October 15th, 2007 by Russ
AUSTIN DAZE: How did this project come about and when did it become a reality you guys knew you would stick to?
BETO MARTINEZ: Before we had Grupo Fantasma we were The Blimp and it was like a funk rock project. When we started doing Fantasma more full time it was pretty much straight Latin. Brownout kind of came about from us wanting to go back and do the straight funk stuff. So it was like, 2003, that Adrian (Quesada) approached us and said, “Hey man we should put a funk band back together.” And that’s where we started. It was just a natural thing. We did it not with the intention of making it a hard core project or anything. We started with a bunch of covers of old funk stuff that we wanted to do and played a couple of gigs which were nothing special–7 people. Our first big was opening for De La Sol. We kept doing it but just every once in awhile—it was really a side project of Fantasma. I don’t think there was ever a question of “Do we want to do this?” because that is what we always did. It was a return to funk; it was a natural outlet. With Fantasma, it’s a bigger band and the music definitely has to be more structured and with Brownout it was kind of our stretching out thing. As soon as we put it together people just started bringing in music.
AUSTIN DAZE: You guys have been incredibly busy with both Fantasma and Brownout. When do you have time to breathe?
GREG GONZALES: Sitting in the van. It’s not always a pleasant experience breathing in the band. Yeah, Fantasma has been keeping us really busy and we spend all our free time working on the Brownout album which we finally finished. Right now we are home for two weeks so it’s kind of our breathing period.
AD: A few years ago, Les Claypool of all people shot me down for asking him a question about his side projects. He said, and I’m paraphrasing, there are no side projects only what you are doing right now. What do you think about that?
GG: I guess we can agree with that. It’s not like you are going to get some Sophie’s Choice situation where it’s Brownout or Grupo and you can never see the other one again. We are all the same dudes so sometimes we’ll pull out a Brownout song when we are playing with Grupo.
AD: It’s interesting because Beto, you did use the term, “side project” when you were answering. Do you think of it that way?
BM: Kind of. Not everyone that is in Grupo is in Brownout but everyone that is in Brownout is in Grupo. I think in that way it is because we can’t play with Brownout as much as I’d like to because we are playing with Fantasma. At this point it’s the main thing because that’s the band we are getting gigs with; it’s the band that feeds us. So I kind of view it as a side project. It’s not a negative thing. When I go home I don’t say, “Ok, now I’m working on Fantasma.” I just work on whatever comes to mind and it could be either one.
GG: Also, we’ve done a lot of gigs, like I said, where Grupo will play a Brownout song or it will be a Brownout gig and everyone from Grupo is there and it’s like, “While we are here let’s play a Grupo song.” A lot of it has to do with the fact that there are so many talented people in this group if we all wrote one song we wouldn’t have enough time to rehearse it. So there was just a back log of other material that didn’t fit the Grupo mold but was still great material. So it was like, “Let’s play some instrumental stuff as it is.” I could see what Les is saying but maybe for him with his other projects not everyone is in the same band. With us, there’s not such a distinct band.
AD: When do you guys find time to practice and lay down tunes? How does that work?
BM: We’ve had, for as long as I can remember, probably 7 years now, we’ve had a weekly practice. We pretty much do that all the time unless we’ve been playing nonstop. There are times that we can’t rehearse because we’ve been playing so much and you have one day to go home and see your wife or whatever. It’s just too hard. That rehearsal date is pretty religious. We make time for it unless it’s completely impossible. I try to practice at home as much as I can. And then a few of us have those really cool Macs which are basically our own home studio and we record material and share it with each other. Otherwise we collaborate when we can and bring stuff to the rehearsal. I think everyone is working on their own stuff on their own.
GG: Everyone has their own process. Some guys will write music. Like Leo (Gauna) will come in and have all this stuff written out. Other people will have this little idea and then we will develop it. With Brownout you can come in with an idea and just do that. It’s hard to generalize.
AD: How do you pick the covers for Brownout?
BM: The covers that we do in Brownout are all songs that we personally really like. The stuff we do is all hard core funk or Latin funk and some of it is obscure stuff. We are all music junkies. We look for music all the time we are always trading music and trying to find just the more obscure and cool stuff. Lately, we’ve been trying to write more than we play covers so we do have a lot of original stuff. But the covers are personal and artists that we respect–older 70s funk.
[fa:p:id=1571538978,j=r,s=s,l=p]AD: Tell us about this new album.
GG: I think the title says it all: Homenaje. The title means “homage”. It’s kind of our interpretation of the funk that we wanted to hear, of the funk that we listen to. For a long time I was too poor to buy new CDs so I would go to the record store and get the dollar records, the older stuff or more obscure stuff that maybe people’s parents listened to. And I think a lot of us through one way or another has gotten into that bigger mentality of listening for obscure stuff, of something really fresh that was looked over in the past. That’s the kind of vibe I think we tried to put into this album. We did it by ourselves for the most part, in all different locations. Some songs were mixed by pros some songs were mixed by me or Adrian, some songs were produced entirely by an individual, and some songs were produced in a group. But I think the unifying thing is that the whole album is paying respect to these styles and trying to add our own little twist to them without taking away the rawness and the essential quality of those funk songs.
BM: We definitely went at it with the approach that we wanted it to sound raw, to sound like it was recorded in 1973 to tape in some little studio. And some of the tracks were recorded to tape. But a lot of it we did on our own and recorded in six different studios. The closest thing that I can think of that’s new music that has that sound is Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings and Poets of Rhythm—those guys have definitely been able to capture the old funk sound. That’s what we wanted to do; we didn’t want it to come across as a slick new album. We had a very distinct sound in mind.
AD: What makes a good show for you?
GG: An enormous paycheck.
BM: It’s a combination of things. First of all, our performance: if we don’t mess up too much, we are happy with that. But more than that: our audience. If the crowd is into it then we play better than we would if people were ignoring us. So it’s a combination of both our performance and what we get from the crowd.
GG: let’s not forget the sound. We’ve been fortunate to work with some really great sound people and know some really talented sound people and try and work with them whenever we can. Nothing can slaughter a good show more than bad sound. You’re audience can be there and you can play perfect but if it sounds like crap because of somebody else you can’t do anything about it.
BM: With Fantasma we’ve been growing and doing these big shows where there are thousands of people which is really cool but with Brownout it’s kind of going back to what Fantasma used to be which is the smaller club shows where we are cramped on the stage and the crowd is cramped and it’s like this really loud, sweaty atmosphere. That’s what I enjoy the most. I know that a bunch of us get into that. It’s going back to where it all started: small clubs and people dancing all night.
AD: What makes this town special for you?
GG: it’s not just one thing I guess. Mostly it’s the people. We travel all over the place and see all kinds of different stuff–more enlightened governments perhaps or nicer architecture–but it’s really the people we miss when we are out there.
BM: I’ve been here for eleven years now and I really couldn’t think of living anywhere else. There is a lot of music, musicians, and a lot of places to play. Things like Austin Daze and the whole grass roots artist community it’s pretty unique in Texas and definitely in the country. This is where we made whatever it is that we do. This is where we did it.
AD: Anything else?
BM: Come to the Rockit Party with Afrika Bambaataa.
GG: You want to talk about the ideal show, come to the Rockit Party.