*This interview was originally done for the now-defunct AMP Magazine. I’m a big fan of The Bronx and loved their newest record, so this was very cool to do and Matt is also a very awesome guy.*
After releasing their last album Bronx III nearly five years ago, THE BRONX did what any punk band does when they aren’t feeling inspired anymore…they started a mariachi band called MARIACHI EL BRONX. After recording two albums and touring the world as their mariachi alter ego, THE BRONX turned their amps back up to eleven and began work on their new record titled Bronx IV. I got the chance to talk with vocalist Matt Caughthran about the balance of punk and rock n’ roll on the new record, EL BRONX’s impact on their popularity and songwriting process, as well as his wish to incorporate both bands together creatively. Bronx IV is out now on ATO Records/White Drugs.
After listening to the record, it wasn’t exactly what I expected, but I definitely enjoy it. It’s got a pretty fairly balanced mix of your punk rock roots, as well as the catchier rock n’ roll stuff you guys have been doing on the last few albums. Was it hard to balance those two styles during the songwriting process?
Yes and no. As the record progresses when you’re writing it, you try to make sure there’s a certain amount of balance to it with the punk rock sound and the rock n’ roll sound or whatever. There’s even a song on there called “A Life Less Ordinary”, that’s just guitar and vocals. Even with a song like that, you have to find a way to balance it out. That’s why, if the record feels weighted incorrectly -it’s either too soft, or too hard, or it has an unbalanced feel to it, it’s something we’re aware of, but it’s something you kind of have to coax song by song. As you’re doing the record, you get nine or ten songs in, if you’re almost done, you go “well, what do we have so far, what kind of feel do we have for this record, what does it need, where do we go from here?” That’s kind of the fun part of making a record, you don’t want to set too many rules sonically for yourself, because no matter what you say you want to make, it always comes out different from what you originally designed. That’s how records go, they just take a life of their own, so one of the things you can do is make sure it has a good balance to it, and that’s what we try to do, and hopefully we succeed.
One of the aspects of the record that stand out to me the most is the production. It sounds fantastic, and it takes those two styles and mixes them together perfectly. Who was the album’s producer?
Our good friend Beau Burchell produced the record. We started our band in his garage, our first record is half songs that Beau record in his garage, and the other half we did in Gilby Clarke’s studio. So we’ve known Beau forever, and he’s a really good friend of ours. Coming back to the band for the first time in five years, and being pretty confident in our own desires to make the record with our own inspiration, we wanted to have a friend around that knew the band, who’s great in the studio and could help us dial in sonically what we wanted to do. So, that felt like the right move to make, and I think Beau killed it, he did a great job.
What would you say was the catalyst for taking a break from the Mariachi project to record a new BRONX album?
We wanted to, ya know. THE BRONX was never something that was dead; we just kind of hit a wall after the third record. We didn’t really know where to take it, and we wanted to try something completely different and we couldn’t really call it THE BRONX. That’s how MARIACHI EL BRONX was formed, out of frustration creatively. We don’t want THE BRONX to become some crappy version of what we are; we don’t wanna put out the same record again and again. we weren’t inspired to make a punk record, so that’s where EL BRONX came in, and that took off, and it’s grown to something unbelievable, and it’s something nobody thought would happen. That took a journey of like four or five years with two records and tours and during that time BRONX was still playing shows. Every year and month that goes by, we’re staying creatively charged, we’re playing music, and it just adds more and more excitement, and it became all about “when we get back to THE BRONX it’s gonna be so great to get back to playing loud and to make the record.” EL BRONX kind of created this love for THE BRONX, something that we missed and we couldn’t wait to re-engage, and when we went back to make the record, we were in the exact spot you wanna be in. You wannna be inspired, you wanna be excited, you wanna be creative, and you wanna be ready to work and that’s what it was. It’s just kind of like we wanted to give THE BRONX a little break to recharge, and in the meantime we needed to make sure that we stayed hungry and creative, and that’s what EL BRONX is all about. Going back into it, it’s like “let’s put EL BRONX on the back burner for right now, and focus on BRONX and get this record out.”
Earlier, you mentioned the song “Life Less Ordinary”, to me personally, it seems very similar to the songwriting style of EL BRONX. Did that approach to songwriting creep its way on to the BRONX record, or are those two completely different worlds for you?
I think it did, especially on that song. That song probably could be a mariachi song. I think it did, and I think it’s going to whether or not we make a point to do it or not. Since we’re in both bands, they’re gonna start to influence each other. We’re not gonna start making rock in Espanol or anything like that, but rhythmically, I think sometimes they can start to bump into each other, and I think if you look at the rhythm pattern of the vocals on that song, it could be a mariachi pattern for sure.
Another song on the album that stood out to me was “Torches”. It’s got kind of a weird vibe to it, what was the songwriting process for that song like?
That was a song that was really important for the record, I think. That’s a song that I think THE BRONX has never written. That’s a song that’s really different for us. It was a challenge, and it was something that we were really excited about, and that song took a while. I mean, we had the music down pretty solidly, and I had about four or five different versions of it vocally. One of em was too hard, the other one was too soft, one of em was too cheesy, and one of em was too over-thought and they just didn’t feel right. All of a sudden, I came across a poem I had written two years ago-this was probably close to the last day of recording-and we still had this song to figure out, and I ended up coming across this poem that I had written and it fit the song perfectly and that’s what we ended up going with for the final vocal. To me it’s like, the songs that take a long time are always either worth it, or they never quite come together and end up on the record anyways. I think that song was worth it, I’m really proud of that song, and I really do love it.
Do you feel that having EL BRONX tour with the Foo Fighters, as well as playing tons of festivals brought a lot more attention to THE BRONX? If so, do you feel like that added any pressure to the songwriting process for the new BRONX album?
EL BRONX taking off like it did was so radical, it’s something that nobody saw coming, it was great, man. I would say if I ever felt pressure songwriting-wise, it would be with our second record, which was like “okay, you guys are signed to Island Def Jam now, and this is a major label record, and it better be fucking good.” You’ve got major label guys telling you to make a hit record and all this stuff, and I was so young at the time that I fell into all of that bullshit. I was a mess, an absolute mess. We had a big producer, and we took a year to make a record and all that shit, that’s the time when I felt it. Now, honestly man, we’re not a big band, it’s like we get by with what we get by with, but we’re happy and we’re creatively charged. That’s what drives the band nowadays, the only pressure is the pressure that we have on ourselves to keep evolving and making good records and taking steps forward, keeping the band afloat, keeping our lives going. It’s a healthy pressure, it’s a good pressure, it’s not something that breaks you down, it’s something that builds you up. The songwriting for both bands is good, man, I’m not worried about getting something on the radio that’s gonna get me a billion dollars, I just wanna keep smiling and keep playing music with my friends.
What are some goals that you’re looking to achieve with either of your bands over the next few years?
We haven’t found a way to merge both bands creatively yet. What I would really like to do, I would love for the opportunity to write a soundtrack for a movie using both bands, using BRONX songs and EL BRONX songs. To be able to write a soundtrack that has punk music and mariachi music on it, and have all the music come from us, I think would be a really special thing and a really cool way to tie both bands together.
When you first started THE BRONX, how would you have reacted if someone had come up to you and said “in a few years you’re going to be playing in this band, but you’re also going to be in a mariachi band that people are going to really love”, what would you have thought if you had known ahead of time that you’re going to be in both of these bands?
I would have never seen that coming. THE BRONX I would have believed, but even then, at that time early on, I was pretty sure we would have self-combusted or broken up or not made it at some point. To be standing here after ten years as part of THE BRONX and MARIACHI EL BRONX, it’s pretty amazing.