Latin funk and metal gods; Talking with Alex Marrero of Brown SabbathJanuary 4, 2017
Austin, Texas-based, nine-piece Latin funk group Brownout are bringing their critically praised performance, Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath, to the Nectar Lounge on Wednesday, January 18. The group just released their second Black Sabbath tribute record on Ubiquity Records, featuring reimagined versions of “Fairies Wear Boots,” “Snowblind” and “Supernaught.” We sat down with lead vocalist Alex Marrero to talk about how Brown Sabbath was born, and what Nectar fans can expect on January 18.
Nectar Lounge: Can you start by telling me how Brownout got started? The band is composed of many members of Grupo Fantasma (nine-piece, Grammy Award-winning Latin funk orchestra), so I’d love to know how your sound differs from that group.
Alex Marrero: Brownout developed about 10 years ago as a side project of Grupo Fantasma. Grupo Fantasma is more of a Latin-Cumbia band with two lead singers. It has a more straight ahead Latin Orchestra type vibe. After doing that for a lot of years, the guys wanted to go back to their funk roots, so they started Brownout as a vehicle to do funky stuff while still maintaining the Latin sound. It’s basically the same band without the two lead singers, Jose Galeano and Kino Esparza. That’s how it started and it turned into its own thing, from one small side project to another main act that has a different sound of it’s own.
NL: So Brownout has been together now for over a decade. I’d love to hear how your sound has developed over the past years.
AM: The sound has developed quite a bit, and I can tell you that as a fan of the band, because I wasn’t always a part of [Brownout]. I was in Grupo Fantasma for about 10 minutes back in 2001 and I go way back with all these guys. I remember seeing the progression of Brownout from a regular kind of funky, more cover type stuff, and every record has just evolved into its own character.
I think the strength of the songwriting has gotten better and there’s been some personnel changes. I also think the inclusion of John Speice, the current drummer, added a lot to that mixture as well. The last record that Brownout put out, Oozy, started incorporating more vocals, rather than Brownout being a strictly instrumental band. And with me being in the band for the past couple of years through Brown Sabbath, we’re writing more stuff that has me singing, so that’s a natural progression I’ve seen the band go through.
NL: So I’d love to dive in and ask…why Black Sabbath? How did this idea come about and what transformed it from just an idea into now two fully produced records and a tour?
AM: It’s pretty funny! It started from the guys being in a band, and you know when you have long tours and long hours you start deliriously coming up with jokes. Basically the genesis was: Brownout decided to do a month long residency at a club here in Austin, Texas called Frank. Every week the band decided to do a different scene. One week was James Brown’s Black Caesar record and they called it Brown Cesar. They did a B-Boy night called Brownout 2 Electric Boogaloo. For the last one they messed around with the name Brown Sabbath. That was the last of the residencies and that one blew up. There was a line around the block because Black Sabbath is such a powerful entity. So to see what Brownout would do with that garnered a lot of interest. And here we are two years later!
It was supposed to be a one-off. Then I don’t know, it got wheels and there was interest from Ubiquity [Records], so we took those songs and put them together and went into the studio. It happened really organically but really quickly. Next thing you know we got these gigs and it started a snowball effect
NL: Yeah it sounds like it’s gotten a lot of attention! I was reading even Ozzy Osbourne himself said that the singer, I’m guessing you, sounds exactly like him. How did that feel when you heard that?
AM: That was a really surreal day to tell you the truth, cause I’ve been a big fan of Black Sabbath and Ozzy’s solo stuff my whole life. To suddenly get a link to him referring to me…I think what he said was, “This f***ing Mexican guy sounds just like me!” I mean everybody was pretty surprised that A) they had heard it and B) he had decided to comment on it. I think it speaks to the treatment that was taken with the material cause there’s been throughout the years thousands and thousands of Black Sabbath tribute bands. How many can they comment on? That really took into fact that they liked it enough to say something about it.
NL: Going back into the albums Brownout has recorded, you just released Brown Sabbath Volume II. I’d love to hear your take on how this differs from Volume I and what listeners will notice.
AM: There is a big difference. Basically, once the show started going, once we started getting all these gigs, I kind of became “the guy.” I wanted to front this band. This was a unique opportunity to really take on a persona and go all out and create a big show. There are a lot of wardrobe changes. I go pretty over the top. It’s a pretty interesting character that I have fun playing on stage. So the show developed cause we did some extensive tours with the band from the first record and we needed to fill about 90 to 120 minutes of music. In order to keep that interesting we had to add a lot of material, and a lot of vocals ended up being incorporated. When we got off the road from the tour, we had this whole batch of songs that were live tested and super tight with great arrangements, so we went [into the studio] to capture that moment in time. We never even expected to make one record let alone two.
That’s basically what Volume II is comprised of. Most of the record has vocals now as opposed to the first one which had more of an instrumental edge to it. We’re really proud of it, we’re really happy with how it turned out, we feel the arrangements are interesting, they’re really fun to play and I’m really proud of the vocal work. It’s always a fine line between honoring and hitting those notes that people want to hear as [Black Sabbath] fans while still giving it my own take and spin with the Latin funk thing. It’s a delicate juggling act which we’ve enjoyed. I think [Volume II] is a step up from the first record.
NL: Well it sounds like it’s going to be a fantastic record to see performed live! You mentioned some costume changes, and lot of diving into this persona. What can people expect from this live show at Nectar? What is seeing Brown Sabbath live going to be like?
AM: It’s going to be a great show! If anyone saw us the last time we were in town, we did a KEXP performance that was great. We love Seattle, we love coming back, we have a lot of friends out there, we love the city…so we’re just going to bring it like we always do! It’s loud, it has an integrity that one would expect and it has an interesting twist to it. I’m not trying to be Ozzy because that’s silly. No one can be Ozzy. But I want it to be a big rock show, like in the old school sense of the word. I want audience participation! It’s a fun show and I think people who haven’t heard what we’re doing will be hopefully pleasantly surprised. It seems to work adding horns and Latin percussion to Sabbath. Who would have guessed?
Make sure to check out Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath at Nectar Lounge on Wednesday, January 18!