Learning from frontman Bardo Martinez about the sonically eclectic L.A. band
Chicano Batman was a name that was created thanks to a meshing of cultures in the United States. This very much gives you a hint on what the music and mindset of the 4-piece ensemble from Los Angeles brings to their music and how regardless of its influences, creates something soulful and resounding to which anyone can find themselves immersed in. From their start 8 years ago to now opening for the likes of Jack White, and The Alabama Shakes, their ride has been fueled by putting their souls into their craft.
“Essentially Chicano Batman, or at least the concept of the band formed in my film class at UCLA. I was taking a class, called Film and Social Change. Basically the whole class was about films from all over the world and the crux of every one of those films was a spin-off or satire of American popular culture,” says Bardo Martinez, the lead vocalist, organist and guitarist of Chicano Batman.
“All these films inspired me to become a musician and make music and as a form of emitting particular social, economic, political commentary. I remember watching this film by Kidlat Tahimik called the “Perfumed Nightmare”. In this film after watching it, it’s extremely surreal and after watching the film the name just kind of came to me, the ‘chicano batman’.”
Martinez, who hails from the Los Angeles gateway city of La Mirada, says that the melding of influences while growing up and a fascination with different musical elements and styles initially pushed his pursuit of creating a band with like-minded individuals who could also bring their own elements into the mix.
“I was really into the Tropicália musical movement from Brazil which was happening in the late 60’s (and) led by Caetano Veloso. So when I met Eduardo Arenas, the bassist of the band, at a party we vibed on that. We ended up jamming together and ended up signing “Nine Out of Ten”. In the scene that we operated in no one would know who that was, or would be listening to it. We vibed on that fact that we were hip to it, that was something that connected us.”
It was at this time when Martinez also told Arenas that he was interested in a project that sounded like Chilean pop band Los Angeles Negros and Mexican music from the 70’s and 80’s. Another point would be to combine elements of Tropicália and represent the musical history in certain ways. This referential style is what would allow them to bring elements from their musical histories, but also be as different and experimental as they want.
From this point Martinez says it was an organic meshing of the rest of the guys in the band as they came along. Drummer/percussionist Gabriel Villa, who studied classically in France for 5 years, became the next piece to Chicano Batman. “Gabriel is an amazing musician so to me he was a very important. I saw him as a person I needed in my life. I wanted to play music that’s very diverse in rhythms. So that’s how the first album came about, it was just us three rocking. We put out our first album and then just stared building, playing small shows around the area. And then we added Carlos Arévalo (guitar) 4-5 years into the project.”
The backgrounds of the 4 members of Chicano Batman are very diverse Latino ones. Although of them grew up at one point or another in LA (Villa came in his 20’s to the valley after growing up in Cali, Colombia) their parents hail from Colombia, Mexio and El Salvador.
Being a diverse mix of latino definitely affects their musical elements that are brought to the band Martinez says in his own experience, “It’s very interesting, it stretches the spectrum. We grew up listening to all kinds of music but my parents for example, listened to oldies, like any ‘Los Angelino’ does. Whatever plays on the airwaves. So we listen to what’s in our environments but my parents also bring Fito Olivarez, Roberto Carlos, Los Bukis. My dad had a big record collection, he made a lot of tape mixes while we were growing up in the 1980’s and so I listened to so much music. My dad was my most important inspirations because he was listening to what was hot when I was a kid. The way I look at it I was lucky. I was listening to Cream, Eric Clapton, disco, old school boleros, all kinds of really good music.”
Yet putting down to words what exactly Chicano Batman can be compared to is difficult, and the band probably prefers it that way. They are by no means an “ethnic” sounding band, but more made up of their expanding histories and influences.
“We have all kinds of influence. Looking at it through an ethno-musicological lens a lot of Latino music is influenced and inspired by black soul music. There’s so much cross-cultural influences it’s so universal because anybody can play music, on a stereo so every time they do that they get a different message, they get a different rhythm. They pick up a different style,” says Martinez.
He adds, “for me Latinos in the mainstream culture have an inferior role in the industry, there’s a such thing as Latin Grammy’s, that tells you everything you need right there. It’s like a separate graduation for music. We’re not trying to be in that separate graduation we’re trying to be part of music as a whole.”
The amalgamation of styles is very evident. Some of their songs are throwbacks to the pop ballads of both Central America and US in either English or Spanish, while others have a deep R&B/Soul influences sprinkled within it’s parameters, and are sung in Brazilian Portuguese.
Martinez explains, “for example ‘Itotiani’ is the first song on our first album so when people check out our music that’s the first song they get. I think right there everybody is hooked, no matter who you are it resonates. That right there is your 4-4 beat and everybody is just bobbing their head. Everybody is just gripped by that song because it’s so classic. That soul oldie type of vibe.”
Chicano Batman will be performing at the free 20th Street Block Party in the Mission on Saturday August 20th. Martinez says the band guarantees a great and immersive time to those in attendance. “The aura we’re putting on stage are the same vibes we put into our recordings. It speaks to people whether they see us or not. It comes out from the soul.”
More info about the event and bands at <www.20thstreetblockparty.com/>.