Chicano Batman details new album ahead of Tampa show at Crowbar

Our interview with guitarist Carlos Arévalo.

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click to enlarge Carlos Arévalo (L) and Chicano Batman. - Photo by Josue Rivas
Photo by Josue Rivas
Carlos Arévalo (L) and Chicano Batman.


Chicano Batman got pulled over just outside of Okeechobee the last time it visited Florida. It was 2018, and guitarist Carlos Arévalo had just started dozing off when the van started to slow down.

“I'm like, ‘Why are we stopping? We already got gas,’ and then I look and we're surrounded by flashing red lights and, like, four SUVs. People are coming out with guns and bulletproof vests and dogs,” Arévalo told CL in a recent interview. Border Patrol asked the band if they were citizens and threatened to search the vehicle. For the record, Arévalo said every member of the Los Angeles rock and soul band is a citizen. They’re all clean, and there was no reason to detain them.

“We told them, ‘We look different because we're a rock band that's playing a festival, like five miles away.’ That was our first time in Florida,” he said. Chicano Batman knows it’s not a representation of Florida in general, but he did acknowledge that the encounter was a indication of how the government has really changed when it comes to immigrants, immigration and patrolling our border.

“It's become increasingly militarized,” Arévalo added. He’s right about the American approach to immigration changing, but that sentiment is about as political as he got during a 25-minute chat ahead of Chicano Batman’s May 3 show at Crowbar in Ybor City.

Instead, Arévalo shared his excitement over a new album that’s about 90% done, the guy mixing it (Shawn Everett, a War on Drugs collaborator who just won an Album of the Year Grammy for Kacey Musgraves’ Golden Hour), and the changes his band is going through.

“It's not as political as the last record,” Arévalo said about the still-unnamed follow up to 2017’s Freedom Is Free.The is a song or two that addresses current divisive times where Latinos and brown people are being scapegoated for a lot of society's problems, but for the most part, the album finds Chicano Batman evolving its soul-inspired sound and trimming the fat in a quest to be more economical on records.

“[We want to be] concise and as funky as we can be; focus on the one on the downbeat,” Arévalo explained. “We explored different kinds of rhythms for this record. We’re definitely exploring and celebrating the fact that we're a West Coast band that grew up listening to Dr. Dre, G-funk, soul music from this period and from this side of the country where there's that heavy influence on that backbeat.”

Read our full Q&A and get more information on the show below.

Chicano Batman w/SadGirl, Fri. May 3. Crowbar, Ybor City. crowbarybor.com.


Do you skip the studio on a day like today where you have a bunch of phoners? Just run errands and talk on the phone?

Today’s been pretty chill. Bardo [Martinez], our singer, just got back from New York where he was recording the vocals on the new record. We're getting ready to hear from some mixes early next week, assess the album and where we want to go from there. See if we want to tidy up anything, or change anything, before it gets completely mixed at the end of the month.

What studio is Bardo recording the vocals in?

He was at Diamond Mine Studios, which is Leon Michaels’ studio. He did vocals there over the past 10 days. We recorded the basic tracking, all the instruments, for the most part, at Barefoot Recording Studio in Los Angeles in February.

OK, cool. I didn't know whether you guys were gonna work with with Leon again.

Yeah, we're working with him again, and Shawn Everett is tapped to mix the record. I'm not sure if you're familiar with him, but we're very excited to hear what he's going to do the record.

Yeah, because a lot of people called Freedom Is Free Chicano Batman’s soulful record, but you guys were already kind of headed there as part of your natural progression.

Yup.

So I know that you're kind of like the tone guy, that guy who kind of makes sure that the records all sound different — not necessarily departures, but not a revisiting with the last record either.

Yup.


Freedom was done like three years ago, man. What do the current mixes feel like, and how do you feel about what you guys have accomplished with this new album? Does it have a name yet?

It doesn't have a name yet, we don't even know the tracklisting. We cut 15 songs, we're gonna cut those down to maybe 11 or 12 of the strongest ones, What you said was pretty accurate. I'm always pushing the group and the group is pretty much on board to just not repeat ourselves, That was definitely the M.O for this record, big time. We were like, “Alright, we did Freedom Is Free, people probably think we're like a throwback soul band — maybe, or leaning that way.” And that's definitely not who we are. That's just kind of the record we made. And that's where we were at the time, especially working with Leon. We completely indulge in his sensibilities of being a soul ambassador considering the people he's worked with — Charles Bradley, Lee Fields, Sharon Jones, etc.

Even then, when we did Freedom Is Free, we were more inspired by the sonics of those soul records, using classic instrumentation, analog studios and a lot of equipment to make, what I view as kind of a mutated version of that soul kind of stuff. But Chicano Batman never really ever, used, stock soul music progressions either — like a 1-4-5, or whatever, minor blues, — our music always been different, and this record continues to following in those steps by just trying to do something different than the last record. And we had long conversations with Leon about that. We want to grow and we want you to grow with us on this; let's do something different, let's put out something that people don't expect us to put out aside from a quality standpoint. We want to surprise people, pleasantly surprise them. Hopefully they're on board with exploring.

How much do you want to finish before you go out on the road?

I mean, from a tracking standpoint, it's, like, 90%. It needs to be mixed. Like I said, we’ve got to go back and listen to some tunes to see if anything needs to be recut. We just want to be completely happy with what we're putting out there, and that's it. It gets exciting once it's in Shawn’s hands. He's a mixing genius, so the fact that we were able to tap him for this record is a big deal for us.

It’s the bright side of the rise. Being able to work with certain people, as far as access goes.

Yeah, that guy’s won Grammys with War On Drugs for mixing the record. Alabama Shakes. He just won a Grammy for Album of the Year with Kacey Musgraves.

Yeah.

He just has this talent for mixing records, and he's probably the most in demand guy right now. It took months to be able to get him scheduled to do our record, and we're happy he was into it. We met with him, and he's a sweet person, and talented, and we're blessed to be able to have him add the finishing touches on our record.


That's awesome. Doing a quick look up on his credits, he's done a lot of good stuff that I'm looking at, the Jenny Lewis record sounds really great., and I’ve had some good, long car rides listening to that War On Drugs record. Forgive me, because a lot of the questions I have are in the context of Freedom, but I was thinking about your solos in the context of the Chicano Batman songwriting process — do they ever change after you start hearing some of the lyrics that Bardo writes?

Yeah, so for this, this record that we just made, we demoed for a year — we demoed, like, 20 songs — and we got really detailed with these demos. And then we came into the studio with Leon, and Leon's like, “This good, but it's gonna be better. Let's reconstruct it from scratch.” That was exciting and also a little scary because you go in with stuff you think is fire, and he's like, “It could be even more fire. Let's try it again.” You’re on the spot to write something better. But the solos usually get fully completed after I know what the vocals are. I need to make sure that the vibe fits with what's going on.

So that's a good question, because there's a couple of songs where I don't know what the vocals are. I’ll cut a solo, and I'm thinking, “I don't even know if it's going to go with the vibe of the vocals now that they just recorded those vocals.” So I might have to actually reassess that and cut a different solo that's more in line with the sentiment of the of the song and the vocals. But for the most part, I get instant feedback from the guys. When I compose I want them to be memorable, and I want them to be short. I don't particularly like doing long winded solos on records. We kind of save that for the live show, for exploring our influences with Frank Zappa and Miles Davis’ electric periods.

Johnny Guitar Watson.

Yeah, exactly. We can spread out a little bit live, and we do challenge ourselves as improvisers; we flex those different muscles, but when it comes to the studio — especially now as we get older, — you just appreciate time a little more. You want to get to the point quicker. You don't want to waste any more time.

OK. Do you still think about Kirk Hammett a lot when you write your solos?

Me, I was never a big Metallica head. That was Eduardo [Arenas].

So he’s the one who heard Kirk Hammett saying “I only listen to music with the guitar solos in it.”

Yeah, probably Eduardo, our bassist. He's the he's the Metallica head. He’s a guitar player, but he plays bass in our band.

Right on. And I know that they’re Bardo’s lyrics, but I was wondering about the lyrical composition of the new record. Freedom was done and ready before the 2016 election was even a thing, but it’s funny how it all played out.

Yeah that was really weird.


The album had themes of figuring out your place in your community and how your community is changing around you.

Yeah, there's definitely some of that. I mean, we're always taking notice of what's going on. I would say, off the top of my head, from what I can remember from the lyrics, it's not as political as the last record. There's definitely a song there's definitely a song or two that acknowledges current divisive times where Latinos and brown people are being scapegoated for a lot of society's problems. It's just BS. We make a note or two about that on the record, but you would really have to ask Bardo. I'm not where he's at. We’re definitely at a place where we're trying to write songs that just get to the point, like I said, and it doesn't feel like you wasted anything getting there, like it felt right to get to the next section of a song. We don't want a verse to linger forever. We want it to get to the chorus, to the solo, to the bridge, whatever. We want it to feel like a natural organic statement.

OK, was it safe to say the album is “lean,” or that you’re working on trimming the fat and being concise as composers then?

Yeah, just being concise and being as funky as we can be; focus on the one on the downbeat. We explored different kinds of rhythms for this record. We’re definitely exploring and celebrating the fact that we're a West Coast band that grew up listening to Dr. Dre, G-funk, soul music from this period and from this side of the country where there's that heavy influence on that backbeat.

Rolling in the hoopty music.

Yeah, exactly.

To kind of switch gears. My understanding is that Chicano Batman was this band that was meant to be an agent of change. I want to know how the band has changed you over the years. I know that you kind of left school to do the band — how have you changed in that decade since you became the last guy to jump in the lineup?

Yeah. I was telling the other interviewer before me that I was already a bandleader by the I joined the band. I was the guy writing the music, for my old bands. You come into this group, and everyone's very opinionated, everyone's super talented, everyone can write a song. So you come in, and you just try to serve the song as best you can with your instrument and your songwriting. It's a difficult thing to do and also a very rewarding thing to do with these guys.

I really learned to take a step back and listen to try and see everyone's point of view, and try to come to a consensus that's for the best of the music. I think that's something we all have to deal with in this band because we're all very strong-willed guys when it comes to the music,. We argue over arrangement. We're passionate about it, like, “Hey, I don't think that guitar solo should go there,” or, “Maybe that vocal line can change,” or “That bass might be a little too busy for this session.” It's hard to say those things to people because it can be taken personal, but it's really all about the music. And at the end of the day, we're brothers. What we create together can only be created amongst us; Chicano Batman is the four of us and can only sound like, Chicano Batman if it's the four of us playing the music together.

It was crazy to read about the process where you drop a part, then Bardo adds synth or something, then you get it back...

Yeah. I mean, I'm a guitar player. I have a reverie for the guitarists before me,and how they crafted music that other guitar players want to emulate, because it's so good; that's something I aspire to. But at the same time, like I said, I'm in a group with other people, and they have to express themselves. too. I have to make sure that my expression isn't just coloring all over their expression; it has to come together and support each support one another. That's the way it is.


Right on, and I'm sure somebody asked you about this today, but I'm gonna ask you again. Yesterday, I spoke with this young Mexican songwriter Omar Apollo, and he had talked about how it's felt to have a lot of kids, specifically brown kids, walking up to him and telling him that they're starting to play guitar because of him.

And I think for you, those people were [Rage Against the Machine’s] Zack de la Rocha, and, obviously, Cedric [Bixler-Zavala] and Omar [Rodríguez-López, both of the Mars Volta]. You listen to Bosnian Rainbows, stuff like that, but you've mentioned people walking up to you after shows to tell you their Latin American story and explain how your band is opening doors for them, whether they're musicians or not. Does that ever get overwhelming for you? I know that  being that agent of change is part of the ethos for Chicano Batman, but does it ever get to be a heavy thing to carry around?

It is a heavy thing, and I don't take for granted that people open themselves up themselves and make themselves vulnerable to a stranger that they see on stage or hear through the records. I always do my best to listen and have a conversation because I really appreciate that. Like you said, when I was their age, and I did the same thing to  Cedric and Omar, or whoever, when I was able to meet them — those are, those are things people don't forget, especially if it's a negative experience.

I've had negative experiences where I've met musicians and they blew me off, and I'm like, “Man forget that guy.” But at the same time., now that I'm older, I'm like, “You know, what, maybe that person was having a bad day, and I just caught him at a bad time.”  I just wasn't aware enough, I was immature, and I just kind of went at him at a time when I probably shouldn't have — and that's all fine, too.

I'm the quiet guy in the band. I'm not a type person that likes a lot of attention. I appreciate the attention people give us, of course, but I'm not inherently an outgoing guy that eats it up. But when people come to me, and they do, I'm all ears. I appreciate it. I'm humbled. I’m a little shy, but I listen, and it means the world to me. It's incredible. I never thought I'd be in a position like this where people are sharing those stories with me or say I inspire them. It's a beautiful thing.


Have you guys been able to find houses to buy in Boyle Heights yet?

Bardo and Eduardo are our house hunting right now? We're finding places on the east side. Not Boyle Heights but in the area near the east side of L.A.

OK. And I think the suits were a Eduardo’s idea. They’re an homage to like the Delfonics and Curtis Mayfield, but also to 80s and 70s Latin American Valley groups. I'm kind of asking because I interviewed Nile Rodgers, and he mentioned that he does his own laundry every night. Who has to wash the Chicano Batman suits these days?

Well, usually the only guys that wash their suits on a tour are me and Gabriel [Villa].

OK.

I'm a clean guy, maybe a little OCD, and Gabriel just sweats profusely because he's a drummer playing these incredible parts every night for an hour and a half. The other guys are just kind of funky; they'll just roll with a funky suit the whole tour unless we find the time to hit a laundromat together. Usually, it's every man for himself.

There's no tour manager?

We have tour manager, but he’s not the laundry guy. The old suits were pretty easy because we would just have to wash the ruffled shirt. It’s pretty easy to get a bar of soap at the hotel room after the show and hang it up — it's usually dry by the next the next show. But I think we're maybe moving away from from those ruffles though.

I thought you might. People were really starting to pigeonhole you guys as a band in '70s suits.

Yeah, I think that a lot of the times people don't understand the reference, the reverence, behind it.

They think it's a schtick.

Yeah, their only reference point might be Dumb and Dumber, or something, so they're like, “Oh, they're trying to be comical.” And it's like, “No, this is some serious business.” It’s really all rooted in the Beatles; they were one of the first bands that wore matching suits, and then everyone kind of did their take on it. Style got funkier, so the suits got a little funky. But I think we're moving away from that as a representation of the music kind of moving away from that, but it will still get, it's still going to be rooted in a sound that only we can create. I think people will appreciate that, even if the style is changing a little bit.

I know we're out of time here. Does the urban planner in you you ever come out when you're driving across the U.S.?

Oh yeah, I look at design elements of cities, the public transportation, where things are changing, why it's changing. I see a lot of changes around transit, public transit, and at the same time, you see a lot of displacement around those same centers. That's something we didn't really study when I went to planning school. It was just like, “Oh, we gotta make better access… this should housing... we need businesses at this metro stop.” At the time no one was paying attention to people getting displaced because of rents going up. I think they talk about that now.

Hopefully.

Hopefully.


Well thank you for your time today. And looking forward to seeing you in Florida finally.

Yeah, it's been long overdue. You know, the last time we were in Florida, we got stopped by Border Patrol.

You know, I was gonna ask you about that.

Yeah, we were like 20 minutes from Okeechobee, just on the highway. I was dozing off, and I felt the car stopping, and I'm like, “Why are we stopping? We already got gas,” and then I look and we're surrounded by flashing red lights and, like, four SUVs. People are coming out with guns and bulletproof vests and dogs. And I'm like, “What the hell? Did we speed or what?” Our tour managers was like, “I was not driving fast. If anything, I was driving five miles under the speed limit.” And they came out and they asked us if we were citizens, if we had any drugs — they told us they were going to search the van. It was just like… Florida.

Oh man, embarrassing for us. So they let you go?

Oh yeah, We're all citizens. There were no drugs on us. We just had a bunch of equipment. We told them, “We look different because we're a rock band that's playing a festival, like five miles away.”

Okeechobee.

Yeah it was our first time in Florida.

Man, I'm sorry.

It's not your fault. We don't we don't think it's a representation of the people in Florida. It’s just another representation of how the government has really changed when it comes to immigrants, immigration and Border Patrol. It's become increasingly militarized.

Yeah, I grew up in LA, and I remember when I first saw the Rodney King video. I was a kid. It changes you. You don't even realize how it changes you until you get older.

Exactly.


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About The Author

Ray Roa

Read his 2016 intro letter and disclosures from 2022 and 2021. Ray Roa started freelancing for Creative Loafing Tampa in January 2011 and was hired as music editor in August 2016. He became Editor-In-Chief in August 2019. Past work can be seen at Suburban Apologist, Tampa Bay Times, Consequence of Sound and The...
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