The Los Angeles based Latin-rock outfit Chicano Batman oozes funky riffs and psychedelic soul with every song they make — and the world can’t get enough of it. Forming in 2008, the band has spent the last decade gaining a steadfast following, opening for respected rock groups including Alabama Shakes, Jack White, and Vampire Weekend, while also making their rounds in the festival scene at Coachella, Bonnaroo, Tropicália Fest, and Outside Lands. Their 2017 album, Freedom Is Free, was met with much acclaim and the group has their eyes set on raising the bar with their forthcoming record in early 2020. We had the opportunity to speak with lead guitarist Carlos Arévalo about the band’s creative process, what pushes him as a guitarist, and how the StingRay RS helps him capture his sound.
Q&A with Carlos Arévalo
You only have a few shows left for 2019. How has this past year been for Chicano Batman?
It’s been a great year for us. We recorded our new album in February and March, which will be coming out early next year, we toured with Vampire Weekend in the summer, and toured with Andrew Bird in the fall. We also headlined LA’s Tropicália Festival for a third year in a row alongside Kali Uchis and Cuco a few weeks ago. Lastly, we’ll be closing out the year with a New Year’s Eve show with our friends Portugal. The Man at The Fox Theater in Oakland.
When you’re on tour, what can’t you live without?
Exercise, sleep, and lots of water! Touring is hard work that can have lots of health trappings for your body if you get complacent. I try to stay healthy by being hydrated and getting as much rest as possible every night so I can wake up early to exercise before lobby call.
What artists or groups do you draw inspiration from?
Lately, I’ve been digging the latest releases by Anderson Paak, Solange, Thom Yorke, Le Butcherettes, Crumb, Brittany Howard, and St. Vincent. With streaming, there is just a never-ending well of good music to draw from and become inspired by nowadays.
You recently added the StingRay RS to your arsenal. What drew you to this guitar?
Two musicians I respect are St. Vincent and Omar Rodriguez Lopez. I’ve noticed over the years they were playing the Albert Lee models and then eventually they both got their own signature models. I figured Music Man must be putting out some really quality guitars if these two artists were teaming up with them and also I thought it was cool that Music Man was teaming up with these unique players. I checked out the Music Man website and the StingRay RS in Buttercream with the roasted maple neck immediately caught my eye. I found a store nearby in LA that had a blue one in stock and I played it and fell in love immediately. The playability, finish, neck feel, and tone was unlike any I’ve experienced. Since I’ve mainly played vintage offset guitars in Chicano Batman, the StingRay’s body shape and feel was familiar to me but without the intonation and playability issues that I’ve had to address every few shows. Basically, it was the first guitar I ever played out of the box that had no issues that required me to make mods or take to my guitar tech to improve. Finally, I also liked the idea of playing a guitar that was sort of a blank slate, a guitar that is not associated with the guitar gods of yesteryear. If you play any Fender or Gibson you are playing a guitar that probably reminds people of Hendrix, Clapton, Gilmour, etc. I like the idea of using a guitar that is new, bold, and will inspire me to continue to develop my own voice and style.
How has this instrument helped you capture Chicano Batman’s sound?
Chicano Batman’s guitar sound has historically been clean, bright, funky single-coil offset guitars that are able to compete in the mix with the keyboards and synths we use live and on recordings. I’ve tried humbucker guitars in the past but they just weren’t able to capture the sound needed to recreate our recorded catalog live. Although, the StingRay RS has humbuckers that seem to be lower in output which I love. It’s hard to explain but tonally the guitar can capture some of the single-coil vibes I’m used to but with the fatter tone I’ve always wanted. A guitar’s tone comes from the neck wood, scale length, and bridge design as well, so I believe the StingRay’s bolt-on neck, 25 ½ scale, and the vintage bent steel saddle bridge is the reason I’m still able to get familiar sounds out of it but with exponentially better playability. No more fretting out!
Can you breakdown the creative process for us. What comes first, the music or the lyrics?
In Chicano Batman, typically the music comes first, then the lyrics. A song can either come in fully demoed or just be a chord vamp and melody brought in by Bardo our lead singer, Eduardo our bassist, or myself, or a combination of anyone in the band, but once the four of us in the room go through the tune and add our respective instrumental and musical voice, that’s when the arrangement becomes stronger, more thoughtful, and more elaborate. Once we’ve all collaborated on a musical idea or demo the end result is a Chicano Batman song.
Is there a Chicano Batman song you get particularly excited about playing live?
This year we released two B-Sides from our 2017 album sessions, called “Scab” and “Portal of Yarn.” Those have been really fun playing live. Lots of intricate guitar parts on those tracks so it keeps me on my toes for sure.
What drives you to keep pushing the envelope as a guitarist?
I’ve always admired musicians, artists, and filmmakers that don’t adhere to trends and that are always trying to push themselves to create something new and different with each release or artistic statement. I try to adhere to that M.O. with my guitar playing or songwriting. I’m always trying to push myself to get out of my comfort zone and navigate new territory because that’s where exciting things happen.
Any exciting projects we can look forward to?
Our new album is in the final mixing stages and sounds incredible. The album is being produced by Leon Michels (El Michels Affair, Menahan Street Band, Lee Fields, and the Expressions) and mixed by genius engineer and producer Shawn Everett (War on Drugs, Alabama Shakes). The band and I feel this new record is our best work yet and a big leap forward for us creatively and sonically. We took big creative risks and the results are a fresh, new Chicano Batman. We cannot wait for our fans to hear it when it comes out in early 2020.
Header image courtesy of Erich Bouccan, @bouccan