If you want a distinctive band to follow that’s been getting critical acclaim to boot, look no further than Chicano Batman. This L.A. group has earned accolades for their mix of '70s soul, Brazilian pop and modern indie rock. The group plays in Reno on Nov. 12 at Cargo inside Whitney Peak Hotel.
The group’s latest album, “Freedom Is Free,” is their first for renowned indie label ATO Records. The band’s self-released albums — a self-titled 2009 debut and “Cycles of Existential Rhyme” from 2014 — both earned attention from the band’s constant touring, including a slot at the Coachella festival and stints with Alabama Shakes and Jack White, among others.
The group’s two founders — singer/guitarist Bardo Martinez and bassist Eduardo Arenas — started Chicano Batman in 2008. They recruited another L.A. musician, drummer Gabriel Villa, soon after and recorded that 2009 debut. In 2011, the group added a second guitarist, Carlos Arevalo.
A look, a sound, a name
Apart from its one-of-a-kind musical style, Chicano Batman’s look has done as much to set them apart as their sound or their name. Since the beginning, they’ve performed in matching suits and ruffled shirts, not unlike a wedding group or old school jazz combo.
“We’re making a particular reference that some people understand — Los Ángeles Negros, Los Pasteles Verdes,” Martinez said on the band’s official website, referencing two cult-classic L.A. chicano groups. “In the ’70s, it was a big thing where all these cats were playing romantic ballads, but they were funky.”
Big funk grooves are all over “Freedom is Free,” including the title track, which also features recent Cargo visitors Mariachi Flor de Toloache.
“It’s a counterpoint to the propaganda catch phrase that was invented by the U.S. government during the first Iraq war,” Martinez said of the song and album title. “It’s a counter-narrative. The song itself relates to the idea that freedom is inherent to every individual on this planet and in the universe. I live in Los Angeles, and people are pretty jaded; everybody’s so caught up in their routine they can’t tap into their own spirits. For me, music is about the spirit.”
One other sonic architect for Chicano Batman is Leon Michels, producer of “Freedom is Free.” He is the band’s tie to classic as well as modern soul music. A vet in the New York scene, Michels is best known for his work with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, The Black Keys and The Menahan Street Band. On “Freedom,” Michels plays keyboards and arranges a horn section. He said on the band’s official website that the group has a lot of live energy and strong aesthetic goals.
“They get together, they rehearse every week, they fight about the arrangements, they have a classic band dynamic,” Michels said. “So for me, it was really just about shaping up the songs. They had just come off a tour, and they were tight as hell, so it was just a matter of getting the right take. At the most, we did three takes of a song.”