“We’re a bunch of Latinos and we’re opening up for Jack White,” Chicano Batman’s Bardo Martinez says with a laugh that expresses a mix of disbelief and pride. Chicano Batman wraps up a string of dates with White on Feb. 4 in Vegas, and they’re on the bill at Coachella 2015.
With a sound that references soul, psychedelica and vintage Latin rock, Brazilian Tropicalia and cumbia, Chicano Batman has a retro Latino power vibe that echoes the history of their native L.A. As heard on their recent album, Cycles of Existential Rhyme, this is music that needs no translation.
Billboard caught up with Martinez and the rest of the foursome as they were traveling through the Tennessee woods between shows with White.
How did Chicano Batman get started?
I was a big fan of Caetano Veloso and Tropicalia. I wanted to create soul music; I wanted to create music with a very clear aestethic. I was influenced by Brazilian music, rock from South America, psychedelica, soul and pop from the late ’60s and early ’70s.
So what led you to opening up for Jack White?
We’ve had the band since 2008. Ikey Owens, Jack White’s keyboard player, who also played with The Mars Volta, was in contact with me, he’s from the L.A. area. He’s kinda of like the godfather of music in the region. [Owens died of a heart attack in 2014]. He had a side project called Free Moral Agents and he invited us to open up for them in Long Beach, and since then we were friends. We built up a relationship. He was always repping us, wearing out t-shirt, he was a fan of the band. Unfortunately, Ikey passed. Carlos, our guitar player, met Jack White’s tour manager at a memorial they had for him in a bar in a Long Beach.
What was your early exposure to music like?
I was born in ’84. My dad always had a lot of records, a lot of tapes. I was really into these five tapes that he had: there was like the green one, the yellow one, the black one, and the blue one. I would listen to those mixtapes. One would have maybe Cyndi Lauper, Santana and Cream on it. But I also listened to cumbia and ranchera, Latin rock bands like Los Angeles Negros. My dad just played music all the time. That’s really how I am, listening to that variety of music all the time. It’s very important to hear music when you’re a kid; it gives you a soundtrack for your life.
With a name like a Chicano Batman, being Latino is obviously an important part of your identity. What is your background?
My mom is Colombian, from Cartagena. My dad is Mexican. And I grew up in Los Angeles. We lived in the suburbs, on the border of Orange County, and I never felt comfortable. I always felt alienated, culturally. You know, if you’re name’s Bardo… In kindergarten, the first thing they would call me was ‘Bardo farto.’ I come from a tradition of difference, and in my life I felt that was something that I could champion… by the time I got to college at UCLA, my hands practically had corns on them from carrying protest signs! So Chicano Batman is essentially a way of championing the underdog.
What is the message you like to send out?
We’re just trying to be creative and have fun at the same time… [But] We’re really representing who we are just like anybody. Within this country, whether we like it or not, we represent our community. We come from Los Angeles, and there’s a way that people interpret us because of where we’re from. I think the history of Latinos in this country is very important for us.
We’re opening up for Jack White and we’re a bunch of Latinos. Just to give you an example of the racial dynamics that exist, on our Twitter feed this guy was like, “My dad says, ‘Why is a Hispanic band opening up for Jack White?'” And he responded, “Dad you didn’t see the band. They were awesome.”