Interview: The Bronx
Fri, 30 May 2008 07:26:09
Midway through my interview with The Bronx, vocalist Matt Caughthran decided to turn the tables and ask me the most divisive question of the day. Derisively glancing over at drummer Jorma Vik's brand new footwear, Matt sighed and exclaimed, "What do you think about sandals?" Guitarist Joby Ford let out a huge laugh and nearly hopped off the couch. Jorma fired back. "I was just waiting for that! I knew you were going to do it. They're flip flops!" Joby had to chime in at this point. "Those aren't sandals! They're thongs!" Everyone in the living room of the band's studio erupted with laughter.
My answer was this: "It's 100 degrees in the Valley today, why not wear sandals?" Jorma agreed, but Matt still had a problem with his drummer's foot fashion choice.
Matt continued, "I've got sandals, but I wear them where sandals should be worn—at the beach, by a beach city or in a really gross shower. We are nowhere near S.T.—'Sandal Territory.' I'm going to have to take some sand and sprinkle it around the studio for this to work." Then Joby mischievously played Devil's advocate. "I don't think Van Nuys is that far from the beach. It's only about a 30-minute jaunt." Matt didn't care. In his opinion, their studio/rehearsal space didn't constitute "Sandal Territory." "Jorma, you are so far from 'Sandal Territory' that it doesn't even matter that it's over 100 outside."
Hanging out with The Bronx is like being transported to a scene in a Quentin Tarantino movie. Each of the band's members is extremely cool, quirky, talented and just plain intriguing. The L.A. heavy punk band made a splash with their abrasive and tongue-in-cheek sophomore album Bronx II (Island). The album garnered critical success and landed them tours with the likes of Mastodon and Converge. However, rather than repeat the brash, vitriolic punk violence that got them signed after a mere 12 shows, The Bronx thought outside the box, way outside the box. The band are at Bronx HQ right now, and they're finishing up, not one, but two records. The first is a traditional metallic, punk record filled with jagged riffs and razor sharp lyrics. The second is a straight-up mariachi album that segues from classical melodies to Spanish-style harmonies. How's that for raising a middle finger to convention?
Hanging in their studio, The Bronx gave ARTISTdirect an exclusive interview about everything from their two new releases and sandal etiquette to Christopher Wonder the magician and the best merchandise idea ever.
So what was the process like creating two records at once?
Matt: It was exciting, man. We've been working our asses off, writing for over the last seven months. We did the El Bronx record. That's our mariachi record, and that's getting mixed now. So production on the punk record is about to start. As soon as we finish, we're getting on the bus and going on tour. Around month four of writing, it looked pretty dark, but now, there's a light at the end of the tunnel. We were just writing and writing. So it feels good to be tracking. The plan is for the record to be done and wrapped up before we go out on Warped Tour.
Was it a blessing to have so much time to write or did having so much time make it harder to focus?
Matt: It works both ways. Sometimes it's a blessing, because it takes awhile to figure the songs out. You know when a song is there automatically. We go back every now and then, but we try not to over think things. When you know certain songs could be great, but they just aren't there yet, it's nice to have the time to work on them. However, having that much time can be a little maddening.
Joby: We go down a bunch of different roads in terms of songwriting, but the records dictate themselves. It all comes to a point where the album chooses its direction. Things get simpler towards the end, once the rough skeleton of the album is put together and we have a direction to go. Finding that spot where you want to exist is always the interesting part of the process. When Matt and I went back and listened to certain songs, we realized they were incredible songs, but they weren't part of the record we wanted to make. It's interesting to go back to where we were at seven months ago and hear how the ideas have evolved.
Less and less heavy bands these days have a singular identity. You've always evolved, but you've maintained that Bronx identity.
Matt: Yeah, definitely. That's one of the things I'm most proud of with this band. Having our own identity is very important to us. We work hard at ensuring that we're making steps forward in that direction. It's great to be self-contained and not give up who we are.
Your live intensity comes through on your albums. Do you feel like that's a big part of the new records?
Matt: That's The Bronx. We love putting the energy of the band on record. It's something that we all agree on.
Jorma: We sound really stupid if we don't [Laughs].
Joby: Can you imagine us with pristine, perfect vocals? [Laughs] The Bronx definitely sounds better homemade.
The songs pack a punch, but there's a sense of humor and a tongue-in-cheek element as well.
Matt: That's part of the deal, man. I don't want to be miserable.
Joby: We are definitely not fans of morose music. Fuck, man, I'd rather slam my nuts into a door than listen to morose music. When I hear emo, or that morose shit, I'm like, "Fuck, I want to kill myself."
Everyone's gotten so whiny, and that live energy is missing. That's why The Bronx is so important. You bring that.
Matt: Thank you. It definitely has been missing. I don't know what it is about this band. There's just something great that I love. I'm glad that people are into it and see it as something original and important, rather than just something another band could be doing. So to me, it feels good.
How has your sound evolved with the new material?
Joby: There's Bronx music. Within that, I feel like there are certain directions that we go in. This new album is definitely more focused. If I could describe it, I would say it's more avant garde, but groove-based. It's stripped down and focused.
Matt: It’s morose. [Laughs] Like Joby was saying, it's really focused, stripped down and pretty mean. It’s real.
There's this enigma of what The Bronx is. You can go in a lot of different directions under that umbrella.
Joby: Yeah, that's one of the reasons that we made a mariachi record, because it's still very Bronx, even though we're playing a completely different style of music. It's something that we've been fans of for a very long time. The new members that have come into this group, Brad and Vincent, are fine craftsmen when it comes to their respective instruments. Vince is a Latin instrument god, and Brad is a trumpet and bass god. They really took us, original members, to a wonderful place. They helped make an incredible album. I'd probably say it's the most "Bronx" thing that we've ever done. There's nothing like this. Whether that might be good or bad for some people, it's something that we're very proud of. I think it's quite an accomplishment to make an album that's completely from left field, in these days. We're really proud of it and super excited to play it for people. Then we've got the punk record to wash it all down with, or vice versa. Rinse and repeat. Hairspray or mousse? You know what I'm saying? [Laughs]
Matt: We were just writing for both records, not really knowing which one we were going to do first. The opportunity just presented itself. We worked with Jon Avila the bass player of Oingo Boingo. He's got a great knowledge of Latin and Spanish music as well as songwriting in general. It was great to have him onboard. The window of opportunity for him to work with us was open, so we decided to do the mariachi album first. It ended up really beautiful. It's great when you go to the studio, and everything really flows. The experience was really positive. There's a little Spanish on the record, but not a lot. I felt really comfortable with the music. The melodies and the lyrics came pretty naturally. I didn't want to just sing in Spanish for the sake of singing in Spanish. I was very happy with the stuff I came up with.
Which record is going to drop first?
Joby: Who gives a shit? As long as they come out, that's all that matters. People need music, and I want to play it. I don't give a shit about the old rule of how to put records out. We're like, "Let's put two records out at once." Who gives a fuck? It's music, and people are supposed to listen to it. It's not about people sitting in a room going, "Marketing-wise this is how we push this album." I want to play it, and I want people to hear it. I don't want to sit there and adhere to timetables and "smart marketing." That always seems lame. To answer the question, I don't know when they’re coming out. It will definitely be as soon as we finish everything up in the next few weeks, and hopefully, it'll be shortly after that.
“People need music, and I want to play it.”
Was writing fun?
Jorma: It was an awesome process, because when we got frustrated writing one album, we had the other to completely switch gears. We could really focus on the songs.
Joby: It was probably the healthiest writing period that we've ever had as a group. Since we had two albums, we could go, "Alright, let's switch it to this." We weren't sure if that was going to take us out of what we needed to be doing, but it was very healthy. I think it kept everybody mentally sane. It was fun as fuck.
Those are two completely different spectrums too.
Joby: But it's still Bronx, you'll see.
Did having that balance between genres stop you from feeling overwhelmed?
Joby: No, we definitely felt overwhelmed [Laughs]. I guess, if there was ever a good overwhelming feeling, it would probably have been this. It kept our minds clear, and we didn't get backed up on stuff. It was a very exciting journey, and it's one that I'd like to do again. I'm bummed that it's going to be over, but excited to go out on tour.
Was it a big challenge as a guitar player?
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