FOREWORD: Though I spoke to fleet-fingered guitarist Joby Ford in ‘06, the Bronx front man, singer-lyricist Matt Caughthran, seems to call the shots. The L.A.-based unit quickly became one of the best live bands on the circuit, releasing another respectable eponymous album in ’08 and, believe it or not, an ‘09 mariachi long-player, under similar moniker, El Bronx.
Growing up amongst the aging hippies and brawny jocks of Grand Junction, Colorado, athletic guitarist Joby Ford studied Classical piano before attending California’s Viola University on a baseball scholarship. Though Ford has no formal understanding of guitar theory, flashy metalheads like AC/DC’s Angus Young and Guns ‘N’ Roses’ Slash proved highly inspirational for the three-chord rev it up and go riffage he supplies for L.A. punk stalwarts The Bronx on their furious major label eponymous debut. His partners-in-crime, barking vocalist Matt Caughthran, sturdy bassist James Tweedy (ex-Sunday’s Best), and fervid drummer Jorma Vik (ex-Death On Wednesday) scurried around SoCal in nondescript bands before teaming up.
Having survived maddening adversity (the loss of friends, money, and automobile), this fearless foursome spill their guts on cantankerously combustible cacophonies such as the explosive Minor Threat/Fugazi-like opener “Heart Attack American,” the electrifyingly hastened eruption “Cobra Lucha,” and the ferocious doomsday frenzy “They Will Kill Us All (Without Mercy).” While the scolding “Notice Of Eviction” searches for self-identity and probably hits home firsthand, the bellicose “Kill My Friends” wouldn’t seem out of place on a scruffy ‘80s hardcore compilation.
AW: Much like your band name, The Bronx’s sound seems closer to gritty, dark-hued East Coast punk rather than the melodic, sunshine-y punk Los Angeles is often associated with.
JOBY FORD: We all live in East L.A. It’s a different world. While we were writing the music for this album, there were many frustrating experiences we were involved in. The only way to stay sane was to pour out these bitter emotions and remain happy.
You faced true hardship. People close to the band died, some overdosed, and unpaid traffic tickets from an uninsured car cost the band substantial money.
These things had a direct effect on our music. L.A. bands that came before us – Black Flag, Guns ‘N’ Roses… Hollywood is weird. People think it’s one thing, but you see some shit out there.
“Gun Without Bullets” touches upon some dire circumstances. “Cobra Lucha” also has an electrifying immediacy based on irritating problems.
When things started happening for this band, we sacrificed everything else we were doing. When you have nothing to begin with money goes away fast when you’re not working. “Guns” is about thought without action.
“Heart Attack America” complains about such inaction: ‘no revolution or resolution.’
I’d say that’s an observance. We don’t really take stands on politics. We have personal views, but we’re in a band because we like to play – not to bring heightened political awareness. But we lightly touch on sociological concerns.
Were you inspired by hardcore punk progenitors the Germs, GBH, and Fugazi?
I grew up on that stuff. GBH is still around. Their last album, Ha-Ha, came out on Go-Kart. They’re insane. We thought we partied, but you put anything in front of those guys and it’s gone. We went out and tried to show those old men how it’s done and they had us crawling back to our rooms. They rock! One of ‘em even has a granddaughter.
It’s great to hear GBH have maintained their visceral edge. But I hope your band doesn’t have to continually deal with aggravation in order to retain its wrangled assertiveness.
Rocket From The Crypt took us out on tour. Bands like that are in it for years and enjoy playing. They’re pure. They’re not in a band just to do drugs and get laid. They enjoy creating music. Music has been so convoluted by recent bands brainwashed by t.v. and the internet. They think, ‘These guys have nice cars so I wanna be in a band.’
As a fast wielding guitarist, did Van Halen, Sabbath, and other metallurgists besides AC/DC inspire you?
Oh yeah. I love metal and glam. Guns ‘N’ Roses was a big influence as a kid. The first music video I saw was “Welcome To The Jungle.” They got me turned on to heavier music like Suicidal Tendencies. Nowadays, we all listen to different shit. Our drummer turned us on to Jersey band Ours. But I’m not on the newest trends. We have music archeologists in this band who like to dig and find obscure shit. Island just re-issued old reggae. I respect Lee Perry and Toots & the Maytals. Lee Perry was such an influential person. Everyone ripped him off. That genre of music disappeared before I got into music.
Gilby Clarke, formerly of Guns ‘N’ Roses, produced two-thirds of your debut. I was surprised because his solo efforts have been more pop-rooted.
Before GNR, he was in a pop band, Candy. It’s fucking hilarious. Regardless of being a pop guy, he understands music. He leans to the Stones. You’re either a Stones, Beatles, or Elvis guy. Guitar lick dudes like the Stones. Gilby has a studio in his home suited for what we wanted to do. Records I enjoy have a unique flavor. There’s mistakes on our album. We could be more in tune, tighter, and have less missed notes. But most records these days sound the same with monster bass-guitar, which is cool if that’s what you want.
You lose none of the live energy on the debut.
Gilby set us up in the room and let us fucking play. It was all about capturing performances and we knew if the take was good. I’m probably more technical than the others, but Gilby had this gear and a 16-track ancient board that captured this true sound. To us, it was very simple. Some people make recording complicated. We just went for it.
The finale, “Strobe Life,” is an ambitious turnabout with the most involved arrangement.
The title suggests a strobe light. Like your life light just flickers in and out. That song looks inward. The lyrics kind of wrote that song. We broke it down and tried to stretch out. We were adamant about not being locked in as a punk band. It’s o.k. not to be locked into a 3-minute blast.
Tell me about the Bronx’s other recordings.
We had an EP, Bats, that wasn’t recorded live-in-the-studio. They were tracked because we couldn’t go back to Gilby. We didn’t have the money. We put out tons of stuff on different labels – all available on our website. We’ll come out with a 7” in early ’04.
What’s with your label, White Drugs Records?
We run it. We’re gonna put out a bunch of stuff. Matt and I started another band, the Drips, with David Hidalgo’s (Los Lobos) sons. They’re the rhythm section. We play stripped down new wave punk. It’s two whites, two Mexicans. We wear all white; the Hidalgo’s all brown. The Bronx gets your head banging up and down while the Drips get your head moving side to side. White Drugs will also put out nicely packaged split singles by bands we respect that may otherwise kick around L.A. forever unnoticed. The scene’s amazing and the bands are incredible. But they may disappear into obscurity. I like 400 Blows, Icarus Line, The Fuse. The Rolling Blackouts are crazy eclectic. They all sound like nobody else and have originality.