FREE SPIRITS: On their latest LP, ‘Freedom is Free,’ L.A.’s Chicano Batman harness the power of soul for good.
Everybody needs a hero, according to Bardo Martinez. Not all wear red capes, sport spit curls and swoop in to save damsels in distress. Some have brown skin, wear frilly Austin Powers shirts and serve Mexicans, Mexican-Americans or Spanish-speakers all over America—or, as Martinez says, “La Raza.”
“We all look up to people,” explains Martinez, frontman for the rising L.A.-based Chicano Batman. Combining a sincere love and appreciation for their heritage with a transnational point of view, the quartet seamlessly meld pan-Latin flavors with grainy Detroit soul and dangerously smooth g-funk grooves and aim to play the hero in a world besieged by powerful villains.
With their third studio album, Freedom is Free, Chicano Batman celebrate their diverse backgrounds—the band’s collective heritage covers Mexico, Colombia and El Salvador—while also make a case for peace, love and good vibes in an increasingly globalized world.
“We are definitely Chicano, because we live in L.A.,” Martinez says. “We cannot negate the generations of Mexican-Americans that have definitely put their spin on the culture and the streets of Los Angeles. But that continues to transform every day—over generations and generations—and we, Chicano Batman, are part of that change.”
In an effort to highlight that change—but also to remind listeners that working-class immigrants have long played a role in the American fabric—the band recently put their own spin on Woody Guthrie’s “This Land is Your Land,” switching some of the lyrics from English to Spanish. The song was released in a timely fashion, on Jan. 19, the day before Inauguration Day.
“Even though I didn’t write it, I still owned it because the more and more I would sing it, the more and more I would feel the message within it,” Martinez says. “I was like, this is something I would write, you know?”
Freedom is Free, which drops this Friday, was produced by Leon Michels. A music industry veteran, the saxophonist, composer and producer has worked with The Black Lips, Jay-Z and Lana del Rey, among other well-known artists. He was a member several funk and blues rock groups, like The Arcs and The Mighty Imperials, before co-founding Big Crown Records and Truth and Soul Records. Using technology dating back to the ’60s and ’70s, Michels tracked Freedom is Free on analog tape and played horns on the album.
“He became a creative force with us,” Martinez says of Michels’ role in pulling the album together. “It was amazing, because half of the time, we saw eye to eye. It wasn’t like he was telling us to do something we didn’t want to do. We love the same type of music, you know? It was an honor to work with him and be considered on the same playing field as him, somebody with amazing work like himself.”
Setting themselves apart from other artists, Chicano Batman always take the stage in unique uniform. About eight years ago, bassist Eduardo Arenas suggested they don retro tuxedos found at a thrift store. Since then, the suits—with their ruffled, Austin Powers shirts and bow ties—have been an integral part of the Chicano Batman calling card.
Martinez believes that the band’s style reflects their cohesive artistic taste and evokes a question within the crowd: “Why are they in uniform?” Though their outfits are reminiscent of Jerry Seinfeld’s puffy shirt, they are symbolic to the band’s growing credibility.
“It’s like when you dress up, it gives a particular air of officiality to what you’re bringing, the air of seriousness,” he says. “We’re definitely serious about our music.” The Dark Knight is serious about what he does as well, but he’s definitely not as fun. If he were, he might consider adding some ruffles to his cape.
Mar 2, 8pm, $20
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