Fade To Brown
Dig speaks with Beto Martinez of Austin band Brownout prior to Feb. 22 show at Chelsea’s Cafe
By Randy FaucheuxPosted Feb 20, 2013
Brownout is the Mr. Hyde to Grupo Fantasma’s Dr. Jekyll. Formed in Austin in 2000, Grupo Fantasma has become a critically acclaimed and commercially successful ensemble within the last few years, earning a Grammy for Best Latin Rock, Urban, or Alternative album in 2011. Eight of the 11 members of Grupo Fantasma went on to form the alter-ego project Brownout about four years after the original band was conceived. While Grupo Fantasma plays more conventional styles of Latin music with a funky edge, Brownout takes the funky edge and pushes it further, incorporating elements of psychedelia, punk, and hip-hop.
Brownout began as a more party-centric release from Grupo Fantasma’s already party-friendly music, without any specific intention of taking its party jams far outside its hometown. But in the last few years, Brownout has begun carving out its own path, releasing several albums and touring more frequently.
Dig had the opportunity to speak to Beto Martinez, guitarist for both Grupo Fantasma and Brownout, in the middle of a schizophrenic Grupo Fantasma/Brownout U.S. tour.
Brownout will play Chelsea’s Cafe on Feb. 22 at 10:30 p.m.
DIG: How long have y’all been on tour?
Beto Martinez: With Brownout, this is our third day. We’ve been on the road actually for a week before with our other project, Grupo Fantasma, out West, and then we actually did a Brownout show in Tucson on Saturday, then drove all the way across to New Orleans on Monday night [Lundi Gras].
DIG: How was that? Crazy?
BM: Yeah. It was really good. It was a great show, a great crowd, and you know all the Mardi Gras craziness and what-not. But yeah, we had a blast.
DIG: I know you’ve played with Antibalas, and listening to your music I hear a little bit of an Afrobeat influence, like Fela Kuti and such.
BM: Yeah, those are definite influences and the guys from Antibalas are all friends of ours. We haven’t specifically set out to play Afrobeat, but it’s definitely an influence being that Afrobeat – you know, Fela was influenced by when he came to the states and saw James Brown and heard all that funk music coming out of the late ‘60s and ‘70s and kind of did his own thing with it, which kind of became Afrobeat. So yeah, there’s definitely an undertone of that in our music as well.
DIG: Who are some of your other influences?
BM: Lots of us have different musical backgrounds, from metal to punk to jazz and hip-hop, and I think we just kind of bring it all together. But there’s definitely, in Brownout, undertones of the Latin music, which we play more of the kind of traditional styles of cumbia and salsa with our other project, but we kind of bring that into Brownout and meld it with the funk, and we get what we call Latin funk.
DIG: If you had to describe Brownout without using genres or other band names, how would you describe it?
BM: There’s a lot of movement. It’s exciting music. There’s a big percussion section, we have horns, there’s two guitars, we do some group vocals. It’s exciting, energetic music. It’s danceable. Yes, it’s fun music.
DIG: Do you have any particularly crazy or interesting tour stories?
BM: I don’t know, all kinds of weird stuff happens on the road, you know? We just had some crazy travel. … You know, we were in Flagstaff on Friday, where like 5 inches of snow fell overnight, then we drove from there and we were in New Orleans two days later, so that was crazy.
DIG: How did Brownout form? Was it from Grupo, like an intentional offshoot?
BM: Yeah, more or less. It’s kind of like a little zig-zaggy story there, you know? Most of us, well the core of us, a few guys that had been playing together in different bands when we formed Grupo Fantasma, and the kind of stuff that we did before Grupo was kind of akin to what we’re doing with Brownout now, which is funk and kind of instrumental music. And after we formed Grupo Fantasma and started getting kind of serious about that band, about three years into that, just as a kind of release, just get out there and … it makes a big difference to take a little break from the straight Latin music, so we decided to put this project together. That came to be Brownout, but we’d been playing that music previous to Grupo Fantasma. We just kind of came back to it, put this project together, and didn’t do a whole lot with it for a while. Just local shows for the first few years, then finally put out an album, and just in the last couple years we decided to start touring with it. We’ve got three albums now, and we’re working on recording a fourth one at this point.
DIG: There’s eight guys in the band. That must be tricky logistically, touring with that many people.
BM: Yeah, well we’ve been touring for a while with a big band, so I think we’ve got it down. But yeah, definitely, it’s a large group of guys you’re crossing the country with. It does present some logistical challenges, but we’ve been doing it for a while, so we’ve got it down to somewhat of a science.
DIG: Austin is a pretty musical city. How does being in that environment affect what your bands do, musically or otherwise?
BM: Yeah, we’d like to say that our bands, the way that our bands fit together, the style of music, our whole kind of approach, you couldn’t have anywhere else, in Texas at least. Austin’s a little oasis for musicians. It’s just a laid-back, liberal culture. So it’s a very accommodating place for musicians and their lifestyles. So we’ve enjoyed a lot of support from the community in Austin. The fans and all the venues and the people that work in the industry there have been very supportive. We have some pretty deep roots there now. For us, it’s the only place in Texas.