When a band from California names themselves The Bronx you know they’ve got sense of humour and balls the size of grapefruits. For 10 years now the hardcore punk five-piece have been cracking wise with their sharp wit and cracking skulls with their blunt music.
After stepping away from the chainsaw-like screams and head banging mayhem to put out two excellent mariachi records, under the name Mariachi El Bronx, The Bronx have returned with their first album under their original moniker in 5 years.
The Bronx (IV), has brought The Bronx back to Australia for Groovin The Moo 2013 and their own national headlining tour. In many ways The Bronx (IV) picks up where The Bronx left off in 2008. And yet at the same time the band’s fourth hardcore record shows a notable progression and reinvigoration.
Picking up the telephone is The Bronx’s magnetic frontman Matt Caughthran, who happily discusses the band’s obsession with male strippers, bringing a Ramones philosophy to recording, and The Bronx’s sentimental final shows at The Annandale Hotel.
Music Feeds: What Australian city are you calling from at the moment, Brisbane?
Matt Caughthran: Yeah, we just landed in Brisbane, man. We just checked into the hotel about an hour ago and life is good, dude. I love this town, this is my favourite place in Australia. It’s the first place we landed when we first came here, so it’s always had soft spot for me, I love it.
MF: Has Brisbane changed much since your first visit?
MC: You know what, it really hasn’t. But we did just get here so we’ll see. The one city that I’ve noticed is changing for the better is Sydney. I feel there’s a cool kind of business culture over there that’s challenging people.
There’s new bars, new restaurants, it just seems like there’s a lot more going on there. It’s kind of discovering its own identity again. I had a lot of fun in Sydney this time around.
MF: Unfortunately we’re losing music venues in Sydney.
MC: We just did The Annandale, closed that place down. It’s a bummer but I think eventually, hopefully that’s just a cycle and then some new venues will pop up. I mean people always need places to see art and to see music. So it’s going to happen eventually.
MF: Did the Annandale crowd have a special vibe?
MC: Yeah, absolutely. You know Matt and Dan (Rule) have always been good friends of ours. It just sucks that place is going down or at least going down [from] the way it used to be.
It was an honour to be a part of those shows. The three shows we did there, you know the last one was just something really, really special. It sucks, man. It’s sad but I’m very stoked we got to be a part of the history of that place.
Our first show there we put out on DVD and doing the last three shows there, [our] first three shows back in Sydney, it was really something special so I’m glad we were able to do it.
MF: The Bronx have also been a part of Groovin’ The Moo 2013. That festival is largely indie rock and electro but are you finding a solid hardcore fanbase?
MC: Not really. I mean I’ll be honest with you, it’s cool, it’s a fun festival and it’s nice to play different towns. It’s nice to get out into the rurals and just kind of kick it. But there’s not a bunch of punks running around that thing.
But we’re having a good time and the shows have been good. Sometimes it’s funnier to play in front of people who wouldn’t really normally get a chance to see you. So we kind of like stirring the pot a little bit and being the odd band out and we’re having a good time.
MF: How did The Bronx come to work with Playgirl on the music video for single Youth Wasted?
MC: (Laughs) Well you know we’ve been obsessed with male strippers for a couple of years now and we’ve been trying to make this video for a long time. And we were thinking of making it an El Bronx video but it just didn’t seem right.
So we held onto the idea and when it came time to do a Bronx video we were like, ‘OK, we’re finally going to do this male stripper idea.’ And the video, our friend Sam (Macon) did it and it just came out so good. It was so much fun.
And we knew people were going to hate it, basically, so we just couldn’t wait to get it out. We were thinking about how are we going to debut this thing. Do we want to do the usual thing or Spin premieres it or some fucking website, Brooklyn Vegan, or something like that.
And it was like, ‘No, let’s try to do something different.’ And the idea came up for Playgirl and we were like, ‘Oh, my god! That’s the funniest thing ever!’ Just the idea of making people go to Playgirl.com to watch our video, even if it was just for 24 hours, was just like the greatest thing ever.
So we talked to Playgirl and they were totally down, like, ‘Fuck this is awesome! Lets do it!’. And that’s how Bronx got a video on Playgirl.
MF: I think I recall you at Groovin’ The Moo in Canberra doing a bit of a striptease as you changed t-shirts.
MC: Oh yeah, absolutely! Yeah that’s right, that green t-shirt got thrown up onstage.
MF: I guess you learnt some moves from the video shoot.
MC: Yeah, exactly. Well, you know, it’s something you’re born with. I’ve got stripper DNA.
MF: Youth Wasted has an interesting lyric – “When did I learn to bite my tongue, youth is not wasted on the young”. Is that a commentary on remaining true to the ideals of punk culture as you age?
MC: Yeah. You know, I just think people get sour as they get old. They get jaded on young people being young and having a good time. And it’s like, ‘What the fuck happened to you?! Why can’t you still have a good time? Why can’t you still do the things you want to do and live the life you want to live and be the person you want to be?’
It’s not the fucking next generation’s fault that you’re an asshole. It’s up to you, until the day you die, to do what you want to do with your life. And as we’ve gotten older in this band, that’s one thing I’ve discovered and, to be honest with you, been really proud of – the fact that we’re still a band because a lot of people give up.
It’s fucking hard work being in a band, it’s really hard. I mean we don’t make a tonne of money. We make just enough to survive. And in order to stay on that keel we have to work our ass off. And this is something that we love and something that we want to do.
And I’m proud of that fact because we’re not giving in, we’re not saying, ‘Well, it was a fucking blast in our twenties, man. We put out some punk records and had a fucking good time seeing the world, now it’s time to grow up and do something different.’
And it’s like, ‘No!’ We’re making this our life this is what it is. There’s a huge amount of respect I have for people who do that. It’s hard for me to watch people, as they grow older, just think that they have to give in – that’s just part of what they have to do. It’s part of getting old, it’s just giving in. And it’s not true.
MF: The Bronx doesn’t make music to appease people. So when critics complain that The Bronx (IV) isn’t as angry as past albums or as heavy, and more focused on melody, does that mean the band is doing something right?
MC: Well, yeah. People are like, ‘Hey, this record isn’t as angry.’ And it’s like, ‘Yeah, well I’m not as angry.’ It’s just the way it is. Music is our self-expression. It’s a vehicle for what we’re doing with our lives and we don’t write it for other people.
We’re not going to sit here and write a song and dedicate it to the angry 13 year-old kid who’s pissed off at his parents because we want to sell records at fucking K-Mart. You know, it’s just not what we’re going to do.
Our band is a live representation of us. That’s what it is, it’s a sum of its parts. We wanted to make a streamlined, weird rock and roll Ramones style record. And just trim the fat and have a fucking blast.
And it felt so good to get back in the studio and just get loud again. And it that way the record’s a celebration. It just felt so good to get back to Bronx. It felt so good to hang ourselves out there doing mariachi, and have it succeed on our own terms, and then to comeback and rediscover The Bronx and be super excited to write this record, that’s the vibe that was going in.
So it’s going to be what we want it to be and that’s the way it’s always going to be.
MF: As you said with this album the band adopted the Ramones simplified and fun philosophy. But The Bronx has always strived by putting themselves in uncomfortable situations, creatively. How did you achieve that on The Bronx (IV).
MC: There was a lot of that song-by-song. There are a lot of songs on this record that probably wouldn’t have been on Bronx records in the past. Songs like Life Less Ordinary, even songs like Youth Wasted and stuff like that, they’re just different songs for us.
It was nice to try some different stuff and try different feels and try different rhythms, and just go for it. It’s weird when something that you’re used to doing all of a sudden feels forced. And that’s kind of how you know you’re moving in the right direction.
I’m very used to writing two and half minute pissed off punk songs. I can go there, it’s a huge part of my life. It’s just like that state of mind is something that I’m constantly living in. But for some reason on this record that felt forced. It felt like a forced idea, it didn’t feel real, it didn’t feel honest.
And I’m not saying that the record is a big soft pillow, or anything like that, it’s definitely got some fucking anger and some fucking vibe to it. But you never want to feel forced, that’s just the way it is. If it’s forced it’s not creative, it’s like it’s just a code.
When it’s not forced, kind of when you’re in that spot where you’re like, ‘Oh, man! Is this good, is this bad, is this wrong, is this right?’ That’s where you want to be. Because if you make mistakes, you make mistakes but you’re suppose to hang yourself out there. You’re supposed to do different stuff and you’re suppose to put yourself in a position that you’ve never really been in before.
Not that, that has to be completely reinventing the wheel. It could be something as easy as using a different pedal or writing about something different. They could be small changes but it’s those small changes that lead up to each record sounding different and to your creativity recharging itself and allowing you to move forward.
MF: Is it true that The Bronx is releasing a coffee table book?
MC: Yeah, we’re working on a whole box set. We’re going to re-release all the records on vinyl, and we’re working on a big book that’s got, basically, the entire story of the band from birth up until now. And it’s pretty awesome, man. It’s amazing. I mean Joby (Ford) is working his ass off to get the book together it’s almost done.
Bronx I, you can’t find it on vinyl, it’s been gone forever. Bronx II, pretty much the same thing. Bronx III, never even came out on vinyl and obviously Bronx IV just came out. So we’re going to have another record full of all B-sides and it’s going to be a big deal.
It’s going to be probably a box set. You’ll probably be able to buy the book separately but I’m looking forward to getting Bronx III out on vinyl, specifically, because it never came out.
So it’s going to be somewhere down the line when we get some time, probably when we’re writing the next El Bronx record, we’ll be putting that box set together. Maybe we’ll try to get it out for Christmas or something like that.
The Bronx (IV) by The Bronx is out now.
The Bronx – Remaining Australian Tour Date
Friday, 10th May
Capitol, Perth – 18+
w/ DZ Deathrays