SXSW 2016: Chicano Batman Interview

By Brittany Robinson and Nestor Vazquez
SXSW Press and Street Team

Chicano Batman. Photo by Brittany Robinson.
Chicano Batman. Photo by Brittany Robinson.

Eduardo Arenas – Bass
Carlos Arevalo – Guitar
Bardo Martinez – Lead Vocals, Guitar, Organ
Gabriel Villa – Drums, Back Vocals

Have you guys been to Austin before?

Martinez: We have, this is our fourth time here.

How do you like SXSW 2016 so far?

Arenas: It’s crazy, it’s chaotic. There’s a lot of bands. It’s just unreal. You can’t see everything you want, you know, it just comes to you.

So you guys are originally from LA, what cultural differences do you find between Austin and Los Angeles

Arevalo: A lot of people say “y’all” here. We say you guys.

M: The food, the people, you know, it’s definitely a big difference. The weather, it’s super humid here. I like it. It’s good for my skin.

Arenas: It seems more lowkey here in Austin than LA. We’re caught up in the hustle and bustle and the driving and that kind of thing. Here, it seems like you can kind of chill out and take a little break and then enjoy the shade under a tree for a bit.

M: I heard that Barton Springs is the place to go to.

True. Barton Springs, go to a food truck, that’s a classic Austin day. So what brought you all together as a band?

M: The music really, the influences. We wanted to do something simliar. We had the idea of doing something that’s connected to our roots, you know? To our families, like a particular aesthetic, late 60’s-70’s music in general.

So with the recording of the first album, it was originally a three piece. Then you all brought in Carlos to help on guitar. So how has the dynamic changed, shifting into the new recordings of Cycles of Existential Rhyme and these new recordings?

Arenas: It’s like night and day. Carlos has become the backbone of the rhythm and the harmony of the band. It’s freed up Bardo to do a lot more organ work and vocals. Just sonically, the sound of the band has expanded in a way we could not have done. He comes with his own sound and tone. It’s just dominated what we were doing at the time. If not, it really just brought up the rest of the elements rhythmically.

Despite a lot of your songs being in Spanish, with some of your listeners not understanding Spanish fluently, how does it feel to have music that’s so universal and translates really well with all audiences?

M: I mean, I feel like music is universal. I have an example. You know “Hotline Bling,” right? So, that’s the new Drake song. The original song is by Timmy Thomas and everybody would think, “Oh, that’s a black guy,” right? Well I just saw a picture of him yesterday and he looks like he might be Puerto Rican or something like that because he’s from Miami. So, the truth is that there is a lot of overlap within black music, soul music, etc. There’s a lot of Latino influences. You could say, for example, Baña Records, Salsa, Ralfi Pagan is another example (of a) Puerto Rican artist from that era. So really, there is all kinds of overlap. It’s something that people don’t recognize, you know? Everything is separated by genre. So people will say, “Oh this is white music. This is black music. This is this type of music.” You know, at a certain era in our history, particularly the late ’60s and ’70s, there was all kinds of overlap in so many sick ways, you know what I mean?

Cause the roots are the same.

M: The roots are the same. You could think of the Staple Singers and that song, “Respect.” That was done in Tennessee. Everybody thinks the musicians were black musicians but they’re white musicians. It just shows you that music is universal and it goes much more beyond race and much more beyond class. And really, the beauty of that is that it brings all that together. So you know, people become one as people as opposed to fighting each other over really petty differences. So basically, finding the commonality as people through music.

And with music being so universal, I understand that you guys have been able to mix 60’s psych-soul with some Tropicália rhythms and Colombian rhythms, as well. In this recording of this new album, is there any sort of different sounds y’all are trying to explore?

Arenas: Well, the album is already done. It’ll be out probably in September. I think we went back to more soul roots. With producer Leon Michels, we explored a lot of tone in their studio out in the Diamond Mine in Queens. They had us dialed in on a specific aesthetic. The composition really lend themselves to the sound they were working with. We don’t shy away from rhythmic syncopation and that kind of thing. That kind of defines us. You could put us in an aesthetic but we’re gonna stand out as what we’ve been doing this whole time. 6/8ths, certain rhythms, counter-rhytms, Spanish songs, that kind of thing. It’s just who we are at this point.

M: I would like to add that we played with Alabama Shakes and seeing them play was just like, “Wow, these people are really laying it down.” Just simple backbone rhythms that allows everything to breathe and allows the composition to flow. We’re all growing as songwriters and I feel that simplicity is always key. So I feel that folks will definitely feel that element in this album.

Like you said, your music reflects what you grew up listening to. What songs do you find yourself revisiting a lot from the past?

M: “Crimson and Clover” by Tommy James and Shondells, “Riders On The Storm” by The Doors, “Dejenme Llorar” by Los Freddys, “Tropicália” by Caetano Veloso.

Arevalo: Probably Jimi Hendrix. I can go away from Hendrix for years and come back and it’s familiar but at the same time I find new things listening to his music. He’s a genius.

Arenas: Cypress Hill, Ice Cube, Los Tigres Del Norte, Los Bookies. That’s real stuff right there. Metallica’s And Justice For All. That’s real! Those are roots right there. We kind of grow into them and then we make of that later on. We kind of identify ourselves later on. We’re like, “That makes a lot of sense.” You know, Los Bookies and And Justice For All are on the same tape mix, it makes a lot of sense now.

Villa: It’s funny, sometimes you’re playing hard and you feel you’re in a big arena. I feel like playing Led Zeppelin. Sometimes we’re playing kumbias so we’re playing tropical music which make me think Fania, ’70s Fania, different artists like Celia Cruz, that kind of music. It’s great.

So you guys are about to go to LEVITATION Fest (and) Bonaroo. Are you guys excited? What are you guys most excited for with these tour dates?

Arevalo: I’m excited because we’re gonna play with Alabama Shakes again at XPoNential Fest with Gary Clark, Jr. That’s a pretty eclectic lineup and I’m really proud to be apart of that.

Arenas: I take it one day at a time. I take it a show at a time. I feel really blessed that we get interviews like this. People are looking out for our music. They come out and they support. Each week at a time it’s a blessing that the momentum is on our side. When we get to LEVITATION Fest, to me I’m already so used to travelling that it doesn’t hit me until we’re backstage looking at the crowd of people. But at the same time, I feel real blessed that we’re being put in these situations with massive exposure. People have faith in us just like we have faith in us.

So how does it feel from when you all started back in 2010 and just seeing how far you all have come from since then, when you all started playing shows, with the release of your first album, how does it feel being six years in and looking back on your journey?

Arenas: It’s eight years in now.

V: Yeah, 200-, wow! Yeah, we used to play everywhere back in LA. Just jam for a long time.

Arenas: It’s crazy man. That part is sobering, man. We’ve been hacking away at it for a long time. I remember one time we did a radio show on LA KPFK and then after the radio show was over, it was like three or four o’clock, we went home and had all of our instruments packed. Bardo got on the phone to see if we could crack a house party, somewhere in LA. He got a contact. “Alright, there’s a little African party going on over here in Echo Park.” So we packed up our stuff and just went to this random, found the address, loaded up our stuff, went into the living room and played.

M: We played in a corner

Arenas: It was like a 4×4 foot space and the three of us rocking out. And it’s just like, those were the dues, you know. Those were the moments.That was the magic that you let yourself inspire to the next show and the next show. All that is like in place leading up to South By with the NPR showcase and some of these showcases we’re getting, LEVITATION, Coachella, and that kind of thing. It’s amazing, it’s a trajectory. Nothing comes easy, man, there’s no shortcuts in life. You take it a day at a time and man… it pays off. It’s a lot of dedication though. A lot of dedication. A lot of faith.

M: I’d like to say that over the years, it’s great to work with somebody like Leon Michels, you know what I’m saying, part of the Dap Town crew in New York.Seeing eye-to-eye with somebody like that and their crew, musically speaking, creatively speaking. So really, just seeing how our music has evolved to really start to sound like the music we listen to, the music we aspire to sound like. To me, that’s important and has motivated me to keep on going.

If Chicano Batman was an actual superhero, what would be his first call to action?

M: Vote for Bernie Sanders.

Arenas: It’s always about keeping compassion in life and being healthy.

Villa: Peace to the people. World peace is something we need today.

M: Be nice to each other, y’all. We see too many people be pushing each other to the front of the line. The last show we played at was in Santa Ana and I just remember seeing people just get mad. It’s just like, come on, man, let it go. If people want to go up front, let them take your space. People were just throwing blows and we’re trying to create this dope vibe. It’s just interesting to feel that onstage.

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