as ever.” USA Today says simply: “Close your eyes and turn it up.”
Dias talked to Miami.com about the show, which will feature “probably about six” songs from the new album, plus many old favorites.
What’s your live show like?
It’s always like a new trend happening, because we have a lot of room for improvisation, and that’s the best part of this band, because we’re always having fun.
What inspired the name “Fool Metal Jack”? Is it from the movie “Full Metal Jacket”?
Well, yes, the movie of course was about war, and the song is about war. I was inspired by, you know when you’re about to get on the plane and the stewardess says, “OK, ladies with children,” or “Guys that need assistance” and “Armed Forces?” And I saw those kids in full gear, pimpled in the face, going to somewhere where they’re gonna die, you know? So I put myself in those shoes and I created myself as the Fool Metal Jack. I’m the fool, because I’m going there and dying. And this is like the 21st Century, and this is enough! So it’s not a protest song – it’s an awareness song.
What inspired the name Os Mutantes?
Well, we were very much into science fiction, and there was a book called “Planet of the Mutants,” and it was about these children who were born all over the world and somehow find a way of getting together. They have this consciousness, and they start to join each other, and in the end they become like one entity. And that has a lot to do with what we had in mind.
You found inspiration in The Beatles. What about them was so influential to you?
I was lucky enough to live through the entire Beatles experience. The first songs that I heard – “I Want to Hold Your Hand” or “She Loves You” – I cut my hair. I wanted to be a Beatle. They were the perfect reply for what was the meaning of life, you know, for a kid. And for the living experience of The Beatles, from the first album to the next, to the next – every album that came was a total difference and changing of everything’s perspective. From life, to music, sounds. So I was very privileged to see this.
Os Mutantes, in turn, influenced a lot of today’s musicians. Were you surprised to learn that people like Kurt Cobain, Beck, Flea of the Red Hot Chili Peppers and David Byrne cited the band as an influence?
Well, we didn’t really know that. Because this thing was happening out of our reach. I heard that we received a letter from Kurt Cobain, but we had no idea that this thing would become so big and so deep. And we really thank these guys for listening to us and saying the things they said. For example, Beck making his “Mutations” album – that’s so cool. And when we did the last tour, it was all kids, and that was a total surprise. And that’s what has inspired us to keep on and keep making new albums, because that’s the least we could do as appreciation for them. And everybody was always saying, “Oh, no, you shouldn’t make new music” – no way! We’re a living band, not a cover band.
Over the years, has your approach to songwriting changed, especially since you reunited?
Well, I would say for sure, you know? I’m 62 years old, and I was 12 or 13 then – big, big difference [laughs]. But what I can say is, when I write something for myself, it’s just a piece of music. But when I write something under the Mutantes umbrella, it’s a whole different kind of magic. It’s totally different. I don’t know what it is, I just know that it’s a different kind of power, and it comes out different. It’s a fantastic thing. Not that I think, Oh, I have to sound like this or like that. It is, like, natural.
Back in the ‘60s, what kind of resistance did you face from the Brazilian government – why were they persecuting the band?
Well, anything that would be like a symbol of freedom or freedom of expression would be a threat for them. And anything that would create a following also would be a threat. So they were after us all the time – it was a pain in the neck. Many times we were playing and somebody would come and say, “Please leave, because they’re about to raid here.” Another time I remember playing and there was a line of cops with electric sticks that you beat people with, and any time someone would go to dance, they would give them a shock. It was awful, and I was onstage seeing that, so I stopped the show and said, “OK, everybody rave,” and there was about 5,000 people against 20 cops, and they realized they had to leave. And they booed the hell out of them. I could have easily been arrested, but that’s the kind of thing you have to do, because you cannot just stand there.