meta-scriptOn 'Notebook Fantasy,' Chicano Batman Open Up Their Psychedelic Soul: "We Always Know We're Going To Have That 'It' Factor" |
Chicano Batman
Chicano Batman

Photo: Josue Rivas


On 'Notebook Fantasy,' Chicano Batman Open Up Their Psychedelic Soul: "We Always Know We're Going To Have That 'It' Factor"

When Los Angeles favorites Chicano Batman got together with star producer John Congleton, he coaxed out their deepest and most dynamic aural feast yet. Read an interview with their guitarist, Carlos Arévalo.

GRAMMYs/Mar 26, 2024 - 02:19 pm

Sometimes, when bands come to work with big producers, industry pressures kick in, and they start to sound less like themselves. Hearteningly, when Chicano Batman hooked up with John Congleton — who's worked with everyone from St. Vincent to Brian Wilson to Alvvays — the opposite happened.

"At the core of it, we still do what we've always done from the beginning," their guitarist, Carlos Arévalo, tells "Which is: we get in a room, we get in a circle, look at each other and start recording the songs together, which is like jazz."

Indeed, Arévalo comes from a rich jazz background — and that helps explain the sumptuous sound of their new album, Notebook Fantasy, due out March 29. When you hear highlights like "Fly," "Hojas Secas" and "Fairytale Love," you'll grasp exactly what he means.

"It's amazing what happens when you put really good musicians in a room. You give them some direction and you say, 'Go.' Magic happens," he says, characterizing Chicano Batman as "old school" in how they approach their craft.

"We always know we're going to have that 'it' factor, and the magic is going to be in the room if we're in a room playing together," Arévalo continues. "That's what we've always done, and we continue to do on this record."

Read on for a full interview with Arévalo about how Notebook Fantasy came to be.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

The textures on Notebook Fantasy really spoke to me. Can you take me through Chicano Batman's textural thinking on this record?

When we met with [John Congleton] him to talk about the album, he was like, "I've listened to your past records, I love them. I feel like the sounds you're going for on those records are great, the songs are great, but I want the songs to come through more clearly on this record. 

"Let's not use a lot of distortion and compression to color your sound. Let's go for something more open-sounding, more dynamic." Which is very in line with record making pre-2000 — like, '90s, '80s, '70s.

And so that meant going to a proper studio — Sunset Sound Recorders in Hollywood — and using those classic recording desks, those mixing consoles, the API, the Neves — those things that are just so high quality that when you record into them, they're picking up every bit of musical clarity from your amplifier, your voice, the bass.

When you hear it on playback, it's just so beautifully colored without having to add all these extra things to make it sound good. Which was our process in the past because we didn't have access to things like that. We were using DIY equipment, and sometimes that means you have to use a bunch of things to make it sound the way you want it to sound.

But when you work with equipment like what they have at Sunset Sound, it's like, less is more. You get what you pay for: you have a great sounding room, a great sounding mixing desk, all you're going to have to do is play well and it's going to pick up that.

And so yes, the record has these beautiful textures that are just open, transparent, and big-sounding. A lot of it comes down to obviously the players, but using those classic pieces of gear that were used on the Doors' records, Prince records, Led Zeppelin records, Rolling Stones records... literally the same piece of equipment.

Did any albums from the canon come to mind as you crafted Notebook Fantasy?

Definitely. Steely Dan has always been a big, quirky inspiration for me. I unapologetically, actually like Steely Dan, and I appreciate their records, because they bridged that gap that I sought after for many years.

[That aesthetic] had been there for decades before I knew about it, but I was always like, "Man, where's the rock band using this jazz virtuosity or these complex harmonic chord progressions, mixing it with rock's danger?"

And I found out about Steely Dan through a good friend of mine when I was 18. He put me onto them and I was like, "This is kind of smooth, but it's kind of subversive." And then eventually after multiple listens, I was like, this is amazing. These guys are incredible.

And so anyways, that was definitely a point of reference in terms of sonics, just the clarity of those records. Those are the most famous recordings in terms of production. You put them on your turntable, you turn the volume up, and it feels like you're in the room with the musicians. So, that was definitely something to try to attain as best as we could.

Give me a song on the album that reflects that Dan dyad.

Probably "Fly," which is the lead single. That one has Prophet synthesizers and Junos. I mean, they didn't use those kinds of things, but it has a Rhodes as well.

Actually, you know what? Maybe not "Fly." It would probably be "Live Today."The song was one of the last songs to make the record. We were running out of time and we were trying to figure out what song to record last.

I showed that song to the group, and Congleton loved it immediately, because he understood that it was something that could compliment the rest of the material. It was a compositional texture we hadn't used yet on the record. And so I had the parts already written out, but I wanted to see what would happen if I was just like, "Here you go. Let's start tracking."

We worked on that song with this keyboardist named Quincy McCreary, who plays with Jack White and Unknown Mortal Orchestra. He was in town for a gig at the Forum with Jack White, but he had the morning off.He did his thing on the Fender Roads. And then we had this amazing drummer, Tamir Barzilay, who plays with Jason Mraz, and he's played with Macy Gray. Incredible instincts and just musicality on the drums.

It was honestly like a Steely Dan moment. We were directing the song, we're like the inferior musicians, but the songwriters, but we have these amazing musicians there to blossom the tunes.

That's what happened on a song like "Live Today." It was just fast because we worked fast because it's tracking live, and it was immediately gratifying. And I remember Congleton playing back the song, he was like, "This is great. I love this song."

And that was really cool to hear because Congleton kind of has a poker face and he's no bullshit, and he's very direct and objective, which is what you want in a producer. And I remember he did show emotion right there, and he was like, "This is awesome." And so that was fun.

How does Notebook Fantasy reflect your evolution as a guitarist and keyboardist?

Every time I record a new album with Chicano Batman, I try to approach it differently, and build upon what I had recorded in the past. But in doing so, I try to do something different — take myself out of my comfort zone.

In the past, I would write my guitar solos because I want them to be memorable, melodic, singable. And on this record, I didn't do that. I used the instincts of John [Congleton] and our bassist, Eduardo, to help guide me into getting the best takes in certain songs.

So a song like "Live Today," the guitar solo, that was improvised. That was the first take. And I remember I recorded it and I thought, "I don't know, that was probably terrible." And John and Eduardo were like, "That was amazing. Let's move on." And then when you have trust like that with people, it's easy. Cause then you don't have to doubt yourself, you just listen to them and move forward.

Same thing with the end of the song, we have a song called "Parallels." It's like an improvisatory guitar outro. That was done on the third take. I did one pass improvise, and it was more typical of what would be my comfort zone as a musician.

And then, I got some feedback from John and Eduardo, like: "No, try to play here on these spaces." And I did. And again, like I said, the proof was when Congleton jumped up and was just like, "Yes!" He just evoked a sound of approval. I must be doing something right right now, even though I don't understand it.

Because you can't be objective. You're just purely trying to be emotional as a musician and do something that hopefully is felt by the listener. And he was there to be like, "That was the take. Don't overthink it. Let's move on." And listening back, he was right. I really am very proud of those guitar parts.

Give me some MVP moments from your bandmates on Notebook Fantasy.

Eduardo's bass playing on "Fly" is just incredible. It's so funky. It's so pocket, and it's so melodic. It's everything. I just can't stop listening to that take.

And from Bardo... Man, Bardo did so amazing on all the tracks. I mean, on the title track, "Notebook Fantasy," he's reaching and hitting notes that I didn't know he had in him, and he crushed it absolutely on the entire record.

Those guys just continually pleasantly surprise me. Every time we get into the studio, it's just like, Yes, this is why I work with these people. Because they're so talented and they're able to reach inside of themselves and pull something out that's new.

And what's your MVP moment? Pressure's on now!

Probably the song "Hojas Secas."

That's one of the songs Eduardo wrote, and he had a very clear vision for what he wanted the guitars to do on that, the lead guitars. And he wanted a column response, but he didn't want bluesy Page licks, or Hendrix licks. He wanted something that was more brash and harsh, but still had an element of beauty.

And his guidance and Congleton's guidance on that just really helped me get out parts that I didn't know I had in me at all. I didn't know I could play like that. I probably knew I could play like that, but I didn't know I would ever get to use those techniques within this band.

It was just a moment where I was like, Man, we could do anything in this band. As long as we're being true to ourselves as musicians and trying to grow, there is no limit to this.

Chicano Batman Talk Creating Visibility For Invisible People, Representation Of Latinos In Media & Repping Los Angeles

Chicano Batman

Chicano Batman

Photo: George Mays


Chicano Batman Talk Creating Visibility For 'Invisible People,' Representation Of Latinos In Media & Repping Los Angeles

The beloved L.A. psych/soul rock band dive deep into their powerful, danceable fourth studio album, 'Invisible People,' identity, racism and what the West Coast city means to them

GRAMMYs/Sep 4, 2020 - 11:25 pm

There is real power in music that gets you dancing, feeling joy and thinking about critical human issues. That is exactly what Chicano Batman's music does—drawing you in with their groovy bass lines, warm and soulful vocals and all-around funky, sun-soaked instrumentation and aesthetic. With their fourth studio album, Invisible People, released May 1 on ATO Reords, they double-down on the funkiness and deliver their most powerful, rhythmic project yet.

Founded in 2008 in Los Angeles, the four-piece embodies the true beauty, creativity and diversity of the city they call home. Since the release of their self-titled debut album in 2010, the band has brought their infectious energy and vibrancy to countless shows and festivals through Southern California, the U.S. and abroad, with a (typically) active tour schedule.

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With their 2020 tour with Le Butcherettes put on hold until 2021, the group has stayed busy with virtual appearances on "The Late Show With Stephen Colbert," NPR's Tiny Desk, KEXP and more. They've also stayed engaged with their community despite quarantine, offering youth music workshop livestreams with the Young Musicians Foundation and a delicious fundraising taco at L.A.'s HomeState.

In conversation with, Bardo Martinez (lead vocals, keyboard and guitar), Carlos Arévalo (guitar), Gabriel Villa (drums) and Eduardo Arenas (bass) dive deep into the creative process and meaning behind their latest album. They get real about identity, racism and representation, and the marinization they have experienced as Latinos in the indie-rock space.

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You guys dropped the fourth Chicano Batman album, Invisible People, just back in May. What was the creative process like on this album? How long were you guys working on it?

Villa: A few years?

Arévalo: [Laughs.] A few years. Yes. That's it.

Villa: A few years. Next question. [Everyone laughs.]

Arévalo: Maybe 14 months.

Villa: We had to go on tour, so, we had to stop a little bit. We had writing sessions, but we basically started in 2018.

Arenas: In 2018, we talked about different ideas we wanted to introduce to the new record, and we did a lot of demos. At the end we chose 12 songs. Everybody kicked in on this one and helped develop it, where in the past the Bardo wrote the majority of the songs. This time Carlos was kicking in stuff, Bardo was kicking in stuff. I would join up forces with them and throw in stuff. There were all these different combinations of things that happened that we had not explored in the past.

Martinez: Recording was a big part of it, us using our home studios to record stuff and vibe that way.

Villa: Carlos, talk a little bit about that moment where you came into rehearsal and you were like, "Guys, I know we have to do this album, but wait listen!" [Everyone laughs.]

Arévalo: I had my own little idea of what I thought the record should be in terms of a theme or a direction. That's something I would keep to myself on the past records and then just have my own personal goals for my instrumentation. But this time I shared it aloud to the group. That's choppy waters you can get into because you're asking a drummer to play drums a certain way or a singer to sing a certain way. Well, it's more recommending or showing examples of like, "Hey, could we try it this way this time and see how that goes?" That was a vulnerable place to be. But I've known these guys for so many years, it was time for me to be real with them and hope for the best.

They were receptive, everybody needed a little bit of time at first to just take it in. Once we started trying out these ideas, everybody else started bringing in other stuff they'd been wanting to try before, but maybe never thought this was the project to do that. So, I got the juices flowing creatively for everyone. It was cool.

Martinez: Yeah, this record was a lot of push and pull, as it's always been with our music. It's four dudes in a band, so everybody's pushing for whatever ideas they had in their head. I mean, Carlos was pretty straight forward. He was like, "Well, we should make something we could dance to, danceable music." It was a great idea. It brought us into the late '70s and '80s in terms of aesthetics, in terms of sound—it was new territory for me. It was a lot of fun. It's a dope realm that we eventually got to.

Villa: It was definitely fun to create. The whole process was just fun, fun, fun, and a lot of communication. We learned a lot. We're always inspired and happy to be working with the team so it really, really paid off. You can hear it in the music. If you compare the Chicano Batman discography, you really hear that this album is so different from the rest. It definitely has that element of dancing—for the first time we're doing a lot of 16-notes. [Mimics fast drum beat.]

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Carlos, that idea you came in with, was it "dancing" music or something else?

Arévalo: I had started a little DJ night as an excuse to play records that I was collecting on the road with being on tour—you hit up shops in Michigan and you find amazing 45s that are just so overpriced in L.A. or that you can't even find them. I was playing once a month at bars and exploring what music has that universal appeal to people, that makes them want to get up and move or sing along. It's a cool way to experience music when you have the sound system at your behest. I was controlling the PA and it's bumping, I could control the bass. I could see what was going on from the mixer. That inspired me.

There's so many 45s that I love. I would play stuff like Talking Heads' "Naive Melody," Tom Tom Club. I'd play Prince's "Erotic City," that '80s music that had amazing songwriting appeal, but simultaneously were hit records. I feel that doesn't go hand-in-hand all the time anymore. Now, you have writers that get together to make a song sound exactly like this other song so it can be a hit and make money. It's about capitalism and it's about getting that publishing. Back then, it was more so you can make an art piece that was also danceable. It was really appealing and inspirational to me.

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When did you finish the album? Since you were working on it on and off, was there a period of time where you huddled up and finished all of it?

Arévalo: Yeah, so we started writing the record, like they said, in January 2018. And then we demoed it when we could and we started amassing demos amongst all of us. We had little sessions in between touring and we finally started recording the album in February 2019 at Barefoot Recording, which used to be called Crystal Industries. It's where Stevie Wonder recorded one of his epic '70s trilogy albums, Songs in the Key of Life, those amazing records where he found his synthesizer voice. So many hit records were made there. Sly Stone worked out of there and George Clinton. So, we made Invisible People there for two weeks and then Bardo flew to New York for another two weeks to do vocals and some overdubs. Then we had to wait a year to put it out.

Martinez: Well, it got mixed and we put all the music together. Leon Michels produced it. He definitely put his hand in the sound of it. He's an amazing producer [he's also worked with Lee Fields, Aloe Blacc, The Carters and others] and has an amazing hip-hop sensibility. He knows how to make everything knock. He definitely added some amazing vibes, and then he passed it over to [five-time GRAMMY winner] Shawn Everett who mixed it. So, that was the whole next process of, "okay, well he got the music" and we were in the dark for a week or month or so.

Once we received it, I'm telling you, for me, the summer of 2019 was lit, 'cause it was just blazing, f****ing listening, bumping that in my car. I had just moved into this house that I live in now. It was amazing. Imagine, you move into a new house and you're playing a new record. I had my friends over and it was amazing. It was perfect.

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The title track, "Invisible People" is really powerful and very pertinent to this moment we're in right now—calling out racism. Can you speak to the message behind this song and how you feel that it informs the rest of the album?

Marinez: We came up with a thesis statement, which was the title itself. Carlos was like, "How about we write a song about how the marginalization of Latinos?" "Invisible People"—for example, not being noticed in the indie music world or being on tour and feeling marginalized just entering spaces like the liquor store in Tennessee. That was one piece of it.

I started tackling different pieces in different verses, and I only have three verses. I wanted to make sure that whatever I was saying was going to be very strong and very poignant, straight to the point. I didn't have time to cut corners, so I was going to be direct with it. I wanted it to be as strong as possible because the music was set up that like that. We went into the studio and that song was [originally] a little bit faster and Leon suggested we slow it down. The instrumentation is super sparse. The beat is heavy, the bass drops on the kick in the perfect place. The music is there for the vocal to just shoot out.

I approached every verse as a different thing. My first line is, "Invisible people, we're tired of living in the dark. Everyone is trying to tear us apart." So, it's obviously pointing at some type of marginalization. It's not necessarily specific. The second line—"smoke a spliff so I could feel now"— I don't even smoke spliffs by the way, I like joints, but it was a homage to maybe Bob Marley or something I knew a lot of people were going to relate to. Something edgy, something cool. The next verse is about race, "The truth is we're all the same. The concept of race was implanted in your brain." I definitely wanted to call that out, race as a construct pretty much.

Also, just to challenge all of that because as a band, as, we're Chicano Batman. We decided to use this name, which has its own meanings as a Chicano, as an identity. I don't know if that's problematic, but it's going to challenge norms within our own community, and also in the superstructure status quo. That's the more obvious knot.

Also, anybody could be invisible in society. It wasn't "Just Latinos are invisible or just people of color." The privilege that White people have in this country is not good for them. When they walk onto the street, into the supermarket, there's a lot of psychological weight to all that history, to alter that reality which is based upon history, decades and centuries of oppression, that White people really have to deal with as well. Everybody, regardless of who you are, if you're living in a city, if you're living in society, you're a part of it. You're complicit in it. You're subjugated by it. People don't necessarily talk about it like that on Instagram. People on Instagram are just pointing fingers at each other. So, that's really not the goal of it. The goal is to be like, "Yo, the truth is we're all in this together." It's not some "We Are The World" shit. It's also, "This record is fire, we're spinning the world around you. We got this record, we're ready to tour and do it big." It's all those things wrapped into one.

Arenas: Piggybacking off what Bardo said about Instagram, they're probably not saying that on Instagram because White cops are too busy killing Black people and shooting them in the back. That's a reality that White privilege has led to, it's not only capitalism, but genocide. That's also what we have to live with today. Not only with religion, but with the way communities are divided, with the way we think, with our mental health as a people, with our communities and the disinvestment in them and the lack of education and resources. This is all very implicit and designed to be this way, to lack people of color of the resources while the few good resources go to the top. That's the system that we've been living under here in the United States for a very, very, very long time.

I think for me, "Invisible People" has a very open open-ended meaning, it's a very big concept, and I think it can definitely be understood differently in 10 years, in 30 more years, et cetera. But right now, to me, it speaks so much about the murder of innocent people, invisible people, who are our family members, our voices, our activists. They're actors of change in our society, the heroes. So, to me, we need to put some extra highlight on that at this moment right now.

Arévalo: For me, the idea for the song was explicitly about people of color and the struggle we've endured. I don't know how many bands has interviewed where they get pulled over by border patrol in Florida for driving in a tour van, but that's our experience. I don't know how many indie rock bands have gone through that. Dealing with stuff like that was in my mind when bringing up the idea of the song, and the lack of representation we see of Latinos in the media, you don't see us with parts of substance in movies or TV shows. It's always cliched, and it makes me sick, because we're multi-dimensional. We are more than caricatures.

So, that was part of the idea. Also, just tongue-in-cheek like, "Do you see us now? Here we are, this is our record. Will you acknowledge us yet?" Because there has been a hump of, people keep saying, "Chicano Batman is breaking through with this record, this rising band." And every time we put out a record, we're always this new band that's coming out of nowhere. So, it's a critique on that and how the status quo in the media views us.

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You've said "Color my life," which opens the album, is about experiencing nature versus being stuck in the city. Was there a specific experience, feeling or place that inspired this song?

Martinez: That's the first time somebody asked me where, what's the location. I appreciate the question. Honestly, it's Oakland. I lived in Oakland for a year and a half. That was the first thought, literally what I was thinking about when I was writing those verses. I had some lyrics that were taken out too. During the chorus, "You've got to color my life..." I had something about birds. Anyways, Oakland was definitely the place.

Do you feel now when you perform "Color my life" now, especially in a virtual setting like on the NPR's Tiny Desk, do you feel it has taken on new meaning?

Martinez: I'll be honest, it's hard for me to connect with the virtual stuff. It's difficult. I'm a little numbed by the whole virtual reality experience. But what's the new meaning? I just went to the forest recently, to Mammoth for four days with my family. I needed to do that. Honestly, it's been a long time since I've actually gone camping or anything that because of doing the music thing and touring. This pandemic has given me the opportunity to do some of that. I want to do it more often because it's the most freeing thing, just to be out in nature, it's fantastic.

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"L.A. is what I carry with me all the time... It's what I try to represent in my music, at least respective to the instrument that I play and the swagger I input and the way I want people to move. We want them to feel that this is the way L.A. moves you, when we're in Germany, Brazil or France. It doesn't matter where, it's rooted in L.A. and L.A. is international because our roots are deep." -Eduardo Arenas

As a Los Angeles band, what does the city mean to all of you?

Arévalo: It's a forever home for me. My dad immigrated from El Salvador and lived in an apartment complex in Hollywood and went to Hollywood High, which I can't even imagine—what a dichotomy that must have been. My mom is third generation Mexican-American, so her family's been here since the '20s and they all have roots and stories that come from L.A. It's always been a big part of who I am and where I come from. I still have family that lives out there and also family that lives in L.A. It's an important part of my identity.

Villa: For me, L.A. feels like home. I come from very far away. I was born and raised in Colombia and I've traveled around the world. I had the opportunity and was so lucky to able to go to Europe and live there before coming to the United States. I lived over there for many years. Coming to L.A. straight from Toulouse, France was a big cultural shock for me, learning all these new set of laws and lifestyles. And there's a lot of things I probably will never understand, like the freeway, but L.A. is special, it has so much, it's a place for everyone. I feel it's a big blender and that's something that I like about this city. When I was in France and went to Paris and rode the Metro and saw all these different cultures together, I was like, "This is good. I want to live in a city this."

And I ended up living in L.A., and you have the same feeling just like riding on a Metro in Paris. It's like a dream and every day I'm learning something new. There's a lot going on here in terms of opportunities and work, especially music and media. It's crazy. I'm super glad and lucky to have found my brothers here. The band has embraced me as a Chicano, as a brother, and that's the world for me. Yes, I feel home.

Arenas: I'm born and raised in L.A., I'm from the generation of kids that used to walk to the market and get a gallon of milk and a pack of tortillas. That's how I grew up. I used to sell flowers in the street on Mother's Day and Valentine's Day. We used to sell fruit and vegetables that we'd get, extras from the produce market in downtown L.A. and resell them on the streets. L.A. is me.

I grew up with Hollywood movies and TV shows, all this '80s and '90s action stuff—the vanity that comes with that. And the vision of wanting to be something else that also comes with that. Like Carlos was saying, there's no representation of Latinos on TV, especially when you're growing up in the '80s and '90s, only dumbasses or a donkey mother****ers. Or some, "arriba, arriba" type shit, which we tossed around as culture when we were kids because we don't know better. But, in a lot of places in the country, they still perceive it like that.

L.A. is what I carry with me all the time, even when I lived in Brazil and Panama. It's what I try to represent in my music, at least respective to the instrument that I play and the swagger I input and the way I want people to move. We want them to feel that this is the way L.A. moves you, when we're in Germany, Brazil or France. It doesn't matter where, it's rooted in L.A. and L.A. is international because our roots are deep. Our roots go way back, they're not just bounded to the streets and these grids and these traffic lights, they go down really deep to communities in Mexico, at least for me. I think that's what I can offer.

Martinez: I grew up in La Mirada, Calif., it's a suburb [in L.A. County]. My dad came to Santa Ana, Calif. with his grandma in the late '60s. My mom came to Orange County in the early '80s from Cartagena, Colombia. They established the family. I was the first one to come out and there's only two of us. We moved to La Mirada and lived in some apartments over there for a while, and then they bought a house. Parks and beaches were part of my family's recreational activities. I look at L.A. as a massive region as a county, not just a city.

And to be honest, I'm infatuated by its natural beauty, these hills, the mountains, the wildlife, the ocean. I think of things like, "Wow, I can see the sunset over the oceans horizon because I'm facing directly west" in Redondo Beach. And conversely, the sun sets over the mountains when I'm in Long Beach because I'm facing south. After so many years I can visualize the panorama from various points in relation to the map. Although I navigate L.A.s streets and highways, I'd rather be on a bike, traveling at the speed of my own will, heading in whatever direction without so much regard to traffic or signals. I guess I try to feel the region I live in, as opposed to think of it in the confines of the names and boundaries, that actually don't exist.

What key things do you think are necessary for L.A. to become a place where all of its residents are celebrated and able to thrive?

Martinez: I think it's necessary for people to open their minds, drop the judgement. I feel like traveling definitely helped me see and feel things differently.

"For me, I'd say that following your heart can work!... I'm still marching to the beat of my own drum, because that's what I know how to do, and that's what makes whatever I do unique." -Bardo Martinez

It's been a decade since the band's debut—what have you learned about yourself as artists and as humans since then?

Martinez: For me, I'd say that following your heart can work! I've pursued music for aesthetic reasons, never really thinking about the markers of success, not to say those aren't necessary.

And I'm still marching to the beat of my own drum, because that's what I know how to do, and that's what makes whatever I do unique.

Tame Impala Checks In From Hibernation

Ivy Queen photographed in 2017

Photo: John Parra/


Ivy Queen, Café Tacvba, King Krule To Play Tropicália Music & Taco Fest

More than 50 acts to play Southern California festival mixing music with all-you-can-eat tacos

GRAMMYs/Oct 26, 2017 - 09:56 pm

Killer music and an endless supply of tacos? That's exactly the combination the Tropicália Music and Taco Festival promises to deliver on Nov. 11 at Queen Mary Park in Long Beach, Calif.

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More than 50 acts, including Latin GRAMMY winners Los Tigres Del Norte and Café Tacvba, will play the food-friendly event.

Other acts on the eclectic multilingual bill include Puerto Rican reggaeton singer/songwriter Ivy Queen, recently reunited Brazilian psychedelic rockers Os Mutantes, R&B/soul group the Delfonics, alt-rock quartet Chicano Batman, British rapper King Krule, Mexican accordion player Celso Piña, and rockabilly pioneer Wanda Jackson.

Tickets are on sale via the festival website, ranging from individual tickets for $85 and VIP passes for $500. Admission will include "all-you-can-eat tacos" from more than 20 different taco vendors. And for those health-conscious fans on the fence, the menu promises "tacos for every diet."

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Megan Thee Stallion performing in Houston June 2024
Megan Thee Stallion performs in Houston on June 15, 2024.

Photo: Kevin Mazur/Getty Images for Live Nation


5 Iconic Moments From Megan Thee Stallion's Houston Hometown Shows

Megan Thee Stallion returned to Houston on June 14 and 15 for an epic homecoming filled with surprise guests, gifts and plenty of twerking. Revisit five of the most exciting moments from the Houston stops on the rapper's Hot Girl Summer Tour.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 08:31 pm

Seven years into her career, Megan Thee Stallion is no stranger to a sold-out crowd. The rapper has been dubbed "Sold-out Stalli" since selling out nearly 20 shows on her Hot Girl Summer Tour — and though her stops at Houston's Toyota Center weren't the first sellouts on the trek, they were considerably the most meaningful ones.

"I'm so happy to be home," Megan, a lifelong Houstonian, told the crowd on June 14, night one of the back-to-back shows. After honing her rap skills and launching her career in H-Town, the star expressed her gratitude for the support her Houston fans have shown her from the start. 

"Hotties, y'all know what we've been through, y'all been rocking with me since day motherf—in' one," she gushed on night one. "I love y'all, I appreciate y'all, I respect y'all and I'm very grateful for y'all because, without the Hotties, there would be no motherf—in' Hot Girl Coach."

The two-night stint highlighted Megan's vulnerability, drive and exceptional showmanship. But above all else, her hometown shows reminded fans that she's just a strong-kneed, animé-loving girl from Houston. 

Below, check out five of the most memorable moments from Megan Thee Stallion's Houston homecoming.

She Organized A Hottie Egg Hunt

Before stepping on stage on June 14, Megan sent Houston fans on a Hottie Egg Hunt for a chance to win merchandise and tickets to the show that night. The three-part interactive adventure featured clues, documented on Instagram and X, that helped fans locate the golden eggs. 

The first clue reads, "A wild stallion can't be tamed…meet me at the place where I'm gonna rock the stage!" The second, "Where I run through the mall with your daddy." The last, "People are smart, my Hotties are smarter, find this egg where I got one degree hotter."

Eager fans scoured the whole city and eventually found the eggs at Megan’s favorite spots in Houston: Toyota Center, The Galleria and Texas Southern University. So far, Houston has been the only city Megan has done this for, making for another special moment between her and Houston hotties.

She Continued To Prove She's A Girls Girl

An unfortunate rap show trend has seen several female opening acts receive hate ahead of male headliners. Luckily this hasn't been the case for Memphis rapper GloRilla, who has noticeably been enjoying her experience as an opener on the Hot Girl Summer Tour. 

On night two in Houston, GloRilla presented Megan with a blown-up art piece commemorating her upcoming album, Megan, on stage. In return, Megan complimented the 24-year-old rapper, saying, "Glo is one of the realest women I've ever met." 

That evening, Megan showed her love for another rising star — and fellow Houston female rapper — Monaleo. The Mo City rapper sent the crowd into a frenzy as she sang her 2023 hit song "Beating Down Yo Block," which samples the classic "Knocking Pictures Off Da Wall" by Houston's Yungstar.

She Paid Homage To Houston Legends

Monaleo was far from the only Houston native to take the stage with Megan during her hometown visit. On night one, Megan surprised fans with a legendary performance from a few Houston all-stars. The room filled with excited screams as H-Town''s Bun B popped out to perform UGK's "Int'l. Players Anthem (I Choose You)." As if it couldn't get more iconic, Megan joined the legend on stage to rap Pimp C's verse of the song. 

The night also featured a legendary performance of "Southside" by Lil Keke, which Megan teased prior in the show with her "Southside Royalty Freestyle." Fans also got to enjoy Slim Thug's verse from "Still Tippin," a song he shares with Mike Jones and Paul Wall. (Wall also performed the song on Megan's tour the previous night at Austin's Moody Center.)

On night two, Megan brought out another Houston great, Z-Ro to rap a classic, "Mo City Don." Though a Hot Girl at heart, Megan couldn't help but celebrate the legendary men who paved the way and left a historic mark in Houston's dynamic hip-hop scene. 

She Showed — And Received — Hometown Love

As Megan arrived at the Toyota Center on June 14, she received a surprise welcome by students from her alma mater, the Pearland High School Band and Prancers — a heartwarming kickoff to a night of mutual love between Megan and Houston that put her in high-spirits before the show. 

Both nights were filled with an immense amount of energy and support, from Megan signing autographs throughout the show to making sure she got the perfect selfie with her beloved supporters. Even during more tender moments — like “Cobra," a song about suicide and her depression — felt particularly moving because of the interaction between Megan and her hometown fans.

She Put The "Hot" In Hottie

Taking notes from another H-Town hero and fellow Houstonian, Megan put on an impressive show reminiscent of Beyoncé, from jaw-dropping choreography to stunning wind-blown poses. Megan also tapped into her past life as a Prairie View A&M Panther Doll with majorette-inspired dancing during her song "Cognac Queen." 

Of course, she wouldn't be Thee Stallion if she didn't show off her twerking skills and famously powerful knees during her two-hour show run. Fans even got to participate in the twerk-fest during intermission, as a "Hottie Cam" panned through the audience, showing love to the girls and boys.

If her hometown shows were any indication, Megan Thee Stallion's future is not just bright — it's smoking hot as well. 

GRAMMY Rewind: Megan Thee Stallion Went From "Savage" To Speechless After Winning Best New Artist In 2021

Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform  at the 77th annual Tony Awards in New York City, Sunday, June 16.
Jay-Z and Alicia Keys perform "Empire State Of Mind" at the 77th annual Tony Awards on June 16.

Photo: Mary Kouw


2024 Tony Awards Recap: Musical Theater Wins And Exciting Performances

From the big wins for "Merrily We Roll Along" to "The Outsiders" taking home Best Musical and "Suffs" unexpected win, musicals made a splash at the 2024 Tonys.

GRAMMYs/Jun 17, 2024 - 05:36 pm

Broadway had a jam-packed slate of musicals this year, with everything from originals to adaptations and highly anticipated revivals. It would only follow, then, that it would be a busy race toward the 77th Tony Awards

Fifteen musicals were eligible for nomination this year, up from nine in 2023. Fittingly, the June 16 telecast from Lincoln Center's David H. Koch Theater in New York City had some dramatic surprises — especially in the music-related categories. 

One race that was anyone’s game was Best Musical. While many thought Alicia Keys' "Hell’s Kitchen" would take the big win, the award went to "The Outsiders." Featuring music by folk duo Jamestown Revival, the book/film adaptation won a handful of awards, including Direction Of A Musical for Dayna Taymor. It was a landmark year, in which four of the five nominees for direction were women.  

Broadway is perhaps trying to capitalize on pop music fans more due to post-pandemic struggles and the reputation of Broadway being for the elderly elite. The uptick in pop stars gracing the Great White Way led the New York Times’ Michael Paulson to declare that Broadway was entering its pop era; fittingly half of the eligible new musicals had scores composed by people who primarily work as recording artists. 

Broadway is rife with recording artist-helmed scores and jukebox musicals, including Alicia Keys, David Byrne, Fatboy Slim, Arcade Fire, Sufjan Stevens, the Who, and Jamestown Revival. Recording artist-driven musicals were also among some of the notable snubs at the Tonys. Shows that failed to secure Best Musical or Original Score nominations included Ingrid Michaelson for "The Notebook," Barry Manilow for "Harmony," Huey Lewis for "The Heart of Rock and Roll," and Britney Spears for "Once Upon a One More Time."

The music categories did offer up some big name winners. Best Original Score was set to be an interesting category this year because a play, "Stereophonic," with music by Arcade Fire’s Will Butler was in the running. However, the suffragette musical "Suffs" written and starring Shaina Taub took home the award. She also scored Best Book of a Musical, which was predicted by several experts. "Stereophonic" did win five awards total including Best Play and Sound Design Of A Play. 

Orchestrator and musical director Jonathan Tunick expectedly won Best Orchestrations for "Merrily We Roll Along." While the orchestrations aren’t terribly different from the original production, the Sondheim show flopped when it first opened in 1981. Yet the "Merrily" revival has found huge success due to the strength of the music and its three famous leads — perhaps the biggest name on the show's Playbill,  Daniel Radcliffe, won  Best Performance By A Featured Actor In A Musical.

Radcliffe was joined in the winners’ circle by costar "Merrily" Jonathan Groff, who took home Best Performance By An Actor in a Leading Role In A Musical. Costar Lindsay Mendez lost out on Best Actress in a Featured Role of a Musical to "Hell’s Kitchen’s" Kecia Lewis, whose performance in the Alicia Keys bio-musical was very well reviewed. Considered a front runner for Best Musical, "Hell’s Kitchen" only ended up taking home two awards: Lewis’ actress award and Best Performance by a Leading Actress In A Musical, which went to Maleah Joi Moon, who was the frontrunner in predictions.  

Beyond wins and upsets, performances were the highlight of the Tonys. "The Outsiders" has been garnering praise for its rumble scene, a segment of which made up the show’s Tonys performance, complete with rain. Meanwhile, "Merrily" featured its three stars with a sweet rendition of "Old Friends." Other notable performances showcased the "wow-factors" from many of the nominated shows, including a number from the passionate dance-focused show, "Illinoise," and circus tricks in the number from "Water for Elephants." Jay-Z and Alicia Keys brought the audience to their feet with their performance of "Empire State Of Mind" from "Hell’s Kitchen." Meanwhile, "Suffs" leaned into the history lessons of the show.  

Non-nominee performances that stood out include a Fosse-fueled tribute to Chita Rivera, which also included a dance from "West Side Story" performed by host Ariana DeBose (who won an Oscar for the 2021 re-make for the role of Anita, which Chita Rivera originated on Broadway). Nicole Scherzinger, who will appear in "Sunset Boulevard" next season, sang the "In Memoriam." Speaking of West End, the London-transfer production of "Cabaret" included an immersive rendition of "Willkommen," led by Eddie Redmayne, who got dragged on social media and in the press for the clown-like performance many found "terrifying." 

Next year we will be getting even more pop-artist driven musicals, including Elton John leading the charge with two musicals in the works, "The Devil Wears Prada" and "Tammy Faye." Other notable upcoming shows will have music by John Legend, Elvis Costello, Nas, Neko Case, and Mitski. Plus, a production of "Romeo and Juliet" will feature music by frequent Taylor Swift collaborator (as well as 2024 Producer Of The Year, Non-Classical) Jack Antonoff

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