Mariachi El Bronx: Back Down South
By day, they’re your favourite cut-throat punks – but by night, the horns assemble and they become a joyous celebration of mariachi. Ahead of their third album, Matt Caughthran lets BLUNT into the private universe of Mariachi El Bronx.
Any punk rock fan knows the moment where they crossed over – the opening chords of a Black Flag album, the howls of The Clash, the triumphant trumpeting of Gorilla Biscuits. But ask that same fan where they were the first time they heard the sounds of traditional Mexican folk music, and it might be a little more confusing. Not so for Matt Caughthran, the lead vocalist of LA punks The Bronx who also moonlights with his bandmates under the moniker Mariachi El Bronx. For him, it comes back to young love and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
“It goes straight back to Los Lobos,” he explains. “Growing up on the outskirts of east LA, my very first girlfriend was a cousin to Vincent Hidalgo and David Hidalgo Jr., who became great friends of mine and are the sons of David Hidalgo from Los Lobos. We hit it off instantly – up until that point, I had never really sung or hung out properly with musicians or anything. Meeting those two guys changed my life forever – getting my world opened up to so many different kinds of music as an angry, young punk kid, going to see Los Lobos at the Greek Theater every year… That band changed my life. I don’t think that’s too big of a secret if you’ve heard a Mariachi El Bronx record. The fact we’ve gotten to play with those guys and that they dig what we do… that’s such a cool thing to us.”
The band travelled to Charlottesville, Virginia to record the third Mariachi El Bronx album (which is untitled, as are the two previous LPs and all four Bronx records) on a farm. This marks the first time that they have ever recorded outside of California, and the sea-change of sorts is reflected within the album’s spirit. It marks not only the finest album the band have done under their alter-ego, but it marks a positive and constructive step forward for Caughthran from a psychological perspective.
“There were some things on Bronx IV where I was dealing with a lot of heavy shit – there was the loss of my dad, as well as a lot of character issues I had going on,” he says. “I had thought that I’d gotten past it and gotten through it all… and I was wrong. We came to making this record, and I fought it really badly. I couldn’t get into it, I couldn’t write anything. I knew there was a lot of stuff that I needed to get out, and I was blocking it. I didn’t want to put myself in that place again.”
It’s a difficult situation for anyone to be in, let alone someone who thrives on creativity and the release that comes with it. Songs were left untouched for weeks, leaving the rest of the band essentially stranded during the creative process. So, what came next?
“Finally, I just decided to fucking go for it,” says Matt. “I had to be myself, I had to work and I had to battle through. I jumped in, and what I came up with is probably the darkest record we’ve ever done, it’s really personal. Bronx records aren’t easy – they’re hard to make. It pulls a lot out of you mentally. El Bronx, to a certain extent, was the opposite of that on the previous records – everything fit, it felt right. This was the first time I’d had that inner struggle where I was really choosing my words carefully. It is what it is.”