On paper, punk plus traditional Mexican instrumentation and get ups sounds like a bad joke. But The Bronx’s Mariachi double self is serious business. Having released album numero dos as Mariachi El Bronx in August, the band are set to rock Big Day Out crowds across the country next year. Ahead of their return down under in January, we caught up with drummer Jorma Vik to talk a bit about either incarnation of The Bronx and a lot about a really messed up story regarding Fletcher from Pennywise.
Hey man, for the record please start out by telling us your name, what you play in the Bronx and where you got a hold of those sweet Charros suits?
(Laughs) My name is Jorma and I play drums in The Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx and we got those sweet Charros suits in East Los, East LA. There’s a little area called Mariachi Plaza that’s kinda like the corner of these streets, there’s a gazebo and all these Mariachi dudes hang out there waiting to get picked up for work. So around this plaza there’s all these shops that build the instruments and the suits and shit, so, that’s where we go!
You’re probably sick of answering this by now, but can you give us a bit of background as to why the Bronx decided to do Mariachi stuff?
Yeah. We got asked to play a TV show, um, and they wanted us to do an acoustic version of a Bronx song. We were like “ahh, that’s probably not gonna sound the best”, so we had once Bronx song that was super slow, not super slow but the slowest Bronx song we had. We had the idea of getting Mexican instruments and kind of doing it Mariachi style but, you know, we didn’t know how to play them yet we just got them and faked our way through it and it turned out awesome. But it kinda sparked this thirst for knowledge about the music and we got into it. We started taking lessons through YouTube and learning how to actually do it and we just had a fuckin’ blast doing it. The writing happened super quick and it just snowballed really fast.
Yeah so was it a challenge to move to a completely different style considering you’re all punk rock musicians?
You know it came really naturally and I think it’s because of our surroundings. Mariachi music’s kind of played all over southern California and the southern states and so I think that’s why it didn’t seem so foreign to us. It just came out of us. I think it was just because we’re a product of our environment.
Have you found that it’s polarised your audience at all, or do most fans tend to dig both styles?
A little bit of both. I mean, we have two Facebook pages, one for the Mariachi band and one for the Bronx band. So whenever we post anything Mariachi on The Bronx page you can definitely tell there’s some hate going on. I think for the most part people respect it because they know that we take it very fucking seriously. It doesn’t feel like a side band to us, it doesn’t feel like a side project at all. It feels like we have two fulltime bands.
Obviously you’ve been put on the Big Day Out line up as Mariachi El Bronx. Did you guys ever expect the Mariachi to be on this large a scale?
No, not at all! We flew over there for one show, was it last year? Yeah it had to be last year. It was some festival, I can’t remember what it was called…
Was that Melbourne Festival?
Yes … yes absolutely. So we flew over there for just this one show and it was an eye opener for us because there was so many people there and so many people were singing along. It was just like holy shit, okay, so this is working!
You released the second “Mariachi El Bronx” in August. How have you found responses to the new material?
It’s been awesome man. It’s been really, really positive. The press has been really good which is cool and people seem to like the record. It’s super fun to play too, you know, because I think we made a big step song writing wise and musicianship wise on this record so the songs are a lot more challenging and it’s a lot more fun to play. We’re stoked.
Can you tell us a bit about how you wrote and recorded “Mariachi El Bronx”?
Yeah we’ve actually done both the Mariachi albums with this guy, John Avila, who was the bass player for Oingo Boingo. He has been producing bands ever since they dissolved. We recorded it with him – he built this studio in the garage of his house in San Gabriel which is about a half hour east of LA. So we recorded it out there with him and it was just a blast. He was just super, super great to work with and he has great ideas. You’ll find a lot of producers who are like, married to their ideas but he’s very into working with you and challenging each other but not being too strong when you’re being pig-headed and you hit a wall.
Is it ever difficult or confusing to split your time between what, as you said, are effectively two completely different bands?
Physically yes because the Mariachi band, we’ve recently found out, does not keep you in shape for The Bronx at all. On the last show, the Foo Fighters tour, we played a couple Bronx songs just for sound check for fun. Woah shit, we played two songs and we were just dying afterwards. We’re going on a tour in about a week when we have about five or six Bronx shows kinda stuck in the middle so it’ll be interesting to see how they turn out (laughs). Because we’re not really going to have time to practice before we go and obviously we aren’t going to have all the rock gear and all the Mariachi gear with us when we’re touring just the Mariachi band for the first part of the tour. It’s going to be interesting.
You guys have a super energetic live show when playing your punk rock material. How does the Mariachi live show compare?
I think it’s a lot more dynamic. We’re having fun with that right now. You know we’ve got slow songs in the set and depending on how long the set is you can kind of dictate where the feel goes – whether we start with our faster songs, our more party songs and then have a lull in the middle of the set with some slower numbers, or just play all the fast songs. It’s pretty cool to fuck with because in The Bronx it was all just on eleven at all times.
I heard a few months back that Joby and Matt had said you dudes were recording a new Bronx album. How’s that coming along?
It’s going really good. Joby just hit stride and he’s been writing a bunch. We wrote a little bit on tour and he’s just written a bunch in the last week actually. He’s got about eleven ideas for songs and we’re hoping to get those at least demoed and start to work on them when we get back from Europe in late December. So hopefully early January we can start getting serious about that.
The Bronx were last out here in February this year for Soundwave 2011. I saw you dudes play in Sydney just before Fucked Up right at the end of the day, which was definitely the highlight. What were the best bits of that tour for you guys?
Did you hear about the incident with Fletcher from Pennywise?
Um, not sure I did actually…
(Laughs) Oh well … so the last show … shit what city was it in? I don’t even remember, doesn’t matter. Fletcher from Pennywise is a good buddy of ours and he loves the band right? He’s obviously a very large man and very fucking intimidating. He’s hammered drunk on the side of the stage, been drinking all day. He’s known for being a fucking wild dude, like some of the stories you wouldn’t even believe. So he comes on stage during the next to last song and starts breaking shit, kicking in speakers and breaking mic stands. Then he breaks a beer bottle, pulls up his shirt, and he starts slicing his stomach open. And we’re not talking little cuts. We’re talking like all the way across his abdomen, all the way down from his shoulder to his waistline, and he’s fucking bleeding everywhere. The security just took off running because he’s so scary.
So he’s on stage bleeding, tackling Matt, just causing fucking havoc. Then we go into our last song, he keeps going just destroying shit. Everybody’s just trying to avoid him scared of what he’ll do, and by the end of the show Matt jumped into the drums to get away from him and he fucking took the drums and broke the drums all up. We get done playing, he gets escorted off and we see him in the medic’s office backstage. He’s back there and there’s blood everywhere and people are just like “what the fuck do we do with him?” We drove him to a hospital. And we found this out last night because he came out to one of the Foo Fighters shows, he told me this and I haven’t seen him since. He went to the hospital and (laughs) refused any anaesthesia. So I guess the main doctor when in and tried to stitch him and he’s just like “ooo fuck yeah! Ooo give it to me!” That doctor walked out and the dude went three doctors before he was just like fuck it, I’m gonna do it myself. So he stitched himself up and the other night he pulls up his shirt to show his stomach and he’s got the gnarliest scars I have ever seen. Completely insane. And there’s an amazing video and amazing pictures of it but I don’t think they’ve surfaced yet because I think people are too scared (laughs). Like we got sent a really good video from side of stage but the dude was just like “ah, yeah, I’d rather you didn’t put this on the internet!”
Are you excited to be returning for Australian summer? What are you expecting from Big Day Out?
Oh man we are so psyched. We’ve wanted to play Big Day Out for a long time so this is kinda like a dream come true for us. The bands on the bill are awesome so we’re super stoked and, you know, our shows down there are by far the best shows that we play anywhere in the world. We’re super excited, it’s going to be like vacation.
What other bands are you most excited to see?
I’m stoked for Soundgarden. I grew up in Seattle and I fucking love that band (laughs).
And so why do you think the Australian response to The Bronx is so positive?
I don’t know man, I think maybe it seems like, definitely for The Bronx … we had our first sold out show there and it was the first place where our band actually started to do good. So Australia has been really close to our hearts ever since our first tour there.
Great to talk you you dude, see you in January!
Likewise man, sounds good.