When new, exceptionally talented bands without a previously categorized sound come out, writers all over from Pitchfork to regional publications tend to throw any label at them that will stick, from “coldwave” to “afro-indie.” The taxonomy behind music is something journalists and writers spend countless hours hammering away at, but when a band like southern California's Chicano Batman arises, Rialto-raised guitarist Carlos Arevalo has inadvertently discovered the best way to describe his group's relentlessly eclectic sound: a Venn diagram.
“If there was a Venn diagram with Latin and psychedelic soul, that middle ground is where we'd exist,” he says.
Using a Venn diagram as a tool to describe his band Chicano Batman's distinctive hybrid of worldly rhythms is the best, and probably only, way to really give a label to what they do. Since their self-titled debut album was released four years ago, the quartet (initially a trio) have been producing a type of Latin-flavored funk that's as rare as it is accessible.
“We play shows and there's all types of people there. There's people that come for the psychedelic element, there's people that come for the Latin element. I think for the most part our music appeals to people that are really open-minded towards music,” Arevalo says. “There's people that come that don't even know Spanish that enjoy the music for the melodic content and the arrangements. I think the passion and energy translates well; they know we're coming from a genuine place.”
A show at La Cita in LA even prompted concert-goer and accomplished drummer Raul Morales (of legendary rocker Mike Watt's bands The Secondmen and The Missingmen) to pull aside Arevalo and proclaim to him how “punk” they really were. “He came up to me and was like 'You guys are a punk band, that energy is punk rock!'” recalls Arevalo.
It's that punk-esque “passion and energy” combined with the musicality and melodies that attracted Arevalo early on, and when he began playing with the group in 2011 after an invitation from friend and soon-to-be bandmate Bardo Martinez he took the gig so seriously Chicano Batman became his main musical focus. In order to perform alongside his new band for their outing at LA's 2011 Bloomfest show he had to learn virtually the entire debut album within a month's time, and not only did he accomplish that, but he also quickly became immersed in the recording process for their follow-up EP Joven Navegante
Arevalo, a self-taught musician, grew up adoring various shades of the genre spectrum. From an early age he began a listening journey that involved the likes of Television, Radiohead, Miles Davis, and Frank Zappa. In fifth grade he had been introduced to Weezer by a friend and was amazed, and by 14 years-old he was immersed in hip-hop culture, and rap's influence sparked a desire in Arevalo to take up turntables initially.
“I remember saving up money to buy a DJ set, and I went to Guitar Center and I only had $200 and everything was like $500 if you wanted a turntable set. So, I saw they had a guitar package for around 200 and was like 'Well, I always wanted to play guitar too so why don't I just get this.' I got my guitar and was really into it and just practiced a lot.”
Through being raised in Rialto isn't exactly considered the ideal upbringing for an artist, Arevalo associated himself closely with a group of friends that fostered his musicianship.
“I have a circle of friends that are really good musicians and and we'd just learn from each other and write music and share ideas. It was real different from everything else going on in Rialto,” he says.
Arevalo continued to play the guitar constantly over the course of his life and play in several different bands, all the while managing to attend UC Riverside and Cal Poly Pomona. Even though he earned a Master's from the latter, music was always at the core of who he was and now Chicano Batman offers Arevalo a way to express himself as he always intended: through sound.
With Chicano Batman's current record, Cycles of Existential Rhyme and with a new one in the works, Arevalo finds himself and the rest of the group more accomplished and fulfilled than ever before. That “latin-psych-soul” sound that is wholly their own has matured and become more refined.
“Playing live for me is the best. It's a new challenge to play these new songs, and we love it. As composers and songwriters we tried to push ourselves more. We're always trying to push ourselves, but it feels like every album has harder songs because we're progressing as writers and musicians. It's challenging, but it's fun — it's a challenge we love.”
Chicano Batman perform with Tijuana Panthers at the Glass House tonight. For full details and tickets, click here.