Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath
Local funk crew journeys ‘Into the Void’ tonight
By Chase Hoffberger, 2:30PM, Fri. Jun. 27
Brownout’s progressive take on Latin funk got thrown for a black-cloaked loop last autumn when the local Grupo Fantasma offshoots nestled into Frank one Thursday in September and unleashed a set of Black Sabbath covers.
The one-off caught enough fire that the band decided to cut an EP of the material. Between Grupo gigs, Brownout gigs, Spanish Gold gigs, and the other myriad commitments involved among eight working musicians, they recorded, pressed, and packaged Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, a seven-song assembly refurbishing Ozzy Osbourne, Tony Iommi, and company’s most iconic kicks.
The disc arrived nationally Tuesday. Tonight, Brownout celebrates its release at Empire Control Room. We spoke with band bassist Greg Gonzalez, a lifelong Sabbath fan, about Brownout’s immersion into darkness.
Austin Chronicle: Brown Sabbath is obviously a great departure from the standard Grupo Fantasma/Brownout material. How’s that affect the audience?
Greg Gonzalez: There’s a mix of people who are familiar with us – who are Grupo Fantasma or Brownout fans – as well as people who are there because they’re Sabbath fans and metal heads, and people who are curious about the whole concept.
AC: You say these metal heads are curious. Are they enjoying it?
GG: The vast majority of the ones who have come out have really enjoyed the show. Some people have come up and said they’ve seen Sabbath seven times and thought that we were better. They’ve been super enthusiastic and wanting to meet the bandmembers. They’ve been buying a boatload of merch in comparison to our typical fan base.
AC: We actually ran a piece on that same phenomenon in 2008.
GG: That’s the uniform of the heavy metal fan: You wear band shirts and rep the bands. They’re a much more involved audience. They want to know more. They want to meet you after the show and get a signature. The response has been different. They’re not dancers, but they definitely rock out.
AC: Let’s get into the music. What made Brownout want to play Black Sabbath songs?
GG: They’re stripped down and raw. The bass is very loud, in comparison with a lot of metal that came along later. It’s also super-based upon riffs. Every song is a sequence of riffs, really, and that riff-like nature makes it repetitive. There are a lot of rhythmic things that align it to jazz and blues – a lot of shuffle rhythms and 6/8 times. There’s a swing to a lot of their rock.
It was obvious, especially on their earlier albums, that they were just messing around and having a good time. It definitely derives a lot of influence from the blues, but there’s a lot of swing in there and originality. They weren’t trying, like many of the English bands, to be a blues band.
A lot of their production techniques were funky. The drums were funky. The bass was funky. I was hugely influenced by Geezer Butler growing up in high school. One of the things that appealed to me with Sabbath instead of Led Zeppelin was that the bass was up front in the mix.
AC: Brownout’s obviously no stranger to the task of covering someone else’s songs.
GG: That’s been our schtick all along: finding a way to express our appreciation for genres of music that are far removed from our experience. Being from the border, the original members of the bands – Adrian Quesada, myself, Beto Martinez – we grew up with an appreciation for music from Mexico and Colombia, but we weren’t Mexican or Colombian. We grew up listening to the Beastie Boys and Red Hot Chili Peppers.
When we first started playing as Brownout, we spoke of our appreciation for Seventies funk and breakdancing music. There weren’t really bands playing funk like that: faster, up-tempo, syncopated funk. It’d become something different and co-opted. In many cases, we felt the word funk was being misused. It was just music with funky elements. As we established our sound with Brownout, we started venturing into other things. We played B-boy music and played with the GZA. Then we did this Black Sabbath project.
We’ve become chameleons. We can interpret all this music through these different vehicles. We can play a cumbia version of “Burning Down the House” with Grupo Fantasma. Or we can play a set of GZA’s music with Brownout, and it sounds like the GZA but also like Brownout. Or we can play Sabbath, and you’ll hear both.
AC: You’ve enjoyed a wealth of attention for this project. One could assume quite safely that at least some of that attention’s being showered upon you because of the source material. Have you been at all surprised with the recent run?
GG: Not really. We’ve been on the roller coaster for a while now, from touring and grinding it out to having these flashes of success where we play with Prince or get onto TV. When we hit on it, we feel it. When we had Sonidos Gold nominated for a Grammy, we knew. When we heard it we were like, “This sounds like some Grammy-winning stuff.” We felt it again on El Existential.
We recorded a few songs for Brown Sabbath and thought they were pretty good. Then we went back a little later and recorded some more songs: “Man, they sound like hits.” You can see all the signs.