The PV Q&A: The Bronx's Matt Caughthran—“We’re At a Point at the Bronx Where We Can Just Focus on Music and Have Fun Together”

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Photo by Lisa Johnson

Interview by Lilledeshan Bose

Hardcore punkers the Bronx (who, lest you forget, are LA natives) call themselves “Purveyors Of Audio and Visual Dissidence.” Bronx (IV), their fourth full-length, does nothing to disprove that tagline, mired as it is in adolescent angst, hard and fast riffs meant to be played LOUD, driving backlines and raucous sing-a-longs.

But it’s easy to believe vocalist Matt Caughthran when he says the creation of Bronx IV was more relaxed than their last three. It could be that the Bronx, who spent the past five years performing, recording and creating as the alter ego Mariachi El Bronx, has given the band perspective and a renewed sense of confidence. After all, if you can wow hardcore audiences and critics alike with two mariachi albums, you can probably do whatever the fuck you want. Here’s what else Caughthran had to say:

PureVolume: Mariachi El Bronx, two albums in the past five years. The Bronx, zero. Do you think more people know you more through mariachi now than as the Bronx?
Matt Caughthran: It’s weird, you know? Bronx (IV) is the first Bronx record in five years, so now people know us more often for the mariachi stuff, but we don’t care either way—it’s just one big musical output for all of us. We started the Bronx in 2002, and we very much love being in the Bronx. And the Mariachi El Bronx was a way of taking a break creatively. It kind of felt like we were hitting the wall a little bit after the third record, and we started El Bronx to keep our brain in some sort of electric shock and try a different kind of music. Something that was really cool and really important to LA. It ended up taking off, and now we’re two fully functional bands.
PV: Did you guys need any kind of headspace transition to make the new record?
MC: Yeah. It’s kind of why we waited so long to do a new Bronx record. We needed to get into the headspace to do it again, and it sometimes doesn’t come overnight, so you have to wait it out and process a little bit. After the first El Bronx record, we had the opportunity to either do Bronx (IV) or El Bronx (II). And it just didn’t feel right to go back into Bronx yet, and we were still very much inspired by mariachi.

So we ended up making El Bronx (II) first, and a lot of Bronx fans were kind of butthurt about that. But it’s just the way it is, you gotta follow the inspiration.

I’m really glad we did that because El Bronx (II) is a beautiful record and I’m very proud we made it. Sometimes you gotta understand that you do need a little time to switch back and forth between bands to allow yourself the time.
PV: Was there a different creative process in the making of Bronx (IV)?
MC: Not really. We were just intuitive. The only difference really was where we’re at in our own lives and as a band. That’s really the main difference between Bronx (III) and Bronx (IV). At the time Bronx (III) was going around we were holding on by a thread. We were on shaky, shaky ground. It was the end of our manager, we had no label, no money—no future, really. It was looking pretty fucking bleak. And that record sounds like that: It’s a very end-of-the-world-style record, mood-wise and lyric-wise. And that’s what records are—that’s a document of a certain time in your life. And now we’re at a point at the Bronx where we can just focus on music and have fun together. By no means have we given up on the aggression of punk music and the lifestyle that we live; it just comes from a different place. That’s what creativity is all about, that’s where it comes from. Everything comes from where you are and what’s around you.

PV: Bronx (IV) is excellent, by the way. It’s the kind of album I would’ve listened to non-stop when I was a teenager full of adolescent angst to annoy my parents. What fueled that?
MC: There’s a lot of reflection on the album. A lot of it is being a band for 10 years and going back to make a record when you haven’t made one in five years. There’s a lot of looking back at ourselves as individuals and how far we’ve come—thinking of where the world was and where it is right now. How my friends have changed, how music has changed.

And there’s a lot of that in the lyrics. There’s a lot of Bronxisms in it—weird stylistic stuff that reflect how weird we are, stuff about the city of Van Nuys and the valley where the studio we record in is (“Valley Heat”), stuff about left-handed handshakes (“The Unholy Hand”). Just all sorts of weird little interesting things that happened.

There’s a couple of songs about not being able to control things and a lot of being pissed off about not being able to fix mistakes you’ve made and not being able to get them back. It’s a pretty much good-sized look back.
PV: That’s an emotional source of inspiration, for sure, but what about musically? What were you listening to?
MC: A lot of Ramones, for me. But it’s hard to point out influences like that. We listen to a lot of Afghan Whigs, that kind of confessional, lyrical writing. The main inspiration was finally getting a chance to finally write it, after years and years and years. We were so stoked to get back into a room and play loud together. A lot comes from the joy of just getting together to make another Bronx record.
PV: Any recording rituals?
MC: We drink beers, that’s the only recording ritual we have. It was very relaxed in the studio this time around. Our friend Beau [Burchell] who did our first record was back in the mix, and with the confidence that being in El Bronx gave us, it gave us the ability to trust our own songwriting skills. As far as studio rituals go, no one’s recording naked or anything like that. If I come up with a horrible lyric the guys let me know how shitty it is, but that’s all out of love and we move on. I’m really stoked that we got the record we got.
PV: When you say confidence from El Bronx, do you mean that the band got more confident playing a different style of music?
MC: It’s a confidence that comes from doing something that, on paper, you really have no business doing. It was just about having an idea and having the guts to stick it through and having the work ethic and talent to take the genre seriously, approach it from a place of love, do the research to make sure we did it right but still do our spin on it and write all original songs. It was literally born from nothing. It really made us proud of ourselves, we never thought we’d be able to do it in a million years.

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