Chicano Batman wasn’t planning on making fierce political statements when they formed in 2008. The band had come out playing soul-tinged, psychedelic latin jams that were dance floor-ready and set to fill any venue in the country. However, something changed for them in the summer of 2015 when they were writing their upcoming album Freedom is Free.
“There were a lot of things happening that were upsetting us,” said Carlos Arévalo, lead guitarist for the band. “Unarmed men being gunned down by police… we just wanted to talk about those things… acknowledge that it’s here.”
Arévalo and the rest of the band specifically cite the Black Lives Matter movement, Occupy Wall Street and the rising social unrest they witnessed as their inspiration to take on a more socially-aware message.
Not every track is inherently political on Freedom is Free. Chicano Batman saved that for the title track, “La Jura” and “The Taker Story.” The first being their simple belief that freedom should not be commodified. Their Spanish-titled song—which loosely translates to “the law”—being a story based on a childhood experience about police corruption and the killing of a kid from the neighborhood. The last track in that list is the band’s powerful anthem against using capitalism as a means to spread power and oppression.
Chicano Batman has also been using their platform to spread their sentiments outside of the upcoming album. The band was approached by Johnnie Walker, the whiskey brand, to record a rendition of Woody Guthrie’s classic “This Land is Your Land” for the company’s “Keep Walking America” campaign.
“[Johnnie Walker] told us the idea was to celebrate multiculturalism and diversity,” said Arévalo. “It was a good opportunity to show that all different kinds of people can do cool things too.”
The band’s version is updated for 21st century America. Psychedelic organs and guitar strums move throughout the track as lead singer Bardo Martinez uses his romantic, soulful voice to lay out the song’s timeless lyrics into the Chicano Batman universe.
Soul music has been integral to the lives of the members of Chicano Batman. Their signature look —’70s inspired tuxedos complete with ruffled dress shirts—is a direct nod to the uniform of soul acts of their childhood.
Arévalo credits Art Laboe, a Los Angeles-based disc jockey who has been playing soul music over the radio waves since 1949, as the source of his love of the genre.
“I was always familiar with that music growing up,” said Arévalo. “When I became more aware of music as a musician, I really started appreciating those songs, the lyrics and composition.”
The soul sound on their latest is also thanks to working with producer Leon Michaels. He’s known for his work with Lee Field and the Expressions, Charles Bradley and Aloe Blacc. Arévalo considers him to be one of the best soul producers working today.
That doesn’t mean the band has abandoned their latin and psychedelic influences. Those are still intact on every second of Freedom is Free. They wouldn’t be Chicano Batman without them.
Live performances are where the band truly shines and they have an opportunity to embolden it even more with this next tour. They will be getting extra help from one of their supporting acts. Members from 79.5 will be performing backup vocals for all the new songs from the album.
“We’ll be bringing out the textures, making the sound more full,” said Arévalo.
That extra strength in voice paired with the band’s already known tendency to improvise and flesh out many of their tracks will surely be welcomed by audiences across the country.
Freedom is Free comes out on March 3, but they’ll be selling it at Harlow’s during their show on March 1 as well as the rest of their upcoming U.S. tour.
When: 8 p.m., Wednesday March 1
Where: Harlow’s Restaurant & Night Club
2708 J Street, Sacramento
Cost: $15 – $18