J. Paul Getty Museum

Back to the Future with Chicano Batman

What’s with that name, and four more questions for the band playing Saturdays Off the 405 this weekend

Chicano Batman isn’t just another band from East L.A. They may not even be from this time period. Their soulful funk is a beautiful nod to older times of bell bottoms and lava lamps. But calling Chicano Batman simply retro would be a mistake. Their notes strike a fresh vibe, and vocalist Bardo Martinez’s croons are unmistakably contemporary.

From Led Zeppelin and the Beatles to Bob Marley and Los Angeles Negros, their influences vary. While the band constantly plays with ideas of old and new (their logo is an interesting combination of the Batman and UFW symbols), frontman Martinez told me there’s no tension between the two. He took my questions about their name (I had to ask), their work, and their future.

Chicano-Batman-1

What’s with the name “Chicano Batman”?
My experience being Mexican-Colombian at UCLA was part of it. I felt alienated, not connected. That’s what made me want to create a superhero: I wanted to see a superhero that could inspire me. I wanted to be that superhero.

I was drawing a Batman with a goatee. I drew this Batman that looked like he could be Mexican or Salvadorean, someone from the “global south”; someone with mixed identity who’s grappling with identity. We’re all grappling with our identity.

The band started in 2008. Has your style or approach changed much since then?
It’s changed a lot. We were all learning back then, learning about each other as a band. The three of us: myself, Eduardo, and Gabriel. It was us taking a ball of clay and putting it together. As time went on we started shaping this clay, and little by little it became more defined. In my opinion our newest album is our most complete work. The number of songs, the number of ideas it has. It’s as close to our vision to what we wanted to create with our music.

A lot of people have tried to describe your work, with mixed success. What’s the biggest misunderstanding people have about your sound?
People pigeonhole us as a Latin band. That’s what we’re trying to break out of. A lot of bands get pigeonholed. Some do Ska, Reggae, Spanish rock—and right away, with your genre, you’re automatically commodifying yourself.

We have a deeper understanding of music. We see it as expression, as communion, as a spiritual thing. We identify with all types of music that have that essence. Right now I’m listening to a lot of Bob Marley. Bob Marley was soul music. Bob Marley had a third-world vision of peace and justice and was influenced by R&B., by rock music. It’s not just Reggae. Bob Marley got to the essence. If people really listen, they can hear it.

What do you hope people get from your concerts?
We want people to get their dose of soul, you know what I’m saying? Something that makes people feel like they’re with their family. A strong emotion. I’ve seen people cry [at our shows]. That’s beautiful.

The songs I’ve written are very personal. I’m a big fan of John Lennon. I admire him because he creates very personal music. We’re trying to be truthful to our music, that’s the whole goal.

It feels like there’s a rebirth of arts and culture around Los Angeles right now. How do you see the art scene as a whole taking shape?
I’m busy wiping diapers at home right now. I have a newborn daughter. I practice. I do my thing. [The scene feels] very disconnected. We do have a need for a more cohesive culture, something needs more organization. And, little by little, we’re trying to create it. We’re trying to put our two cents in.

Chicano Batman puts in their two cents at the Getty Center this Saturday night for Saturdays Off the 405. It’s free; parking is $10 after 5pm.

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