East L.A.’s Los Lobos are on their way to becoming the granddaddies of Latin Rock. After recording a number of Richie Valens covers for the 1988 film La Bamba, the quintet began its ascendancy to three Grammy wins, two children’s albums, and a dozen EPs, LPs, and tribute projects, in addition to the previous five records made before 1988. The latest album, Tin Can Trust, hit No. 1 on the Americana Music Association charts this month. Keyboardist and saxophone player Steve Berlin called us from the road to let us know that despite many years addressing social issues through song, Los Lobos ain’t no political band.
I’m calling you in Regina, Saskatchewan, Canada. Is the appreciation of Los Lobos’ music different up there from down here?
Clearly, it’s a little different than in San Antonio, but everywhere is different than San Antonio.
It’s a special place: it’s like home base for a lot of music that we play. There’s a level of understanding that’s a little different than up here. But, we’re playing a sold-out show tonight, so I guess we’re doing something right.
Many critics point out that each Los Lobos album is extremely different from the last. For instance, Tin Can Trust is nothing like Los Lobos Go Disney. Is that a conscious decision to do a 180 from each previous album?
Clearly the Disney record was a different thing all together. That came out of nowhere, more or less. If you compare Tin Can Trust to `The Town and the City`, I think it’s perhaps less dramatically different. It’s different in some respects; that record was a theme record and we sort of had a sense of what we’re about and what we wanted to do with it.
Tin Can Trust was organized thematically about the working class and The Town and the City dealt with immigration. Does Los Lobos see itself as a political band?
I certainly wouldn’t describe us as political. We have a point of view, clearly, which you can tell from the music. But it’s very dangerous for us to assert stuff because people tend to view those songs in a certain way. It takes some of the beauty out of what it actually is to assume … it has an underlying agenda. To a certain extent, that’s never what we had in mind. We put the songs together in a way so that you’re supposed to listen to them as songs, not as a political statement. But that said, our music addresses and speaks of the time that we’re in and how challenging it is, frankly.
Can you talk a bit more about that theme in Tin Can Trust?
I think it’s of this moment, and I think right now a lot of what’s going on is people really trying to survive. It’s a really difficult time. A lot of families certainly have never endured a recession quite like this before. On a lot of levels, it’s coming to terms with what the world is right now and how you make your way through it. Again, not with any overarching agenda, I think the songs really are about living here in this moment and surviving. If there is a prescription, it is love. I hasten to point out that at no point did we have an agenda. It wasn’t like we got together and said ‘OK, this song is going to be about this or that.’ It was basically, show up at the studio and just rock and hope something good comes out of it. •
Los Lobos with Bombasta
8pm Sat, Sept 25
1327 Guadalupe St.