the AU interview: Joby J. Ford of Mariachi el Bronx (USA) chats recording, touring and Bluesfest

Mariachi el Bronx are just one of the many bands to hit our shores early in 2015 for Bluesfest in Byron Bay. Our reporter John Goodridge chats to guitarist Joby J. Ford about the recording process and life on the road.

Hey Joby, what are you guys up to at the moment?

We are home for a little bit then off to Britain, Poland, basically everywhere where it’s cold.

Eventually you’ll hit Australia where it will be hot.

Yeah, we’re not doing too bad here in Southern California. I think it’s 75 degrees here right now.

That’s nice. I believe you’ve been touring with Tijuana Panthers.

Yeah, they’re a really cool band. We like them and they write solid jams. But this last tour probably should have been called “California.” There was quite a bit of Californian music.

So can you tell me a bit about the recording process of your latest album Mariachi el Bronx III.

You know, kinda the same as always, you get a bunch of music together, send it to Matt. He spits a bunch of stuff on it and sends it to me and we kinda get a song together and send it out to the band and see where we land. We wrote a bunch of songs that didn’t make it but that’s kinda the way we work and always have. We don’t get together as a band until we have songs to work on. The days of sitting there in the rehearsal room looking at each other are long gone. As we get older people live in different states; no-one lives next door to each other like we used to do. It’s a lot of work from home and sending files back and forth to each other.

I guess that’s the advantage now of the Internet.

It’s just like anything else; it’s a means to an end. I don’t know if it’s a good means to an end but you know.

When you record does the studio environment have an effect on the music?

I think everything you do has an effect on what comes out of you, what you eat, the air you breathe, the environment. I don’t live in LA anymore; I live about 60 miles south east of it, in a very barren desert landscape, which is quite beautiful. I can hear it. It definitely had an influence on the things that were coming out of me. We tracked this album way out in Virginia in the middle of nowhere, a very secluded private weird spot where cellphones don’t work anymore and I think that weirdness crept into the album whether we liked it or not. It was a really fun experience.

Would you say being in the remote part of Virginia influenced the final outcome?

Well I can make music anywhere. I’m not the kind of guy who needs an environment to be creative, but I can totally understand how some people need it. I’m just a “put my head down and go” type of guy. There was a great story I think about Van Halen. David Lee Roth wasn’t really 'feeling' the studio so he had a load of sand bought into the studio so he could take his shoes off and feel like he was at the beach. I always thought that was the stupidest thing I ever heard. But at the same time it’s kinda the best thing I’ve ever heard.

I can sort of relate because I think everything is related to everything else and if you can recreate that it must help a bit.

Yeah I can get it but it probably didn’t do too much.

The song "Wildfire" is about some of Matt’s inner demons. How does it go being a songwriter and exposing yourself to the audience like that?

I think it depends on the person. It’s not something that I could ever do. I write songs all the time and I would be terrified if anyone ever listened to them. But I’ve watched Matt for many years and it’s impressive and I don’t know how he does it, but that’s him. He’s a very honest person. I think I know what most of the songs are about, but I never ask him. But we’re very close and I think I’m privy to a lot more things than most people are. I think in my head I connect the dots on a few things but if he wants to tell me he will, but if he doesn’t then fine too.

I’ve heard before that for a lot of artists their art is what connects them to the outside word and they’re not so good with words. I find it interesting that artists are artists because that’s the way they express themselves.

I completely agree. I feel like the people that last are the people that have to do it. Does that make sense? The people that make music or art or whatever and stick around, those are the people that I respect. They do it because they have to. It doesn’t really matter what anyone else thinks.

Well I saw you play a few years back at the Big Day Out and even then I had the feeling that you guys were doing it for love rather than the money.

I’ll give you a tip, there’s not really a theme for that. If you want to be popular then play rock and roll guitar. I remember starting this band and people telling me I was fucking insane. “Why would you ever do that?” “Because I love it.” It was the sound that moved me. I think our old bass player even quit because he thought it was insane. I said “no it’s awesome, we can do this.” But everyone thought that we were committing career suicide. But it’s not about that, it’s doing what you love.

I remember there was a real buzz about you guys and when I got to the hot sweaty tent you guys stood out as doing something unique and different.

I think everybody should. The greatest thing about music is that there are no rules, ever, and that was what was so great about punk. Rock and roll has kinda lost its luster because there are all there are all these rules. They say if you want to be successful you have to do this or that but that doesn’t work for me. The things that excited me about rock and roll was because it was wrong. You’re in the industry, you can see it a mile away.

Is there a mind shift on stage when you’re performing as the Bronx or when you’re performing as Mariachi el Bronx?

No, it’s the exact same thing for me. I stand in the same place for both bands, there’s no difference apart from sonically. But that’s just me. I’m sure everybody else thinks of it as two completely things, but they’re not to me at all.

What about Australia? You’ve been here a couple of times now. How do you find the audiences?

Smart. I think that being on a smaller scale, that people just don’t have time for the crap. I say that and I’m sure crappy bands do really well there, but I think real bands have a kind of a second home there because they appreciate the real deal and people that come for the right reasons. Like for instance, Britain is hilarious. You are so the flavor of the week in that country. It’s hilarious the things that are popular in that country. You can just see the shelf life on it. That’s just the way it is but it doesn’t really feel that way to me in Australia. It’s tough to be in a band anywhere but I think it’s so much harder to be in a band from Australia because it’s so small and there are only so many places you can play, so you gotta be good. You guys have quite a pedigree of bands that have come out of an extremely high caliber.

Is this your first time at Bluesfest?

Yeah - it seems to have a pretty eclectic lineup and a lot of big bands. Guys who’s records I don’t necessarily own but who I know so I’m obviously excited to play. Any chance we get to play is a good one.

How far ahead do you plan your next steps?

You’d laugh if I told you how far ahead things were planned. Everything’s pretty much handled eight months out. So it could be a busy year. There’s a lot of folks who aren’t busy and I think the biggest trick is longevity and somehow we’ve been able to be a band longer than I ever thought we would.

Do you think that is because of your unique style that you are doing it from the heart?

I never really thought about it. I’m really happy that we are still here and still able to do this. I’ve seen a lot of people come and go. A lot of bands come and go and I’m happy that we’re still making tunes and people are still coming to our shows. It blows my mind that that’s happening.

How does it feel that everyone has an opinion on your work or everyone’s a critic?

Years ago I stopped reading about myself. It doesn’t matter. I don’t think anyone in the band reads reviews or interviews anymore. Music journalism is a very interesting thing and by no means is this a diss, but the fundamental thing about journalism is to give an unbiased opinion and that’s the last thing you’ll ever get in music. It’s doing something subjective – if you cook or if you paint – whatever it is, for as many people that think you’re great, there are just as many that think you’re terrible. People have different tastes and not everybody likes the same stuff. You and I could look at a painting and I could tell you why it’s amazing and you could say that it’s terrible or horrible and why.

I think the thing is to create an emotion in the audience, even if they love it or hate they react to it.

Well it works in both ways. There are things that immediately stir emotion and things that are sleepers. You don’t really like it right off the bat but then you come around to it, which almost think is better. Things that aren’t noticeable at first but work their way into your system and have a profound effect on you. I think that’s where you want to be in communicating with people. There’s more than meets the eye, it’s not so head down.

Okay, thanks for the chat. I'm looking forward to catching you when you get to Australia.

For sure, come down and say hi and let’s grab a beer or two.

Mariachi El Bronx perform as part of Bluesfest next year, in addition to their own headline sideshows. Details can be found HERE