Since the Los Angeles-based band Chicano Batman started in 2008, the group has taken a long and interesting path to success—and after years of independent EPs and album releases, the group recently signed with ATO Records.
On the heels of new album Freedom Is Free, which dropped March 3, the group will be making its second appearance at Coachella on Saturday, April 15 and 22.
During a recent phone interview with guitarist Carlos Arévalo, he discussed the recording of Freedom Is Free.
“The album was recorded in January 2016 over the span of two weeks,” Arévalo said. “The album was recorded at the Diamond Mine studio in Long Island City, N.Y., with the producer, Leon Michels. Leon Michels is a former member of the Dap-Kings and played with Sharon Jones when he was 16 years old. He’s appeared on numerous recordings, and he was a member of the Black Keys. … We had been writing for (the album) since the summer of 2015.”
The recording process with Michels was different for the band, Arévalo said.
“There was a bit more of a direction involved,” he said. “Before, we would just record with songs we had, and we would record them the way we’d play them live. For better or worse, that’s what you hear. This time, we had a producer, and we would bounce a lot of ideas off of him. He acted as a fifth voice. Often times (before), it’d just be the four of us going democratically. So if there’s something not happening, and there are two saying, ‘Go this way,’ and two going another way, we kind of go nowhere. But it was nice having Leon say, ‘No, it should go this way.’ We respect his résumé and his musical abilities, so that made it really easy to move forward in finishing the arrangements in some of the songs. There are also backup singers; there’s flute and a lot of instrumentation on it, and we said we’d figure that out for a live setting later. We also tightened up our songwriting. We wrote more concise songs and said what we needed to say.”
The support of ATO Records is obviously beneficial, Arévalo said, but he added that he and his fellow band members are thankful to those who helped them in the past.
“Everything we’ve done up until we started working with ATO was pure self-release and completely independent,” he said. “We had the help of managers and booking agents … and all of those people before who helped us get to where we are now with a label. The label is very supportive and gives us our creative freedom, and they are going to put our music on a platform that we couldn’t put it on ourselves financially, or without those networks being in the music industry.”
Chicano Batman has played numerous times in the Coachella Valley, most recently last year in October at The Hood Bar and Pizza. There has never been a gig too big or too small for Chicano Batman over the years as the group built its fan base.
“We’re older guys. We’re not 21-year-olds who get in the van and tour the country for three months straight,” Arévalo said. “We have wives and families, and we were really mindful of how we’ve toured. We would do touring in two-week spurts. We’d hit up markets that we knew we’d do well in and places we knew there was a fan base. We’d play San Francisco in a 500-capacity room, but we’d go to Atlanta and play to a 250-capacity room, because we hadn’t put in the work yet out there. Also, we’ve been asked to play big festivals and open for big bands. Right now, the way things are looking, we’re going toward the bigger rooms. We’ve been selling out nice-size rooms along the West Coast.”
In this age of Donald Trump, Arévalo sees Chicano Batman’s multicultural fan base as a beautiful thing and hopes that it inspires people.
“The goal has always been to reach people through art and have a positive message,” he said. “That’s always been our reality and where we’re from. I think being in the music industry and coming up in it, you see that not all stages represent people who look like us. We try to change that and be the best we can be musically, and as people promoting diversity through our music. It’s beautiful that we can bring people of all cultures together. If you ever come to a Chicano Batman show, it’s a beautiful sight. There are people from all cultures and ethnicities being represented as we grow in popularity. That’s a special thing to cherish in these divisive times and people drawing lines in the sand.”
The band last year took part in an ad campaign for which it recorded a cover of Woody Guthrie’s “This Land Is Your Land.”
“During the summer of last year, Johnnie Walker approached us about being part of their ad campaign called ‘Keep Walking America,’” Arévalo said. “The idea was to promote and celebrate diversity, which has always been the M.O. of this group, obviously. They approached us, and we thought the message was a strong one, and they were the ones who suggested we record Woody Guthrie’s ‘This Land Is Your Land.’ This happened when Trump was running for president. We were really starting to see the ugliness of people identifying other people by race and trying to differentiate themselves from other people. We thought it was a good message, and the song is a protest song, so it speaks to those ideals about this country, and we felt like it’s a big statement for us to be part of something like that. People who look like us aren’t really represented in commercials and movies, and we thought it would be an important campaign to take part in.”
After its 2015 Coachella debut, Chicano Batman is hoping to make a bigger impact this year.
“We’re hoping we get a better time slot this time,” Arévalo said. “Last time, we played at 1 in the afternoon, and we were hung over. Aside from that, we’re really excited to bring this new production to fruition. We’re also touring with backup singers to sing on many of the new album tracks.”
Arévalo added that the band is forever thankful to the Coachella Valley for support.
“We have a lot of love for the Coachella Valley. We always make it a point to go out there and play whenever we can,” he said. “The Coachella Valley is one of those places that gave us chances when other places weren’t giving us chances. We’re not going to forget the places that gave us chances when we’re playing the Fillmore. People always come up to us and tell us how meaningful it is that we played there, and we’re always humbled by that.”