The Bronx

The Bronx

Sunday, 27 August 2006

The Bronx are the kind of band that can come off as pretty damn scary if you don’t know them. Singer Matt Caughthran’s vocals are gut-wrenching, spine-curdling wails that will shake the soul out of you. Their music is louder than loud, they can drink you under the table anytime anywhere, have totaled not one, but two tour vans (if my memory serves correct) and in general, just aren’t fucking around. But fortunately for me, I’ve known Bronx founding member Joby Ford for way too long so I’m not quite as scared shitless to interview him as I would be if I didn’t. Seriously, I would be scared.


Joby took time out while the band was on tour to chat about their self-titled album and shoot the shit. I start out asking how the weather is in glamorous Bakersfield where the band is set to play that night.

Dude, it’s so fucking hot. It’s 103 degrees out here.

What’s the club like?

Hell. I mean, it’s a pretty cool club but it’s downstairs and there’s…a pizza place upstairs? It’s weird, it’s probably like a meth ring.

Y’know, I read an article where you said that the place the band recorded the album was a meth lab and I laughed because I bet a lot of the journalists you talk to probably think you’re dead serious.

You’d be amazed at what people believe.

I bet. Anyhow, what was the deal with how long it took to get the album out? I swear I heard you talk about it forever.

Right? Well, we toured for two and a half years and then sat down to write the record. Then we had to wait to get a release date and producers, studios, whatever. It’s taken fucking forever but I was actually done recording that almost a year ago. Well, it would be a year in August. Can you believe that?

Did you guys stick with the different producers per song idea?

That was a stupid idea, I kinda tried to do it but the scheduling was absolutely impossible…maybe for another time. It would take a year to make a record like that.

[Ed. note: One of the original plans bandied about by the band was to have different producers for each song, including his very good friend and Louis XIV frontman, Jason Hill. Joby tells me Jason will be doing some production and/or remixing for the guys in the very near future.]

Yeah, well maybe you can do that producer thing when there’s more disposable income. So now, with the album out, what’s your touring schedule going to be like or should I say, ‘How many vans are you going to total this time?’

Ugh…hopefully none, but we’re pretty full up to December with American tours and then we’re going overseas. I think we’re going to do Japan, Australia, all of Europe and the U.K. so it’s pretty full.

Do you have new songs started already?

Ooh yeah. I’m already working on the next record and this one isn’t even out. It’s not like we didn’t have anything to do. Matt and I are in another band called The Drips and we’ve done two U.K. tours already while waiting for this record to come out.

And you got married…

And I got married and got thrown into the producing world. It’s been an insane year musically…and artwork. Artwork has been going nuts.

[Here’s a good time to insert that Joby Ford is a pretty smart dude. Not only does he know his shit when it comes to music, he also happens to be a graphic designer who has designed the artwork for a lot of bands you’ve probably heard of…I think he told me something once about a Grammy nomination for packaging but I’m not sure. He doesn’t talk about this much, but the cheesy stage mom in me had to divulge.]

I think I’ve actually gotten to the point where I can’t do artwork anymore. I got really, really good jobs for big bands and big labels but the process was kind of embarrassing because there’s so many laws and rules with companies. KMart and Wal-Mart kind of dictate what the artwork can be because it’s like, ‘We can’t take this if it shows X amount of skin.’ Shit like that…but I designed a grand finale. I designed a whole entire stage set in 3-D so you can put on 3-D glasses and watch our show.

That is totally awesome, holy hell. See, this leads me to the question about music as entertainment. So many bands think you’re not hardcore or something if you try to be actually entertaining. What’s your take?

I think that there’s this sort of self-imposed rock ‘n’ roll or punk guilt that people put on themselves. America was the birthplace of independent music and independent labels so there’s this whole underground mindset and underground “rules” that bands take on themselves. I didn’t really realize that until I had been all over the world. It’s insane, it seems that every band that starts out is like, ‘We’re gonna be different! We’re only going to play on the floor. We’re gonna let our music speak for itself and not be entertaining!’ Y’know? It’s really strange. It seeps into everything. There’s this checklist in America like, you have to be on a certain label to be cool. You’re not cool if you’re on Jive Records. Things like that. Whereas in the U.K., nobody gives a fuck what label you’re on or what band you used to be in or how much street cred you have. It’s a really weird thing that only exists here.

Yeah, I was talking about that with Wayne Coyne (of the Flaming Lips) who has no problem whatsoever with being entertaining…

The thing is, as you get older, you start to think, ‘Well, what would I want to go see? Do I want to go to see a bunch of crabby assholes that hate the world? No. I want to go see a show in 3-D!’

Maybe that’s why pop music does so well. Their crazy over-the-top shows are fun to watch…even if the talent is questionable. For bands who are starting out, what’s your suggestion as far as not caving into crap notions of “indie cred” and what have you?

I think the number one rule is to figure out and know what you want to do because anytime you’re involved in music or art, it’s totally subjective. In music, what kind of music do you want to play? If it comes from a true place, then it’s right. You have to figure out what you want to do with your band too. Do you want to have someone else write your songs? Do you want to? It’s just understanding the direction that you want to go. If you have a direction, it’s really easy, not easy but at least you know the steps you have to take to get where you want to be. A lot of people, I think, just want to be famous…which is fine. They’ll sign their life away because their face is going to be on a record and someone’s going to write songs for them and tell them how good they are…and that doesn’t interest me. But that’s my advice, figure out what you want to do and do it. Because it’s possible, you can do whatever you want to do.

See, in that sense, I think you’re pretty punk rock…but I have to say, I find it strange that so many articles say your band is punk.

Yeah…we never said we were a punk band, that’s really amazing. I mean, I’m not punk. Never have been.

Well, you’re a pretty business-savvy dude between art and music, so maybe you’re punk that way…

Well, this is what music is to me. It’s a fusion of art and sound and I decided that this is what I wanted to do. And that’s what I’ve made the Bronx. I designed completely insane packaging which costs way too much but that’s what’s important to me. I respect bands like that, who have all their bases covered. It’s just about doing things differently and I’m not afraid to do things differently. I see so many bands that are like, ‘We want to be just like Guns N’ Roses, so we’re gonna dress like them and get tattoos…’ Dude, how boring is that?! I’m influenced by a lot of things but I’ve never ever set out to be like somebody else. I have respect for music and I would never ever try to be like someone else because whatever you do yourself is right. It’s way more exciting to me to be myself than ‘I think I’m gonna put on some leather pants and bandanas.’

So, when it comes to songwriting then, what’s your process?

Generally, I’ll write a song on guitar and bring it to the band. Other times I’ll bring it to Matt. We’ve started writing a lot together just he and I. It works well. Every song has a gestation period and needs to grow together with all the instruments.

And had you been listening to anything when recording the album?

I never ever listen to music when I write because my brain is in a place where it’s looking for noises and sounds and I want it to come from a place inside me not, ‘Well, I’m digging this Pantera song.’ I try to let the music dictate itself. It’s really nice too because when I get out of the studio, I can buy a bunch of records I want to hear.

Y’know, the whole industry is changing a lot lately. I know you’re pretty up on the business side of things. What do you think?

I think the writing is on the wall. I think it’s a matter of time before CDs and vinyls are obsolete because of technology. Society moves on. I buy records off iTunes, I mean, it’s cheaper so who wouldn’t? And the quality is getting way better than when it started. I think record labels and record deals are going to survive is with these all-inclusive deals where they have a vested interest in bands because they’ll take a percentage of merch. So they’ll keep bands out on the road because if the record doesn’t sell they’re still raking in money from t-shirts and giving the band back profits. That way they care about your entire career and not just how many pieces of plastic people are picking up at Wal-Mart. I think that’s the wave of the future. Generally, everybody has a computer these days, so I think that’s the way it’s going to go. Gnarls Barkley had a number one single in Britain that wasn’t even a pressed vinyl, it was download only. It was the first time in history that had ever happened. You can say what you want about [the direction of the industry] but not everyone remembers the days of tape trading now. To me, it’s exciting. Remember when CDs came out? It was so exciting and now newer formats are coming out. I love music and any way I can get it, I will get it. That’s what people want. No one wants to spend $17.99 to buy one song they want. If you give people options, you’ll always be successful. We have more vinyl releases than CD releases but we’re the kind of band that that’s what people want from us.

So are you not as concerned about selling units?

Well, I want way more people to like my band than way less people but I get off on playing shows. That’s my juice, that’s why I play in three different bands. Sure, I’d like to live in a comfortable house because I sold a bunch of records but that’s not the be all to end all. I never really thought about selling records until I was on a major label but it’s just one of those things. I just enjoy doing what I do.


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