We’re half way through 2020, and it’s been a very weird and wild ride so far. The thing about going through uncertain times, we always seem to feel better when we turn to things we know. Music and kick-ass bands are at the top of that list. We know and love them as The Bronx… but have you heard of Mariachi El Bronx? If so, you’re probably wondering… “What the hell is that?!”
Last week I spoke with lead singer Matt Caughthran, who also happens to be my former classmate in 2nd grade. Matt was kind enough to give me the inside scoop on the phenomenon that is Mariachi El Bronx and their upcoming 4th of July drive-in concert with Los Lobos. This will be the first live concert in Orange County since the lockdown orders came down due to the Covid-19 global pandemic that became a part of our everyday lives.
Back in 2007, Mariachi El Bronx (also known as The Bronx) hit a creative wall. They were getting requests from outlets for a lighter acoustic version of their hit punk/hard core sound to cast a bigger net.
Since this is pretty much the consistent trend for rock bands to create a more palatable “radio friendly” experience for those that don’t normally listen to heavier rock.
Without a label, management or money at the time, this was the only option on the horizon for the band to expand their audience.
The Bronx has always pushed themselves creatively. When they set out to fulfill a request for an acoustic song for a TV skateboarding program on Fuel TV, guitarist Joby suggested that they do the song in a Mariachi style. This brilliant idea opened the band to an entirely new and rewarding world of creativity that they decided to chase after.
Soon after this epiphany, they started writing and recording their own original Mariachi songs. They made sure to follow the authentic standards of writing Mariachi music to treat the music and culture with the utmost respect and care. It was Mariachi music in English and it was incredible!
(I) Nobody believed their first album would be successful. They said that everyone they told about the idea, thought it was a joke and laughed. Not having anyone that wanted to record, these newly written songs had them turn to John Avila (music producing savant and former bassist for a little band called Oingo Boigo!). They recorded the album in his garage! This album would be known as Mariachi El Bronx (I) and it was a a hit!
Following the success of this first album, they decided to ride that wave and went straight back in the studio (or garage) to record their second album. Mariachi El Bronx (II) began to really pick up traction and so did the band. They had new management, started doing late night talk show performances on every network, big festivals all around the globe, gaining a whole new addition to their fan base.
Matt said, “When people ask what I do, I tell them and mention the two different bands and they just give me the most fucked up look and I love that! I love what I do and I love the creativity. I love that we were able to break through and get out of the ‘punk rock to acoustic box’ bullshit and we ended up stumbling onto something really beautiful and we’re fortunate.”
If you ever want to hear one of the best Prince covers you will ever encounter, Mariachi El Bronx covers “I Would Die 4 You”. It’s so outstanding and unique, it will take you a second to realize it’s not an El Bronx original.
I asked Matt about what the band has up their ‘covers sleeve’: “On the B-sides record we just put out it has a Roy Orbison cover but I’d love to do a Tom Petty cover someday. I’ve also always wanted to cover, “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory” by Johnny Thunders because it’s such a classic sad guitar punk song, it’s one of the best songs ever. I hope that one day we get to that.”
The charro suit band attire came from the idea that the band didn’t want people to think they were a joke, being primarily a bunch of white guys playing Mariachi music in English, they didn’t want to show disrespect to the music or culture. They wanted to make sure with the charro suits that they “did it right” which is why Matt says they didn’t add sombreros to their outfits so they didn’t look like The Three Amigos (which apparently, they get A LOT). Matt says, “it’s on us, since we are spokesman in the genre to not perpetuate the stereotype and to take it seriously… but that being said, the charro suits are so badass, you put those things on and feel fucking invincible. It’s the raddest thing.”
Knowing Matt is a white boy from Pico Rivera, who went to a predominately white school, I asked him how he goes about singing some Spanish. He said considering he didn’t know the language well enough to not be insulting but did know enough about the music he was able to do it in his own way.
This was the way the band decided to approach it. Matt said they thought, “This is going to be some fake-ass shit if we try to come out there and try to be Mexican. We need to be ourselves and come at this from a place of appreciation and respect and we acknowledged that from the get-go. That’s the number one reason why I chose to sing in English. It ended up being a big thing that people grabbed onto. It pays to be yourself and not try to fake anything. People can say they aren’t into it and that’s okay but they can’t say we are being fake or disrespecting the culture or music. For us it’s all about being authentic.”
Mariachi El Bronx is playing one of the music industry’s first concerts of its kind: A Drive-In concert. With the show headlined by Los Lobos, Mariachi El Bronx will play in front of an audience of cars where patrons can sit inside their automobile or beside it in a zoned off area per car. Only one ticket is needed for up to 6 people per vehicle. This is history in the making!
I asked Matt about how he felt about playing such a landmark show and he told me, “First of all, it’s an honor to be playing with Los Lobos. That is just so cool. I think this is such a random really cool event in a really weird time. I want to be able to say, ‘hey look at that really cool thing we were able to pull off in the middle of civil unrest, COVID, all the shit going on, we were able to get together and play a weird-ass concert. That’s the way I want to look back on it, I don’t want this to be a regular thing. I want people to be able to hang out and enjoy the music together and socialize. We’ll see where it goes.
I know that the promoters and the guys putting on this show are doing their best to try to make people feel safe. They’ve made sure it’s not half-assed. We’re losing our minds not being able to play music but first and foremost we want people to feel and be safe. We are thinking about the attendees first so we can look back on this in like a year and think, ‘that was such a random, crazy, weird time in the states, in the world and we made it through.”
MUSIC IS LIFE
MUSIC can be many things. It can take many forms. It can move you, it can inspire you and it can save your soul.
Mariachi El Bronx is electricity personified. The band consists of Matt (lead vocals), Joby Ford (guitar/vihuela/bajo sexto/accordion/jarana) Ken Horne (jarana), Brad Magers (trumpet/backing vocals), Jorma Vik (drums/percussion), Vincent Hildago (guitarron / requinto jarocho/guitar), Ray Suen (violin/guitar/harp/requinto jarocho/vihuela/jarana & backing vocals).
For tickets to the 4th of July drive-in show with Los Lobos and Mariachi El Bronx