“You Can’t Just Ignore Injustice”: The Bronx’s Matt Caughthran On Politics In Music & Touring Australia With PennywiseWritten by Brenton Harris on September 28, 2017
When LA hardcore punkers The Bronx burst into the global consciousness in 2003 via their ferocious eponymous debut, you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that they were a band destined to be around for one hell of a good time, but not necessarily a long time. The intensity and vitriol of tracks like ‘Heart Attack American’ and ‘They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy)’ coupled with the combustibility of their riotous live show gave The Bronx all the hallmarks of an act that would burn out before they ever got a chance to fade away.
Fifteen years, four albums, thousands of shows and a concurrent career as Mariachi El Bronx later, The Bronx’s creative fires are still burning brightly as ever, and as anyone who’s ever seen them grace the stages of this or any other country can attest, their live shows are still every bit as exciting in 2017 as they were in 2003. Each an exercise in barely controlled chaos, a mass of tangled bodies, blood, sweat, beer and vomit, soundtracked by some of the most essential hardcore punk of this or any other era, The Bronx live show makes you feel truly alive in a way that very few other musical experiences can. In the lead-up to their Australian tour with fellow Californian punk legends Pennywise, and on release day for their fantastic fifth record, fittingly entitled V, vocalist and orchestrator of chaos Matt Caughthran spoke to Music Feeds about all things “the motherf*ckin Bronx”.
MF: Hi Matt, how’s existence treating you today?
Matt Caughthran: Oh, man, I’m doing great, man. Super-stoked that the record’s about to be out. We’re just going a mile a minute right now, but it’s all good. It feels great!
MF: And so it should, the record just dropped here in Australia today and it’s killer. So first of all, happy release day man!
MC: I appreciate that man, I always forget that [you] guys are a day early, it’s nice. We’ve been so busy with everything I can’t believe it’s actually here. It feels great.
MF: So this is your fifth straight great record if you ask me. Which means you’re batting at 100% for your career to date. How do you manage to stoke the creative fires this far into your career?
MC: It’s not really a hard thing to do. We love what we do and we’ve been put in a spot where we’ve been lucky enough to be in a band that gets to exist for a living, and people care about what we’re doing. So it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand what a gift that is, so we don’t squander it. We love what we do and anytime we get the chance to play music, whether it’s making records, or touring, or whatever it may be, we jump full steam into it. So as far as how did we find the inspiration to still be going after 15 years, I think it’s not hard, it’s a pretty awesome life getting to play music for a living. So we just try to keep doing things differently, I guess that keeps us going artistically and creatively inspired. It just it is what it is and what it is is a pretty sweet life.
MF: Not every artist you talk to understands that while their life can be somewhat difficult at times, they’re also in a position of privilege in a global context. So it’s brilliant to hear someone with that perspective this far in.
MC: Especially in the States, there’s so much craziness happening now politically and so much other chaos as well. You’ve got national disasters all over, we’re getting rocked by hurricanes and storms and Mexico’s getting levelled by earthquakes and if I get to be in the Bronx I’d be a complete dumbass to not take full advantage and do the best I can and make as much music as I can while I’m alive, so that’s what we’re doing.
MF: Well you touched on an interesting topic there which was actually one of the next things I was going to ask you. A large portion of the lyrical content on V, seems to be zeroed in on the political nightmare that’s going on in the United States at the moment, and elsewhere in the world as a result. Is that something that really lit a fire under you as an artist?
MC: Yeah man. There were certain things that happened that did. Whenever you get inspired or you feel something is wrong or right or whatever strongly enough to write about it, I always follow that. And I’m not necessarily an overtly publicly political person, but I am a political person in private and I do have my own structure of beliefs and my own moral code and all that shit. And I do believe that things are heading in the wrong direction right now in the States and it’s a huge bummer and there’s been a lot of ugly things that have come back and reseated themselves, and it’s been a frustrating time, it’s been a real frustrating time.
It’s like you have to be able to pick your battles and do what you can, so there’s certain moments on this record that definitely have a political side to them, and it’s like those moments are real, it’s not just politics for the sake of politics and people saying punk bands need to write political songs and all this stuff because I think that’s crap. I just think that you should write about what you want to write about and what feels right, and that’s where those songs are coming from.
So a lot of the police brutality that came out over 2016-17 here in the States was a big matter and that really hit me in spots that I really wasn’t expecting, you know? It was just super heavy and super sad to know that we progressed such a long way and now it seems like we’re going backwards. So it’s definitely a frustrating time but you don’t want to ignore the negative, you want to try to focus on the positive, but you can’t just ignore injustice and thinks like that, so that’s where it’s at. Politics in the US has always been a work in progress, but right now it’s looking pretty bleak.
MF: What’s not looking bleak is the career trajectory of the Bronx! This record really sounds like a rebirth for The Bronx!
MC: That was a great segue!
MF: I’m working on those for a podcast at some point, just segues running into each other on an infinite loop…anyhow the record really does pack a renewed energy. How much of that is just because you added a new drummer in David Hidalgo Jr and how much is it other elements making you feel energized?
MC: It’s definitely a little bit of that, but it’s just, in general, we kind of had to hit reset on a lot of stuff. As a band you go through years where you’re firing, all of a sudden you get all these great tours, all these festivals, all that stuff and you have awesome years and then you have years where you don’t get the big tours or whatever. There’s so much fluctuation that happened and the last couple of years for the band, everything has kind of been heavy, you know what I mean? With the industry side of the thing, with internal stuff going on with the band, it became this thing where it was like we want to lighten the load a little bit and just get back to playing some music and that’s where we’re at.
That wasn’t the fault of anyone, that’s not on a label or anything on the industry side, it was just an overall kind of thing that needed to be addressed. And we work so hard dude, we work non stop, and you have to put yourself in a place where you can just be like okay, let’s switch things up a little bit, because it can be better. That’s kind of what we did and that’s kind of where we’re at, and it feels really good. The band feels loose, everyone’s on the same page, and we’re not as critical, we’re not over thinking things, which is a second blessing. It’s like when you sit there and you hammer on the smallest details, the smallest ideas over and over and over again, it gets draining man. So we lightened the load a little bit thought-process-wise and it’s kind of opened up a lot of doors for us, so that’s just what we’re chasing at the moment.
MF: Joby’s written some incendiary riffs on this thing, you can almost feel the fire coming out of the speakers, he’s really delivered. Actually, come to think of it everyone’s really delivered, you can feel the energy and passion in every note!
MC: We’re like a little league team, dude. We’ve been through the fire with each other. So the vibe on this record was like everyone’s got a voice, and everyone’s going to kick some ass. And Joby [J. Ford, guitarist] played his ass off as usual on this record. Ken [Horn, guitarist] wrote ‘Sore Throat’, he wrote the music for ‘Sore Throat’, that’s the first time he’s got a song on a Bronx record. Usually, everything starts with myself and Joby, but ‘Sore Throat’ is a Ken song so he’s coming out guns blazing and letting himself be known and heard as a songwriter. Brad plays his ass off on the bass, there are so many awesome bass parts in this record, especially in like ‘Channel Islands’ and songs like that. And everyone was just going after it, and that’s one of those things that happens when I was talking about earlier, when you release the pressure. Everyone feels the room to do whatever they want and that’s why the record sounds the way it sounds, which I’m super stoked on. It was definitely the most together record I think we’ve made in years. Sometimes you can stymie people, you can be too afraid to let new things happen, and for us everyone’s on board right now. Sonically this record I think it’s just incredible, I mean there’s so many different guitar things. I think Dave played his ass off on the drums, and like I said, all those guys were just in the head space to just go for it.
MF: Rob Schnapf is not a producer that I would have immediately thought of as being a match for The Bronx. He’s done some stuff like Fu Manchu, FIDLAR, that kind of thing in the past, but most of his work has been in a decidedly more indie sonic territory. How did you settle on Rob?
MC: He’s the tone master, man. We wanted to work with him for a while. He was going to do Bronx III and it just doesn’t line up, it didn’t feel like it was the right time to work together. And we wanted to do something with him for a long time. But he’s a great producer because there’s producers that you go and do a record and you’re like, fuck man, we don’t have any songs. We’ve got to put this record out but everything we’re writing just sucks. Then you get a producer who’s a song smith, he can help you piece everything together and you go down that road. Rob’s not that guy, we went in knowing what songs we wanted to play and feeling good about everything and he’s the guy that lets the band be the band. But his knowledge of sound and gear and just recording… the sound of the record, it’s mostly Bob. We wanted to get nasty but he dialled it in and we were just like, “this is amazing”. He’s that dude that lets you be you, and then when you’re quietly sitting in the back he’s got these little ideas and he’s like. “hey, want to add something different here, what about this?” He’s got an idea if you ask him, but he’s not dictating the record. So it was perfect for us, honestly it was great. I can’t say enough about the guy, he’s an amazing dude.
MF: Speaking of amazing dudes, you’re coming back down under to Australia in October through November, with Pennywise, while they’re doing the Full Circle 20 year anniversary. Predictably the sold out signs are going up all over the place, how stoked are you to be coming back to Australia and are Pennywise a band that were an influence on The Bronx?
MC: They were an influence on me. I don’t think they were really an influence on the Bronx sonically. But I love Pennywise, man. And when you get to do shows together and it becomes a mutual respect thing, and then it turns into friendships and it’s one of the things I love most, honestly, being in a band, being able to hang with other musicians and other artists and just living in that world where everyone’s kind of a little bit crazy, but everyone’s exchanging ideas and challenging each other, it’s a really cool place.
We’ve been trying to do shows with Pennywise for a while and it just hasn’t lined up, and now it’s perfect. So we’re really looking forward to these shows and knowing those guys as well as we do, I know they’re amped up, and Full Circle‘s an amazing album.
For us to come back after the Violent Soho tour and do these Pennywise shows, we’re super stoked and probably sometime next year we’ll come back and do a real Bronx headliner and get some awesome Australian support bands into the mix and just really do it right. But right now we’re looking forward to setting it up so Pennywise can knock it down.
MF: Well I’m fortunate enough to live in one of the cities where you’re playing a headliner as well, so I’ll be seeing you at both shows which is dope. I might just start preparing my body for the inevitable pit injuries now. Have you warned Pennywise how much trouble they’re in having to go on after The Bronx each night?
MC: Well, you know, they know. They’ve seen the Bronx, I think they can handle it, you know? But it’s going to be fun, it really is a perfect lineup. The thing I love about the bill is I know everyone who shows up to these shows knows exactly what mayhem they’re in for, so I think the crowd is going to be so charged and so ready to just go for it, I think these are honestly going to be some of the most insane shows that we’ve ever played.
MF: I could honestly chat to you all day if they’d let me, and just pick your brain about all of your records for hours on end, but there comes a time in every interview for one last question so here’s me outing myself as a fanboy in the process of asking mine! You’re my favourite or equal favourite frontman on the planet, so I have to know, who’s your favourite frontman?
MC: Thank you so much man, that’s a great compliment! Before I answer the question I have to know, who is the other front man, who am I equal with? I’ve got to know man!
MF: Hey, I ask the questions here! Since you asked though, it’s Keith Buckley of Every Time I Die.
MC: Oh good, good. Keith’s a great friend of mine, that’s good, I’ll be equal to him any day.
MF: I like you both for the same reason really, which is that you bring this raw and authentic energy which never seems phoned in. So to bring it back to the question, I’m wondering who the big influence on you as a frontman was, who’s your all-time favourite frontman? You can say yourself but you probably shouldn’t!
MC: I definitely wouldn’t say myself. I don’t know man, there’s so many. You know, a big influence on me was Dave Quackenbush from the Vandals because I just thought he was so funny the way he would screw with people, and I thought that was great. He’s a very controversial figure these days, but I’ve always loved Phil Anselmo, Pantera was a big influence on me and he was like the meaner side, you know what I mean?
When Phil was in his prime I don’t know if there’s anyone better to be honest with you, he was just the man! Obviously I love Henry Rollins, I love everything he’s done, I love Black Flag, I love the Rollins Band, I love all his books, I love his attitude, I just love everything about him.
I love Keith Morris too and Lee Ving is another good one. I like frontmen that can do punk rock, rock and roll or something like that, and fuck with the audience, you know? I don’t like people that do the regular just kind of standard put your hands in the air, that type of thing, I like people who challenge the audience and tell them to fuck from off from time to time. So those are my people, those are a few off the top of my head. My favourite of all time is probably Joey Ramone just because I love the Ramones and the sound of his voice is honestly heaven on earth to me. So I think Joey probably takes the cake and then it kind of trickles down from there.