Mariachi El Bronx on Latest Album, Juggling Multiple Projects + German Polka Music
Each band has its own identity, and it's not uncommon for band members to take on certain personalities, especially when they hit the stage. But what happens when a band takes on an entire alter ego?
Welcome the Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx; a Los Angeles punk outfit on one end and a modern mariachi band on the other. El Bronx have been entertaining fans around the world for over five years now and the Bronx are still rocking after more than a decade.
Originally created by singer Matt Caughthran, guitarist Joby J. Ford, drummer Jorma Vik and bassist James Tweedy (who left in 2007), the Bronx have released four records, and Mariachi El Bronx have delivered three, including last year's self-titled effort via White Drugs/ATO.
We had the chance to chat with Caughthran about how he keeps the two bands going, the approach between the bands' different sounds and how Germans relate to mariachi music.
Before 2014's Mariachi release, that band's last album came out a few years ago. What were you up to in-between the releases?
Well, we put out another record called The Bronx . So we put out a Bronx record, and we toured all over the world on that. Then we got back and enjoyed a little off time, and then we just started writing and jumped back into it for Mariachi El Bronx . The fun thing about both bands is that you can go back between the two. After touring for The Bronx , we just took some time [off] and then went into El Bronx . So the first demo to the release date probably took a year and a half, something like that.
How do you approach the Mariachi El Bronx music compared the Bronx music when it comes to songwriting? Is it different?
Not really. Sonically it is, but really Joby and I will just come up with the rough demo of the song -- usually it's just guitar and vocals. And when it's something that's cool, we'll show it to the rest of guys. With the Bronx, we'll just add guitar, bass and drums and jam it out together until it's set. With El Bronx, it's the same way, just with more instrumentation. In that way, they're similar. This is the first time we did an El Bronx record right after a Bronx record, so it did take a while to slip into that groove a little bit because the first two El Bronx records were done back to back. It took me a while, since I was still in Bronx mode, to get back into that writing process.
You mention how the two bands sound different. Does that affect how you actually perform the two different styles?
I guess El Bronx is a little more laid back. I mean, with Bronx, it's not like we sit backstage and slap each other or anything like that. I guess it's more of an aggressive mentality. We have the same rituals for each band where we sit around and drink some beers and then play. That's it. That's all we do. We just kind of hang out. But I guess getting yourself ready on a personal level, it's a lot easier with El Bronx because it's just really laid back. So with the Bronx, there's more aggression in the mindset. And with El Bronx, you kind of just walk onstage and play.
What's the story behind the El Bronx's track, "New Beat?"
That's a song about embracing your weaknesses. It's about when you get to a point in life where the bad and the good are so close and so 50/50 that scales could tip either way. And rather than letting the light win, it's about just giving into the darkness and letting your life unravel and enjoying it.
On Mariachi El Bronx , are there any new songs that you really like playing live?
I love playing "High Tide," "Everything Twice," "Right Between the Eyes," "Wildfires." It always feels great playing the new songs live. So anytime we get to play those tunes, I love it. I love playing the old songs, too, but the new songs are pretty special.
You guys toured Europe right before the holidays. How was that?
There's always something special about Europe during the holidays. Man, it is so beautiful. There's snow on the ground and Christmas villages set up in places like Berlin. And we went to Poland for the first time and went to London in December. It's a special time to be over there, and I can't wait to get back. It's so exciting to be over there.
How do your fans in Europe react to El Bronx's sound?
They love it. I think in places where they don't really have an idea of Hispanic culture or anything like that, I think they're just excited to hear another style of music. It's really cool because I didn't really see that coming. I didn't know how it would be taken, kind of outside Los Angeles or outside of places that understand mariachi music and Hispanic culture. I didn't know where it was going to go. It's been great so far in places like Australia and Europe. In Germany, they kind of have a link to the mariachi world with polka music. There are a lot of similarities and they love mariachi music in German, believe it or not. It's pretty cool. It's surprising everywhere we go, seeing people enjoy it.
What's the biggest misconception about Mariachi El Bronx and mariachi music in general that you've heard or encountered?
People ask us all the time if we're "serious." They think we don't wash our suits. People assume I speak Spanish. I don't speak Spanish. That's why I sing in English. People don't really ask us too many questions, though. People want to know why we're doing it, and it's because we're just having fun playing a different style of music. And everyone's kind of blown away with how far it's gone and so are we. We didn't expect to be doing Foo Fighters tours or going on Conan, Leno or Letterman and all that s---. We didn't see it coming at all, but it's just part of the appeal, part of the magic of the project. And we love it so we just keep going.
You're a busy guy, also working with the Drips and Bullet Treatment. How do you juggle all of these projects and keep everything in check?
I go insane every now and then. We all do. But it's cool. And the easiest way to juggle it is to just work. You work when you have free time. You try to write music. You try to record music. I feel very fortunate to play with the people I play with and have the relationships that I have. It's cool even though it's hard sometimes, like with the Bullet Treatment stuff. I do want want to put out another record and stuff, but I haven't had time to write some lyrics and finish these songs that I have. It's a lot sometimes, but I just keeping going. And hopefully one day, you'll get it done. The cool thing about music is, to a certain extent, there really isn't a timeline. You'll be done when it's done, and then you can put it out. It's tough to get everything finished immediately. Sometimes you need to just let things wait. Everything is alive and well and kicking, but right now my focus is El Bronx.
So what's up next for 2015?
I'll probably get onto writing The Bronx , but the majority of the year will be about touring. We're hoping to get some new places -- places we haven't been before like South America, maybe Mexico City. We want to bring the El Bronx experiment to places it's never been -- and hopefully it'll work.