Do anything for long enough – even something you love – and there’s a risk you might get a little bored. Your passion might wane, and it might all start to feel routine. You take it for granted and phone it in. That, however, is not the case for The Bronx. The LA-based punks might have formed 19 years ago, but even just one listen to VI and it’s clear that this band means just as much to the five-piece as it ever did. If anything, it means even more. There are numerous reasons for that. Partly it’s because making music is just as important and vital to them as ever. It’s also because the five-piece– founding members Matt Caughthran (vocals) and Joby J Ford (guitar), guitarist Ken Horne, bassist Brad Magers and Joey Castillo, who’s been behind the drum kit since 2018 – refuse to rest on their laurels at all. In fact, with these 11 uncompromising songs, they’ve done just the opposite.
“I’m excited,” says Ford. “From day one we really decided that we wanted to make a record that went in different directions and places. The thing I like a lot about it is that everybody contributed songs. It’s not just Joby J Ford guitars with Matt singing over it. I loved listening to what other people wrote, and I think those differences and nuances really come through.”
“We’ve known each other for a long time,” adds Caughthran, “and we’re such good friends and we’re so tight creatively, but we’re still learning stuff about each other, especially when it comes to the process of creating an album. Brad and Ken are just coming out as songwriters and we’re learning to write songs as a group around ideas they bring to the table. We’re all growing together and it never stops – and that’s something we strive for and promote and push within each other because we don’t want this to get stale. This is a really important record for us growth-wise because it kicked down a lot of doors that needed to be kicked down. I feel like now going forward the sky is the limit.”
Another invaluable component of this record’s unrelenting energy and momentum was the input of Joe Barresi (Melvins, Tool, Bad Religion). Recorded with the renowned producer at his House of Compression studio in Pasadena, CA, Baressi is somebody the band had wanted to work with for many years – but had never managed until now.
“We’d been talking about doing a record since 2005,” explains Ford, “and it finally aligned schedule-wise and we were able to knock it out with him. And it was a great experience for us.”
“He’s such a badass producer,” says Caughthran, “and he was just the perfect guy for this record. We just went in feeling really good about all the songs, and we just needed someone to make them sound fucking badass and to take it to the next level. That was definitely Joe.”
The result is an album that builds on the legacy The Bronx has established in its near two-decade existence, but which definitely proves the door to what’s next has not just been kicked down, but chopped up and burned to a cinder. Yes, the first four tracks – “White Shadow”, “Superbloom”, “Watering The Well” and “Curb Feelers” – bristles with the wild and untamed energy that’s defined the band from the off, but then – all of a sudden, as “Peace Pipe” kicks in – the pace and mood shifts to something a little less aggressive. Elsewhere, “Mexican Summer” and its (relatively) chilled-out mariachi vibes serve as an homage to the band’s alter-ego, Mariachi El Bronx (and was written while that incarnation of the band was on tour), while fatalistic closer “Participation Trophy” masks the Caughthran’s existential dread behind searing riffs and a catchy, defiant and exuberant melody.
Indeed, while this album might be pushing the band into previously unexplored sonic territory, it’s kept grounded and real by its subject matter, which makes for what is quite possibly the band’s most vulnerable and exposed set of songs to date. For while there has always been an element of fragility beneath The Bronx’s pummelling, rollicking brand of punk rock, it seems especially salient here – not least because the theme of mortality keeps cropping up.
“I’ve always tried to be as honest as possible, and try to wear my heart on my sleeve without being corny,” the singer explains. “I use music very much as an outlet, and I had a lot of random fucking weird ups and downs going on at the time of writing this record, and it all kind of came out, as it always does. So it’s definitely a vulnerable record, because there’s always a lot that goes into it – you write, you rewrite, you kind of try to hide things that you don’t really want to say out loud, so you want to say them without saying it, because you’ve got to get it out of your head. There are still a lot of times in my life when I feel very lost and I think that’s the main theme of that vulnerability – trying to navigate my way through everything. Sometimes it’s easy and sometimes it’s not. Everybody has ups and downs, and sometimes I wear them a little too heavily, I beat myself up a lot and things like that, but writing about it is always a good way to get it out.”
That, then, is the crux of VI. It might be nearly 20 years since The Bronx began life, but being in this band is just as much of a crutch for its members now as it always was. The band has, of course, grown and evolved in that time, and the world has also changed significantly, but their reasons haven’t wavered in the slightest. They still make music for the most pure and honest reason – because they have to.
“Over the years, as you create art,” says Ford, “I personally think trying to funnel whatever comes out of you, or trying to distil it down to something that you want to make, is the wrong move. I think that whatever comes out of you that’s affected by all of your other senses is the way to go, and that’s the music you should be making.”
In other words, their need for catharsis hasn’t diminished in the slightest.
“It’s still exactly the same,” admits Caughthran. “The feeling I got when writing for this sixth record is the same type of feeling I got writing “Heart Attack American”. It all comes from the same place and it’s all still 100% genuine and raw. That’s just who I am, that’s who we are as people. You can’t fake stuff like that when it comes to music or art. You have to stay connected. You have to be real.”