Thinking Out Loud: The Bronx's Matt Caughthran
The Bronx frontman on punk, love and the importance of leaving a legacy
Matt Caughthran, 36, is the frontman for Los Angeles punks The Bronx and their mariachi alter ego, Mariachi El Bronx.
We asked him what was on his mind. Here's what Matt had to say...
“I’m not one of those guys that posts a photo of my breakfast and thanks punk rock for it, but it really has brought me a lot. It was the first thing that made a career in music seem accessible to me. It was the first thing that I felt like I could do, and it was the first thing to hit me in a realistic manner. It was also the first set of ideals that I really believed in. I grew up in the church and I wasn’t really buying that stuff, and punk music hit me at a time when I was kind of formulating my own existence, and knowing that there was a group of people out there that believed in following your own instincts and doing what you want to do with your life was important to me. Punk gave me the idea that I could do what I want and be whoever I want, and not follow what society tells you can and can’t do. I still follow that code to this day. It was also a big confidence boost for me in terms of becoming a singer, because I didn’t have any musical training or anything like that: I was just a guy that couldn’t play an instrument. Punk rock gave me the confidence to just be myself and lay it all out there and sing with feeling more than anything else, and that really shaped where I am now. Outside of all that, just sonically, I still love it. There’s nothing better than just fucking feedback guitars and garage nastiness, screaming vocals and banging drums. I love it, and it’s still my favourite style of music. And I would still call myself a punk rocker: I don’t feel compromised in any way, shape or form, and I think punk rock is still alive and well in the world. It’s something that means a lot to me, and it’s way more of an ideology than it is a sound for me. But I still love the sound just as much.”
“**Friendship is everything to me. It’s the core of loving what you do. **If you’re in a band and you don’t love your band mates, then you’re not going to love your job. You can love your instrument and the songs you write, but you’re not really going to love the core of it, which is creating something with people that you love. I grew up playing music with my friends and the first time I played music that wasn’t with the people that I grew up with was The Bronx, with Joby [J. Ford], Jorma [Vik] and Tweedy [James Tweedy, original Bronx bassist]. And I’d known Joby forever, so the first time I played with anyone that I didn’t know was my first jam with Jorma and James, and we were all cut from the same cloth of wanting to be friends first and foremost. Chemistry is chemistry, but that relationship is only going to last part-time if you’re not tight, and you’re not going to make it through the thick and thin and all the creative woes of being in a band unless you care about each other. I’m not a solo artist, and in order for me to achieve something with The Bronx I rely on Ken [Horne], Brad [Magers], Jorma and Joby just as much as they rely on me: in order for us to succeed we all have to be in it, and the core and foundation of that has to be real. Above everything else, it’s all about friendship and being able to go out and have fun and laugh at ourselves, create with each other, call each other out, keep each other in line, make progress together, and move forward – together.”
"With drugs it’s always, ‘Buy the ticket, take the ride.’ Nowadays I’m much more of a natural guy and I tend to stick to smoking pot. Every now and then I’ll find myself in some wormhole. But I’m much more into the creative drugs than the shit that’s just going to get you wired out of your mind. I did a lot of acid back in high school and that was awesome for me. I got in and I got out. I know a couple of people that didn’t, and that’s sad and it sucks. But for me it was amazing and it opened up a lot of different ideologies and ways for me to see the earth and how things work. It was pretty heavy, man. And I’ll never forget it. It was a life changing moment for me to realise how powerful the mind is and where it can go. It’s unbelievable, really. You don’t need acid to do that, but I did and my life is my life. As far as taking drugs goes, the older you get the shadier it gets. I’m 36 now, and I don’t want to be getting fucking loaded every night and doing fucking blow, you know what I mean? That’s not my style. And I’m pretty good at the recreational thing. But you never know, man. You could pop some fucking pills on a plane and never wake up. It’s always just the roll of the dice, so it’s obviously better to not do them. But if you find yourself in a situation where you are then you’ve got to have your head about you; you’ve got to be careful and you’ve got to think, and realise that you’re messing with something that could fucking lay you down.”
“Love fucking drives me insane. When I’m on tour it’s brutal. I’m in a huge fight with my girlfriend right now because I’m gone and we’re not seeing eye-to-eye on stuff. And it’s tough, you know. I go back and forth all the time with what I want out of that stuff. Like, my girl now is amazing and I love her. But I’m so upside down with love sometimes because it can be the most maddening thing in the world to me. There’s no greater feeling than those awesome moments that you have with your girlfriend or your boyfriend or whatever. For example, we were just at a wedding together and we had the best time ever. We were like two gods dancing on Mount Olympus, and it was the most amazing night. But love like that is so fucked up because it makes you see and appreciate things at the highest of highs, but then there’s no person that can get under your skin, push your buttons, or make you so mad that you want to bang your head against a brick wall like your partner can. So it’s very maddening. But one of the things that I love about relationships, and about love and about life, is that it’s impossible to define in a moment: it’s a constant work in progress. Love is just love and it is what it is, and there’ll be times when you’re on top of it and it’s the greatest thing ever, and there’ll be times when it’s hard and it feels impossible. There’ll be times when you’re alone and there’ll be times when you’re surrounded by love, and it’s just one of these things that you just have to allow into your life, because if you don’t have love in your life then your missing out on the greatest thing ever. It’s probably the strongest ingredient to life, and my dance with love continues. So we’ll see what happens.”
“Success is a trip, and you always try and separate success and money but you always end up bringing them back together. It’s not like the more money you have, the more successful you are. But to me, it’s directly related because in order for me to survive and play music and create art and do all this stuff that I want to do with my life – in order to consider myself a successful person – there has to be some sort of monetary value to what I do. It’s that kind of thing that fucks everything up. So far I’ve done everything that I wanted to do with my life, but as you get older you start to think more about how you’re going to keep this thing going. Say the band breaks up when I’m 40, or something crazy happens or whatever: I’ve crossed the line of going back. I’m married to music and I’m married to art, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. But it’s about maintaining that balance of happiness, substance, originality, creative flow, passion, and not getting burnt out, but also being able to pay your rent. I don’t need much. I’m very happy with a simple man, simple pleasures type of lifestyle, and I’d much rather be able to travel the world, play music, paint, surf and do whatever than own a big house and lots of things. As long as I can look after my dog, go and see my mom, and have enough money to buy Christmas gifts then I’m stoked, and anything else that comes along is gravy. So at this point in my life I consider myself a success. But it gets fucking stressful and tricky the longer you go, because your interests differ and you want more out of life. Things are always evolving, but as long as you stick true to who you want to be and what you want to do then you’ll find a way to make it work, and that to me is how I gauge success: are you doing what you really want to do? And I am. I feel happy, and like I said earlier I don’t feel compromised or weak. I feel strong and confident, and like I’m doing what I’m supposed to be doing with my life. I feel like I’m doing a good job and I’m where I’m supposed to be, and it feels great.”
“**I’m not going to lie, legacy means a lot to me. It absolutely does. **It’s the beautiful kicker about music. I’ve gotten to this point now where I’ve been able to leave a mark, and that’s a huge thing for me personally. I’m very happy with the fact that I’ve left a mark on the earth, and when I’m gone there’ll at least be the music that I’ve made with my friends that will last forever, or at least until the aliens come and wipe everybody off the face of the earth. But until then you’ll be able to listen to The Bronx and El Mariachi records, and that’s cool. So legacy, both musically and artistically, means an awful lot to me. But also just on a personal level, I’d like to be remembered as someone who was a kind person, was awesome to other people, who cared about real things, wasn’t a superficial person, and made a difference any way that they could. I operate on small scales and I don’t really worry about global differences. I just try to make differences where I can, and I try to live my life in the best way that I can, and I try to be a kind, cool and humble person. My biggest fear after I’m gone would be for people to say that I was a cocksucker. That’s the worst way to be remembered: as a dickhead, a jerk, or an asshole. So I go out of my way – at least I hope that I do – to leave a legacy of the opposite of that: kindness, humility, creativity, simplicity, and just being a nice, regular dude!”