Last year Chicano Batman had a brief encounter with the city of Austin. They enjoyed the city’s culture, vibe and of course the tacos! Now they are on a quest to bring their groovy-funky-psychedelic sounds to next year’s South By Southwest Festival (SXSW). I talked with Chicano Batman’s—bassist and songwriter—Eduardo Arenas to get the scoop on what influences their music, what’s in store for them and their upcoming tour in Japan.
Chicano Batman came together when members of the band met each other and bonded through their love of 1960s and 1970s music from the tropicalismo movement—much of where their sound comes from. The band’s name credit goes to Bardo Martinez—vocalist and guitarist—who also happens to be the artist of the bunch.
“He was drawing a Batman and then he added a little Latino mustache on him, you know, not a full mustache but the Latino whiskers we all get,” says Arenas. “He put a little cape on him with a muscle shirt and cutoff Dickies to make him look like a ’90s gangster. He was like ‘Hey check it out Chicano Batman’.”
Then came the band’s iconic logo, which is a combination of the Batman logo and the United Farm Workers logo.
“Some people think it’s cute, powerful or inspiring. Others think it’s an Aztec Batman because the blocks look like an Aztec pyramid,” says Arenas. “Whatever it is, we love all interpretations.”
Chicano Batman’s music is inspired by the older cumbias from the ’60s and ’70s. They try to emulate the nostalgic sound of vinyl with warm and fat tones. Through their music they try to recreate the aesthetic that inspires them.
“The way we fall in love with the music is through the way it sounds. Not a lot of people pay attention to the aesthetic of the sound nowadays,” says Arenas. “When we write our songs and when we play live we want a fat bass and a lot of reverb. Just like it was standard back in the day. We use instruments and techniques that we’ve inherited from that era to get the real sound.”
That being said Chicano Batman’s sound has evolved from the way it was when they first started out. According to Arenas, their first album was more free and open and “jammy”, whereas now they are more meticulous with their arrangements.
“Just like with every band and every relationship, we’re growing and we’re evolving,” says Arenas. “We’ll pick up gear along the way and we’ll use it on a song or two and experiment with it. We might even decide to not use it. It’s natural for us to go in the direction of ’70s sound because that is where our heart is but we try our best to sound modern and find what pleases the ear.”
The band recently applied to perform at SXSW so keep your fingers crossed. They are ready to share their music with a new audience that is ready for some culture and Austin might just be the place for them.
“We are excited about the possibility of getting to play in Austin because it is a crucial stepping stone for us,” says Arenas. “Some friends went out there last year and saw a lot of electronic music. It’s good to know that we’re not competing with any of that since we are bringing the original thing. I know there are people just waiting to hear and experience something different, something real.”
Interestingly enough the band has a following in Japan, which ultimately led to a tour there next month. It all began when Shin Miyata—founder
of Barrio Gold Records—saw them perform in Los Angeles. He enjoyed their music so much he offered to sell their albums at his store in Japan.
Believe it or not Japan has a niche Chicano scene complete with the soul, vibe and aesthetics of the culture. It could possibly be that Miyata’s passion for the Chicano culture and his mission to share it with everyone launched this scene in Japan. Thanks to Miyata, Chicano Batman was invited to tour in Japan on Nov. 6 through 13.
“It’ll be very fun for us to be a part of that experience because we’re hoping Chicano Batman can be the soundtrack to the scene over there,” says Arenas. “It’ll be like a warped reality on the other side of the world but as a band you can only hope to connect like that with fans in other places through your music.”
Before leaving to tour Japan, Chicano Batman took some time off from performing to work on a new full-length album. It’s been about five years since their debut album and Arenas says the albums in between have been more of appetizers to keep their fans from starving. The new long-play album—in the mixing stages right now—is expected to have 14 tracks inspired by soul, cumbia, funk, rancheras, salsa and Brazilian music.
The album will include music that was written as far as six years ago. It has taken a lot of time, work and sacrifice to cultivate the sound but musically they’ve only begun to scratch the surface. Arenas says the new music is very meaningful, honest and passionate.
“We’re paying homage to the same musical era that we grew up listening to—including the ruffled tuxedo shirts and bow ties,” says Arenas. “If we’re together 20 years from now, we’re going to be making absolutely beautiful music if we continue to commit to keeping old musical traditions alive.”
When asked what his favorite part about creating music was, Arenas simply answered:
“The beautiful thing about writing and creating music is the way in which the lyrics, the melody and the rhythm that you put together speaks to people. Music moves people in an emotional and psychological way that sometimes words alone can’t.”
Chicano Batman’s most recent extended-play album Magma is out now. Their second full-length album will release internationally this fall and domestically next spring—hopefully around the same time they perform at SXSW. In the meantime take a little time to listen to their EP, Magma.