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Chicano Batman

Not many unsigned bands are asked to play Coachella or tour with Jack White, yet this is the story of Chicano Batman. Today, with the release of their highly anticipated fourth album, Invisible People, Chicano Batman’s ascent continues unabated. In this episode guitarist Carlos Arévalo and bassist Eduardo Arenas discuss the making of their new album, living in Los Angeles, and growing up in a time when Latinos in mainstream rock were few and far between.

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Transcript

Welcome to an Ernie Ball podcast. It starts now.

Evan:
Welcome to Ernie Ball's Striking a Chord. I'm Evan Ball. Today, we have Carlos and Eduardo from Chicano Batman on the show. They have a brand new album, Invisible People, releasing today, May 1st, the day this podcast is being released. We'll talk a lot about the creation of that album and how their approach differed from previous albums. We get the backstories for a couple of the tracks. We also talk about their hometown of Los Angeles, touring with Jack White, which Chicano Batman member has the best hair, and their new Ernie Ball Music Man instruments, which I'll link to in the show notes. Ladies and gentlemen, Carlos Arevalo and Eduardo Arenas.

Evan:
Carlos Arevalo and Eduardo Arenas, welcome to the podcast.

Eduardo:
What's happening? Thanks for having us.

Carlos:
Thank you for having us.

Evan:
All right, just to orient our listeners so they can maybe pair names and voices, Eduardo, why don't you go first. What do you play in the band?

Eduardo:
I play bass in the band. I also play guitar on a couple of tunes, but my main focus is bass and backup vocals.

Evan:
Okay, cool. Carlos?

Carlos:
Yeah, I play primarily electric guitar in the band. This new record that we are about to put out, I did a little bit of some keyboards, also, but guitar is my main emphasis when we're performing live.

Evan:
Oh, okay. Your singer does some keyboards, right, normally?

Carlos:
Yes, Bardo Martinez, our singer, he plays keyboards in the past, but his focus when we perform live is just delivering as a singer now.

Evan:
Got you.

Eduardo:
He does keyboards, guitars, back flips, front flips, and vocal theatrics.

Evan:
The consummate frontman.

Eduardo:
That's him.

Carlos:
He's the real deal.

Evan:
Can he really do those flips?

Eduardo:
He's done a bunch of crazy stuff. Sometime we're playing, and I see him jumping off the stage onto the next bottom platform, and my eyes are my mouth are just completely wide open, as I'm like, "Is that like nine seat he's attempting right now?"

Evan:
Did he play sports growing up?

Eduardo:
I think so. Skater, soccer, handball; he played a lot of handball.

Evan:
Okay, nice. All right, so for listeners who might not have heard Chicano Batman yet, have you guys come up with a way to describe your music, or heard any descriptions that you like?

Eduardo:
We're working on it, because I think, as a band, you're stuck with whatever the public says. I mean, the music, it belongs to the public. You write a song, but millions of people are out there listening to it; they interpret it however they want. However they say that we sound like to them is fair. What was it, Carlos, that we landed on the other day?

Carlos:
Yeah, it was on Instagram, and somebody posted about our new single called Pink Elephant; they're like, "Is this psychedelic G-funk? If it is, I'm all for it." I just felt like that was a great way to describe the sound of the latest single right now, yeah.

Evan:
All right, listeners got to be intrigued now.

Carlos:
Traditionally, though, in the past, people have called our music psychedelic soul funk, kind of stuff.

Eduardo:
Prog.

Carlos:
Prog.

Eduardo:
Like prog rock. We do a lot of ballads and stuff like that, too. Yeah, it's like '70s throwback ballads, that kind of thing; a lot of funk. We've done a lot of music inspired by Brazilian tropicalia stuff.

Evan:
How did you come across that?

Eduardo:
I was living in Brazil for like a year, and Bardo lived there for a few weeks, and we just connected on our experience. Along the way, we picked up Caetano Veloso and Os Mutantes and a bunch of crazy, crazy artists that were doing really wild and wicked things. I remember one time I read an article when I was in Brazil, that it described the sound of Os Mutantes; the review was like, "There's no self-respecting engineer would ever, ever get sounds like this and let them pass through the master." That's the kind of thing we like to hear.

Evan:
Yeah. All right, you guys are mostly from L.A.?

Carlos:
Yes. I was born in Los Angeles, but I grew up in the Inlet Empire. I grew up in San Bernardino County in Rialto, California.

Evan:
Oh, okay.

Carlos:
Family is from L.A. My mom's side goes back two, three generations living in Los Angeles. She's Mexican-American background. My dad is from El Salvador. He immigrated here when he was like 12 or 11. I was born in L.A., and Bardo, our lead singer, was also born in L.A., and he grew up in La Mirada, and Gabriel Villa, our drummer, was born in Cali, Colombia.

Evan:
Okay, that's right, yeah.

Carlos:
Eduardo, how about you?

Eduardo:
I'm from L.A., man. I'm born and raised in L.A. The city's mine. I'm a product of the city, and I represent it hard.

Evan:
That's awesome. Let's talk about that. What are some advantages and disadvantage of being from L.A., musically?

Carlos:
Advantages is the music scene is here. Disadvantages: the music scene is here, so there's a lot of competition. You've got to get your voice heard.

Evan:
Yeah, that sounds about right.

Eduardo:
I mean, it makes it a little bit more fun, because there's thousands of bands here and a lot of them are trying to make it into the music business, so when you know what's out there, you know what's out there, so you try not to be like it. I think that's just a good formula to go by it. Everybody gets a band to model after, everybody. When I started playing guitar when I was a teenager, Metallica; that was it. All of my compositions, I wanted to sound like Metallica, Iron Maiden, and Dio, you know what I'm saying? Then, after a while, it's just like, oh, you get into Scorpions, you're like, "Oh, more reverb," and then so on and so forth, and then you start molding your own identity.

Being in the city, it has a sway. It has a funk. It's got traffic. It's got pollution. It's got culture. It's got history. We got segregation in our communities. It's not like a melting pot; it is, but you've got Filipino Town, Little Armenia; got Thai Town; got Beverly Hills; you got East L.A., Boyle Heights, Long Beach. You have all these different places, but you can cross every aspect of the city every day. There's communities that only speak Spanish for a long time; they don't need to speak English, and so, that's just the reality of what we live at. That's kind of like the DNA of our music. It's all of that, it's like... it's tacos, quesadillas, arepas, it's the [inaudible 00:07:08]... what's yours, Carlos?

Carlos:
Me, I like it all. I mean, I eat a lot in Thai Town.

Eduardo:
Papusas, papusas, that's what I'm talking about.

Carlos:
Papusas, yeah, that's Salvadorian traditional food, papusas.

Evan:
Okay, I've heard that. I don't know if I've had it. What is it?

Carlos:
You've got to try it, man. It's basically like... think of like a quesadilla, but completely enclosed and inside it, there's some black refried beans and mozzarella cheese, and it's delicious.

Evan:
Yeah, can't go wrong there. Well, I'm sure that diversity all around you can be a strength that feeds into your music.

Carlos:
Yeah, there's so much diversity here and so much culture, as Eduardo said. To me, the beauty of music is, it doesn't matter language or feel; if it's good, it's universal and it'll touch you, and so, my ears are always wide open and I listen to everything from... I mean, I'm listening to The Weeknd's new album right now. That's something I didn't know I would ever be into, but I saw his Saturday Night Live performance and I was blown away. I've known who he is and who he... I mean, we played Coachella the same year he did in 2015.

Evan:
Okay.

Carlos:
I've known who he is. He's a huge R&B, pop artist, and like I said, I was watching SNL on a Saturday night and I saw his performance, and I was just like, "Wow, this is amazing," just the artistry.

Carlos:
From stuff like that to Radiohead to Stereolab, to Jimi Hendrix, if it's good and it's doing something original and exciting, I'm all for it.

Evan:
Yeah, yeah. I'm pretty sure this was shot in L.A. You guys did a Johnnie Walker video, which looks like it was a super fun project... it's at least got that vibe... but were you surprised to get an offer to do a whiskey commercial?

Eduardo:
Totally. We kind of said no, but then when they offered a billion dollars, we said, "Okay, let's do it."

Evan:
Yeah, it's hard to pass that up.

Eduardo:
It's pretty simple math. It was pretty cool. They were very open with the concept. The way it went was like this: they gave us the script, and they said, "Okay, this is what we want you to do." We read the script, me and Bardo, and we were like, "Man, we don't act like this. How about we do this instead? How about we do that?" They were totally for it.

This is the first brand that we've ever worked with that actually was listening to what we had to say, and they chose us because we have this following; we've been doing this successfully for a while, and they trust that we have something going on. I felt that they gave us that space, and we went for it.

Evan:
Well, that was going to be my next question, if you guys had free rein to kind of record how you did. I should explain; I can't remember if I mentioned this already, but it's basically you guys are performing the song This Land is Your Land; and so, it sounds like that wasn't the original idea?

Carlos:
That was the original idea, but they approached us, and this was during 2016, late-2015, and they just were like, "We want to partner with you guys. We have this ad campaign that celebrates diversity and celebrates progress in this country, and we think you guys represent that, and we respect your guys' outlook on music and art, and we think this will be a good combination," and we agreed.

Originally, what they wanted us to do was record a cover of Woody Guthrie's This Land is Your Land, and they gave us free rein. They're like, "You don't have to do a stock, exact replica of it. You can re-arrange it, re-write it, whatever you want. Shoot us ideas." We gave them a few demos, and they liked one in particular, and we went to the studio, recorded it, made it ours, and that was the song for the ad campaign that they had going for like a year or two, which was called Keep Walking America Campaign.

Eduardo:
What's funny, I was going to say beforehand is, when we were submitting these demos, there's one that we really, really liked. We were hoping that they didn't pick it. We were like, "I hope they don't pick that one because we can turn that into one of our songs," but they didn't choose it because it was too daring and too jagged, I think. We ended up using it and re-inventing it for the title track of our upcoming album, called Invisible People.

Evan:
Oh, it's coming up on the new one?

Eduardo:
Yeah, yeah, but you would never tell it's the same thing.

Evan:
Nice.

Carlos:
Like Eduardo said, we have all these ideas, and basically, all we were doing was taking the lyrics from This Land is Your Land and applying it to whatever instrumental arrangements we were coming in with, and we just had that song and it was so good, we were like, "Man, we want to keep this for our new album." It was just undeniably good.

Evan:
Good idea.

Carlos:
Like he said, it was too avant-garde to put out for a ad campaign, so they went with something a little more probably catchier.

Eduardo:
The thing about the Johnnie Walker campaign is, it just gave us access to mainstream America.

Evan:
Sure.

Eduardo:
Simply put. Before that, we were creating this cult following in L.A. and in the Southwest, and we started trickling into New York, Chicago, and all across the country, and then Mexico, and then we did a run in Japan. We went to Chile and different countries, but this one kind of made it like ketchup, mustard, and Chicano Batman; that was our moment, right on the table.

Evan:
Yeah. Well, I think this is related. I've read interviews where you guys talk about growing up not really seeing many Latinos in the music you'd listen to, or at least like in the indie rock space, I guess. Carlos, you've mentioned Omar from the Mars Volta as one of the figures who made you think, "Well, maybe there is space for me," but growing up, it was still pretty sparse. First, maybe you can talk about that, and then, second, what does the landscape look like now?

Carlos:
Yeah. When I grew up, I grew up when... what I call MTV's heyday in the '90s. I mean, I was a little kid, but you can watch quality music videos and artists that are pushing the envelope, but also super popular at the same time, and sometimes that doesn't go hand in hand anymore, I feel; but at the time, I was watching videos by Soundgarden, Nirvana, Chili Peppers, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg... Weezer's Blue Album had just come out.

Anyways, I was always into guitar-based music, just as a kid, inherently; I don't know I was attracted to it. I didn't question what I was watching on MTV, I just saw what I saw and I liked it; it sounded good and it resonated with me. It wasn't until I was a teenager, I realized, "I don't see anybody that looks like me on any of these music videos," and then I discovered Rage Against the Machine when I was in high school, and then I found out Zach was Latino. Also, this band, At the Drive-In came out when I was a senior, or their breakthrough album came out; I became hip to it, and it changed my life.

Carlos:
I remember watching David Letterman, and I was watching on a Friday night, and then I saw At the Drive-In perform One-Armed Scissor, and I saw Omar and Cedric, and it was the first time I ever saw anybody that resembled me at all, remotely, on television, on that platform.

Evan:
In that space, yeah.

Carlos:
That wasn't 120 Minutes or some underground media source. That was like the cream of the crop; David Letterman, Friday night, At the Drive-In.

Evan:
Yeah, that's awesome.

Carlos:
It just inspired me and made me realize I could do this, because I remember consciously thinking that rock music wasn't a space for someone like me. It sounds really sad and stupid now, but at the time, I just accepted it. I was like, "Oh, I could never do that because I'm not a white dude with long, straight hair," but I could still enjoy the music. That was just kind of like an awakening for me, and yeah, I started a band that next week after I saw those guys, because I was like, "I've always wanted to do this, and now there's proof that it can be done."

Evan:
Wow, that's cool.

Eduardo:
What's crazy, too, is the only real big Latino artist, as a teenager, that we had access to was Santana, but Santana is like a soulful prodigy, so it's one person, and it's not part of a band, you know what I'm saying? Yeah, actually, like Carlos said, like At the Drive-In; you're part of a band, but you're also Latino, and it doesn't even matter that you're creating music.

I think for me, I was into rock and Zeppelin and metal growing up in high school, and then when I went to college, I was still into that, but I think, for me, I started really... I went to USC and there's a lot of white people, and I hadn't had a lot of white classmates, ever, in my whole life. My roommate was a white dude. His name was David Cain, he was from Dallas, Texas, and he had red hair, and I didn't even know what a redhead looked like, you know what I'm saying? I'm just a kid from Boyle Heights, man. He was my roommate and a great dude, loved him.

Eduardo:
At the same time, I found refuge in sticking with Latino music and then creating Latino communities, because we're less than eight percent of the school's population, so we got to stick together and we got to find out how financial aid works, and how to do all the tricks, and how to create mentorships and tutorships, that kind of thing.

For me, that was my route, and then I found Ozomatli, and Ozomatli really opened up all the channels of everything for me: party, dance, culture, identity, music, musicality. I remember seeing Raul Pacheco play guitar, and he would just throw down so much flavor, and I'm thinking, "Damn, this guy has so much fun playing. Is he great? Yeah, I think he's great. He's playing amazing. He's just having fun." I think they just projected this big old fierce spirit of togetherness, and that's when I was like, "I want to do that. I have that power. I have that in me. How do you get to there?" I think I just kept seeing them and other bands like Slowrider, Burning Star, East L.A. Sabor Factory... all these bands in the early 2000s in the L.A. scene... and that really awakened me to the possibilities that can be done, not only in their city, but in the country.

Carlos:
Yeah, and just to follow up and answer the second half of your question, now the landscape is very different than it was 15, 10, 20 years ago. There's a lot of groups that are Latino that are doing great and are making a splash. It's a really beautiful thing to see the music space open and the music sphere open to encapsulate all these different voices now, and I just think that just goes with a change in culture and people just opening up more, and realizing that all it does is add to our humanity, being exposed to different people and music, coming together, trying to make a good song. Whether in the underground or whether you're talking about east L.A. punk scene in the '80s, Latinos have been making music, it's just the-

Evan:
Hasn't been as visible.

Carlos:
It hasn't been as visible, and now it is, because those avenues are opening, and just culture is changing and progressing.

Eduardo:
Social media platforms make it an equal playing field for a lot of people who are highly creative. Fortunately for us, the Latino community has always had a rich, rich batch of talent, and when you don't get exposure from the major labels like in the '90s or early 2000s, before YouTube, before MySpace, all that? We didn't have a chance. When you create your own space, and then you create your own uniqueness-

Evan:
Yeah, and make direct to the people now.

Eduardo:
Direct to the people, and then write good songs. At the end of the day, it just goes back to you writing good songs, because that's what makes you eternal.

Evan:
All right. Let's talk about your new album. What's the release date?

Carlos:
May 1st, 2020.

Evan:
Okay, cool. For people listening, we are April 3rd as we're speaking right now, but this podcast will probably air around there, maybe a little afterwards. Do you ever get nervous before you are releasing things, just nervous about how it might be received by the public?

Eduardo:
Honestly? Me, never, because for me, it's like... and everyone's different in this band, I'll tell you that, for sure... but for me, releasing music is one part of 100 parts of a bigger goal that you're trying to get to. I don't know; I'm always hungry. I'm always hungry. I'm always trying to see what the next goal is, what the next obstacle is. What's the next influence? What are we going to do? What's the next power play?

Releasing the song is great because we finally give the audience what they've been waiting for. It's really hard to put yourself in the position of the audience sometimes, because all you've been doing is busting your ass for the last year, making demos, getting in the studio, waiting on the mixes to come back, critiquing the mixes, fighting your own band mates over like, "More bass! Less bass! Pedal less! No, pedal right!" These mundane, stupid little things that mean the absolute world to the four of us, right? They don't mean nothing to anybody out there. One percent is going to tell the changes that we made that meant 100 percent to us.

We're drained, then the rollout plan comes out, and the artwork; "I'm not really feeling this." "I'm feeling this. I want to go in this direction." "We should do animated." "No, we should do a picture." "We should come out on the album cover." "We shouldn't come out at all." A lot of these things get ironed out in the rollout; and then, once you got that going on, then you really have to sit down as the four of you, again, and be like, "Okay, what do we want to tell the world with this album?" We're like, "Man, who knows? These are just 12 songs," but then, if you don't really start working on a narrative, then you lose an opportunity to really bring it home, what it is you're really trying to do.

The media outlets and all that, they're waiting for you to say something anyways, so you might as well say something sincere, real, and project what it is that you want to be, because then you raise the ceiling on what you're trying to aim for and you have some space to grow into that.

Evan:
Yeah, I mean, for the public, this is a sudden event; you're releasing something. For the band, this is a long, arduous process.

Carlos:
Two years in the making, to be specific, from demoing and writing to recording and mixing and mastering. It's a long process, and it's a tedious one, but a labor of love, definitely. Like Eduardo said, we're an actual band. The four of us voice our opinions, 25/25, and so we could be at loggerheads, as they say sometimes. It allows us to just grow as musicians and as people, especially as we get older; you learn to see the other perspectives a little better for the sake of the greater good.

Eduardo:
Sometimes we have to get unanimous votes. It has to be all four of us. Sometimes when it's three against one, it still doesn't feel good.

Evan:
Right, right, right.

Eduardo:
It's like, "Oh, man, he's going to get us back somehow."

Carlos:
To answer your question, Evan, for me, when a release date comes, I'm excited. This is what I've been working for for two years. Right now, I'm glowing just thinking about, "Oh, I can't wait for our audience and new people just to hear the remaining 10 songs." We've already released two singles, and I just can't wait for people to not only just hear the remaining 10 songs, but hear those songs that they've already heard in context of the statement, because when we write a record, we think of it as a whole thematic statement, as opposed to... I don't know if it's a trend, but I know the music industry has moved in a way where it's real single-based, and it's like you got to have the single, that's what matters most; the album is kind of secondary.

Carlos:
We're vinyl collectors. We have big vinyl record collections, and we know what it's like to put on an LP, listen to songs one through six all the way through, and flip it over and be like, "I like how they intentionally put this as the first track on Side B because it needed that space to breathe from the last track on Side A." We're that kind of spirit, and so, you always think of it as a whole album statement. Me, I can't wait for them to understand where these songs fit within that whole context.

Evan:
No, I got you. I guess I meant that excitement that you have almost is a vulnerability, I would think, because you're so excited for it to go how you want it to go, but if it doesn't, it feels like you could be set up for disappointment.

Eduardo:
I think that's why I'm not excited all the time by it, because it's like... how can I say it? I do really good with bad criticism.

Evan:
That's true.

Eduardo:
I have this thing where if somebody is talking smack on Instagram, and makes a bad comment, I'll go and I'll like it, and I'll be the only person to like it. Sometimes people just want to be heard; that's it. That's the end of story. They want to have their opinion be heard, and I'll just validate that. That's cool. Everyone's got their own opinion.

Eduardo:
Honestly, I feel like, also, too, I know they're going to like it. I know they're going to like it. This is the first album of all of our albums where I'm just like, "Yeah, this is it. This is gold. This is it."

Evan:
I can't wait to hear it.

Evan:
Well, speaking of, you do have one song out, Pink Elephant, and there's a very unique guitar line and bass line, and so, when I hear that stuff, I always wonder... just the musician in me... I'm curious for that song, what came first, the bass line or the guitar line?

Carlos:
Eduardo came up with all the parts, the guitar parts, for that song, and the bass.

Evan:
Oh, really?

Carlos:
Yeah. Eduardo, was the guitar part part of a jam and you found that little golden nugget and then sampled it into a section?

Eduardo:
This song started off as a ballad, and then I showed it to the guys one time during our demo session, and you were like, "It's cool," and I was like, "Yeah, okay. We'll put it away." If it doesn't really ring home to somebody, it's not going to make it, and that's the way it goes.

Eduardo:
Then, I just kind of put it away, and then I was just kind of like in my studio, just setting up cool drum sound. I just had this idea of giving it a hip-hop sound, or just a beat. I think Solange's album had just come out; the something at the table, it's called. The drums on band and the bass was just like super simple and so thematic and spacious and so grooving, I was like, "Man, how do you play like that?" I had this kind of theme, and D'Angelo and Villa and all these hip-hop artists that just throw down hard.

Eduardo:
Gabriel and I just kind of like... I was just like, "This is my idea," and I just was repeating the same bass line, and I was using a pick and a Lyle bass, like a Japanese Lyle bass with the flat [inaudible 00:27:01] on it, but I got it at Oregon for like 300 bucks; it's like a cool little bass, which I ended up tracking with. We did the whole song, added some chords, but then at the very end, we finished the track; Gabriel and I were kind of happy with it. I was like, "I don't know, man, it's missing something. Let me put something at the end, some kind of like conclusion." Then, that's where I came up with the main riff, and then I was like, "That's great." I was like, "That's it."

Eduardo:
Then, I doubled the riff so that it can have a cooler sound, then I was like, "That's it." After a couple hours' session, I was like, "You know what? Let me try this," so then I copy/pasted that to the very beginning of the song, and I was like, "Oh, there it is!"

Evan:
Now it's central to the whole song.

Eduardo:
Yeah, so then, it's just like, "Okay, let's just do that."

Evan:
Okay, that's cool. Yeah, because it is so conspicuous, I guess. It made me wonder about how that came about.

Eduardo:
It's also in the spirit of playing a sampler, like a 404 or something, or an MPC or something like that. Mad Lib and all these different beat-makers, they have a feel. J Dilla had a feel. He invented, basically, neo-soul through his MPC, and drummers try to play like the way he was sampling all his records. Questlove and Chris Dave and all these amazing drummers, they were just way behind the beat because Dilla's aesthetic was like that, and they were like, "That's fly. Let's play like that," so they were playing like machines, ironically, and that created a whole different genre, and it evolved, and it's so fly.

Carlos:
When we recorded that song, because Chicano Batman tracks live, so Eduardo wrote those guitar parts and the bass, and then we have to reconstruct it so we can all play it together at the same time. I was, obviously, the guitar player. I was given the role of trying to play his guitar parts, and it was a doozy, because it was like, "Try to play like this sample," and I'm like, "Ugh." I'm trying to drag as hard as I can.

Eduardo:
I was like, "You got to drag and also mute, like cut it off right before you start again." It was technically stupid.

Carlos:
It was fun. It was a great challenge, and it was definitely a different head space to approach playing guitar, because I would never come up with anything like that, for sure. That's just not where I'm coming from as a guitar player, but it was a fun challenge, and the recorded version that we did as a band is just amazing. It's beautiful.

Evan:
Yeah, really cool track.

Carlos:
We wrote a bridge together that just really tied the whole thing together, and it was fun.

Evan:
How did the experience of creating this album differ from previous albums? Maybe your approach, mindset, stage in life... anything that stands out?

Eduardo:
Most definitely. I would say, to start off, Bardo, in the past, would bring in the majority of the compositions; about 80 percent. Basically, songs that he puts lyrics to are songs that end up making the record, so when he brings in songs that he wrote and he has lyrics to, [inaudible 00:30:13] it's a pretty complete song.

Evan:
Is he writing on keyboards normally, or guitar?

Eduardo:
He writes on anything, man. He'll write on a leaf from a tree, bro, with a pen. He's gifted like that. He's a songwriter. It doesn't matter what language or what instrument or what; but then, he'll bring it in and it's rough; we'll just give it our personality and evolve the track, and then make it Chicano Batman.

Eduardo:
On this new record, everyone came in from everywhere. There was no rules in terms of genre, who brings in what. In the past, it would be kind of challenging for me to bring in a composition because I'm a bass player, but I'm like, "You know what? We're going to disregard"... at least I was like, "Let's disregard if we can even play this live. I'm going to play guitar on this." Carlos was coming in with demos where he's playing synths, but even he was not trying to play synths live because he's a guitar player, and we were like, "Dude, you can play keys, man. You're playing keys now."

Eduardo:
It was just about getting out of our old habits, and I think that's one of the big things about this album that really shine through. We just got rid of complacency and really started thinking outside the box in terms of how to get a composition together, and also try to minimize the amount of chords we use, because before, we would kind of be kind of like, I don't know, almost showoffs or something; just be like, "Let's try to do this song. Let's have 12 different rhythm changes and five key changes just for the hell of it." On these, I think we just let two chords kind of just flow through, and the challenge was, "Okay, how do you make this live forever, and how do you make this melodic piece really shine, and how do you embrace it? How do you do just the right amount of harmony?"

Eduardo:
Polyphonic synths versus organs, versus monophonic synths; Carlos, he was coming in with all kinds of electronic vibes that I was not seeing at all, man, and I was resisting so hard. Then, he was pushing for it, and much respect to every band member in this crew, because everyone is so deep in their own style of music that they bring to the table. Everyone is so diverse, so diverse.

Eduardo:
A lot of the sound of this album definitely is due to Carlos's push for a new direction. Maybe you can tell him more about that, Carlos.

Carlos:
Yeah, so, for this record... thanks, Eduardo, that was very nice of you to say that... the instruments were more of a means to an end. They were the tools for making the song, whereas before, it was like, "I'm the guitar player. I play the guitar. He's the bass player. He has to play the bass. Bardo is the keyboardist. He has to play keys and sing, and then Gabriel is the drummer." This time it was like, "No, we're just going to be songwriters, and we're going to do whatever we need to do to make the song be the best song it can be." That was a really hard place to come to, because we all have egos. No matter how hard you try and you don't want to be egotistical, your ego gets bruised when it's like, "Hey, I can write through that keyboard line better than you," or, "I can play that guitar player better than you," or bass, whatever.

Carlos:
Instead of looking at it like that, it was just looking at it like, "All right, we're four parts of a whole. Let's try to make the best end statement we can." Once we had that MO, the sky was the limit, and we were coming up with things that we never had done before. I particularly wanted to play guitar differently from past records, because the past records, our sound was really rooted in that soul aesthetic, and it was like our mutated version of that. Soul music has a lot of emphasis on the guitar playing rhythm on the two and four, on the snare hits, and I didn't want to do another album with that, because I already had done one and a half albums doing that, and I knew I was more of a... no disrespect to soul musicians and guitar players; they're amazing, don't get me wrong... but after two albums doing that, I was like, "All right, I'm ready for something a little different. I want to show my capabilities as a musician," and specifically for the guitar, I wanted to play differently.

Carlos:
I also started, as Eduardo said, writing on polyphonic synthesizers, and that whole head space was just a completely fresh approach to writing songs, and adding my guitar to those songs meant I had to play guitar differently. This meant now, more than ever, "You know what? The guitar can't be noodling because this synth is taking up a lot of the harmonic space. You're going to have to find maybe one or two notes that are just rhythmic within it to drive the song." That was a fun conclusion to come to, and it was very, very refreshing and inspiring.

Eduardo:
Dude, we could totally be assholes. Say somebody will come in with an idea, and if two of us don't like it and we're on the same page, we'll be like, "Ugh, no, that's wack, man. That sounds like"... and then we'll just name a band to make fun of it. "Oh, that sounds like"-

Evan:
Paula Abdul.

Eduardo:
Exactly, like Genesis. "That sounds like Sting, man." Dude, we would just get down and dirty on it.

Eduardo:
One time, Carlos was like... because he was trying to push this new wave kind of rock vibe, and he had this idea. One day, Bardo was not available, so he wanted to track this. I was like, "Come to my studio. Let's do this"; then, we invited Gabriel over, so we recorded this track. It turned out pretty amazing. We basically did a coup without Bardo, because if Bardo was in the room, he would've been like, "No!"

Evan:
Yeah, yeah.

Eduardo:
We just kind of let it live, let it breathe, and then we showed it to Bardo and he loved it. See, it's a tricky thing with band members. It's like family, man. You know when someone is going to say no to something unless you set it up in a certain way, and then they'll say yes.

Evan:
Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Eduardo:
We have to manipulate each other really bad.

Evan:
All right, well, cool. A lot of experimentation, then, on this album; does most of that happen in the recording studio, or is it more in a jam room situation, or are they one and the same?

Carlos:
We have a rehearsal space, and for this record, at the beginning, we were meeting up at the rehearsal space, writing demos, recording them there. Eduardo brought a Pro Tools rig. Then, we realized, "You know what? We can just to go each other's studios and write," and so, we started doing a lot of that, but experimentation was happening even throughout the studio at Barefoot Recording, where we tracked the album as a group.

Eduardo:
Yeah, down to the wire. There's that one song, Invisible People, that I was telling you about, which is the title track; that one came in at double time. That one came in... and then the end track is like less than half of that, in terms of tempo. We were just like, "Let's try this out." We made it fatter, way slower. We did not see that coming, but our producer, Leon Michels, was just like, "Yeah, let's slow it down." When someone says that in the band, you're going to get a shoe thrown at you, but when it's a producer, we're like, "Cool. Yeah, let's all try it."

Evan:
Yeah, lot of psychology.

Eduardo:
Then, whoever is not feeling it is just quiet as hell until three hours later when we're like, "Oh, wow, that's amazing."

Carlos:
That song, in particular, when it came to track it, we were playing him our demoed version of it, and I was very proud of my guitar parts. I was like, "I have fire guitar parts on this whole song," and he was like, "We need a different tempo. I think this could be a different feel," and I was just like, "Oh, my gosh. I worked so hard on those guitar arrangements," and we were going to track in two hours, so it was like the big leagues; it was like, "All right, come up with some meaningful guitar parts right now because we're going to track this song in two hours," and we did it.

Eduardo:
"We're waiting for you. Let's do it. We're waiting for you. Come on, Carlos. Write the classic line."

Carlos:
We did it. I did it. We all did it, because we all had to re-write our parts. It wasn't just me. I'm just giving my first person example. We were up to the challenge, and the producer was right. The end product ended up being so much more superior than what we came in with as the demo, and it was just being open to experimentation and being open to change things on the fly. If it wasn't feeling right, then all right, let's change it. We got to change it so that it does feel good.

Evan:
Obviously, the future is extremely hard to read right now, but what are your plans after the release?

Carlos:
Before the pandemic happened, we had planned going on a big tour. We were going to do Coachella; it was going to be our third year playing Coachella. We made it up to the third line of the poster.

Eduardo:
No!

Carlos:
That was a huge step.

Evan:
Oh, yeah? There you go.

Carlos:
We were at the first line the first year we played, 2015. That was going to kick off a two-month tour throughout the whole North America, with Le Butcherettes, an amazing group from El Paso, and I think L.A., Guadalajara; they're all connected with the Omar family. I think he produced one of their records... Omar Rodriguez-Lopez, excuse me.

Evan:
Yeah, we know him; great guitar, too.

Carlos:
Yeah. We were going to do that, but that's all on hold. We don't know when we're going to play live again. We're hoping late summer, but things are changing every hour, every day now.

Carlos:
Right now, the focus is just making do with the situation, which is you're seeing a big turn where people are using their social media platforms in more inventive ways to be engaged with the fans, and to get the music out there; and so, we've been doing some stuff. I did a guitar lesson on Chicano Batman's Instagram. I did a live feed where I talked about my guitar approach, all in a way of just keeping the discussion going of, Chicano Batman has some new music coming out. We're focusing on stuff like that right now.

Evan:
Do you have any videos you've already shot that are in the can?

Carlos:
Yeah, so before the state had the mandated shutdown about three weeks ago now, the day we filmed the Pink Elephant live session at Barefoot Recording, we also filmed two other tracks, so that content, luckily, is already done and edited. It just needs to come out at the right time. I think those videos are going to get released towards the end of April and into May when the album is fully out. We did have plans to record another music video for the next big radio push single, but can't do it right now. It's not wise. It's not safe yet.

Evan:
Yeah. Right, when you guys look back at Chicano Batman's career so far, are there certain markers or events you can point to and say, "That was important," or, "That was a big move forward?"

Eduardo:
Most definitely touring with Jack White. That was a big one.

Evan:
Okay.

Eduardo:
Because he chose us, you know what I'm saying?

Evan:
Yeah.

Eduardo:
It's like, we weren't begging anybody to... well, maybe Carlos was begging the tour manager, Lalo... he's his friend... but they like our music, so a big band like Jack White had faith in our band, and we said, "Oh, hell yeah. We belong on these stages."

Evan:
What year was that?

Carlos:
2015, we got asked to play the last tour leg of Jack White's Lazaretto tour, and that was also the same year we played Coachella for the first time, and we were an unsigned band at the time. We were completely DIY, self-released.

Evan:
Oh, really?

Eduardo:
Yeah, that's right.

Carlos:
We were calling Rainbo Records in Canoga Park and pressing our own vinyl, and doing it all ourselves at that point, so [crosstalk 00:42:43]

Eduardo:
I had to borrow my dad's truck to go pick up crates of records and then store them who knows where.

Carlos:
That was the first time we got recognized in a national spotlight, because it was a big deal in 2015 for Jack White to ask four Latinos from L.A. to go on a tour. That was something you didn't really see. It got national attention and we were in Billboard Magazine talking about it, and doing all these interviews about what it was like to... and also, same thing with Coachella. The announcement of that tour and the announcement of us playing Coachella happened the same week, and so that was also a national headline for us because, again, we were self-released. We were under the radar.

Carlos:
We were kind of like the L.A. house band for the underground scene, and all of a sudden, we got this national recognition, and it was one of the first times Coachella had had kind of a band from L.A., like unsigned, be a part of the festival, and we were one of the first bands to break through out of that, and also one of the few bands that were Latinos to make it onto the lineup. I think the only ones I could remember beforehand that were U.S. Latinos was Ozomatli, a few years back. It was a big deal that we were this underground, unsigned band making a wave.

Evan:
Yeah, those are big breaks.

Carlos:
Yeah, those were our big breaks.

Eduardo:
Then five minutes later, we signed. We got a manager and a booker.

Eduardo:
The other one, too, is when we first met with Brad Sands, who is our manager, I remember that we went to West Hollywood, to this office, and we all were dressing nice, which meant just collared shirts or something. We were there meeting with this guy. We're like, "Okay, we're going to read with this manager. He's interested in signing us," and he's just like, "Hey, what's up, guys? I like what you guys are doing. It's cool. Let's work together." We're like, "Okay, well, how much are you going to get in terms of split," or "What do you plan to do with us?"

Eduardo:
"Oh, yeah, just have a couple shows, see how it goes, go from there." We're like, "Yeah, but, so what about the contract? How many years?" "We don't got to sign anything. We can just see how it goes." I'm just like, "What the hell is going on right now? Is this how management deals get done?" This guy is wearing T-shirt and jeans. He's like, "We're not signing anything. Let's just feel it out. Let's just see how it goes. I won't charge you anything for the first six months." I'm like, "I don't know, dude. This is how it goes in the business?" Here we are today.

Carlos:
Yeah, just to give a little context who Brad Sands is, Brad Sands used to be Phish's tour manager for like a decade or something.

Eduardo:
20 years.

Carlos:
20 years.

Evan:
Oh, man.

Carlos:
He's like, "If you're a Phishhead, you know who Brad Sands is." He's like, "What Peter Grand is to Led Zeppelin, Brad Sands is to Phish"; but he also manages Stuart Copeland of The Police, so when The Police did their last reunion, Brad was telling us about flying on a private... each Police member had their own private jet to each gig.

Evan:
Dang.

Carlos:
It was just crazy. He's also Les Claypool's manager, so he manages Primus. He had the experience, and we were super green and didn't know what the heck we were doing. I think our fear was, "Is this going to be like the Backstreet Boys manager? He's just going to take all our money and screw us over?" He was not like that. His reputation preceded him, and he was just a blessing, just such a trustworthy guy. He made things happen and he put his money where his mouth was, and he's just amazing.

Evan:
That's awesome. That's great.

Eduardo:
We've built this band, man, from scratch. We built our following, one-by-one, so by the time we're meeting with Windish Agency, who is now Paradigm, or Red Light Management, they're just like, "Yep, keep doing what you're doing." Even ATL Records were just like, "Keep doing what you're doing. It's obviously working." We're kind of still in charge of our narrative, our own aesthetic, and our own directions, which is a dream come true, man.

Evan:
That's good to hear.

Evan:
Hey, is there a worst or best gig ever that comes to mind?

Eduardo:
I got worst. You can take the best, Carlos.

Carlos:
Okay, go ahead and do your worst first; worst first, best after.

Eduardo:
Irwindale, California. We had this Summer at the Park Festival, like it was music at the park. We had one of those and it was a bunch of old people. They wanted a band to dance to and that kind of thing, and we just had two Cumbias that we stretched for like 30 minutes each. We had a pit for two hours. Everybody was doing like a picnic with chairs and that kind of thing; nobody stood up to dance. Nobody was at all excited. During one of the breaks, one of the womans was patiently waiting like 10, 15 minutes to talk to me, and then at the end, she said, "Oh, hi. I just want to let you know that you guys should never play this festival ever again."

Evan:
She waited to tell you that?

Eduardo:
Yeah, she waited. She was wearing all black, too, and I always remember her. She looked like a black widow. She was like, "You should never play this festival again. We want to move, we want to dance, and you guys are not bringing that. We want dance like [inaudible 00:47:59] Stilettos and these other bands. They make us move. You guys are not doing that."

Eduardo:
I told her, "You know what? You don't have to worry. We will never, ever play this festival ever again."

Evan:
It's a deal.

Eduardo:
It's a deal. To top it off, we had to get our own PA, and oh, my God, we didn't know what the hell we were doing... crossovers and power amps and EQs, and the sound that was coming out of there sounded like this... during the whole set, nothing was audible. The vocals were distorted. Nothing was able to come out through the actual PA. We were trying to get volunteer from the crowd to come help us set up our PA. They didn't like that; so, on top of that, it sounded disgusting.

Carlos:
That lady was so angry, man, and it's so funny because like I said, that was 2013, 2014. She was hating on us, and then the next day, we literally played a sold out show at The Echo, which was amazing.

Eduardo:
That's right.

Evan:
There you go, redemption.

Eduardo:
The night before that, I think we played at Slim's in San Francisco, like a sold out show, with the Soft White Sixties; then that same day we had to play, we had to drive down like nine hours; we got a flat in our Astro van. We got a flat in San Rafael or something like that, and then it took us like nine hours to get here. We're all starving. We had to go pick up the PA, then go set up, then play; no eating; and this lady is like...

Carlos:
The reason the show also went so poorly was because we were being hustlers. We weren't supposed to be playing an announced show if we were playing The Echo, so we kind of did that show slyly; since it was kind of not L.A. County, we were technically able to play it, but we weren't really allowed to promote it, so none of our fans knew we were playing it, so none of our fans showed up. If it had been like a regular show where we were promoted it, it would have been packed and it would have been a completely different scenario, but because we couldn't promote it, we just had to deal with whatever the built-in audience was, and that was some people in their 60s that want to hear some Low Rider oldies music, or dance Cumbia music, and that's not what we were. We brought our crazy psychedelic prog rock kind of music to them.

Carlos:
For me, the best show is... we've played a lot of amazing shows. We've done tours with Vampire Weekend, Jack White, Alabama Shakes, Portugal the Man. One of the shows that really stands out for me is, we had a tour with Portugal the Man, and it was in the South, and one of the shows got canceled in North Carolina because there was a hurricane that was projected to hit the day of our show. We had been watching the weather for a while. Coincidentally, I had lunch with Jack White's tour manager, Lalo Medina, the week before the tour started, and we were just talking, and I was like, "Yeah, our tour got canceled on this date, so now we're without a date there. I don't know, we're probably just going to take our time in New Orleans or something."

Carlos:
He was like, "What's the date on that?" I'm like, "Oh, it's this." He's like, "Oh, Jack is playing in Shreveport, Louisiana the same day. We have a opener that we're talking to, but maybe if that falls through, I'll let you know." I was like, "Yeah, that would be cool." I wasn't holding my breath; and then, we get a call, and Jack White wants us to play the Shreveport gig. They decided to go with us over this other band, so that was great. We had a sub for the gig that we lost with Portugal the Man.

Carlos:
We went from New Orleans with Portugal the Man, and then the next day, drove to Shreveport and played with Jack White in... what was the name of the theater, Eduardo? It was where Elvis played. The reason Jack White was playing this town was quite specifically because it was this historical venue that Elvis played.

Eduardo:
That shit was haunted, dude. That shit was haunted.

Carlos:
Yeah, it was haunted. There was like a [crosstalk 00:51:57]

Eduardo:
We had to walk through the basement to go through one of the sides of the stage. It was like '40s furniture just stacked up; dust mites and it's all dark.

Carlos:
Wasn't there a jail in the basement?

Eduardo:
I think it was a prop, like a prop of a jail. It was like a dungeon, bro.

Evan:
This is best gig ever, right?

Carlos:
This is the best gig ever, and let me tell you why.

Eduardo:
Best gig ever.

Carlos:
I mean, that was a little spooky, the basement, but the theater was so beautiful and historical... and this was three years later after touring with Jack, when we were the greenest band he's probably ever taken on tour. We didn't know what we were doing. Now, here we came back; we're seasoned. Our first record with ATL Records had already been out like two years and it was gaining critical acclaim from the likes of NPR, and we had a college radio hit, Friendship is a Small Boat in a Storm, et cetera.

Carlos:
Here we were, and it was like... it's like we were the scrub freshmen when we played with him, and now we were the senior upperclassmen, and we smashed that gig.

Evan:
That's awesome.

Carlos:
We played amazing. He was watching side-stage. His whole band was just giving us so much love after. We went to the green room, and I talked to him. I hadn't seen him in a few years, and he just had nothing but accolades for us, and he was just like, "I'm so proud of you guys. You guys have been everywhere. I've been seeing you everywhere. You're getting all the looks." I just felt like we did it.

Evan:
So cool, yeah.

Carlos:
It was just proof, like you invested in us, and you were right. We did end up becoming a great band.

Evan:
Yeah. That's really cool.

Evan:
All right, did I hear you guys got some new instruments recently?

Carlos:
Yes.

Eduardo:
Oh, yes.

Carlos:
Oh, yeah.

Evan:
All right. What did you guys get?

Carlos:
Yeah, so this is my second Music Man that I have the pleasure of owning, and it's... yeah, BFR Albert Lee model with the electric shimmer.

Evan:
Oh, yeah.

Carlos:
Yeah, you guys were kind enough, though, to customize it a little bit for me because I can't live without the whammy. You guys added a whammy to it, and you guys were gracious enough to also put a Ebony fretboard.

Evan:
I like Ebony, too. That's cool.

Evan:
Well, I've seen you play the Stingray on videos before.

Carlos:
I'm juggling between the two. The Stingray is awesome. It's real similar to the guitars I used to play in the past, just the way the body and the neck fit together. It's like a glove. It's recognizable.

Carlos:
The Albert Lee? We'll see, but I've been playing it a lot this weekend. It's amazing. It's beautiful.

Evan:
Cool. Any new surprises for you, Eduardo?

Eduardo:
Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man, I got the love of my life through the mail, and I had to quarantine her before I brought her in, that's for sure.

Eduardo:
I got an Old Smoothie, a 40th anniversary reissue.

Evan:
Oh, nice.

Eduardo:
My job has always been just bottom end, bottom end; no slaps, none of that. When I first started talking, Carlos introduced me to Tim and the people over at Ernie Ball, and I was just like, "This is my role. This is what I do." I tried out some of the Stingrays and they were nice, but it just had too much top end for my taste, and then the last bass I tried was the Old Smoothie, and it had flat [inaudible 00:55:13] on it, and it also had those little tiny-

Evan:
New pads, yeah.

Eduardo:
Yeah, every string, and it has an adjustable height, and I thought that was the key for me. Between the flats, that, and the magnet that's out of phase with the string, so that when I hit the string, it's not so loud and not so in-your-face. It has some time to respond. I appreciated that, so I got that bass, and what's tripping me out is that the three knobs are volume, tone and bass, just like an amplifier. I've never had that before. Normally, you have two pickups, and one of them is the switch between some bridge and the neck, and a combination of the both; if you want more bass, this'll increase the bass. It's so simple and it's so complicated for me. It's like, wow, I've never had to do that before.

Evan:
What color did you say you got?

Eduardo:
Oh, man, I got a pastel pink.

Evan:
Oh, really?

Eduardo:
It's a pastel pink with gold hardware, a roasted maple neck, and I had some block inlays, some mother-pearl inlays on them.

Evan:
Man, you guys will be styling.

Eduardo:
Yeah, it's just like the sexiest thing. I just pick it up every day and I play it. Sometimes you can only get as good as the admiration for your own instrument, and I think for this one, it's like I just can't not play it.

Evan:
That's good to hear. That's good to hear. Hey, does your drummer have a mullet, still?

Carlos:
He retired the mullet. He retired it.

Evan:
Oh, that's too bad, because that's one of the best I've ever seen.

Carlos:
Oh, it was the most metal mullet you've ever seen.

Eduardo:
It was healthy.

Carlos:
The best part would be when he would get a haircut, and he would get like a flat top mullet; it was super metal.

Eduardo:
He was committed, dude.

Evan:
Yeah, such a power mullet.

Carlos:
It was such a power mullet.

Eduardo:
Power mullet, that's exactly what it is.

Carlos:
I remember it because he has the best hair in the band, by far, I think.

Eduardo:
Totally.

Carlos:
He has that forehead hair. I'm the bald guy in the band. He has that hairline that's like thick on his temple and his forehead.

Evan:
God damn it! You know this guy.

Carlos:
No, it's funny. He had long hair and it was just like freaking Fabio, just flowing luscious hair. Then, I remember I went to pick him up one day for a practice, a rehearsal, and he got in the car and he had a flat top on the top, and then a mullet in the back, and he was like, "I got a mullet," and I was like, "You sure did!"

Eduardo:
Yeah, like a military mullet, like he's an ex-Marine from Desert Storm or something. He's Colombian, so he can get away with it.

Evan:
Yeah, well, maybe you can convince him to bring it back sometime.

Carlos:
What he's doing now is he has this epic beard, like the fullest beard you've ever seen. The same way his hair grows on his head, he has it on his face. It's epic.

Eduardo:
Yeah, he can do things with hair.

Evan:
That's great. All right.

Evan:
Well, hey, Carlos, Eduardo: thank you so much for being on the podcast.

Eduardo:
This was a lot of fun, man. Thanks so much for having us.

Carlos:
This was fun. Thank you, Evan.

Evan:
Thanks for tuning in to Striking a Chord, an Ernie Ball podcast. Stay tuned in coming weeks. We have a slew of new phone interviews we've done now that everyone is at home, so be sure to subscribe on your preferred podcast app. If you'd like to contact us, email strikingachord@ernieball.com.

Eduardo:
Me and Gabriel, the drummer... our lines get changed every time we go in the studio, because it's like you have your fish and your turtles and your frogs in a bucket, and some rocks, and it's like, "Yeah, I've been living with these for like eight months. They're my friends." Then, you put them in an aquarium and you're like, "Oh, that's what it looks like?" Then, a lot of the stuff on the bottom ends, we have to adjust, and you have to adjust it quickly, and that's just thrill to me. That's what I love most about recording: the pressure. I love the pressure. It's like mamba mentality: you've got to eat it.

Eduardo:
You've got to love it, because they're going to try right now. We're going to tape, and there's a big crew of people, and the best thing you can do is just not stand out, and embrace what everyone else is doing and still be original and lyrical and smooth, and I love the challenge.

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