Los Lobos Biography
Using musical molds built on the blues, rockabilly, jazz, Latin and their own Mexican-American heritage, Los Lobos have never beat their fans over the head with politics or agendas. Instead, they subtly challenge them with conscience-raising songs and thought-provoking lyrics. Their latest Hollywood Records release - The Town and The City - certainly does that.
"As artists, we take our experience and put it into painting, stories or songs," says Louie Perez, a multi-instrumentalist with Los Lobos and the principal lyricist for this 2006 album. "Right now, when the world is in this incredible state of flux, it's impossible for this experience not to affect your work.
"Somewhere halfway through the making of this record I found this linear sort of plot, a story of struggle," explains Perez, "So I thought, I'm not going to resist and followed my intuition. It was like a flashlight waving at the end of a tunnel that I had to go after."
The epic The Town and The City is told in the first-person, with each song serving as an episodic step in a rough journey that is in your face at times, comforting and nostalgic at others. Most of the thirteen songs are co-written by Perez and David Hidalgo; Cesar Rosas contributes two songs.
"The Valley" opens the album with a mournful narrative soulfully delivered by Hidalgo. "When I got the music from David, I almost immediately thought about some sort of beginning, almost a creation myth," continues Louie. "I began to imagine indigenous people traveling across the land and what evolved was the idea of people coming to a new place."
The journey takes on a darker, more desperate tone with "Hold On," a metaphorical blues about the trials and tribulations that could lead one into grips of drug and alcohol abuse. "David and I talked about the theme and the following day he came to the studio with a lyric written for the chorus" adds Perez, "and I told him 'I'll get this done but its not going to be pretty'."
The Town and The City travels over emotional peaks and valleys. Cesar Rosa's "Chuco's Cumbia" is a lighthearted dance groove sung in calo, the English-Spanish jargon of Mexican zoot-suitors. "Road To Gila Bend" is an immigrant ode told as a cowboy lament. Personal and vulnerable reflections appear on "If You Were Only Here Tonight," "Luna" (Moon), and "Two Dogs and a Bone."
Sonically, the album is a jewel, reflecting the introspective quality of the songs in radiant, ambient textures. In hindsight, Los Lobos records have evolved, creating a sound that combines hi-fi with lo-fi, acoustic with electric. Steve Berlin admits it was a challenge to process the ideas and character of the songs.
"We tried to make each song like it was a miniature movie that ties together as an overall coherent statement. I think we've come full circle in trying to make more impressionistic records using sound as paint, with any sound being right for manipulation or destruction if need be."
"Little Things" bears the influence of Procol Harum's "A Whiter Shade of Pale" with its brooding cathedral organ. In essence, it's representative of the profound respect Los Lobos have for archaic timbres from 1960s British Rock, raspy Howling Wolf guitar, rockin' R&B Baritone sax or Wes Montgomery jazz octaves. Lyrically, it speaks of the small but important parts of life that often are ignored.
The centerpieces of the album - "The City" and "The Town" - serve as urban reflections of immigrant arrivals. "The City," with its references to the glow of "neon lights," articulates the mystique of the boulevard and the electricity it generates in the lives of those that wander its sidewalks.
"'The City' comes from our own experiences growing up in East L A, on the edge of downtown Los Angeles," explains Perez. "It's about the hustle of the city and how the individual is often lost in the shuffle. Musically 'The City' is very cinematic. So lyrically I took a more impressionistic approach: Taking snapshots of a reckless night out."
"The Town" is a nostalgic reminiscence of back home, wherever that may be, and a counterbalance to the here and now of "The City." It is a comforting cruise with shades of the Eastside Sound as represented by bands like El Chicano and The Village Callers.
"When he sings, 'I close my eyes and it's all I see,' it means that anywhere you are you can never deny where you came from. And it's not just about these beautiful pastoral pictures you might have of where you came from. For me, there were also disturbing images of police helicopters flying over the neighborhood, the sound of shots going off late in the night. These are the details that also make up our memories. And even those things, as bitter as they are, can sometimes be sweet as well."
"Don't Ask Why," "No Puedo Más," and "Free Up" complete the album, with every song saying something significant about the mysterious journey that creates a new life in a society much different from where it began. It can be the first-person immigrant story that repeats itself every day along the US/Mexico border but with a universal message about the struggle between right and wrong.
"This is a record of this moment," concludes Steve Berlin. "There are places where it's dark and foreboding and that's certainly how many people I know feel right now. And though there are songs in Spanish, this is a universal story at a time when we're all moving through something into something. No one I know is standing still. We're caught up in the tide of history in a profound way and everybody's moving whether they want to or not."
"In the larger scheme of things I hope that these songs will communicate to people in way that can be interpreted into their own lives," says Louie Perez. "We as a band have had an interesting life so far and if it all ended tomorrow I could sit back and be proud at what we've accomplished. But we're not done yet and I'm blessed with the opportunity to keep chiseling away at this huge stone and wait for more to be revealed."