Los Angeles’ Chicano Batman has been creating an unusual noise for almost a decade. The band’s combination of soul, funk, rock and Tropicalia makes for fun live shows and is more potent than ever on their new album, Freedom Is Free. Singer/guitarist/organist Bardo Martinez took a moment from a recent soundcheck to talk to Vegas Seven about the new disc, musical influences and the politics of airports.
So, you played The Fillmore in San Francisco on March 3…?
It’s crazy. I’m walking up the stairs… I’m looking at original artwork for Jimi Hendrix, John Mayall, Albert King. That’s perfect. It’s a magical place and a beautiful auditorium. And [it was] a sold-out show, so I’m sure the rock gods [were] smiling upon us.
What was the first music you got into, that you realized was something special?
My dad playing the guitars around the house, that would be first and foremost. … The first record that I really remember loving was Warren G’s “Regulate.” I was in sixth grade and my neighbor used to play it—he was older and in high school. He was like the older brother, he would bump that shit in the car and it always sounded amazing. The first sound in music I fell in love with was the bass. I loved how it would make me feel—I just loved to feel the bass on my back, like when I was sitting in the car.
Freedom Is Free sort of highlights the R&B side of Chicano Batman’s music. Is it challenging working with a denser sound?
It’s a big sound, it’s about taking that live show to the next level. It’s extremely fun, it’s just another set of elements to add to the soup, definitely making it thicker and more tasty.
But simplicity is what allows a song to be itself. If you listen to the Beatles or any type of classic music, the arrangements are not extremely complex. The dynamics allow everything to breathe and dynamics are always everything, so the more you hone into that, the better your music will be.
Freedom Is Free has more of a political message than past albums. Was that intentional or did it kind of seep in?
It was intentional. I had some conversations with [guitarist] Carlos [Arévalo], he mentioned Lemonade, Beyoncé’s album, … I’ve always written political songs, especially when I was younger. I was 18 when I wrote “War Happens.” It was at that time, we were all hearing the propaganda of the Bush administration, i.e. “freedom isn’t free.”
I was on a plane on my way back from New York—being on a plane, you always have to go through an airport, and an airport is such an institutionalized, in a way very fascist, setting, the way that they search you and everything. You’re treated like a criminal every time, everybody is … So I came up with the concept of “freedom is free.” I remember just writing stuff, freedom is free, really kind of angsty and angry a la Rage Against the Machine. I wanted to write an aggressive rock song if you will, but those lyrics ended up working with an arrangement that Carlos put together and that ended up being the title track of our album.
We’re not a political band, we didn’t start off that way. We’re just a band and we’re playing songs—it kind of gives us that liberty to play with music like a palette, to evolve and to change. We have fans that ask, “How come you don’t use the bat symbol anymore?” or “Why are there less songs in Spanish?” stuff like that. But all artists have to be true to themselves and that’s what we’re doing with this album.