Interview: The Bronx (dated, 2006)

Patrolling the stage in between songs at San Diego’s SOMA with equal parts menace and good humor, the Bronx frontman Matt Caughthran took the moment to sum up his thoughts on the current state of rock and roll. Singing the praises of tourmates Priestess, the Riverboat Gamblers and Wires on Fire, Caughthran observed, “There aren’t that many real rock and roll bands these days, and Avenged Sevenfold isn’t one of them!”

The Bronx may not have endeared themselves to the aforementioned mascara- and aviator-wearing band that night, but if this lapse in social graces had them feeling sheepish, it certainly didn’t show. The Bronx brutalized the eager crowd for 50 minutes, practically pinning audience members to the back wall with an earsplitting mix of hardcore, punk rock and hard rock. It’s something the Bronx have been doing pretty regularly since forming in 2002. Their 2003 record, produced by ex-Guns n’ Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke and released on their own White Drugs label, is a 28-minute blast of punk fury. Dropping July 18, their eponymous debut for Island (home also to decidedly non-punk acts like Mariah Carey and Bon Jovi) adds tunefulness to their unrelenting sound. The ensuing tours will see the Bronx hitting the stage with diverse acts such as seminal New Jersey hardcore outfit Lifetime, metal standard bearers Mastodon and the incomparable Converge—and a stint with Ms. Crimson and Clover herself, Joan Jett.

“I remember being in kindergarten,” reminisces guitarist Joby J. Ford while thinking of Jett, “playing out in the school yard and seeing some sketchy guy walk by with a big radio blasting ‘I Love Rock and Roll.’ That was first ever memory of rock music.”

On the brink of the release of their first major label release and enjoying a much higher profile than ever before, the Bronx don’t appear to be making many musical concessions to court mass appeal. Though hooks abound, the Bronx’s sound is unrelenting and fierce. If you can imagine Black Flag playing Stonesy riffs at a million or so miles per hour, you’re getting close. Couple that with Caughthran’s scathing growl, and you have a sound that channels heaping energy through taught drums and bass and growling guitars. The sound stands in contrast the laid back, joking demeanor on display backstage, where Caughthran and Ford sat down with the author and musicedge.com editor Shane Roeschlein to discuss their move to a major label, the creative process of songwriting, and a bizarre case of mistaken guitar identity.

As is usually the case, eyebrows were raised when the Bronx decided to sign with a major label. But for them, the experience has been positive. Caughthran and Ford attribute that to the band’s very well-defined sense of who they are and how they operate: self-sufficient and hands on in their approach to their music and art. “We, as a band, do a very specific thing,” says Ford. “ Everything is pretty thought and figured out. It’s not like we’re doing anything out of the ordinary, we just know what we want in relation to what’s available. We do all our own website stuff, all the treatments (scripts) for our videos, on this tour James (Tweedy, their bassist) is managing…we do all our own art. That’s how we are as people.”

The move to Island afforded the band the opportunity to work with producer Michael Beinhorn, an experience that was a world away from their previous recording experiences. “Matt and I have been in bands for ten years,” says Ford, “and the experiences we’ve had is scraping together $500 and finding a friend that has a studio. For the new album we had a month of pre-production and two months of recording. It was a lot like the first time, except that instead of hitting things right off the bat, we had to play each of the songs about 75 times!” All of the songs were tracked live, so that “we either all got it or—or didn’t!” chuckles Ford.

Knowing the massive increase in studio time had a demonstrable impact on the songwriting process. “It definitely affected the writing process in a very good way. Once we got into the studio, each of us realized in our own, painful way how unprepared we were,” says Caughthran. “We wrote so many songs in that studio (a converted methadone clinic on the Venice Beach boardwalk), and once we got the first two going it was a real outlet of creativity—everyone was going on all cylinders. That had never really happened to us before.”

The process wasn’t all yahtzee and shuffleboard, however. Producer Beinhorn is known for being one of the most demanding around, and the Bronx definitely felt the effects of his laser-like focus and drive. “He goes through every song with a fine tooth comb, to the point where he would tell to add one more kick drum hit here, or another cymbal hit there,” says Ford. “He’s just an extremely methodical person with no concept of time. Some days we’d work for an hour, and some days we’d work for twelve.”

Operating on such a schedule, the Bronx were very glad to be within the strange and friendly confines of their hometown Los Angeles. “I love California, and Los Angeles is definitely the hub of that,” says Caughthran with obvious affection. “Everything is at your feet: you get the mountains and the ocean and the sun, the weirdness of Hollywood and the calmness of being outside of Hollywood.”

Adds Ford, “it’s a place where you can disappear if you want to disappear, or get a pack of gum next to Tom Cruise…it’s just a very interesting place to live.”

The Bronx are a band in love with their city. And why not? By all accounts, Los Angeles has been good to them: recording and playing with Sunset Strip royalty like Clarke, having their first shows and recordings gushed over by the infamous tastemakers at buddyhead.com–even being cast as one of their favorite bands, Black Flag, in ex-Nirvana guitarist Pat Smear’s movie about his seminal punk band the Germs.

“That was a total blast,” grins Caughthran, reliving the moment. “We did the scene (playing the Black Flag song “Police Story”) twice, maybe three times–” at which point Ford jumps in with pride, “the fake Germs had to do their scene about eight times. Then we got up there and the crew was like, ‘whoa, you guys can play.’ No one even knew we were a band!”

That wouldn’t be the only case of mistaken identity that day. “I got accused of stealing my own guitar,” offers Ford. “The prop guys made me a Dan Armstrong specially for the shoot (a clear-bodied electric guitar made of lucite), and I actually play a Dan Armstrong just like the one Greg Ginn used to play in Black Flag. So I get up on stage with my own guitar, and a stagehand says ‘this guy is trying to steal our guitar!’ and gets on the walkie talkie and is like, ‘Larry, uh we got a situation here…’ Finally the prop guy came down and he was the maddest of all. He said to me, ‘dude, do you know how long it took me to find the parts to make that thing?’”

Playing your musical heroes in a motion picture is the kind of experience that many bands would kill to have. Indeed, the whole trajectory of the Bronx as a band thus far (signed after two shows, being the darlings of LA’s punk scene) makes them seem, well, born under a good sign. However, their recent good fortune is the product of years of hard work in other bands and a willingness to try new things and constantly expand their knowledge and abilities when it comes to songwriting, recording and performing. “We as people have been doing this a long, long time, and we’ve played in tons of different bands,” remarks Ford. “We’re looking for longevity, and the more you understand about the process, the better. Learning something new is never wrong.”

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