Interview: Mariachi El Bronx At Austin City Limits

By Zachary Swickey

Despite their jet lag and still donning their Mariachi outfits from their set at Austin City Limits, Ray Suen and Jorma Vik sat down with MTV News to discuss Mariachi El Bronx, the Spanish-flavored side project of LA’s finest punk rock bands, The Bronx. Their ACL appearance was a one-off break from their much-coveted opening slot on the Foo Fighters fall tour. El Bronx’s new, niche sound is winning the hearts of many, and the guys were kind enough to shed some light on the project for us.

First off, your name and all of the instruments that you played on the album?
Jorma: I’m Jorma and I play the drums and handle percussion for Mariachi El Bronx.
Ray: I’m Ray and I play violin … and some other stuff. (Editor’s note: I’ll throw Ray a bone here: He plays violin, guitar, harp, requinto jarocho, vihuela, jarana as well providing backing vocals.)

What is the technical term for the Mariachi outfits?
Jorma: They’re called Charro suits. C-H-A-R-R-O.
Ray: We had ours made out in East LA by a guy named Alyas. How did you find Alyas [asking Jorma]?
Jorma: There’s a really f**king cool part of LA and it’s like maybe a half mile square and it’s all these taco shops, mariachi shops and all these places that make the suits or instruments. There’s this one little corner called “Mariachi Plaza” where a bunch of Mariachi dues will be all dressed up and they stand there waiting for people to pick them up to play parties or whatever.

Why no Mariachi hats?
Jorma: We thought it was a little campy. You know people would think, like, the “Three Amigos” or whatever.
Ray: Well, we’re already combating some kind of prejudice and we don’t want to make a mockery of anything, so yeah, it’s exactly that. When people think of Mariachi, especially in the UK, people will say, “Oh like ’Three Amigos’?” It’s like, “Nooo, not so much like ’Three Amigos.’”

How was the seed fist planted for the Mariachi spin-off of The Bronx? Was alcohol involved?
Jorma: We got asked to play a TV show as The Bronx, but they wanted us to do it acoustic. We were kind of like, “Ah, that’s not really going to work so well,” so [guitarist] Joby had the idea of getting Mexican instruments and taking one of the slower songs we wrote and turning it Mariachi before we even knew what we were doing at all.

What song was that?
Jorma: It was “Dirty Leaves” off our second record, which is like the slowest song we have. And so we did that, and it was so much f**kin’ fun. We just, you know, had the instruments and just kept writing on them then it just kind of snowballed from there.

How did the recording process differ between the first and second Mariachi record?
Jorma: It was actually very similar. One of the cool things is, we have Ray in the band now where with the first record we hired someone to write the violin lines and then hired a few people that are actually from “American Idol.” They had to come in and play under assumed names, because it’s like they couldn’t even do anything.

It just sounds like there is a lot more going on musically with the new album?
Jorma: Definitely having Ray as part of the process, and having somebody there when we’re writing who’s thinking about the violin parts. You know that just helped a lot.
Ray: People were much more comfortable with the form. From everything I’ve heard from the first record, they were still figuring out or getting comfortable with a lot of the forms and stuff. With that being under everyone’s belt, it was like, “Now we can be more dramatic or strip it down if we want too” with just a lot more options. That’s why I feel like there’s a lot more different kinds of material on the new album.

Ray, what was it like to join and record with a notorious punk band under such a different project?
Ray: It was great because I used to get hyped to the first Bronx record. The first band I ever toured with, we would listen to the first Bronx record and get hyped to it. Then when I found out Mariachi El Bronx was a Swami [Records] band, my mind was just completely blown. But I got over the awestruck thing pretty quickly and felt, “Yeah, I want to help make this better.”

Did you already have experience in playing any Mariachi-esque music at all?
Ray: You know, I used to play in a tango band when I was younger, and the same kind of mellow-drama that happens in tango music is there. There’s no way you can be over-the-top, at least string-wise, in Mariachi El Bronx. So I already had a little bit of that in my system.

How does a band with eight members get from St. Louis to Austin in a single night (which they had to do for their appearance at Austin City Limits)?
Jorma: [laughs and sighs] We woke up at 4 AM today. Got to the airport at 4:30 and flew to Dallas with all our gear. Then flew here [to Austin]. Got here, landed, got driven straight to stage. Set up our s**t. Played our set.

And tomorrow you play in?
Jorma: Detroit.
Ray: Our flight is at 6AM.

Are there any pre-show rituals and do they differ from that of The Bronx?
Jorma: You know, we kind of do the same thing. We all huddle up like a f**kin’ football team and bro down for a second. We put our hands all together and dedicate the show to something, whatever is on our minds, usually something goofy, stupid, some kind of inside joke.
Ray: Today we gave it up to “street justice.”

Are there going to be anymore double-bill shows with Mariachi El Bronx and The Bronx playing sets like you had been doing previously?
Jorma: Yes, we’re doing a mostly Mariachi tour in the UK and Europe in November and December, but we’re doing I think four Scandinavian shows that will feature both bands. And we’re playing Finland for the first time, so that’ll be cool. Yeah, shows in Sweden and Norway have been f**kin’ rad.

You recorded two Mariachi records and The Bronx appears to still be on hold. Is this a bad sign for fans of The Bronx?
Jorma: We did, didn’t we? [laughs] When started writing this Mariachi record, we were writing The Bronx stuff at the same time, and the Mariachi stuff just started coming quicker so we just went with that.

Are you making a lot of new fans or are fans of The Bronx enjoying both?
Jorma: It’s a little of both. It’s wild when people come to see us play as a Mariachi band and they have no idea about The Bronx. So when we go on [as The Bronx] they’re like, “What the f**k is this?” But for the most part, all The Bronx fans have been real cool and opened-minded about it. I think that speaks a lot about the people who are into the band.