Os Mutantes' Umbrella of Magic

Sergio Dias marvels at his tropicália outfit's unlikely resurgence.

The tropical funhouse psychedelia (aka tropicália) of Os Mutantes' '60s albums was so potently weird, time and space combined couldn't bury it. Rediscovered by '90s crate-diggers, the Brazilian legends regrouped in 2006 and in 2009 released Haih Or Amortecedor, their first album since 1974. Nobody was more surprised by their renewed cult status than founding member, multi-instrumentalist, and font of shamanic wisdom Sérgio Dias, who took time to discuss this unexpected phenomenon in advance of Os Mutantes' Friday gig at Neumos.

SW: Did you ever expect the recent resurgence of interest in the band?

Dias: I never had any idea of the possibility of this. But life has its own way and sometimes you have to sail according to the wind. When you see all these kids and all the young guys of this generation wanting something, we had to play and construct and make music. It was the least we could do. If life brings you something as beautiful as that, when you see all these people giving you that kind of life, you have a responsibility to give it back. But it isn't just a responsibility. It's fun.

How does the chemistry of the current seven-piece band compare to the original trio?

Pretty much the same. Os Mutantes doesn't belong to me, or [original members] Arnaldo [Baptista] or Rita [Lee]. Os Mutantes to me is a vortex of energy, or an umbrella of magic. When you start to work under that umbrella, it's totally different. When I write for Os Mutantes, it's totally different from anything I write for myself. It's an amazing experience. The freshness, the vitality of this band is what's keeping me alive. They're all so in tune with the original vibe.

Os Mutantes lived under a military dictatorship after the 1964 coup. Was it difficult to keep up with music from outside Brazil?

No, but we had kind of a kaleidoscopic view of it, because in Brazil we got bits and pieces of everything. We were searching a lot via the shortwave radio. So we could listen to and record stuff from all over the world, like working with a telescope in the sky. It was great to reach the BBC, or radio in the U.S., or even something that would be playing in, say, Greece. Shortwave was our Internet. The dictatorship could do nothing to control it. So we had influences from classical to Johnny Mathis to Nat King Cole to tangos, mariachis—all of it.

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