THE BRONX are officially busier than Barack Obama. This week, the major-label refugees released their third self-titled full-length on their own White Drugs label in the midst of a nearly month-long tour with Every Time I Die. When their touring plans wrap up, they’ll look ahead to the release of their mariachi record as El Bronx in March 2009 on White Drugs. The label will also release a 7-inch from their first non-Bronx-associated act and a Bronx double-vinyl package, as you’ll read ahead. This all might sound very business-y for a rock ‘n’ roll band from Los Angeles, but as frontman Matt Caughthran explains in his conversation with Brian Shultz, it’s business as usual for the first time in years… And business is good.
When did the band completely separate from Island Def Jam?
Probably about six months ago. It was right in the middle of [recording] the new record. It’s not something that affected the record. It’s something that we were kinda hoping would happen. We were in limbo for a long time because Island did like us. It was a weird situation, because they did some great things for the band, but in the end I think a band like the Bronx–it just didn’t make sense. The last record kind of left a [bad taste in our mouths]–what they did on it. What they did to it.
A few years back, the band talked a lot about problems you encountered while trying to record and release that record. Did you have any of those issues this time around?
Every record’s different. Every record has its problems. It was more of an issue when the record [was] done than anything. You work your ass off on it–it’s your livelihood; it’s your art. It’s everything you are. In a situation like that, it only takes one wrong turn before you realize never to do that again. When you work hard on something and you give it to someone else and they don’t understand that, and they don’t know what to do with it, it’s real frustrating. They didn’t do anything. It sucked. We got mad. It was disappointing, but it is what it is. It’s okay.
Island didn’t do anything with the record?
They didn’t. They didn’t really get behind it. They didn’t promote it. That’s just kind of the way it goes sometimes at labels. Music is a touchy thing. It’s a moneymaking thing for them. [That’s] the only way they can answer that side of things. But as far as we’re concerned, we worked our asses off on that record and they didn’t really hold up their end of the bargain.
They’ve done good things for us. It was good for us to get out on tour. We toured the world off that first record [2003’s The Bronx]. It was an amazing experience for us. The band needed that. We needed to get out and play and tour. It was so much fun. That’s a tenet for bands. [You’re] able to go all over the world and form [a bond]; that’s when the glue starts jelling. So that was very important for us. I appreciate everything Island did for us [in that regard].
So by cutting ties with the label in the middle of the recording this time, you didn’t really have to deal with any issues?
There were no issues. It was a, "what happens is gonna happen" [kind of deal]. It would be a thing where we could get off the label and get White Drugs going and put it out ourselves. That’s what we wanted to happen, and it did. It worked out good for us, which is awesome.
So, separated from the label, how was the new experience of recording?
It was awesome. It was a dream come true. It was nice. It’s good to record in your own studio and do things without any sort of outside source [butting in].
It seems like all of your albums have been produced differently.
Our first one we did primarily by ourselves but we recorded with our friend Beau [Burchell, of Saosin] and with Gilby Clarke. The second record was produced by Michael Beinhorn. And the third one was produced by David Shiffman. They’ve all had a little bit of help on them. Primarily, of course, rooted by the band.
What did Shiffman bring to the table that you hadn’t had with producers in the past?
It was cool. The most important thing is just to have that extra person–that unbiased opinion to bounce ideas off of. Shiffman was a very hands-off kind of producer; he was just there to assist in recording and give his opinion when we were stuck. So that’s what he did, and it was great. We needed that, because you do get stuck from time to time.
I found it interesting that you follow up "Pleasure Seekers," which has some of your more sarcastic lyrics, with "Six Days A Week," which is more serious.
The record has, lyrically, kind of a "highest of highs" and "lowest of lows" theme going through it. It’s a little bit of everything. There’s some serious thought in there, like "Six Days A Week," where it’s real dark stuff. It was kind of a creative way of me hiding my insecurities and a little bit of depression. And then you have songs like "Pleasure Seekers," which is a celebration of why I love music–two decades of my life coming together. When I discovered music in the ’80s and when I started playing music in the ’90s. It’s nice to have different feels on the record. It feels more secure that way–more consistent, instead of being one-sided.
What do you think helped bring out those darker themes?
Unfortunately, it’s just life. I don’t really need help conjuring up bad thoughts, really. It’s the opposite, if anything, [in that] I need a little help trying to look at things in a positive way. "Six Days A Week" is the attitude of being on tour and being in a band full time and choosing this life–coming home and having what you have as a home life and trying to piece that part of your life together. It’s a strange concept, because it’s a little bit different for everyone. But for me it’s difficult to go out and live another whole life and [then] come home.
Do you think you’ll shoot videos for any of the songs on the new album?
Yeah. We just finished shooting a video for "Young Bloods." We had this French artist [contribute]; it’s a very strange video. That’s gonna be premiering soon in a couple different ways. So that’s exciting. We’ll probably do a couple more videos for the record as well. We’re figuring out all that stuff right now.
You played all of Warped Tour this past summer. Was that your first?
Yeah, yeah. We had a great time. I didn’t really know what to expect. One thing I didn’t really realize was just how big a production that thing is. There’s a lot of activity on Warped Tour, so that part was [overwhelming]. It was a lot of fun playing, though. We were super fortunate–we had a pretty good year [since] we had some friends on tour as well, so that made it a lot of fun. There’s just an overwhelming amount of music on tour. We were fortunate to get on the main stage and be with our friends and get to play for people who’d never seen our band.
Did you miss the club setting at all? A band like yours seems to thrive on that setting.
I don’t know. Clubs aren’t really going anywhere. I do thrive on clubs. I love playing small shows, but I love playing big ones too. By no means do I want to play clubs for the rest of my life. I do love them, but it’s great to play every kind of venue. It’s great to play in front of people who haven’t seen your band and it’s great to play in front of people who know every word. Any time we get a chance to play, it’s great. If a show is great, that makes it even better.
How did the idea to do a mariachi record come up?
We did a song for Fuel TV off our second record called "Dirty Leaves." We did it mariachi style because we didn’t really want to do the regular acoustic thing, and it just kind of triggered something. [Guitarist] Joby [Ford] started researching guitar rhythms and just writing songs on his own. He came to me with a couple of them and it just started to snowball. It was really automatic. It felt good and we just kinda knew it was the right thing to investigate. [Drummer] Jorma [Vik] and the rest of the guys picked up on it. The key was our new bass player Brad [Magers]–we didn’t really realize he’s a trumpet player. That was another thing that happened on the record, where everything just kinda happened for a reason. It was kinda guided by a musical force, if you will. Even if we wanted to stop that record I don’t think we could. It just poured out of us.
And that’s recorded and set for release?
The record was done before the rock record was. We just wanted to put out [the rock record] first. So [El Bronx] will be coming out in March, and it’s gonna be great. I’m excited. It’s been mastered.
On White Drugs, right?
We’re just starting to get [that] off the ground. I think we’re gonna have a busy year with touring and playing for two records. We’re gonna have a gatefold vinyl [released] which is gonna have both the records–the rock record and the mariachi record. That’s gonna be available on White Drugs. Also, for the first time we’re putting out a band that doesn’t involve a Bronx member. We’re putting out our friends’ band called Kong, from Manchester, England. They’re coming out with a 7-inch on White Drugs, and that’ll be available pretty, pretty soon. It’s exciting getting stuff out. We’re building it slowly. I wish we could pack it with a little more radicalism but we have got our priorities on playing and getting these tours knocked out and getting ourselves home safe.
Are you planning to tour on the mariachi record, or play songs from it live?
I don’t think people are really aware what’s gonna happen with that. I think people think that it’s a gimmick, or that it’s a joke record. But it’s very serious. It’s the real deal. We worked our asses off on that thing to make sure that we didn’t do the music any shame. Those are all original songs that we wrote and that we play–and that we love. There will definitely be El Bronx tours. It’s just a matter of when and where. I think there’ll be much more El Bronx touring when the record is out. As of right now, I don’t think anything’s gonna happen outside of [something] in the L.A. area. I think we might be doing South By Southwest, but even that hasn’t been booked yet, so we’ll see what happens.
How do you think you’ll deal with fans coming to the show and yelling for standard Bronx songs?
I don’t think that’s gonna happen… The times we have done mariachi El Bronx [shows], the response has been great. Outside of maybe one or two drunk dudes, I don’t really think that’s gonna be a problem. Bronx fans–they’re gonna love El Bronx. The response has been nothing but great. I don’t think there’ll be any sort of backlash among our fans as to wanting to hear regular Bronx.
After you and Every Time I Die released your respective albums in 2003, both of you really seemed to sort of become the gold standard for modern rock ’n’ roll hardcore records, in the sense that people could go and talk about Suicide File or Black Flag or Hot Snakes. But after 2003, it was like a smaller or newer band couldn’t release a rock ’n’ roll hardcore record without it being compared to either the Bronx or Every Time I Die–even though you guys never really sounded all that much alike. Did that ever dawn upon you?
When we first toured together [in 2003], our first record was just coming out and Hot Damn! was coming out and getting good and big. We were on tour with Every Time I Die and Poison The Well, and that did feel like what you’re saying–like something new was kinda happening. There’s just a lot of bands that sound like the Bronx and Every Time I Die, and that’s a good thing. I think there has been a little bit of influence over the past four or five years or so. That’s cool. I have no problem with it. We’re gonna keep making Bronx records and Every Time I Die are gonna keep making ETID records and we’ll tour together as much as we can. I’ve got nothing but respect and love for them. They’re great friends.
How was it playing that role of Black Flag in the Germs biopic, What We Do Is Secret?
It was awesome, man. That’s one of those things you don’t really expect to do when you’re in a band. You don’t expect to be playing Black Flag in a Germs movie, a major motion picture. That was a tremendous honor. It was cool to get to record with [Germs guitarist] Pat Smear and have Kira [Roessler] from Black Flag playing bass on the track. You get an inside scoop on the magic of Hollywood. I think a lot of people assume that because we live in L.A. that we’re on movie sets everyday, or that we automatically know what all that stuff is like. It was a very cool experience, seeing how that side of the entertainment industry works. Definitely not something I would ever want to do, but it’s always cool to be able to see things from a different perspective and see how much work goes into the making of something like that.
Do you have plans to do anything new with your other bands, the Drips and Bullet Treatment?
Yeah, definitely. Like I said, we’re focused on Bronx right now [because] there’s a lot going on. But there definitely will be another Drips record in the future. We’ve just gotta wait to get a little time to rest [and] finish the record. I think we’ve got like roughly three or four songs written already. [Guitarist] Tony [Bevilacqua] and [bassist] Dave [Hidalgo Jr.] are doing Spinnerette with Brody [Dalle]. Vince [Hidalgo] is the other guy in the Drips. He plays in the Bronx [as] an extra member. Everyone’s close and tight, so when it’s a good time to do it we’ll knock it out.
[Bullet Treatment are] kind of an ongoing thing. [Guitarist] Chuck [Dietrich] and I are good friends. If he has a song he wants me to sing on, I’ll do it at the drop of a hat. The one EP [2004’s What More Do You Want?] and the full-length [2006’s The Mistake] we did were a lot of fun and I love doing that type of stuff. It’s definitely not the end, but as far as right now, I think Chuck’s working on a single series. He’s gonna try to work with different frontmen singing the same song–almost like a March Madness bracket kind of thing. alt