Interview: Matt Caughthran of The Bronx Talks New Album, Tigers, and Chainsaws
The Bronx are unlike any other hardcore punk band. Consider the facts they have a legitimate mariachi band as an offshoot and that they continuously change their musical style. The latter is obvious when it comes to their new album, Bronx IV (all their records are self-titled so we just started numbering them), a self-described "groove-heavy punk-rock" record that confirms the band's longstanding desire to do something fresh. Revolver caught up with vocalist Matt Caughthran to ask him about the new album, tigers, and chainsaws.
REVOLVER This is the first Bronx record in five years. What’s been going on?
MATT CAUGHTHRAN We’ve been at it with The Bronx but we just haven’t written a record. It’s funny. It didn’t feel like five years until someone pointed it out to me like, Holy shit, it’s been that long! We’ve been playing the whole time but the mariachi band kinda took over for a little while. We put out two records as Mariachi El Bronx. We needed to take a break, let the band breathe for a little bit, and figure out what we want to do next. After Bronx III, we thought we hit a wall a little bit so it was nice to make mariachi music and still be creative, tour, and play.
So tell us about Bronx IV.
We always try to do something different on each record. We like to get ourselves into a new place. One of the things we found ourselves doing on all three records was over-thinking things and we kinda wanted to make a Ramones-style record this time around. Not sonically—I mean, The Bronx doesn’t really sound like that but we wanted to idealistically, like, simplifying our sound. We wanted to focus on not over-thinking things and when something sounds good--just be stoked.
The band’s sound and image has changed so much over the years from the horror in the “False Alarm” video to playing mariachi. How do you come up with these concepts?
It’s been the band’s agenda from the get-go. When you start something with that mindset, it makes it a lot easier to maintain that ideal. We’re always trying to take steps into the darkness and put ourselves in uncomfortable positions and keep our brains going in that creative way. We’re stoked that we got the lucky draw to play music for a living. It’s something we worked really hard for. We all feel the same way, you know, it’s not like you sit on your ass. You’re supposed to do something special and amazing with it. We try to think of a weird way to do it. [Laughs] Whether it’s the videos or making records or going on tour… I mean, we had a magician open up for us before. That was crazy. Just do different things. It’s more fun that way. It’s unique. There are so many great bands. You want to beat your own demons but you also want to separate yourself from the pack.
For this record, the artwork theme is like a cross between Asian art and Chinese food take-out packaging since the preorder has a fortune cookie box. Why this?
We were talking about packaging and Joby [Ford], our guitar player, does all our artwork. What we were originally trying to do was make the take-out box the packaging. The artwork went along with it, too. Personally, I try not to dabble too much on the record label side of life but you have to put together packages with new records and stuff like that. We just tried to do something cool.
So did Joby come in with the tiger and you guys knew that was it?
Yeah. It sounded good. We’re working on a video that’s… [Laughs] It’s amazing. I can’t wait for you to see it.
What song is it for?
It’s for “Youth Wasted.” It’s…it’s something special.
Switching gears from visual to audio--how would you respond to those who say, “The Bronx aren’t heavy anymore?”
In certain ways, we’re not. It’s not that we aren’t heavy anymore, it’s that records are a moment in time. Each record is not your entire life span. This isn’t a pissed-off record. It’s not. There’s moments here and there, like “The Unholy Hand” and “Too Many Devils,” but The Bronx is not a fake band. We’re not going to act pissed off for the sake of being pissed off because people expect that. Each record is supposed to be different and in this moment of our lives we were able to focus on just making a record and being stoked for everything we accomplished. Just make a groove-heavy punk-rock record. It’s not the first record. It’s not the second record. It’s not the third record. It is what it is. It’s not the angriest record and I wouldn’t hide away from that. It’s an interpretation of where we’re at in this point of our lives.
So let’s say Bronx I and Bronx II are the more pissed-off records. What happened in your life where you’re less pissed off?
See, I don’t even think it’s less pissed off. The first record was an un-corking of everyone’s lives up until that point. That’s why you have that kind of energy on that record. The second record was us going through a journey of becoming a professional band. That was our major label record. It took us almost a year and a half or two years to record because it was just that: a major label record. Everyone wanted to hear certain things a certain way. The third record was us at our most desperate. No money. No record label. No vision of the future. No idea where the band was headed. And this record finds us at the crest of a new wave. The band’s been reborn. After doing Mariachi El Bronx, it breathed new life into The Bronx. The future is now something we look forward to. It’s the start of a new chapter for us. I make a ton of mistakes. I’m a man with a lot of regrets. I spend a lot of time writing about those and what I see going on in the world and what we encounter on a daily basis traveling around the world. Sometimes pissed off and sometimes it’s funny. I don’t want to get caught up with our band having to be a certain way to appease people. It’s not out style.
In the lyrics for “Along For the Ride,” you say, “We used to be alive/Now we’re just along for the ride.” Is that what you mean about retrospect or is it something else?
I think it’s just something that comes and goes throughout your lifetime. There are moments when you’re engaged and there’s moments when you’re not. It’s kind of a reoccurring question in my life. I think it happens to a lot of people. No matter what you do, whether you’re an artist or a businessman or a stay-at-home mom, there’s times when you’re in-tune with what’s going on around you and you’re in charge of your life. And there are times when you’re just kind of watching things pass you by. It’s just kind of a reminder to stay in that mindset of living your life to the fullest and being in charge and not letting a day go by that you waste.
When you guys were recording, did anything crazy happen while in the studio to you or to one of the other band members?
Nothing too crazy outside of the normal. Everyone hits their wall. It’s like, I thought I had the entire record written lyrically and it just didn’t work. So I had to rewrite a lot of songs but that’s part of the recording process. It brings the best out of each person. You go pretty fucking crazy but the end result is always what you’re looking for. Life is such an insane fucking thing that you’re never really afforded the chance to solely focus on one thing. There’s always chaos going around you in life. This is the first time that we actually got to sit down and focus on making the record together. Waiting this long to make the record everyone was super-inspired and super-connected to what we’re doing musically, idealistically, and all the way around.
Is there a song you’re favoring more than the others?
I really like “Pilot Light” because that song means a lot to me, to us. It’s that song about regret. It’s the things you can’t get out of your mind. I look at a pilot light as something that never goes out for better or for worse. It’s the things you can’t fix and can’t get back. I’m just really connected to that song.
Before I got the record, I saw the trailer on the website. What’s up with that?
Oh, with the English dude? [Laughs] Yeah, it makes no sense, right? We were on tour over in England and we had a friend. We said, "Hey, we have to put together some sort of video, a teaser." People think it’s, like, a sign of things to come which is great because it’s total bullshit and it doesn’t mean anything. It’s a dead-end street that goes nowhere. So it’s pretty ridiculous.
I’m from New York and you’re from California, so why did you call yourselves The Bronx?
When we started the band, it was based on confusion. Back then, things used to be pretty heated in the west coast and east coast battle. So we thought, Why not call ourselves The Bronx since we’re from LA? To us, it makes perfect sense but nobody gets it.
I remember once on TV, there was this show where they showed off the fact you could scream as loud as a chainsaw.
It was some sort of Fuse show [Rock and Roll Acid Test] and they took me all over LA to scream at people and stuff. It was pretty retarded. But yeah, I think I ended up at chainsaw level which is good. I’m probably louder today.
So you’re the reigning champion.
I have to be honest with you, I’ve never defended my title. I’m sure there’s some up-and-comers out there that are more than willing to knock me off my throne.
Well, your voice is pretty powerful. I mean, some dudes scream and their voice cracks but your voice is completely strong.
Yeah. It’s something that, for better or for worse, I've been working on for a long time. I know how to sing, but screaming, I always tell people, it’s something that comes from inside you. You can look up videos on YouTube on how to scream and do death-metal vocals but that’s gonna teach you a simple form of someone else’s method. All the good punk -rock screamers and all the good maniacs out there, it comes from the man that’s inside. That’s where it’s supposed to come from and that’s where it comes from for me.