Music News

Os Mutantes' Sérgio Dias Baptista on the NSA and Fool Metal Jack

In 1966, brothers Sérgio Dias Baptista and Arnaldo Baptista formed Os Mutantes, a Brazilian rock band that played the role of confident court jester within the folk-rock tropicália movement. While the group's forerunners and mentors, such as Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, preferred sentimentality and left-leaning ideals, the Mutants zeroed in on the playful, flirtatious psychedelia of early Pink Floyd and Sgt. Pepper's-era Beatles.

Through the rest of the '60s and into the '70s, Os Mutantes continued to innovate and dazzle with their ingenious signature fusion of Brazilian rhythm and trippy Anglo guitar music. However, the band was also plagued by label disagreements, drug abuse, and internal tension. When the Mutants finally dissolved in 1978, Sérgio had become the lone original member.

After 40 years of bubbling cult appreciation, though, the Baptista brothers briefly reunited to great acclaim in 2006. And though Arnaldo ultimately left Os Mutantes again, the yearlong reunion sparked an entirely new era of the band, led by Sérgio's songwriting and vision.

The latest Os Mutantes album, Fool Metal Jack, is the boldest statement of the band's second career. The outfit is also touring the world. New Times caught up with Sérgio to discuss Mutant music, as well as the myriad injustices afflicting the global community, in particular U.S. intervention in the Middle East.

New Times: The title of your new album is Fool Metal Jack. There's more going on there than the pun, correct?

Sérgio Dias Baptista: It's based on the lyrics to the second song on the album. It's about a young marine who is boarding a plane and he has no idea where the hell he is going to be — and believing that war is something that could be anything but what it really is. We're in the 21st Century and we're still killing each other. I'm not a stupid, silly pacifist. But I can't see people waste their lives on causes that are not real or concrete.

Is this new incarnation of the band more explicitly political? Back in the '60s, was Os Mutantes more lighthearted, and now you're making protest music?

It's not a protest. This album itself is something more of an awareness. I think it's boring to get into protest or anything like that. In the end, you don't have anything more to protest. We have to deal with the things that are happening in the moment.

For example, this thing about Syria. Finally, we are not going to war. And that is great, because I was sure they were going to invade Syria and then turn around to Iran.

And all of this spying. So much screening. So many agencies. I don't know, I think it is overdone. Can you imagine if you are making love to your wife and someone is peeking through the window? They should at least ask, "I'm a voyeur — can I please take a peek?"

So the band is more political than in the '60s?

Oh, for sure. I was 15 years old. It's kind of hard for a kid to be politicized when your personality is not really formed. I have opinions now. I am an individual now. Before, I was just a kid. I was probably much more an anarchist than I am now. I don't know exactly what I am, but I don't like the things I don't like, and I talk about it.

The people who were older — Caetano Veloso, Gilberto Gil — they were much more politicized than we were. We would use irony and laughter. We were not communists or pro-America. We were world citizens. We were kids. Our political ideas had a lot to do with what we heard about — what Caetano would say, what my father would say.

Life is not only politics. It is also about love. The last phrase the Beatles ever said was "the love you take is the love you make."

Do you consider the music you compose to be tropicália? Or is it something new?

We are not the normal rock 'n' roll band. We are Os Mutantes. The sounds we make are very particular. If I see myself writing music for myself, it is totally different from what goes under the Mutantes umbrella. It is a different kind of magic.

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Matt Preira