The dichotomy of LA based frontman Matt Caughthran is an endearing and engaging one. Having fronted hardcore punk band The Bronx for the past 13 years, it seemed unbelievable that Caughthran moonlighted as the lead singer and songwriter for sweepingly romantic and upbeat Mariachi El Bronx for almost the same period of time. It’s a credit to the 37 year-old’s masterful talent as a musician, allowing him an aptitude to expand his repertoire instead of being pigeon-holed by genres and conventions. With a humble attitude that belies a ferocious stage presence when pounding out Bronx lyrics, and a Californian swagger that seeps through his heartfelt Mariachi El Bronx performances, Caughthran has a fascinating duplicity that retains an honesty and faithfulness that allows him to remain true to both bands, and most importantly, himself.
Caughthran is the antithesis to your hazy and disillusioned LA types – down to earth and reverential, whilst still possessing a gritty and cool-as-fuck vibe, the two bands he fronts are indeed the perfect balance for a multi-faceted artist who sees the world with feeling.
1. What was your initial thought when Joby suggested breaking out into a Mariachi band and how soon after did you realise you could awaken the Mariachi tradition with passion and tenacity, without any of the bullshit cliches?
My initial thought was to just go with the flow and dive into something new. That being said, it was basically a song study in the beginning; flushing out an idea to kind of reset the creative cycle for a new record. By the time it developed into a full length record, most of us had realised that we were onto something special. The key was not to lose our own identity in the process – that’s what keeps the ‘Bronx’ in ‘El Bronx’.
2. You perform in the Mariachi charro suits and you boys (and Rebecca) look dashing in them. Firstly, was the decision to wear outfits solely due to tradition? Secondly, does it actually help you switch between the two bands, having a uniform of sorts? And lastly (but most importantly), do the chicks dig it?
Yes to all [haha]. We REALLY wanted suits. They honor the Mariachi tradition, they look cool as shit, and they transform the soul.
3. You’re a unique lyricist, with the innate ability to conjure ingrained desires and provoke startling images that resonate in your music. Is it an easy transition to write more romantically for Mariachi, seeing that The Bronx doesn’t hit on those themes of love?
That’s basically it in a nutshell. Bronx is an outlet for anger, El Bronx is an outlet for love. Obviously it’s a little more complex than that… Bronx isn’t all negative and vice versa, but the truth is that El Bronx gave me an outlet for all the beauty in my life. It created such a healthy balance in my writing and gave me the confidence to embrace the beauty of the music with lyrics of love, loss, sadness and hope.
4. There are several types love that dance around the Mariachi albums; from the smoky after taste of fiery love to soul-saving devotion. Where do you sit with love right now, both lyrically and personally?
Love is complicated for me at the moment, so I’m letting it be. I am at a lot of different crossroads in my life at the moment, both personally and professionally. It’s nice to just dive into work and simplify my life a bit. Feels like the right thing for the moment.
5. There are strong themes of religion that permeate throughout the albums; judgement, sacrifice, salvation, life and death. You’ve mentioned in previous interviews of your discord with the church; not necessarily buying what they’re selling. But what remnants of faith do you reckon have lingered within you and is believing in something important?
Religion is a trip. When I was young I realised that organised religion was bullshit. However, I connect with the idea that there is something else beyond this life. When my Dad died I felt connected to the world like never before; I felt the sadness in the sand at the beach. Everything had meaning. Some people choose to ignore that or just say it’s hyper-emotional, part of the mourning process, but whatever. If you’ve ever lost someone you love you know what I’m talking about. There is a deeper realm that reveals itself. I take comfort in the cross because my Dad did, and it reminds me of him, not Jesus.
6. Were you surprised by Mariachi’s success and what do you think it is about the band that has made it so overwhelmingly loved by fans?
Yes and no. I knew when we finished the first record that we had done something special. None of us ever imagined anybody giving a shit about it though ! [ha]. I think that it’s just such an original idea that people wanna check it out. Thank God we don’t suck.
7. Does it make you happy to know that a wide range of people are able to enjoy the music you have made, from the mosh pit to a wedding reception? Are you proud of the legacy you get to leave behind?
Very proud. We have worked so hard over the last 12-13 years to build something special together, and we have. I’m very thankful for, and proud of, my Bronx/El Bronx family.
8. Do you find that your fans from The Bronx have come over to the light side of Mariachi (or vice versa?), or is it very much a one sided deal?
Most Bronx fans love El Bronx, but a lot of El Bronx fans can’t handle the Bronx vibe. Too loco for ’em – its hilarious.
9. Both your bands are exceptional live, and having seen you perform numerous times, your energy is palpable and contagious. You bring an intimacy to all of your gigs, giving yourself over to the crowd so that they feel as apart of the performance as you are. How important is it for you to connect with your audience?
It’s very important. I want people to feel what I feel when I hear a song I love or go to see a band that shreds. I try not to focus on it though, because then it becomes forced and you can get wrapped up in the “show”. It’s always worked best for me to just be myself and not hold back.
10. You’re back in Melbourne with Mariachi for the new The Lost Lands, which has been touted as a family friendly festival. You’re also on tour with Violent Soho as The Bronx. Is it hard to switch between the two personas of the bands you front?
It is a little weird at times ,but it’s all good. I love having both bands.
11. How cool is it that Violent Soho supported The Bronx back in 2010, and now you guys get to return the favour? It speaks volumes for the kind of band you are and just how supportive the punk rock community can be.
Yeah we love Violent Soho. We have spent a lot of quality time with the boys and are very proud of their success. Stoked that they had us out on this big tour!
12. Do you have time to create art for Stolen Tuxedo whilst on tour or is that a ‘downtime’ project between tours?
I’m terrible at multi-tasking. Usually when I’m on tour I’ll take photos, write, organise my ideas… then I’ll come home and start to chip away with Stolen Tuxedo projects. It’s become something that I cherish and it keeps me sane.
13. How did your relationship with Rhys Cooper (your Aussie touring poster artist) come about?
Rhys has been there since day one. He’s the man and an amazing artist!
14. When do you reckon we’ll get to hear another Bronx album?
Working on Bronx 5 as we speak. Should be out September next year… maybe sooner.
15. What’s next on the cards for you after this Aussie tour?
Going home for the holidays and writing new music! 2016 has been a real bitch, so I’m looking forward to next year.
QUICK RANDOM ONES
– If you could play any musical instrument, which would you choose?
Drums are my jam. Love guitar too, but drums tap into that primal instinct.
– Do you still have that rabbit costume from The Bronx’s ‘White Guilt’ video and if so, when does it get to make an appearance?
Unfortunately not… loved that suit. Awesome video too and great memories.
– Favourite Bronx gig ever?
Not possible to answer. Last one we played was pretty damn good.
– First celebrity crush?
Elvira [Mistress of the Dark].
– If you could swap professions with anyone (living or dead), who would it be?
– Who in either of your bands has the most annoying habit?
We all nasty!
– Favourite place on earth?
– If you had to listen to just one song everyday, which would you choose?
‘Perfect Day’ by Lou Reed.
– Most cathartic experience?
Starting a band.
Check out more of Pen To Paper Media’s The Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx coverage here: