The Bronx

Los Angeles' The Bronx are among the most adventurous bands out there today. Whether it's 3D-enhanced tours or releasing a mariachi album, the group consistently pushes boundaries. Lead singer Matt Caughthran talked to interviewer Ryan Raffin after their recent performances at Calgary's Sled Island Festival, discussing their upcoming plans to record, their friendship with The Killers and how they were ahead of the curve with 3D.

So you guys just got back from Europe right?
Yeah, yeah. We did like a full three month thing. We were thinking about starting our new records, [but] it just kind of felt like we didn’t have enough touring done for the last record, and especially for the El Bronx record. We did a full U.S. run with the Bronx and El Bronx, and then the U.K. with Gogol Bordello, and then Europe with Gogol Bordello. We did Glastonbury and a couple random festivals, we came home and relaxed for a little bit and then we did this. Now we’re done.

How did El Bronx go over in Europe?
Amazing. You would think it’d be a region specific type thing, you would think that wherever there’s no Hispanic culture or no Mexican music that people aren’t going to get it, but I was so surprised to discover that people are so excited and thirsty to hear original music and fresh ideas that it doesn’t matter where you are. People loved El Bronx in Australia, they fucking loved it in Europe. That kind of music makes sense in Europe, Europe has a lot of that traditional Old World music, polka and stuff like that. People are freaking out about it all over the place, it’s rad. We haven’t had a bad experience playing that stuff, it’s been great.

Well the thing about it is, if you listen to it, and even if you don’t know it, you like it. It makes you feel good. It’s upbeat.
Yeah. I think it’s all kind of about the record and songs. The idea is one thing, but if you don’t do it good, it’s going to be off. We really worked hard on that record and in order to do something like that you gotta do your homework and you gotta do it right. That’s why we’re so proud of it, that’s why we love playing it.

I know a lot of people were surprised when you first said you were going to do it, but the response was really good. Everyone seemed to like it.
It’s been cool, man. It builds your confidence as an artist and as a musician when you take a step out of the ordinary like that and it’s a success. It makes you feel really good. That way you know you can trust your instincts more, and take more risks as musicians.

You said this is your last show for a while.
We have a couple one-offs. El Bronx is opening up for Primus in L.A., and we’re doing a couple things here and there, but we learned a while ago that once we get in the recording zone it’s best not to have any distractions, like tours or anything like that, that can knock you out of rhythm. We’re really excited to just kind of hit stride, go home and write. All of our brains are kind of in that mode right now, we want to work on new songs. It’s a great time in music right now, everyone’s writing good stuff, good records are coming out. It’s been a while you know, we really want to make a statement with the next Bronx record, so that’s going to be our main focus.

There’s always been a classic rock influence to the Bronx, on the last one I thought it was a little more pronounced. Is that something we’re going to continue to see in the future?
I don’t know. The Bronx III was a weird record, I really like it, but there was so much stuff going on during that time in the band…It’s not really a focused record. Our next record I think is going to sound very different. We learned from the mistakes we made on that record. Our next record is going to be a lot different. As far as what the theme is going to be or what the main swagger of the record is going to be, I don’t know. I know we’re going to try to really turn it on fast.

And you’re doing another El Bronx record?
Yeah, it’s going to be a double record. So it’s going to be Bronx and El Bronx.

In the future are you going to tour with both bands?
I don’t know. Doing both bands is cool, it’s a little bit difficult for us, but people dig it. I like giving people bang for their buck, and it makes for a really cool musical experience if you have a mariachi band, and then another band, and then a band like the Bronx. We’ll definitely continue to do that, but there will also be separate tours as well.

You said one of the advantages of El Bronx was that you could tour with bands that you might not otherwise be able to tour with.
Yeah, exactly. Yeah, to be honest with you, there’s an experiment going on with El Bronx, it’s very much a hidden kind of pop record, it allows us to get into different places. You know, going on tour with the Killers, playing with Primus, stuff like that. The Bronx is a very well respected band, we get a lot of respect from our peers, but there [are] certain rules that people follow as far as who can play with who. It’s not really something we do, but it just exists, you know? A band like the Killers could never bring a band like the Bronx out, you know what I mean? But it’s like, those guys are our friends, and when El Bronx came out, they were like, "Perfect." That’s rad, it’s fun. If you get to be an artist, if you work your ass off and do this for a living, you don’t want to spend your time doing the same shit. It’s all about how much further you can take it.

And your friendship with the Killers, that’s how the Christmas single came about?
Yeah, "¡Happy Birthday Guadalupe!" [laughs]. Well we’ve known them forever, because we got signed to Island at the same time. We went out to dinners together, we hit it off and we became friends. It was just one of those things that happened, you know, the timing was right. That tour was crazy, dude, huge places. Fucking insane.

I’ve got to ask about the Prince cover [of "I Would Die 4 U"]. How did that come about?
We got asked for Spin. Spin magazine has been really cool to us. They were doing that anniversary issue [for Purple Rain] and they asked us to do a song. It was fucking hard turning that song into like a rhythmic thing, but it was fun. That’s the rad thing about it, it’s fun challenging yourself and making music. It’s crazy, you would be so surprised, the dream is always to get a chance to live doing what you want to do, and there [are] so many musicians who are so miserable, because they’re so lazy. They put themselves in a box, and they convince themselves that they can only do this and they can only do that. We go out on tour with bands that just bitch and moan. It’s like, "Dude, you know there are people who would kill to be in your position." That’s the way we think about music and we think about our lives. Bring it on. You want us to try to cover this song? Perfect. You want us to do this? Perfect. You want us to go on tour with this fucking insane band? Cool, we’ll do it.

You’ve got that Bronx Cologne too, right?
Yeah, yeah. "Bario Sweat." We have a thing where, whenever we travel international, we always go to duty free and cover ourselves in shitty cologne, so whoever we sit next to on the plane is just fucked. That’s how it started.

When you think of these things, how do you decide what ideas will work? When do you know when an idea is too, "out there?"
You don’t really know until you try. We dropped so much cash on a 3D stage show four years ago for our second record. We had this huge 3D backdrop, 3D stage shit, and none of it worked. We still have boxes of Bronx 3D glasses. Boxes of the things! We spent so much cash on it trying to make it work, we thought it would be so cool, and it just didn’t work. They printed it wrong; it was a huge debacle. You’re going to fuck up every now and then, some shit’s not going to work, but you gotta try it.

And 3D is so popular now.
Yeah, we were ahead of the curve! We were so ahead of the curve, and we got fucked.

You played three shows at Sled Island right?
Yeah, the opening night we did El Bronx at the Distillery, last night we did the Bronx at Broken City, and then today [at Olympic Plaza]. It’s cool, man. It’s weird, I was a little bit burned out before coming here, because I was so excited to write new music and record. I wasn’t really mentally ready for this, then I got here and it totally changed my whole outlook. It’s such a great festival.

Are there any bands that you’ve seen that you’ve been impressed by, or are looking forward to seeing?
I’m excited to seeDinosaur Jr.. You know, I’ve never seen Hot Water Music, I’m so excited to see them play. I know those guys well, I’ve met Chuck [Ragan] a bunch of times. Dave [Raun], the old Lagwagon drummer is playing with them, and I know Dave real well. I’m really looking forward to that, and of course, Melvins and Big Business. It’s a great day.

I think that’s it. Thanks for doing this.
Yeah, no problem man.