The Bronx aren’t very big on album titles.
Since forming in 2002, the LA-based hardcore punk act have released four eponymous albums. They’ve also released three self-titled records as Mariachi El Bronx, their take on Mexican folk music. Yet the newest album from their rather more soft and gentle alter-ego offers up a slightly different, distorted interpretation on that genre – a deliberate and self-conscious effort to not make just another mariachi record, something which singer Matt Caughthran and guitarist Joby Ford both decided they didn’t want to do. As such, Mariachi El Bronx (the new one) features instrumentation that, frankly, shouldn’t be on a mariachi record. But it is. And it works. Yet this album was about much more than escaping the confines of the genre, as Caughthran reveals.
The official line on this album is that you and Joby didn’t want to make a typical mariachi record…
Matt Caughthran: “Yeah. The first record was us trying to stumble through it and try something new. The second record was us having a grasp on what it was all about and being great at our instruments and trying to master that. So this third record, it just felt like it was time to progress and open the songs up a little bit and add some different textures to the band that you don’t necessarily find in mariachi music, and it felt really good to do that. You don’t want to do the same things over and over again. Usually, those things are kind of daunting in idea, but the reality of it is that it’s still a Mariachi El Bronx record. It’s still relatively positional, but it’s our take on things. We get bored very easily, so it was time to push things forward a little bit with the band and do some different things. It felt really, really good.”
Lyrically, this seems to the darkest Mariachi El Bronx record yet…
“It most definitely is. I was going through a lot of stuff that I thought I had written out of my system on Bronx Four. It was a really hard record for me to write because I’m not a negative person, but the last couple of years have been pretty rough for me, and there are some things that I just couldn’t escape. I was going through, probably, the first real bout of depression I’ve ever gone through in my life and it was really intense. I talked to the guys because I was really unsure about putting this record out there because, one, it’s very personal, but two, it was just extremely dark. And it’s not just for me, so I was wary of putting something that was kind of negative out in the universe like that. But the guys backed me up and reinforced the idea that honesty and realness is what matters most in music, and if it’s a sad record, it’s a sad record. So we went with it and we stayed true to ourselves and it is what it is. And I’m really glad we did that. I’m glad we didn’t try to fake anything or cover anything up. It’s a heavy record, but it’s good that way because, one, it separates itself from the other two, and, on a personal note, it was just good to get that stuff out of my system.”
At the same time there’s a wonderful sense of hope and uplift, especially on High Tide, where you sing about spiralling down, but also about being rescued. Did some of that come from the music being so naturally uplifting, or was it also other factors in your life coming into play?
“It was both. Music is a very personal thing for me, for all of us in the band – when I give a song to the guys, or even just a basic guitar part to Joby, it’s something that’s like attached to my soul. It is. Certain songs take you certain ways, and that is a moment on the record where it is kind of a moment of hope. And I think it’s a mix of both – a moment of hope lyrically, and it’s also connected to the feeling of the song, musically.”
Would it not have been easier to get those dark emotions out on a Bronx record, as opposed to a Mariachi El Bronx album? Because that kind of music is full of aggression and catharsis.
“That’s why it was super difficult. I was really wrestling with writing this record. I fought it tooth and nail. Ray [Suen] and Joby were sending me song after song after song, demos that they were writing, and I had eight or nine songs from between the two of and I hadn’t written a single word. I just couldn’t get myself to do it because I knew I was going to have to go to a dark place and say some serious shit, and I didn’t want to do it. I fought it for a long time. And finally, I woke up one day and said ‘Fuck it’ and started working through it and grinding it out. And the beauty of a band is that when you have friends and people that you care about who are dependent on you for what you bring to the table as part of something – whether it’s guitar, drums, bass, vocals, trumpet, violin, whatever – we’re all dependent on each other. And so a big part of me being able to jump into this record and not be afraid to face what I had to face was the fact that I didn’t want to let those guys down. I wanted to be there for them because I knew that this was going to be our best record, because, musically, it was just set up to be. I knew there was going to be something special about this record. I’m super thankful that I have those guys to inspire me and to snap me out of stuff when I fall into spells like that.”
So there was no talk of going straight to the next Bronx record instead?
“No. We thought about it, but the thing about Bronx records is that they take a long time. You’d think it would be easy and quick because it’s punk, but it doesn’t work that way for us. A Bronx record is a very, very involved process. It has to be one of those things where everyone’s chomping at the bit to fucking do something awesome and aggressive and kick some ass. Otherwise, it’ll come out soft, and I don’t want The Bronx to ever come out soft.”
Mariachi El Bronx (III) will be released on November 3 via ATO Records. The band support Gogol Bordello on tour in the UK in December.