The Bronx, a Los Angeles-based genre-bending hardcore punk band, are back with their new album V, which dropped on September 22nd via ATO Records. The Bronx is what punk needs: they harness the genre’s classic fire but then bend it to their whim, forging rock n’ roll swagger together with hardcore grit. The Bronx eschews Hollywood hipster snobbery, but they’re too clever for the Sunset Strip. They tap into Los Angeles without overexposing it, utilizing and respecting the city for its art and history. Originally forming in 2002, the band has gone through a variety of iterations, including the esteemed Mariachi El Bronx, but no matter what, they stay true to their evolution of hardcore punk, which is up for prominent display in the new album V.
In our new interview, vocalist Matt Caughthran discusses the making of V, his weird quirks, the future of Mariachi El Bronx, and more!
How would you describe your new album, V?
[laughs] That it’s awesome. It’s a record that we’re really proud of and is one of the [most fun] records we’ve ever made. It’s just classic Bronx. It kicks a lot of ass and it’s got some weird turns on it and it goes to weird places that we like going. It’s probably, if I were to rate all of our records, it’d go: Bronx I, Bronx V, Bronx IV, Bronx II, Bronx III.
You described the video for Sore Throat as a crime scene, a triumphantly tragic story of a manic mind frozen in free-fall. Where did the inspiration for that video come from?
The inspiration from the video came from the song and the inspiration from the song came from a constant source of frustration that is life right now for a lot of people – myself included. In the States, where you’re waking up and you don’t really know which direction the country is heading and you also have a lot of individual lives that are in a lot of peril right now because of how fucked up everything is. This is a song about a public breakdown, just snapping. It’s a state of mind right now where everyone is kind of in a bubble about to burst. It’s a very tense time right now and that song is a reflection of that.
Which is a really good thing for politically charged punk bands, not really for the rest of the world, but for the music for sure. With everything that’s going on there’s a plethora of material. There’s also a plethora of bands using it though. What would you say sets you guys apart with this album?
I think one is that we aren’t really a politically driven band, so it’s uncharted territory for us. We wanted to write about something that was different from us. Personally, I can draw a lot of deep-seated personal issues with writing and I tend to rip myself open with each record. I did that with this one, but I also realized that there’s a lot happening in the world and there’s a lot of other stuff to focus on and there was no need to dive back into my own head. There’s plenty of other things to dive into. It was definitely something that we wanted to do on this record, to write about the things that were going on around us. That’s not necessarily something that we always do, it’s [usually] more or less our take on things that are happening in our lives. This one is different because it’s projected a little bit more outwards. For me it’s a different type of record for the Bronx and it’s an awesome step into a new direction.
I found that the theme stayed true throughout the album, sonically and lyrically, and rather than being about yourselves, but focusing like you said, more outwards instead. There are definitely some specific themes implemented into your lyrics. What were some things that you focused on while you were writing?
A couple of things were – the state of the police in the United States, the tricky situation with trying to be in a place where you uphold the law and protect society from the criminal element, but it’s also something that is historically being taken advantage of here in the States. The last couple of years have gotten really bad, to a point where it’s a pretty consistent abuse of power. That was one thing that I wanted to touch on. The other thing was just politics in general. It’s a shadowing endeavor to everyday people who get a glimpse of the world of politicians and what people are really out for, which is themselves. You get wrapped up, especially in election year, in the better of mankind and the United States coming together and doing all of this great stuff, but it’s all a bunch of bullshit really. It’s just a bunch of people trying to keep their office jobs lined up. It’s at a state right now where it just feels really lost and I wanted to touch on that.
We did a democratic national convention as Mariachi El Bronx and it was something that really opened my eyes. I never really focused too much on politics because there’s a lot going on in a normal person’s life – to try to survive and pay bills, stay happy and be creative – but that forced me to look at things in a different way, realizing how much bullshit that whole thing is, seeing it up close and personal. It was pretty fucking devastating. You put your trust and your money and your faith in these people to have a bigger idea and sense of the world than you do. They all just take advantage of it, and it’s all bullshit.
A lot of the other stuff too was addressing the concept of depression and getting it out there and speaking about it from a personal standpoint, but also from a universal standpoint. We’re losing a lot of people, we’re losing a lot of artists, and the world is collapsing around us. People’s wellbeing and state of mind, everything is coming into play as the world spins more and more out of control. There’s just a lot of shit going on that we wanted to touch on, that I wanted to touch on, and then you also want to have fun and fucking Rock N’ Roll too. You don’t really want to make a bummer of a record, but it’s hard to sidestep the issues, you want to tackle them straight on. We tried to do a little bit of both.
It’s cool when you can have both too, especially with that kind of music. You can let out that angst and rage and you can talk about those topics while still having fun. Like a mosh pit, you’re still going in there to have fun and while most people look at it as just pure chaos, the second you fall down you get picked back up. You get that full release while still talking about it, which is a really interesting thing.
100 per cent.
With El Bronx, you’re well known for your musical fluidity. Holding up two bands with totally different motives. Every artist has different sides to them and bands and artists that let themselves express more than just that one side really give a treat to the audience. Do you ever find it hard to switch between the two acts so quickly, like when you toured with both?
No, it was fun. It still is a lot of fun. Even though we’re up to our necks in Bronx right now, I still miss playing El Bronx stuff. It’s a part of us; it’s something we really didn’t know was going to happen until it did and how it would evolve until it did. It’s something that we love, so even though it does make things twice as busy, you have to do twice the amount of work, you have to really kick a lot of ass schedule wise, it’s all good. We love Mariachi El Bronx. It’s nice to put it on the back burner and concentrate on Bronx for a little bit, but El Bronx isn’t going anywhere. We’re going to come back to it and I’m sure we’re going to put out another record at some point. It’s something that we love to do and I think it makes the Bronx more special. It just makes life better, being able to bounce back and forth between the two bands. It’s something that in the future is still going to happen.
I read that you thought the Trump administration might skyrocket Mariachi El Bronx into the public eye.
[laughing] That was a joke, but I don’t really know what we’re going to do after this Bronx record, you never really know. Every time I try to pinpoint which direction we’re going to go, we end up going the opposite direction, so you almost just want to let it happen and focus on what is immediately in front of you. So much can change in life in general, creatively and personally, from day to day, so trying to gauge where we’re going to be after this tour cycle with Bronx V is kind of a moot point right now. I just know in general that there will be another Mariachi El Bronx album. I’m not sure if it’s going to be next, or if Bronx VI will come out, or where we’re going to be in a couple of months from now creatively. We’ll have to see, but so far, Trump hasn’t skyrocketed Mariachi El Bronx into the stratosphere like we were hoping. [laughs] Maybe he can say some more stupid shit and we’ll see what happens.
Conceptually, the two bands are almost polar opposites. On one side you have that archaic, kind of cave man outlet of angst and rage and on the other, you have this sophisticated and uplifting Mariachi band wearing really spiffy outfits. When it comes to writing, do you tend to focus on what makes you angry when you write for the Bronx and what makes you happy when you write for El Bronx or is there more to the process?
That’s fair to say. It’s not that cut and dry, but that is a definite outline. The Bronx tends to bring out the more aggressive side of what we do creatively. El Bronx isn’t all happy stuff, there’s a lot of heartbreak in there, there’s a lot of tragedy in there, but it’s very romanticized and it’s very beautiful. So it is kind of set up that way, where it is the more beautiful side versus the ugly side.
I find it interesting that they have the same name as well. Was that a conscious thing?
Absolutely. It was confusing enough knowing that the Bronx was starting a mariachi band. We wanted people to know that it was the same people and traditionally speaking, mariachi bands tend to put where they’re from or who they are in their names. So it made sense that way too.
Not many labels support that duality, signing a band and I don’t want to say side project, because neither is lesser than the other, but ATO has totally supported both of them and even seemingly commended them. What has it been like working with them?
It’s been awesome. They’ve been great people for us. They work really hard and you’re right, they support both bands and it’s been a really fun run with them. I can’t say enough about them. They’re really awesome people, they know what they’re doing in the music business, they work hard, and that’s a big deal for a band that works as hard as we do. When you turn something over to people, you hope they appreciate it and value it as much as you do and I can definitely say that’s true with ATO.
That’ll definitely help in the production value of it as well, when you guys are both as into it as each other.
Rob Schnapf produced the album, what was it like getting into the studio with him?
It was awesome. He’s a dude that’s super casual, super subliminal with the way he works, he just kind of lets you do your thing and he’ll have an idea here and there, but he’s more about getting what you want out in the best way possible. He’s a master of guitar sound, of tone, of equipment, of amps, and just recording in general. Every single thing we did on every single song was thought about, as far as what the sound was going to be. I think sonically, this is one of our best and most interesting records. It sounds really mean and greasy and nasty and I love it. Even the slower songs have a vibe to them that has an overall dirtiness to it. I really like that about this record, I’m in love with the way it sounds and that’s all Rob. That was one of the great things that he brought to the table. We had an awesome time working together. It was the perfect time for us to make this record with him and vice versa. That’s exactly what you want as a band. Even if you know the producer, you’re still rolling the dice as far as how the chemistry is going to happen, where the songs are going to go, where they’re going to end up, how everyone’s going to work in general.
You know it’s meant to be when things line up right, everything feels good and the songs get better and the sounds get better and recording is something that… because I’ll tell you what, recording can fucking suck when it goes bad or the vibe’s not right, the studio can be a fucking hell hole. You can feel trapped and that’s the worst place to be as an artist and as a musician. This record is exactly what you want out of the studio experience. Everyone [is] working together and you can just feel the record taking shape and becoming this beautiful thing that you guys built together. I can’t say enough about it, I’m really stoked on how this record came out and it has a lot to do with all of the vibe and us working together that he created, so hats off to him. Hopefully we get to make some more music with him down the road.
Do you have any quirks or anything that would surprise people that you haven’t spoken about before?
[laughing] Yeah, I’ve got a billion of them. Let’s see. One of the things that not a lot of people know about me unless they know me real well is that I can’t eat whole beans. I don’t like whole beans. I grew up on Mexican food, but I can only eat re-Wfried beans and mashed beans, whole beans make me throw up, it’s like eating cockroaches.
Another random quirk is that I had a 10-year feud with Corona beer, for no reason at all. I just never drank Corona and I always hated it. Whoever drank Corona, I hated them. Randomly I started drinking Corona’s one year, so my ban on Corona’s was over. [laughing] I drink Corona’s now, so I’m not quite sure what all that was about, but it made sense at the time.
The best part about being a human being is being a weirdo. I celebrate all quirks and I appreciate them all. I love people for who they are and what separates them from the pack. I’m all for the weirdness.