The Tropicália-indebted rock band Chicano Batman are a true melting pot of sounds and cultures 

American Band

click to enlarge Chicano Batman sang "This Land is Your Land" in a 2018 Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky commercial

Josue Rivas

Chicano Batman sang "This Land is Your Land" in a 2018 Johnnie Walker Scotch whisky commercial

There's a bit of chutzpah in picking a band name that cribs from a superhero, but in the case of Chicano Batman, it's more emblematic of a cocky self-awareness.

After all, the quartet seemed to have sprung fully formed from the Los Angeles area with a gorgeously timeless sound that deftly blends Tropicália, psychedelia, funk, soul, '60s rock, and pop with a heady bit of jazz interplay and instrumental dexterity.

How the group seemed to so effortlessly find their identity was a product of their musical commonality, according to guitarist Carlos Arévalo.

"There was a shared interest over a lot of '60s psych music and world music," says Arévalo. "Tropicália is basically Brazilian psych-rock from the '60s where you see the impact the Beatles had on the world and all these variations of their psychedelic sound, I guess from Sgt. Pepper's on forward. But there's a lot of other music that we bonded over too. Soul music was definitely a big inspiration to us, like classic soul music from the '60s and '70s, like Curtis Mayfield."

While retro soul vibes are on display in their most recent effort, 2017's Freedom is Free, the blues and R&B elements of the group's sound were prominent from the start, with a tangling of Allman Brothers-esque organ dueling and diving with sharp, trippy guitar lines that fall over rhythms pulled from a dizzying array of influences.

For their part, the band tends to see their approach in a long lineage of musical cross-pollinations, charting out their own specific take on an American tradition.

"You can see that aesthetic of American popular culture making its way through Africa and Latin America and seeing how they would take those forms and flip it and create something new," he says of the band's varied influences. "We were just into those kinds of sounds that you would hear like a DJ sample, you know, with bass and drums breaks and beats, funky guitars, and organs. That was definitely the basis of the sound we were trying to go after."

As natural as the sound is, there are other challenges for a band like Chicano Batman. One is that their sound, with its instrumental wiliness and retro-minded sensibilities, means a conscious resistance to reductive jam band labels or simple nostalgia trips. The other is that, as four Hispanic musicians from Southern California, of being pigeonholed as purely Latin music purveyors.

The first issue nags the group a bit, particularly when it comes to booking, but Arévalo speaks with real confidence about the group's recorded catalog, which includes three full-lengths and a fourth coming later this year.

"In the earlier days the songs were a lot more long winded and we would kind of leave a little more room for that exploration, but then as we matured as musicians and songwriters, we realized that some of our favorite songs and records get to the point very quickly," he notes. "That's not to say that we're not inspired by like, you know, Miles Davis and his early '70s electric period where you have like a song that takes up the whole side of an LP. I think what we do is take the sounds that you would hear on a record like that and just try to incorporate it stylistically into the form of a three-to four-minute song."

As for the ethnic dimension, Chicano Batman embraces the lineage of many of the Hispanic bands that have come before them, from the Sunny & the Sun Liners in San Antonio to Thee Midnighters and Los Lobos in east Los Angeles.

"There's a whole lineage of artists in the Southwest that have been channeling popular culture through their music that look like us and sound like us," Arévalo contends. "I think it is an American sound that we have, because our influences, just like their influences, we're basically pulling from and being inspired by black popular music. I mean that's always been the guiding compass of popular music [in the U.S.], whether it be through soul music, rock 'n' roll, hip-hop, electronica.

"And we've definitely noticed that in the music scene here, people are changing and being more receptive to groups, Latino groups, in whatever capacity that are being represented on the stages," he continues. "And it's really a credit to the promoters recognizing that representation matters and they need to put some of these bands on the bills cause you know, our audience wants to see them and the bands deserve more exposure."

As for the recorded but not-yet-released fourth album from the band, the guitarist says to expect a more funky and forward-thinking album, citing the ways in which their tour mates Alabama Shakes have maintained their soul bonafides while moving well beyond the sonic traditionalism of their early efforts.

"The new record is definitely a progression of our sound and us really trying hard not to repeat ourselves," he says. "Hopefully our fans are ready to go on the next journey with us."


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