Chicano Batman: A Sound And Vision That Could Only Come From Los Angeles

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<em>Freedom Is Free</em> is the latest album by Los Angeles quartet Chicano Batman. Left to right: Eduardo Arenas, Bardo Martinez, Gabriel Villa, Carlos Arévalo.

A band from the fertile Latin alternative scene in Los Angeles is poised to break out in a big way. Their sound is laid-back lounge grooves, R&B with flavors from Mexico or Brazil and a funky swagger. Their look is matching puffy tuxedo shirts and bow ties, like they're playing a prom in 1976. Even their name is unforgettable: Chicano Batman.

NPR's Kelly McEvers met up with two members of the band, singer Bardo Martinez and guitarist Carlos Arévalo, to discuss their new album Freedom Is Free, their wild stage shows and why their distinctive sound could have only come from their hometown. Hear the full conversation — recorded, at the artists' suggestion, at one of their favorite LA guitar shops — at the audio link.

Interview Highlights

On the genesis of their sound

Carlos Arévalo: I think definitely, one of the inspirations for the sound of the group is what we would call "low-rider oldies" music, and that's a really Southwest thing. There's a DJ out here called Art Laboe — he's in his 90s and he's still pushing that music, and that music wasn't lost on us. We'd tune in every Sunday night on his show; it's syndicated. And you'd hear amazing sounds that you weren't hearing in modern music ... stuff by The Midnighters, The Sunglows, Ralfi Pagan, Barbara Lewis. Just classic music that just doesn't go out of style, ever.

On the band's logo, a combination of the Batman bat and the United Farm Workers eagle

Bardo Martinez: The UFW, the logo, it's just as powerful as Batman, you know? Creating a voice for the voiceless. And that's kind of a part of Chicano Batman's identity. But it's not the principal [thing] — we're many other things as well.

On writing explicitly political songs

Arévalo: There's a song called "La Jura" that Eduardo [Arenas], our bass player, wrote. And that's basically a Spanish-language Black Lives Matter song.

Martinez: [The lyrics go,] La otra noche fue una noche muy terrible, balaciaron un amigo mío: "The other night was a terrible night. They killed a friend of mine." No entiendo porque los que deben proteger hacen lo opuesto: "I don't understand why those who are supposed to protect us do the opposite.'"

Arévalo: There's a lot of fear happening right now. I feel like people are making decisions based on fear — and if you look back in history, you'll see that those decisions usually lead to a lot of human suffering. And I think if people can put those fears to rest and look with inside themselves, then their mind and spirit is truly free.

On why Los Angeles is their home for the foreseeable future

Arévalo: It's so rich culturally, you know? That's something that I personally took for granted and didn't realize I was taking for granted until I traveled the country in this band, and there's some places that just don't have as much diversity. It's not a negative thing, it's just how life is some other places. That's a real blessing to be here and thrive here.

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