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!”

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Recapper: Sirhan Sirhan, Swim Party, Japanese Sunday, Vitro @ the Casbah

Ah, the Black Box compilation. A long, loving, hard-earned ode to the power of music and community. Not terribly surprised to not see any other music journalist types in attendance–though, truth be told, I left early. Some day after my dissertation is done, I tell you… I’m not saying that a comp CD is the end-all-be-all of human existence. Just saying it wouldn’t kill us to recognize hard work from some of our own, especially when it features many of the bands that are currently doing the hard work of repping our fair city across this great land.

Vitro was up first. They play 50s and 60s garage pop with a smattering of soul, trashy psychedelic skronk and bluesy swagger. The crowd at this point was relatively sparse but appreciative, with a few brave souls flaunting convention and doing a little twist. I don’t particularly care for self-conscious “revival” stuff, but Vitro was honest and unpretentious in the way they went about it. Good for them.

Japanese Sunday was up next. Their album, Tap Tap Light Out, was one of my favorite surprises of 2006. It distills the best parts of MBV, Mogwai, Hum and Interpol into one challenging, engaging listen. Tonight Eric’s voice seemed a little hoarse, but the band sounded good and their guitar interplay was impressive as always.

 

 

Swim Party is a band I’ve known of for a long time. JR’s girlfriend, Melissa, knows them, and has always spoken highly of them. Her tendency to be effusive about these things may have delayed my checking their out by four or five months–which means four or five months of missing the boat for me.Whimsy isn’t something to which a lot of boys (outside of the fey, indie pop circuit) with guitars aspire. Swim Party has it in spades. They also have strength, integrity, and blindingly good songs. I was very happy to hear that the EP I’d just purchased had the song “Sunlight and Sprawl,” which really had me floored. I can’t remember the last time I thought of 764-HERO. I also can’t remember the last time I thought of the Cure, the Format, and Ian Curtis at a child’s tea party, smoothed out by Paxil and really digging on the high society conversations of teddy bears and china dolls. In fact, I’m pretty sure outside of myself–and maybe Swim Party–the thought is a completely novel creation. I’m instantly a fan, and am relatively convinced that their 20 minute set in the Atari Lounge was one of the first sets I’ve seen in a long time that really made me smile. They even played a Yo La Tengo cover. My buddy (and presumed reader) Kelly Wurtz and I always chide each other because he loves the indie pop and I’m too closeted to admit that I admire its charms. I think Swim Party may be the sacred territory over which we bury that particular hatchet.

 

 

 

Homeboy’s bass playing reminded me a lot of Zach from Pinback. That’s a good thing.

Sirhan Sirhan was up next. Sirhan Sirhan is like the weird D&D kid from high school that disappeared into an engineering degree and weightlifting in college, only to emerge whip smart and scary as hell. Though I only got to see their first five songs (mom and grandmom are in town, and their itinerary starts early), they were sufficiently strangling to suggest that not a beat was missed due to drummer Alex Organ’s recent exile in Kansas City. It boggles the mind that the Bronx are up the street in LA and turn out 200 lunatics each time while Sirhan’s right here in town, kicking ass and taking names. Makes a man want to reach for a gun.

All in all, a great night. Thanks to Mike and Mario for making it happen.

Show Review: The Bronx at the Beauty Bar

I arrived at the BB around 8:45 PM and found the place already somewhat full. Ran into some friends I hadn’t seen in a while: Kipper, who was DJing, Justin from Silverbird/Counterfit, and Tony from Fever Sleeves. Justin seems to be doing well and is excited about getting Silverbird out on the road. I’m excited for him, too.

By 9:15, the bar area was completely full, a fact that may or may not have had something to do with Nathan Black’s assertions that cover and booze was free before 10 PM. It was, sort of: the booze was being given away along with a promotion by Camel cigarettes. If you smoke, this doesn’t present an ethical quandary. For some of us, telling us we get free booze for signing up on Camel’s mailing list is like asking us to join NAMBLA for a $10 rebate on our next gas fillup.

Tonight we were all victims of the “amazing added band” trick. The band in question is Alarma, from Los Angeles. Tony from Fever Sleeves correctly pointed out that their drummer looks an awful lot like Bill Lumbergh from Office Space. The other dudes look, well, like dudes in a band from LA that write songs about wanting to fuck women when they’re high. That’s the main lyric from their second song: “I wanna fuck you when your high.” Oh yeah, I think they also said, “I’m gonna feed you drugs,” but that part might not be a direct quote.

Creepy lyrics aside, this band’s chief concern should be getting to the point a little more quickly. It took until their fourth song for them to stumble upon a decent groove and riff. Thankfully, from that point forward the band loosened the groove and came off as aping early Zeppelin instead of aimlessly meandering through soulless coke rock (cat dirt called it out; this hipster embrace of 80s Sunset Strip culture is pretty humorous, though not without its own logic–vapid is as vapid does). Maybe that’s the vibe they’re going for. If so, good for them. They nailed it. As with most Beauty Bar crowds who aren’t watching exactly what they came to see, they welcomed the band with stunned indifference.

The Bronx was another story. As I’ve said before, the Bronx are a quintessential Casbah band and tonight’s crowd proved it. Let’s just say that the Beauty Bar has never exprienced quite so high a concentration of large dudes with black t-shirts who don’t give a rat’s ass about Marc Jacobs before. The Bronx are known for being confrontational and singer Matt Caughthran doesn’t seem happy until he’s got the crowd worked into a real frenzy, which took approximately two seconds from when they hit the stage. “It’s been a while since we’ve played, especially here in the United States,” he said. A moment later, the band charged into “Heart Attack American,” and the burly crowd launched as if spring-loaded toward him. Mid-song he leaned down and grabbed me by the throat/collar, using me for ballast as he leaned out over the churning mass in front of him. Troy Johnson was in there for a while–I lost track of him pretty quickly, however. I’m pretty sure he didn’t whip out his spin kicks or floor punches, but you never know.

Pic courtesy of Rosey at sdialedin.com

I turned to the security guard who was stationed at the back of the pit and asked if anyone had warned them how it would be on a night like this. “No, but I’m prepared for anything,” was his reply. Though I think he firmly believes that, it occurred to me at the moment that he was basically out there on an island. On a night like that the Casbah will have four or five extra security people on hand just in case things get too wild. I get the impression that one of the facets of being a younger venue is learning that kind of thing as you go, a process that will no doubt be slowed somewhat by the fact that different promoters are at the helm almost every night. Still, Mr. Security Guard gets big points for simply, but firmly, telling a crowd surfer to stop without physically engaging him or acting like a dick. Good on you, should you stumble across this.

The Bronx are not without good humor, however. About four songs in, Caughthran stopped to thank the event’s sponsor. Affecting a fake, half-country accent, he said, “I’d like to thank all the people at Camel for all the sort-of free booze and the lots of free cigarettes–but mostly cigarettes,” he deadpanned, getting lots of good natured laughs from the crowd. Pretty quickly the scrum was back on, as the band went into “Your Shitty Future.”

Though their set was fun and energetic, it did sound like they were working off–if not rust–then a coat of dust. They weren’t particularly loose–these guys never are–but I’ve seen them play tighter. Then again, given the active crowd, semi-free booze and backyard house party atmosphere, tightness really wasn’t the order of the day. Ken Horne (formerly of the Dragons) is on guitar, too, though most of the time I couldn’t really get righted enough to tell whether he was a necessary addition to Jobi Ford. There will be pics added to this post later (damn that cable!), so check back to see if your lovely face made it.

PS: I didn’t stick around for Gods Girls.

More Bronx @ Beauty Bar info…

From Nathan Black, the show’s promoter:
EARLY SHOW DOORS AT 8PM NO COVER TILL 10PM-$7 AFTER 10PM  BRONX GO ON AT 10PM

There you have it. If you want to see the Bronx, you should get there early.

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.