When it comes to cover/tribute bands, I was never much of a fan. A lot of people dig it, but I just could never take those groups seriously who spend so much time and energy trying to duplicate someone else's music. Then someone turned me on to Dread Zeppelin. These guys play Led Zeppelin songs set to reggae music with an Elvis impersonator on vocals. It was some crazy shit, but I became an instant fan of all their records. Tribute bands putting their own unique spin on the music, this is something I could appreciate. Another creative tribute act that should be on your radar right now is Brown Sabbath. This nine-piece outfit from Austin, Texas performs Black Sabbath songs set to Latin funk and even includes a horn section. They've released two albums Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath and Brownout Presents Brown Sabbath Vol II, which just came out October 28, 2016. If you've never heard of these guys, I recommend you check them out immediately, especially Sabbath fans. The music of Brown Sabbath is just too exceptional to be defined as mere cover songs.
Sound & Silence: Tell me about Brown Sabbath. Is this something that started out as a side project?
Martinez: Essentially yes, at this point. It started out from one of our nights of a month long residency we were doing [as Brownout]. We were doing a different theme every night for the second set of the show. The Brown Sabbath idea was the last night of the residency, and it did so well, the response was so good that we decided to make a record. That first record was back in 2014, and now we have a second one coming out so I guess it has become more of a side project of Brownout at this point.
S&S: How would you describe the overall vibe between the two, Brown Sabbath and Brownout?
Martinez: Brown Sabbath is taking the Black Sabbath material and giving it the Brownout treatment. Brownout is a nine piece band with a three piece horn section, congas, drums, bass, two guitars, timbales. We like to call it Latin songs. We take that sound and do Black Sabbath songs with that approach. It has the same sort of vibe as Brownout. It's funky. It's fun, but there's a heaviness obviously with the Black Sabbath material. We get to go out there and play a little bit louder and play a little bit harder and just really get into the whole feeling and power that Black Sabbath brings. We can add that to what we usually bring which is Latin funk. It's a fun, big show. There's a lot of musicians on stage. It's intricate.
S&S: So how exactly do you go from Brownout to Black Sabbath? Was it from some random idea, a song?
Martinez: (laughs) Funny enough, it was the name Brown Sabbath that came before anything else. We were on tour just driving in the van and coming up with a bunch of silly names like Brown Floyd, kind of adding our little prefix of Brown to it and Brown Sabbath eventually got thrown out there, and it just stuck in the back of our minds. When we started throwing around ideas for the residency, which happened in September of 2013 here in Austin, we had four nights to fill, and we decided to do a different theme for each night. One was like a hip-hop night where we had some local MC's come and join us, and we called it Fear of A Brown Planet. We did a night of B-boy music called Brownout to Electric Boogaloo. We did James Brown's Black Caesar album as Brown Caesar. And the last one was Brown Sabbath. We knew that it would be powerful, but we didn't expect the response that we got. As soon as we announced the band names people went crazy for that one. It turned out to be the best show of the residency. As far as the music itself, most of the guys in the rhythm section, me included as a guitar player, are huge fans of Black Sabbath, and we have been forever. We grew up with the music. It was just an honor to be able to actually play it.
S&S: When the idea came about to record Black Sabbath songs was there anyone in the band that needed convincing?
Martinez: Well, the horn players, for example, those guys were not fans of Black Sabbath. They were all jazz background sort of guys. They didn't really get it at first. It took a while for them to kind of figure out what their role was. And I give tons of credit to our horn arranger, Mark "Speedy" Gonzales. He wrote and arranged parts that sound like they've always been there on some of this Sabbath stuff. In terms of the whole band, yeah, when we did decide to record the record which is never the intention initially, there was sort of a big talk, and we were like hey, this can be super fun. We'll knock out this record. It's a cool little project that will get people talking. Brownout has three albums of original material. We've been playing original material the whole time, so we were a little bit worried about getting stuck in this cover band tribute thing. I've seen it happen before. There's kind of a lot of that going on these days right now where really good bands are doing these tribute shows, and they do well so you can't really fault anyone for doing them. But, yeah, there was some apprehension about with what happens to Brownout and the original aspect of our music. I think we've been focused on this for a while, but we're still recording, and we plan to have an actual Brownout record out by mid next year. We're trying to balance it.
S&S: Has performing Black Sabbath influenced any new Brownout material?
Martinez: Yes, I think so, just the rock aspect. We started to write stuff a little heavier but not that far into the heavy realm. The guitars got a little chunkier and harder.
S&S: Alex Marrero, who does vocals for Brown Sabbath, any plans with him doing something with Brownout?
Martinez: Yeah. He's pretty much incorporated into Brownout when we do Sabbath shows. He's playing timbales and singing. That's one thing about Brownout; it was initially completely instrumental. As we went into the second album, we started doing the group vocal thing which we called brocals. None of us are very strong singers, so we do kind of a group chorus. We carried that into the third record, which had the most vocals we ever had. We saw an opportunity with Alex coming in to use him as a vocalist because he has a really strong voice. So most of the material that we're writing now does include some sort of a lead vocal. He's definitely playing a role here.
S&S: Now that you've recorded two Black Sabbath albums, were there any songs you wanted to record but couldn't because you couldn't make it work musically? I guess funk goes well with just about anything.
Martinez: I don't think there was anything that we tried that we didn't use. We did "Rat Salad" a couple of times, which you know is pretty simple. It's kind of a drum solo...we didn't really add too much to that one and it kind of fell by the wayside. But most of the stuff that we tackled, yeah, it just worked out pretty well. Lots of credit given to the horn arranger and the rest of the band for being flexible with it. Black Sabbath is a pretty funky band. Some people may find that hard to believe, but I know people that are real fans realize that. So it just works.
S&S: I heard Ozzy Osbourne listened to Brown Sabbath. How did that come about?
Martinez: (laughs) I don't know exactly how but what we heard was an interview he was giving on a satellite radio show. It was him and Sharon. They were talking about bands that he's listening to and then Sharon's like, "Ozzy, who were you listening to this morning?" The first thing he said was, "Fuck if I know." Then she said, "No, you were listening to this band." Then he's like, "Oh, Brown Sabbath. Yeah, it's some fucking Mexican guy, and he sounds just like me." (laughs) Then he goes off on it, "It was great. They have a horn section and percussion and all this. It was really awesome." And that actually led to us getting a show that was going to happen last year in Mexico. It was called Ozfiesta, and it was going to be this multi-day festival. It ended up getting canceled so we didn't do it but yeah, that led to that. So I don't know if initially, he was surfing the web or if he was googling Sabbath cover bands and he found us. But he heard us at some point, and he liked it.
S&S: That is pretty cool. Do you think twenty years from now you'll go on youtube to see if anyone is covering Brownout? Would you get a kick out of it?
Martinez: (laughs) Yeah. A few years ago someone sent us a video of a Japanese band a covering a cover that we did with Brownout called "African Battle," a Manu Dibango tune. It is on our first record. They were obviously covering our version of it because the trombone player knocks out the song note for note that we have on our record. It's pretty cool, and it's flattering, and it's great to see, especially younger musicians take on your music. It does give you a real sense of legacy and validation and all that sort of stuff.
S&S: Were there any Sabbath songs you recorded that went beyond your expectations?
Martinez: They were all so much fun to play. On the first record "N.I.B." came out really well. On the new one, "Children of the Grave." I like how it came together. It was almost like there wasn't a lot to it at first and we were like maybe it sounds too much like the original, but it ended up getting beefed up with some horn parts. It also ended up being a great song to play live, and I really like how it sounds on the record.
S&S: Are you guys planning on doing any East Coast shows?
Martinez: Yes. We don't have that booked right now, but it's in the works. I'm sure by spring of next year we'll definitely be out there.
3. Symptom Of The Universe
4. Fairies Wear Boots
5. Children Of The Grave
6. Electric Funeral
7. Sweet Leaf
8. Sabbath Bloody Sabbath
Dec 08 - Bell's Eccentric Cafe - w/ Karl Denson's Tiny Universe - Kalamazoo, MI
Dec 09 - Park West - w/ Karl Denson's Tiny Universe - Chicago, IL
Dec 10 - THE OLD ROCK HOUSE - w/ Karl Denson's Tiny Universe - St Louis, MO