Although they’re obviously very different sounding bands, the overall attitude to both The Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx is the same: you want to do something different, be creative, and push yourself to break down walls. All that creative mumbo jumbo is the same.
With both bands we strive to do something special. Musically of course, they are completely different and so there is a little bit of a feel that separates them. But they’re really not that different. It’s the same thing going into each band.
The same state of mind that we’ve established in both is to always try and work hard and do something different. That’s really how it is going in to the studio to make a record and going on tours – it’s the same thing. I love them both equally. And I love talking about them both equally. I basically love talking about myself.
I’m going to do five down the middle anyway, and split the difference between my top five Bronx and top five El Bronx tunes. I’ll start with The Bronx…
**STROBE LIFE *(The Bronx*, 2003)
This was one of the first songs we recorded – Strobe Life, White Tar and *Heart Attack American *were the first three songs we did for the first Bronx record. When the band first started I did a lot of drugs. It was really bad. I overdosed on speed and got taken to hospital in one of those rock bottom type moments. I was working on writing Strobe Life when that happened, and through that whole experience I ended up being able to finish off the song, just from everything that happened. It’s a super emotional song for me, and it’s also one of the first tunes that I did vocals on. And it was the first time the guys heard me sing. When we started the band I knew Joby [J. Ford], but I didn’t really know Jorma [Vik] or James [Tweedy] our first bass player, so I didn’t know if they would like my writing or my voice or anything. And I was still doing drugs at that time. So it was gnarly and it was heavy, but that song represents a kind of rebirth to me. And I love it for that reason.
**STYLE OVER EVERYTHING *(The Bronx IV*, 2013)
This song was kind of just written about the chaos of everyday life in California, Los Angeles and where I live in Huntington Beach. It’s about people becoming paranoid and putting the wrong emphasis on what’s important in life. I love the layout of the song as well. It reminds me of a Bad Religion song - like an Infected or something like that, with the really cool solo that comes late in the tune - and I just love the chorus. It’s my favourite song on the last Bronx record. Lyrically and melodically, it felt really cool to go in kind of soft in the first verse and then go into classic Bronx in the second verse when it kicks in. And Joby always liked the line I wrote, ‘Beach cruiser in the city’. We don’t play it a lot because the other guys don’t really like it, but I fucking love it and it’s not their list - it’s mine.
**KNIFEMAN *(The Bronx III*, 2008)
The first Bronx record was just a series of demos. The second one was our major label, crazy producer, epic record type thing. And for the third one we were like, ‘What the fuck do we do?’ We didn’t know what we were doing, and it was the first time we had to write a song pool to figure out what direction we were going to go. We wrote a whole bunch of songs – some of them made the record and some of them didn’t – which were cool, but we didn’t have an anchor for how the record should sound. We needed something with a feel to write the rest of the record around, and Knifeman became that song. It was a super cynical time in the band. You never want to be jaded as a human being or an artist, but we had gone through a lot of bullshit with labels and management. It wasn’t necessarily people letting us down or treating us wrong, but just overall kind of disenchantment with what we thought the dream of being in a signed, touring band would be. It was hell! None of us had any money and we felt like we had to compromise ourselves on a daily basis to be able to put food in our mouths. So this song is about that: being on the borderline of heaven and hell, and having to make the choice between self-compromise and self-sacrifice, and rewards, success, fame, and all that stuff. It’s a serious inner struggle and a reminder to myself of what I want from life. That’s why you have the opening line, ‘I wanna be original / I wanna be surrounded by art.’ It’s something I was trying to drill into my brain to remind myself what’s important. And once I had the lyrics to this song down, we had the direction for the rest of the record sorted. So that’s why this song is so important to me.
HISTORY’S STRANGLERS (The Bronx II, 2006)
We wrote that second record on Venice Beach, and it was the most amazing time for the band. We were in a studio on the beach with this producer Michael Beinhorn who was driving us nuts, but pushing us like crazy to write this amazing record. Everyone worked their asses off on that record. When it came time to do vocals it ended up taking me a month. I wasn’t at all stoked on it or in to it because it wasn’t what I believed in. But I look back on that record and I’m very proud of it. And this song was a serious jump up from what we did on our first record. It showed that we could do it, because I’d never been in a band before that had written a second record. And it’s fucking hard! When you have to have to do it again, and the bar has been set and there’s a standard, you never want to go backwards or down. You only want to go upwards and forwards. This was my first time encountering that, and it was a really crazy experience. But this song represents a moment of success to me for the band. We proved that we weren’t just a bunch of pals that got together and had some fucking songs and got lucky. Lyrically, I love it too: ‘Mother fucker I want your blood’ is the greatest thing to sing, ever. So this would be my numero dos song by The Bronx.
**HEART ATTACK AMERICAN *(The Bronx*, 2003)
My favourite Bronx song has got to be Heart Attack American. It’s the mission statement of the band, and it represented my entire life up until The Bronx started out. It’s everything in my mind that a punk song should be: it’s a complete exorcism of your disgust with life, disgust with yourself, and disgust with everything you see going on around you. It took me a while to figure out that you don’t have to be self destructive as a lifestyle. You can take parts of yourself and make that your life’s work, but you don’t have to take one thing and make it the sole purpose of your creativity. And you don’t have to be sad to be creative. But at that point that’s what that this song was to me. Everything that had gone on, from the overdose I had to being fucking broke and hating every single opportunity that I got in my life that was good because it wasn’t music, to being at a point in life where I felt like I had nowhere to go and no direction because I had this thing that I loved but I was never going to be able to do it – it all went into Heart Attack American. I had a girlfriend that I grew up with that I grew apart from too, and that was super painful because she was my first love. My entire life was changing, and it was fucked up. It was so bad. But with this song I finally got to stand up to my own mind and say, ‘Fuck this! I’m done with this shit and I’m moving on.’ And the guys in my band are the best. We all saved each other, but they really pulled me out of the fucking ashes man. And the way this song starts super quiet and then jumps in with the scream, it was such an awesome announcement of who we were and what our intent was, and what we wanted to do. It all came from an idea that had been stewing in my head in fucking frustration and hate for a fucking long time, and it felt so good to get it out. We all pulled it out together, and that’s what The Bronx is. It still is that, and every time we play this song I feel the exact same way. I fucking love it!
Matt Caughthran was talking to Matt Stocks. Check out the second part of our feature, featuring his five best Mariachi El Bronx tracks…