Mariachi El Bronx first started as a diversion for members of the long-running punk band the Bronx. They put on charro outfits, replaced their electric guitars with trumpet, violin and other traditional instruments, and introduced their own take on Mexican folk music (with soulful vocals in English by Matt Caughthran, a singer previously known for his howl).
Now, about seven years later, Mariachi El Bronx is hitting maturity. Recording a third album forced members to figure out where they wanted to take a group that has opened for Foo Fighters and whose profile sometimes seems bigger than that of the Bronx.
“It took awhile to find what type of record we wanted to write,” Caughthran says. “There had to be a new direction, some sort of new experience or feeling that guided the record.”
For the first time, the band injected some electronic sounds into its familiar acoustic instrumentals. And in the lyrics, Caughthran found himself confronting “ a lot of dark stuff.”
“There were things that I thought I had already written out of my system. My dad passing away. Some slip-ups that really dragged me down. But I think that with this record I finally got those monkeys off my back,” the singer says.
One of those musical exorcisms resulted in “Wildfires,” a new track premiering exclusively on Speakeasy. The song seems to tell the story of a man trapped in a fast-moving blaze, but Caughthran says the lyrics are a metaphor for a period of his own shameful behavior.
“There was a time a couple years ago when ego had gotten the best of me, and I made a lot of mistakes. That song is about being driven by something that’s stronger and darker than yourself.”
He wrote the song last summer, when the seasonal winds in the band’s hometown of Los Angeles were stoking fires yet again. The song ends on a hopeful note, with Caughthran singing, “How did I survive, burnt but still alive?”
He says, “The thing that I love about the soul of mariachi music, and El Bronx, is its feeling of triumph.”
The band’s new album, “Mariachi El Bronx (III),” is scheduled for release Nov. 3. A series of concert dates on the West Coast this fall will be followed by a European tour with Gogol Bordello.
Listen to Wildfires at the Wall Street Journal's Speakeasy blog or use the player below.