Latin-Funk Band Goes Metal, Covers Black Sabbath

Into funk-jazz-Latino-soul-psychedelic-metal music? Then check out Brownout's new album Brown Sabbath. NPR's Arun Rath speaks with bandleader Greg Gonzalez about the surprising mix of styles.

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ARUN RATH, HOST:

If you are into funk-jazz-Latino-soul-psychedelic-metal, I got the band for you. Brownout is a Latino band from Austin that was already deep into mixing a lot of styles - tight, funky horns, smoking-hot Latin percussion, psychedelic electric guitars. But there's no way their fans could've prepared for, could've expected what they've done on their latest album. Brownout has taken on a new identity - playing the songs of classic British heavy metal band Black Sabbath. Remember Ozzy Osbourne back in the days of leather fringe jackets? Well, he just got a lot browner and a lot of funkier.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "BROWNOUT PRESENTS BROWN SABBATH")

RATH: Brownout performs some shows as Brown Sabbath and they were such a hit, there is now a "Brown Sabbath" album. Greg Gonzales is the bassist for Brownout. Greg, welcome to the program.

GREG GONZALEZ: Thanks for having me.

RATH: Now Brownout - you do incorporate a lot of different styles. But still, you know, to a casual observer, you know, going from a kind of funky, Latino, rocky sound to classic British heavy metal like Black Sabbath would seem like a leap to a lot of people. How did you get there?

GONZALEZ: Well, originally the idea started kind of as a half joke, half exercise. This past September, we did a residency here in Austin at a local club called Frank where our intention was to do a different theme every week. You know, so we'd do a set of our own music followed by a set of themed music. So one time we did all the breakbeat music, and we called it Brownout to electric boogaloo, you know. Then we get a hip-hop night. We did a night of James Brown's music where we covered, in its entirety, his album "Black Caesar." We called it Brown Caesar. But at one point, in of our many van travels that we do as a band, we just came up with the idea of "Brown Sabbath." And it sounded funny. And we were all Black Sabbath fans originally. So we started digging in and realizing that it was a lot more ambitions than we initially thought. You know, there's a lot of these epic, long form jams where it's just like riff after riff after riff. But at that point, it was no backing out. You know, we decided to dig in. And from the first song that we tried out it was - just sounded great.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "BROWNOUT PRESENTS BROWN SABBATH")

GONZALEZ: You know, we started demoing them out, not exactly knowing how we were going to do it, not exactly knowing who was going to sing. Luckily, our good friend Alex Marrero, a local drum set player and percussionist as well as vocalist and guitar player, expressed his interest in doing it, you know. And we had no idea that he was capable of channeling Ozzy Osbourne, the Mexican Ozzy Osbourne as we call it.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WIZARD")

OZZY OSBOURNE: (Singing) Never talking. Just keeps walking. Spreading his magic.

RATH: You're a bass player, right? You play the bass?

GONZALEZ: That's correct.

RATH: Now I've listened to a fair amount of Black Sabbath back in the day, I'll have to say. And you need to explain to people why for a bass player Black Sabbath is especially attractive.

GONZALEZ: Well, there's several reasons. I mean, for one, with all the guitar soloing and whatnot, the bass player had a lot of freedom to express himself. And on top of that, the base is just really loud on all of those albums, you know?

RATH: In the mix. It's up there.

GONZALEZ: So that always appeals to a base player.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "N.I.B.")

GONZALEZ: And finally, they gave the bass player a solo which doesn't always happen, you know. N.I.B. base solo with a wah pedal. You know, I remember hearing that in high school and being like, wow what's that cool thing? I didn't know you could put a wah pedal on a bass.

RATH: And on that track - on NIB - you're loving it, clearly. You're eating this up.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "N.I.B.")

GONZALEZ: I love that track. I don't - you know, I didn't get a solo on the album or anything. But, you know, I'm a base player. I'm not used to getting solos. And I don't ask for them. When I get them it's always a surprise.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "N.I.B.")

RATH: And the other thing is the horn section really works.

GONZALEZ: Oh yeah. You know, we really got to credit our horn arranger, Mark Gonzales nicknamed Speedy. He did a fantastic job of interpreting the music, you know, of not over-doing it either. And that's really the thing that you have to be careful with horn arranging, especially in this kind of context is not to make it too corny, not to overdo it on the jazzy voicings or whatever. You know, it's rock music. And it's very simple. It's got to stay primal and locked into the group.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTO THE VOID")

RATH: Were you surprised by how well you kind of fit into playing this? Because if you look at it on paper, it seems kind of crazy. But you put on the album and here you guys play, you know, "Into The Void." It just sounds very natural. It sounds like this was supposed to be.

GONZALEZ: They're just naturally funky. You know, what they do is already funky. So it wasn't that hard, necessarily, to add congas and percussion and horns on to what was already a funky foundation, you know.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "INTO THE VOID")

RATH: Now you said you guys, especially the rhythm section, you knew Black Sabbath. But what about your core audience? Are these people that are familiar with classic, epic British metal?

GONZALEZ: It's funny to see the different audiences. You know, there's people who show up who are familiar with Brownout, who are fans of Brownout, who are into the DJ scene. They might be breakdancers. They might be into jam band music. They might be into horns and percussion and Latin music. And that's one side of the audience. The other side is people who were huge fans of Black Sabbath who were just curious to see what's going on. It's just really cool to see the blend of these two different cultures clash and for them to at the same time agree that they really enjoy this product we've put out there.

RATH: Do you know if Ozzy Osbourne or any of the other original members of Black Sabbath have heard it. Got any reaction from them?

GONZALEZ: We have had no reaction from them. We haven't heard anything. I'm curious to see what their take on it would be, but I'm also a little nervous that they would hear it be like oh, it's rubbish.

RATH: I doubt that. I think they're going to like those horns.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "BROWNOUT PRESENTS BROWN SABBATH")

RATH: Greg Gonzales joins me from KUT in Austin. Brownout's new album, "Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath" is out now. Greg, thanks very much.

GONZALEZ: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF ALBUM, "BROWNOUT PRESENTS BROWN SABBATH")

RATH: If you want to follow us, you can find us on Twitter, @arunrath and @weekendedition. Or follow us on Facebook. This is WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. Rachel Martin is away. I'm Arun Rath.

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