After 19 years together, a band can go through a lot of changes. Over the past two decades, LA punks The Bronx went from indie stars to a major label only to go independent again. They’ve lost members, gained a couple more and even started a mariachi side project—Mariachi El Bronx—that has earned the respect of its own dedicated fanbase.
Now, on the cusp of their 20th year together, The Bronx are entering a new phase: maturity.
“I always thought the band was going to implode and break-up or I was going to get kicked out,” explains lead singer and lyricist Matt Caughthran. “It took so long for me to take it and my instrument seriously.”
On their latest album, VI—on which they are currently touring with fellow punks Rancid and the Dropkick Murphys—the band’s approach is evident. Produced by Joe Baressi (Tool, Queens of the Stone Age, Judas Priest) VI is decidedly more polished, with stadium-sized production, hard rock undertones and even a couple glam rock riffs.
But that doesn’t mean the band is going corporate anytime soon. Since the beginning, each Bronx album has been markedly different, yet with a consistent flavor. Simmering in punk, their music adds in hard rock spices, chunks of heavy metal, a blend of serious and humorous lyrics, and a smorgasbord of toppings from Latin to garage rock for a hearty sound that is all their own.
It’s a hard recipe to accomplish, even harder while trying to please both fans and critics, which the five-piece consistently manage to do.
“We just try to throw it all against the wall and see what sounds good,” says Caughthran. “We don’t really try to confine what we do, especially when writing for a record. That’s the fun part about it.”
Take “Mexican Summer,” a coming-of-age track with Latin rhythms that Caughthran describes as being about “the death of ego.”
“It’s about saying goodbye to a version of myself that I didn’t like,” he says. “I think I was romanticizing a lot of my bad character traits because I didn’t want to fix them. Shit is just draining when you can’t be honest with yourself or other people.”
While 2020 was the perfect year for anyone to become accountable for their flaws and mistakes, “Mexican Summer”—like the rest of VI—was written in 2019 and originally set to be released last year. As the pandemic raged and America faced itself in the mirror over racial justice issues and law enforcement reform, The Bronx held the material. Avid record collectors, they eventually decided to release a track a month, pressed as limited seven-inch singles, in a nod to the early days of punk.
Today, almost two years out since the beginning of the pandemic, Caughthran says the whole experience has given him a new perspective.
“Music matters,” he states. “I think art matters. It’s a place for people to go when they want to feel or express something when all these bigger problems are happening.”
Problems like the death of 26 year old Breonna Taylor, the Black Louisville woman who was killed by plainclothes police officers in her own apartment while she slept. Bassist Brad Magers, is a Louisville native. When news of Taylor’s death first circulated, the band raised over $20,000 for her family over the course of a weekend.
“Nobody loves a city more than Brad loves Louisville,” Caughthran explains. “So it really made sense for us with Breonna and everything that was happening.”
It’s an example of The Bronx’s belief that punk rock is still protest music: that it still has power to change minds, attitudes and society at large. All it takes is someone who cares enough to act.
“It’s about standing up and saying ‘fuck you’ to oppressors, or those who are anti-equality or racist,” he states. “Those ideas are important to uphold in the genre.”
As the big 2-0 approaches, Caughthran says the best is yet to come. However, they’re not giving away any spoilers.
“We’ve got some tricks up our sleeves,” he laughs. “But they’ve got to remain there. The 20th anniversary is going to be really special.”
The Bronx w/ Rancid, Dropkick Murphys
Thu, 6pm, $45
Frost Amphitheatre, Palo Alto