SANTA MONICA, California — Who can blame the Bronx for trying to downplay the story of their big break — the one where they were suddenly fielding nine record-deal offers after only their second show?
"It's killin' our indie cred!" guitarist Joby Ford said, only
half-joking. The fact is, though, their geography might be shaky (the band hails from Los Angeles, not New York), but the Bronx know when history has been written.
"I don't know if we really got ... well, I guess we got courted," Ford said. "There were a few labels that wanted to sign us. I would probably say we met with a lot more than really wanted to sign us. There were some funny things. One label took us to a strip club and spent like $5,000 — and we were like, 'Dude, $5,000! That could feed a country.' "
OK, so their economics could use some work, too. The point is, the Bronx had the kind of beginning most bands can only dream of. After meeting through playing in various other bands, Ford, singer Matt Caughthran, bassist James Tweedy and drummer Jorma Vik joined forces to record a three-song demo that managed to instantly captivate the industry.
The bandmembers might be joking about indie cred, but their actions suggest that they're actually quite serious about it. After signing with Island Def Jam, they insisted on self-releasing their full-length debut and promoting it on the road for two and a half years.
"We didn't really want to come out and just hop on some giant machine right off the bat," Caughthran said. "We wanted to feel our way into it."
"That's where we became a band," Ford added. "And that was more important to us. We had gotten signed so early, we wanted to improve. We're still not really that good, but we're working on it."
There was a downside, however, to all the touring, which included opening for acts from Hot Hot Heat to Social Distortion.
"We showed up to write the record ... and we all looked at each other like, 'I don't even know where I'm at,' " Ford recalled. "Like, 'What do we do now?' "
The Bronx found their motivation in producer Michael Beinhorn (Korn, Soundgarden, Red Hot Chili Peppers) and his Venice, California, studio.
"I fell in love with the place immediately," Caughthran said. "Venice has such a great vibe to it — there's a little bit of everything there. Plus, it was right on the boardwalk, so anytime you needed to escape or boost your creativity or just take a walk, it was all right there at your fingertips. It inspired everything for the record: musically, lyrically."
As with their previous recordings, the band recorded live rather than taking the more common instrument-by-instrument approach, and limited the number of takes to two.
"It's actually a one-take rule," Caughthran joked. "Next record there won't be any takes at all — an all-mental record."
"We record live 'cause we feel that's our strength — or some nights, it's our weakness," Ford interrupted. "It just gives a natural feel to things. We're definitely not fans of perfect records, and we strive to make imperfect records, I guess. Not imperfect, but stuff that has a little more soul, a little more feeling. It just gives it a flavor and makes it a little more interesting, I think."
If there are imperfections, though, they are lost in the self-titled album's brutal but infectious musical landscape, which seesaws from inventive to destructive. The Bronx have yet to pick a first single, but strangely enough, it's an old tune that will be getting the most airplay this spring.
"Heart Attack American," one of the first tracks the band wrote, was selected to be the theme song for the MTV reality show "Call to Greatness" — which premieres Monday (April 3) at 10:30 p.m. on MTV — about a team of brave souls who set out to break as many ridiculous world records as they can.
"It's just a panic song, a freak-out song," Caughthran said. "I wrote it when everything in my life was kinda caving in, so it's just one of those things you write when you're super-frustrated."
As for the band's new album, it's due July 18 with the single set for June 6, as in 6/6/06.
"We were pattin' ourselves on the back for that one," Ford said. "But then we recently found out that Slayer has a record coming out that day, and they're way cooler than us. So they kinda win. We don't think we're that cool anymore."