“To me, it’s just about doing your art and doing what makes you happy.”
Ever since their 2002 formation, The Bronx have become rock’s ultimate misfits, whose scattergun hardcore arrangements and catchy melody writing has awarded them the title of “the best punk band in the world”. Whenever hardcore punk is accused of having a problem with stagnation, The Bronx’s collection of self-titled albums is a firm reminder that there’s plenty of life and creative energy on offer in the genre, and new album ‘The Bronx V’ continues to invigorate that fire.
A week before the album’s release, Already Heard catches up with guitarist Joby J. Ford from his home in Agoura Hills, California to find out more about the creative process that went into ‘V’, and where The Bronx stand in today’s ever-changing musical landscape. “Releasing a record’s always an exciting time, and a busy time, and I always look forward to it,” Joby says, considering ‘The Bronx V’’s impending release. “It’s fun being able to share your art with the world, and things that we’ve worked really hard on, so it’s really good.”
For ‘V’, the band worked with revered alt-rock producer Rob Schnapf, whose credits range from indie pioneer Beck to skate punks Fidlar, and Joby is keen to point out a collaboration between Schnapf and The Bronx was a long time in the making. Joby explains by saying, “he was on the deck for our third record, and we talked with him about working on our first Mariachi [El Bronx] record, and right about that time when we were about to start working together, we got bought from our record label, so that didn’t work out, and we worked with other people.
"Rob mixed our last Mariachi record, so I’ve known him for years just around town, and the stars finally aligned where we got to make a record together.”
Working with someone as experienced behind the mixing desk as Schnapf allowed everyone in the band to get more creative with the way the recorded the album, and Joby points out Rob’s influence was a big part of that. “He definitely brought a lot sonically to the table, you know, we had a bunch of really good ideas,” Joby says. “Like any great record producer, he knows when to do what and when. So in our case, there were some issues that needed to be addressed, and we fixed them, and everyone’s really impressed with the way things turned out.
"I got to try a load of different guitar sounds and effects so that probably adds up to one big reason why this album sounds a lot different to our other ones.”
The result of this experimentation is an album with a razor-wire production, which enhances both the urgency and the simplicity of different songs in equal measure across the album. “It was just that, we wanted to make a raw record,” Joby says. “We’ve been listening to a lot of those records as a band, you know, just older albums, and I think that just worked its way into our mental psyche, so when a decision had to be made about the production, it’s what we all wanted.
"I wanted to try and simplify things on a lot of songs,” he continues, expanding on the refined approach to songwriting that brings out the infectious rhythms in tracks like ‘Side Effects’ and ‘Channel Islands’. “I’ve definitely made plenty of records where I’ve been jacking off all over the guitar, and sometimes, you know, less is more, and we definitely toned it down on this one.”
One of the biggest choruses on ‘V’ comes on the irresistible ‘Cordless Kids’ which contains the lyric “a change is coming without a warning”, which sums up the socially conscious lyrical approach to the album quite neatly. “I would probably sum up a lot of the lyrics as ‘current times’”, Joby states. “The state of the world has definitely worked its way into the songs, as it probably has with most musical acts, but that’s just reality.
"You know how a lot of songs from the ‘60s and ‘70s have anti-war or anti-Vietnam messages in them? I think we’re entering another stage of music, where a lot of songs will be easily recognisable from the time period it was made in, and I think we’re entering another one of those eras,” he explains.
“That song [Cordless Kids] is kind of about the way we receive information now, and that feeling of every time you look at the computer or check your phone, there’s a feeling of the rug being pulled from underneath you, like ‘what’s it gonna be today? Oh ‘sweep!’”, Joby laughs, imitating the sound of a rug being snatched away. “It is what it is, but that’s what that song deals with.”
The chaotic and often aggressive state of society feels appropriate for The Bronx’s cutthroat punk assault on ‘V’, and Joby concurs that now is the time to focus on making riff-driven music with The Bronx rather than focus on the band’s equally enthralling mariachi side-project, Mariachi El Bronx. “It’s kind of your instinct about what you feel like making, and generally we’re all on the same page about what we wanna make, like what’s the next move,” he says, discussing the band’s collective choice to make a rock record this time around.
“We hit it pretty hard there for a long time with the mariachi band, and we’re not gonna do that as much. You know, here and there we’ll do some shows,” Joby suggests. “I didn’t really realise it being in the middle of it, but it’s a lot, being in two bands that are going at the same time. And I don’t ever want the art to suffer because there’s not enough time, and there’s too much going on.”
While running The Bronx, Mariachi El Bronx and instrumental surf-rock group Pounded By the Surf can feel like too much, they also provide Joby with an outlet of sources to focus different styles of songwriting on. “There’s a lot of short attention spans in our groups,” Joby laughs. “It’s never done on purpose or anything, it was all coincidental that all of this happened.
"At the end of the day, it’s just getting really excited about music, playing and working on a style that you really really dig, and it means a lot to you,” Joby says. “Whatever happens, happens, but we love playing music. So we do, a lot.”
“I think the bar is raised, and you have to be better these days.”
Reflecting on the current landscape of rock bands, Joby admires the number of new bands that have reflected The Bronx’s ethos of playing the music they want to play and working on the styles they dig in favour of any genre restrictions. “There’s a band out of Seattle, Washington called Sashay, and I think they’re totally doing their own thing; there’s a band called Culture Abuse from San Francisco who are really great,” Joby says. “We’re also about to go tour the US with Plague Vendor and ‘68 as well, who are really awesome and I’m stoked to have them on board with us.”
As every sub genre’s time in the spotlight will rise and fall like the Roman Empire, does the future belong to bands like the ones Joby list, who refuse to let any scene or label define their sound? “Time will tell,” Joby responds. “To me, it’s just about doing your art and doing what makes you happy, and if other people dig it, cool, if they don’t, cool. I think a lot of bands should think that way.
"One of the things I’m most proud of with The Bronx is that we’ve been around for fifteen years, and with the state of music and the fact that no one buys records anymore, that kind of thins the herd on bands that can do it and bands that can’t. I think the bar is raised, and you have to be better these days.
"It’s just because everything’s so temporary or instantly put on the internet,” Joby continues. “I think that the quality of bands that are still doing it, it’s because they’re good, and if you’re not, then it’s just really difficult to be a band in this day and age, whereas back in 2000, if you sucked then it wasn’t really that big of a deal because there were still people that bought records and there was a community and it was just different, you know?”
With over fifteen years of the most adrenaline packed, chaotic and fun music of the modern era of rock behind them, The Bronx have left their impact and will continue to do so without the help of anyone else’s definitions and classifications of their sound but their own. And in a world where the way we consume music is ever-changing, you can’t afford to sound like anyone but yourself. “Whatever way people are gonna listen to music today is gonna be different tomorrow, like someone’s gonna get a chip put in their head that plays mp3s or something, but none of that stuff really matters to me,” Joby Ford concludes. “All that matters at the end of the day is making music that’s exciting to us.”
‘V’ by The Bronx is out now on Cooking Vinyl Records/ATO Records.
Words by Andy Davidson (@AndyrfDavidson)