Interview with The Bronx vocalist Matt Caughthran | By Gen Handley | Photo by Alan Snodgrass
Matt Caughthran has a day off. Well, a day off from touring, that is.
Caughthran is the lead vocalist and mastermind behind Los Angeles hardcore band The Bronx, as well as their more romantic younger brother, Mariachi El Bronx. His upcoming day is busy with a band rehearsal and video shoot for “Two Birds,” The Bronx’s second single off Bronx V—or just V—their anticipated new album, which drops on Sept. 22 through ATO Records. “Yeah, we’re always at it,” he laughs with a slight rasp, “but it’s good to be home and get off the road. I love traveling and touring, obviously, but there is no place like home.”
“It’s nice to hang out by the beach, listen to some records, smoke some pot, and drink some beers with my friends,” he continues with a slight Southern California drawl. “And I’m always writing and creating. I’m working on some paintings right now. But yeah, been thinking a lot about this new record.
So, you’re pretty happy with the new record?
The new record is pretty nasty all the way through. It’s got a lot of heat—some different, weird time-traveling songs like “Two Birds” and some other ones, some different sounds.
We wanted to make a record that just sounded nasty, just really dirty and different from anything we’ve done before. It’s something that producer Rob Schnapf was perfect for, and we’re stoked on how it came out. It just sounds amazing.
What fueled these songs? Love? Anger? Politics?
Yeah, there’s some anger, some good old fashioned anger for sure. It’s basically an album about being backed into a corner and having to fight for something you believe in. The songs are also about depression, love, politics, and religion. It’s about figuring out your own insanity. You get to a point in your life when you don’t take shit anymore.
With the band, over the past few years, we’ve been through a lot of stuff. This band is really important to us, and we fought our asses off to keep the band alive and to make this record possible. So, this record means a lot to us.
What kind of things did you go through?
Just a lot of personal stuff. A founding member of the band left, which was a big deal; switching drummers was tough. We had some business stuff that happened, some industry stuff, which was not cool. The music industry is tough. It was a tough time personally, professionally, and with the industry. We just basically overhauled everything, and it took a lot out of us. There were a lot of people trying to stamp us out, and there’s just no way that’s going to happen.
So, this album almost never happened then…?
Oh, yeah. It was a tough one, man. I’m grateful it did, though.
It’s really rad that you’ve created these two totally different bands who have their own niches: The Bronx and Mariachi El Bronx. What’s the creative relationship between the two?
There’s definitely a relationship. Every time you write songs for Bronx or El Bronx, I feel like you just get better at what you do. Directly, they don’t feed each other, but indirectly, they definitely do.
Which is the side project? The Bronx or Mariachi El Bronx?
I think—man, you can’t make choose between the kids, man. [Laughs]
Is playing in The Bronx more cathartic because you get to scream more?
One hundred percent, it is a little more cathartic in that way. It’s such a release, and it just feels so fucking good. Each band definitely has its own little fucking nuances of what makes it special. For both bands, we just always try to approach it from a place of honesty, and everything falls into place. But there are certain El Bronx songs that have the same release, like “Heart Attack American” does, you know? It’s just a different animal.
It must be pretty gratifying to have those two outlets.
It is. Yeah, it feels great. I put a lot in, but I get a lot out.
You’ve been together for 15 years now. Did you ever think it would go this far?
No, not at all. I think I knew we would when we got to a point, like, around Bronx III. That album was the hardest financially, because we were in the gutter, basically. We didn’t know how we were going to keep things alive, but we were able to do it. You know, it gets trickier the longer you’re a band, because you have to deal with everyone’s own personal goals and lives. And on top of that, you have to be at one creatively and build something together and maintain something together. We got lucky. We have special relationships with each other, and it’s a rare group of dudes. The relationship, I think, is everything when it comes to any longevity as a band. You can be band for 30 years, you can be a band that everyone hates, but if you’re cool with each other, you can keep it going.
One of the mellower songs on the new album is “Side Effects.” What’s it about?
It’s about the last 15 years and the effects it’s had on me—the mistakes I’ve made.
That song is about going numb and not being able to shake the cobwebs off. I went through a phase when I felt like my whole life was just a big side effect. Sometimes, when you tour or are living the band life, the rock ‘n’ roll existence, you exist in this bubble. There are side effects to that. Relationships are strained, they break off, you’re isolated a lot. Sometimes, it just feels like you’re in a coma. The song is about the side effects of the life I’ve chosen and the places it’s put me in that aren’t romantic, that aren’t poetic or beautiful—it’s the other side of it.
What band or bands got you into punk rock? How old were you?
I was about 15, and for me, it was Subhumans, 7Seconds, and Black Flag—those were the three bands I heard first. 7Seconds’  The Crew record was what really got me into punk rock, and then from there, I just went nuts. One of the other bands that was really, really important to me growing was Bad Religion. I was a big Epitaph [Records] kid, and Bad Religion made me think differently about punk music. [Vocalist Greg] Graffin and [guitarist and Epitaph founder Brett] Gurewitz, lyrically, were just on another level than everybody else.
You toured with them recently, right?
Yeah, we’ve toured with them a couple of times. They’re great dudes.
Is that a little surreal?
Just a little bit. [Laughs] It’s awesome, man. It’s cool that beyond touring, we’ve been able to have good relationships with those guys. Anytime you respect a band and the respect comes back, it’s a cool feeling.
You’ve said that you grew up in the Church…?
Yeah, grew up a Christian kid in a Baptist church.
How did that help make you the musician you are today?
In a lot of ways. First and foremost, as a kid, it made me think about the world. I know it’s the same in some ways, but times have changed a bit. When I was kid, it was very judgmental, and you don’t expect that as a kid. Like, they teach you to be loving and you’re going to Heaven, but the reality was there was a lot of finger-pointing or “your religion sucks, mine is right” kind of stuff. I learned early on that it wasn’t something I was really into and was able to identify that. It helped me really trust my brain when it comes to big ideas, being able to think on my own instead of being someone who just blindly went along and never questioned anything. Religion was the first major thing in my life that I questioned, and it played a major role in how I developed and how I think now.
On the plus side, it also made me a very compassionate person—it wasn’t all bad. There’s good in every religion as far as the fundamentals of taking care of each other. So, in some ways, it was good, but the majority of the time, I wasn’t into how double-sided it was. It instituted in me a way of thought that there’s something beyond life. I do believe that there’s a heightened sense awareness in the universe that you feel your lost loved ones in—and I think that’s undeniable. I think that it’s an individual quest. It’s up to you and how you’re connected to whatever that’s beyond, and I don’t think there’s any right or wrong way to get to a higher place; I don’t think you need to go to church every Sunday.
How does that spirituality affect your music?
In a lot of ways—especially in El Bronx. With El Bronx, you get the beautiful side of my spirituality, and with Bronx, you get my negative side on organized religion.
Speaking of spirituality, you are one of the most positive people in the industry. With the deaths of Linkin Park’s Chester Bennington and Soundgarden and Audioslave’s Chris Cornell, there has been a lot of talk in the music community about mental health. How do you keep that good energy flowing?
It’s just how I was raised. It’s also how I understand that it’s an active decision to be thankful for things I have rather than being pissed off about the things I don’t have. I’ve got my demons just like everybody else, but for me, life is a beautiful thing. I try my best to not take it for granted and to live it the best way I can. I mean, obviously, some days are way fucking harder than others, but at the end of the day, I’m still thankful for everything I’ve got. So, that’s where it stems from.
Being miserable is no fun, and it’s hard. Depression is the real deal, and it’s a motherfucker. It can slam you down out of nowhere, and it can smack you off of the highest building on your best day. It’s a real thing, and I’m glad people are talking about it, because I think that’s the key. You have to be able to talk about stuff and need real conversations about the ups and downs of life and how the mind can play tricks on you.
The older you get in life, the stranger it gets. Sometimes, it’s short, and sometimes, it’s way too long. You don’t really know where to go sometimes. I get it. I hope those guys found peace and are in a better place now. It’s definitely tragic. I just hope artists and people can feel more open, more free to talk about it. That’s my wish.