October 20th, 2010 by Emily | No Comments
| Filed in Interviews
Mariachi el Bronx are taking their Mexi-themed music back to our shores. They’re happy to talk about an upcoming record, their line of cologne and many other things besides. Just don’t bring up Didgeridoos… By Brent Balinski
“That’s our pop music. That’s our modern radio. There is way more Mariachi stations and Bolero stations and more Norteno stations than there is anything else, like top 40 radio or any kind of American English-speaking,” explains Joby Ford, guitarist for Los Angeles punk rock and rollers The Bronx. “A majority of radio stations are Latin music. So that is the pop music in town.”
Happy to let their music find whatever voice feels like the right one, and after years and years of soaking up their home’s hugely Hispanic influences, The Bronx, with a few additional members and performing as Mariachi el Bronx, brought out one of the most surprising releases of last year, an eponymous Mariachi album that got great reviews – and created the occasional furrowed brow – all over he world. It seemed deeply weird, but The Bronx never really minded being called weird, and never cared all that much about what a punk band should or shouldn’t do. Shit, they don’t even care if we like them or not.
“As the Didgeridoo is to Australia, the Mariachi is to Los Angeles. It’s our city’s signature form of music,” Ford tells us. And does he expect that it will go over well at the Melbourne Festival, where Mariachi el Bronx will perform this Saturday? “As I hate the Digeridoo, so shall Australian people hate the Mariachi!” And Ford really doesn’t like the Didgeridoo. “I mean, come on! The Didgeridoo? Worst instrument of all time…” Many of us who have suffered through a busker, Didge in their mouth and drum machine at their side, can relate to Ford’s disgust at that most recognisably Australian of instruments.
Unlike many other punk bands who dabble in genre-hopping for a lark – think of The Dead Kennedys pretending to play jazz in ‘California uber alles’, or The Vandals’ country album – you get the feeling that Mariachi el Bronx, while they are having fun and are happy to laugh at themselves, have a little bit of respect for and attachment to Mariachi. Many interviewing the band have heard members admit that they studied the musicality, rhythms and finer points of the style. Singer Matt Caughthran told an interviewer that it was an effort, “Making sure that we did right by the music. We didn’t want to give a bad representation of Mariachi music… The guys worked their asses off to make sure they had the right rhythms, the right feel for every song.”
And it certainly didn’t hurt that Caughthran and Ford grew up with the Hidalgo brothers, Dave and Vince, both “incredible musicians”, says Ford, as well as the sons of David Hidalgo Senior, singer and guitarist from Los Lobos. Yes, the Los Lobos…
“I have known Dave and Vince forever. We have played in many, many bands together. Probably, most notably The Drips,” explains Ford. And Dave and Vince have been in probably five different bands I’ve started. Quotation on ‘started’… Vince, once we started doing this, was the obvious call, because he’s the only one we know who plays guitarron.” Both Dave and Vince play on Mariachi el Bronx, but are currently touring with Social Distortion and Brody Dalle’s Spinerette respectively and can’t tour with Ford and co.
The Hidalgos’ Mariachi chops had a head-start of The Bronx’s. So how did Ford get up to speed with that little guitar thingy? “Probably the main thing was I found lessons on YouTube on how to play my particular instrument, which is the vihuela,” he remembers, before explaining how frustrating this became for his bandmates. “So I downloaded a couple of lessons and studied them while I was on the road. And I would sit there on the bus at night, driving everybody crazy, and I would just be hacking away, trying to figure out how to do this stuff.
“Everybody hated me for a while… Replaying and replaying a YouTube clip while the guys in The Bronx at the back of the bus are screaming at me and throwing stuff at me…”
Touring has been productive in other ways, with most of the album written while on the road. “Something to do on tour,” explains Ford. He adds that the first track came about in an earlier visit here. “The basis for ‘Cell Mates’ was written in Sydney, Australia.”
What can we expect from the next record (no prizes for guessing its name, of course; every Bronx album so far has been self-titled)? “Things happen in music that you just go with. Things you don’t plan, things you don’t try and figure out. Music is kind of its own voice and its own guide, and somehow music has turned us into being two bands instead of one,” said Ford. “Music has dictated – this time around – that we’re going to put out a double record. What should the fans expect? If you like The Bronx, buy the record. You like Mariachi el Bronx? You should buy this record. It’s a double dose of the two things that we just accidentally find ourselves doing.
“We’re about six songs in – demo-wise – on The Bronx and it’s lean, tight and focussed. Sounds like a workout video…”
Could it come with a workout video? It doesn’t seem that much of a stretch. After all, Mariachi el Bronx brought out their own brand of cologne, Barrio Sweat, to promote their last record. Gimmicks to promote records excite Ford, and suddenly he’s thinking of ways he could work strange little add-ons into the marketing of his band’s next album.
“How great would that be?” Ford asks, the excitement jumping down the phone line. “A double record, with one of those ‘behind the scenes’ DVDs that everyone puts out on their record – because they think people care, and it just sucks – and we’ll do two records, a behind the scenes, a workout video… a poster, a sticker pack, a fucking breath freshener. It’s cool: no matter what you do, people are still going to steal your music.”
How was the Mariachi-themed eau de toilette received last time around? “Barrio Sweat was very successful. A lot of record labels are now looking to replace that behind the scenes DVD with a signature scent. I think we’re going to do a scent for every release,” predicts Ford. He explains why: “There’s nothing we hate more than cologne. It’s the worst thing in the world.” Can he really mean that? Surely there must be one thing in the world a little worse than bottled fragrances. He pauses for a moment before deciding, “I would say I hate the Didgeridoo more than cologne.”