Show Preview: The Bronx @ the Beauty Bar, July 11

Holy hell, I don’t know that the Beauty Bar has the sound equipment to handle this one. The Bronx are coming back to San Diego for a show with Gods Girls (don’t know anything about them yet–maybe softcore porn?) on July 11. I can’t say that I think the Beauty Bar is a natural fit for the Bronx–they are a quintessential Casbah band in sound and fury–but hey, I can always use an excuse to eat at Red Sea in City Heights.

I was a little unnerved to find that the Bronx were managed by Crush, the same people behind mall punk lobotomists Fall Out Boy, Panic! at the Disco, The Academy Is…, etc. The relationship, thankfully, stops there. The Bronx are a pretty viscious live band, practically pinning audiences to the back wall with an earsplitting mix of hardcore, punk rock and hard rock. I’ve seen them a couple times before (once at the Casbah, once at SOMA) and both occasions were memorable.

I interviewed the band a year ago for the now-defunct musicedge.com, a website that committed the cardinal sin of assuming kids weren’t too dumb to be interested in thoughtful articles about a diverse palette of bands. Of course, they are, or at least the people at NAMM think they are. The site was edited and operated by Shane R., who now writes acoatofredpaintinhell.com. Anyway, I’ve decided to repost some parts of the article below. I’m sure you slept the first time: don’t sleep this time!

BEGIN!!

On the brink of its first major label release and enjoying a much higher profile than ever before, The Bronx doesn’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 Matt 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 to the laid back, joking demeanor on display backstage, where Caughthran and guitarist Jobi Ford sit down with the author 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 it is and how it operates—self-sufficient and hands on in its approach to music and art. “We, as a band, do a very specific thing,” Ford says. “ Everything is pretty thought out 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 Web site stuff, all the treatments [scripts] for our videos. On this tour James [Tweedy, the band’s bassist] is managing … we do all our own art. That’s how we are as people.”

The move to Island afforded the band members 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 10 years,” Ford says, “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!” Ford chuckles.

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,” Caughthran says. “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,” Ford says. “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 12.”

Operating on such a schedule, The Bronx members 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,” Caughthran says 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 is a band in love with its city. And why not? By all accounts, Los Angeles has been good to band members: 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,” Caughthran says, 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,” Ford offers. “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 L.A.’s punk scene) makes it seem, well, born under a good sign. However, the band members’ 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,” Ford remarks. “We’re looking for longevity, and the more you understand about the process, the better. Learning something new is never wrong.”

The show is $7, and advance tickets might be a good idea.

My American Heart are goddamn young

I just finished up a story for MusicMatters on My American Heart, the Kevin Lyman-backed National City band that was one of the first signees to Lyman’s Warcon Records. Warcon is a strange label, home not just to MAH by also Helmet, a great band past their prime, and Opiate for the Masses, a band that, to quote Major League, “never had a prime.” My only experience with Opiate for the Masses was watching their singer (who I swear to God is a body double for Mark McGrath of Sugar Ray) prance around on stage at SXSW in 2006. “This shit sucks,” I drunkenly muttered to the bartender at Emo’s. Judging by the strength and comped nature of the drink he poured me, I assumed he was in agreement.

Back to My American Heart. I can’t honestly say that I like the band–let’s just say that the article is a feature, and decidedly NOT a review–though my limited interactions with them led me to like them as people. It’s truly amazing to me. Three of them dropped out of high school to tour full-time. Their oldest member is 22, and he’s the newest. The core of the band are all 19 or just turned 20, meaning that they’ve been touring and recording since about the time that most people start thinking about prom. It also means that they’re a full decade younger than I. The guys seem to mean well and have made some pretty solid career choices. They are now managed by Mike Bachta, who also handles biz for Spitalfield, Wax on Radio, Hidden in Plain View, and others. That’s good. I think for them to grow as artists, they’ll need a foil to Lyman’s “Forever 13” musical tastes, and Bachta can provide that.

Sure, My American Heart sound like a lot of other emo bands (Fall Out Boy, The Academy Is…, and Rufio, to be exact), and their black coifs have gotten them dubbed My American Haircuts, but before you bash a band like My American Heart, think back to the way you dressed and acted when you were 19. As John Cusack said in High Fidelity: “Now who’s the asshole?”

Save that kind of vitriol for people my age who are content to play the same kind of stuff. Kids making kids’ music is one thing. Guys like Pete Wentz (who’s 29) and Davey Havok (who’s 31) are one small step from being the Wiggles (see below) in eyeliner.