Angry Again: An Interview with the Bronx
Photo: Big Hassle Publicity
From mariachi side projects to questioning whether or not to sell out on a regular basis, the fascinating contradictions that make up the Bronx's aesthetic are as compelling as their music is headbanging.
Punk rock stalwarts the Bronx have a history of defying expectations. For starters, despite the name, they're from Los Angeles. After forming in 2002, the band released a series of self-titled albums featuring breakneck, go-for-the-jugular anthems that were raw, dangerous, and viscerally fun. But, after achieving a level of success that often leads to complacency, the Bronx risked their reputation when they adopted the alter-ego Mariachi El Bronx and released two records of authentic mariachi music. Perhaps even more surprisingly, the Mexican-inspired albums were celebrated by fans and critics alike, exposing the band to an entirely new audience as they played to packed arenas while opening on tour for the Foo Fighters.
The Bronx return to their nihilistic punk roots on their latest album, V, with some noticeable tweaks. We spoke with lead singer Matt Caughthran about the new album, playing to crazy crowds, and the challenges of rock 'n' roll in 2017.
What causes you guys to say 'It's time for us to record a Bronx' record vs. 'It's time for us to record a Mariachi el Bronx' record?
It just felt like it was time, we just wanted to get back into The Bronx swing. Unless something is very specifically inspiring, between the two bands, we just try to go back and forth just to keep things fresh. At this time, we just had a lot going on, both as people who are running two bands and as individuals who have been in two bands for the last whatever years. So it just felt like it was time to give El Bronx a little bit of a break and put out a killer Bronx record and just settle down for a little bit and focus on one thing.
The tone of this record seems to fit more of the Bronx's aggressive, angry punk rock vibe.
Yeah man, that's where we're all kind of at personally and just as a band, that's the reflection of the record. It wasn't just about coming back and making a Bronx record, we wanted to make a fucking kickass record, we wanted to make an angry record, we wanted to make a record that kind of reflects our take of what's going on around us, what's going on within us, and everything. It's definitely a product of its surroundings, Bronx V, but in a good way. We wanted to make a record that's connected and not one that's trying to dodge the state of affairs around the world, or dodge any inner struggles that I had going on or that the band has going on or whatever. It needed to be a connected record, we wanted to make it because we needed to make it. That's why it sounds the way it does.
This record seems more riled up about current events in America, life in America in 2017. Did you guys go out of your way to include more social commentary?
I wouldn't say we went out of the way, but it was definitely something I wanted to do, definitely something I wanted to talk about and wanted to touch on. The way I write, it's always somehow connected to something that I'm either struggling with or going through or have an opinion on, but it's usually very personal. In trying to write something different, trying to do something different with each album, just like you would on a guitar or songwriting or different tones, I just wanted to be able to write about everything that was going on.
That was a definite point for me because sometimes it's hard to write about that stuff, at least for me it's a lot easier to write about how fucking stupid I am than it is how stupid someone else is. You don't want to come across as an asshole or as a finger-pointer or as someone who is uneducated in what they're talking about. You always want things to be true and to be honest and to be right. It was something that I wanted to make sure was done right and done in a Bronx way and done in a way that I felt comfortable with and that felt honest coming off the microphone. That's kind of where we ended up.
You guys are known for a great, chaotic live show. How would you describe the vibe of shows on this tour so far?
Pretty chaotic [laughs]. They've been some of the craziest shows we've ever done. I was just thinking yesterday, I was looking through some photos people have tagged us in. One, we have an awesome package on this tour, we have '68 and Plague Vendor that are opening up. It just creates an awesome vibe for us to come up and play in. And there are certain cities that have been some of the best shows we've ever played like we played this show at the Church in Philly and we haven't played the Church in ages. We played there and there were moments of the set where it was like a life-changing high of what was happening in the room - everyone was functioning on a higher level together and I was watching people just lose their minds and everyone was having so much fun, and bodies are flying everywhere and people were slam dancing. It was just classic, it was classic. It was so dope. And the show we had at Brooklyn at the Bazaar was the same way. It was awesome. We had a killer run of shows on the East Coast. It's been good, it's been good. The shows are always bad ass.
Do you find that it's people in their 30s who have been keeping up with you guys since the first album or are you getting a lot of younger people?
It's a little of both. We still have a majority crowd of people that have known us forever. But because of the new record and because it's a package tour and stuff like that, we get a lot of people - it's always a trip, once you've been around for a certain amount of time, you just kind of assume that everyone's at least heard of you and knows who you are. Not in an egotistical way - your bands been around for like 15 years, you assume maybe somebody's seen it in a fucking newspaper or heard it from a friend or whatever. But it's not true, there's a lot of fucking people in the world. It's really cool to discover that a lot of people are finding out about the Bronx for the first time.
Which lesser-known song do you wish people in the crowd were calling out for you guys to play every night?
Oh man, that's tough. Let's see. There's a song called 'Style Over Everything' off Bronx IV that I absolutely love, that we never play, I think maybe we played it once. But it's one of my favorite songs we've ever written, I love that song. There's certain songs, an early song called "Stop the Bleeding" is one of my favorites. There's all kinds of songs. People will randomly shout out some wild B-sides from time to time, but usually, we're prepared for anything the audience has to throw at us.
The music industry has changed a lot since the Bronx broke through. Do you think becoming a known band would've been harder or easier if you guys were getting started in 2017?
“It's easier to start a band now, I think it was easier to be a band a decade ago. The attention span is not where it needs to be right now for people to help get a band off the ground. It's just harder, it's harder to do. There was a moment probably about five or seven years ago when everyone was super focused, there was all this new music coming out, people were recording records in their garage and everyone was super excited about it. But the way technology moves nowadays, that might as well have been the '60s. People have already moved on from that like it was light years ago. I think there's just too much happening right now for people to focus on. So it's easy to record a record, it's easy to start a band, but it's not easy to become a band, you know what I mean?
The Bronx is a band with so much integrity. Did you guys ever feel tempted to compromise that integrity for success or recognition?
Of course, that happens all the time. You get opportunities that are good, but they just feel wrong, they feel greasy, they feel like they're not right. Whether it's a sponsorship from a company that you don't believe in but wants to give you a bunch of cash, or whether it's going on tours with bands you don't like because it's a good look or whatever. You come across those certain things. I mean even writing songs, you always just have to be in tune with the voice inside your head that's saying, "This isn't right." We always try to listen to that voice, instead of snuff it out.
But of course things happen all the time where you get opportunities, and we say to no to them. And we've made mistakes before, we've said yes to a few things every now and then that we weren't quite sure was the right thing or not and it ended up being the wrong thing and you learn from those. It's something we take very seriously in this band because we worked very hard to get where we're at and build what we have. Integrity matters a lot to us and it matters a lot to this band. We take it seriously. But yeah man, it happens all the time, it's I'd say probably a weekly occurrence.