Interviews

É. Arenas: ‘I Think These Songs Are Just A Relief’

Eduardo Arenas talks about his recent EP 'Mar Iguana' before dazzling us at his release show.

“Let me just get my jacket and let’s get some air,” Eduardo Arenas coolly suggested. Most notably known as the bassist for Los Angeles funk curators, Chicano Batman, Arenas welcomed me instantly as I walked through the doors of The Moroccan Lounge last Friday for Arenas’ EP release, Mar Iguana. Aiding in the execution of the release, Chola Orange and b.i.g. f.u.n. also took to the stage and embodied an eclectic and warming environment; perfect for the natural homecoming.

As the early clamors of the night began to rise, Arenas led me out towards the parking lot of the venue. “Mijo, where do I park?” he playfully mimicked family as he blurted the stress of playing a local show in between his rapid steps. Perfectly placed, a wooden bench and a chair, Arenas and I became situated for our chat.

Revisiting the last time we spoke for Arenas’s 6 yr labor of love, Nariz, there seemed to be a more natural execution with releasing new content, versus two years ago when Arenas’s wife refused to cut his hair to add loving pressure towards a release date. As I laughed about this, I began to ask about the flow where Arenas explained in the lightest, visual representation.

“It’s like once you’re constipated, you know, it’s like you can’t think about putting new fruits and vegetables in your stomach but once you get it out, things just go in and out easily.”

“The flow is just better?”

“The flow is way better. I think in general it’s like it’s just having faith in yourself. Ultimately it just comes down to that. Just believing that if YOU put the love into it then it will attract love but if you don’t take that time to love it, how can you expect that to radiate? So, I think that’s the ultimate lesson but I think with some of these songs I set myself really hard perimeters. I gave myself 3 days, 2 days, you know…this would’ve taken me 3 years before, now it’s taking me 3 days. It’s just making commitments and sticking to them and that they’re the right instinctual decision to make.”

Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

Fittingly paired as two Quebradita-Merengue tracks, Arenas places these explosive dance stories, Mar Iguna, in between his first solo album, Nariz (2016) and his forthcoming sophomore album that will hopefully be released this September. The natural rhythmic sounds not only transports you to a backyard party but represents culture and rooted appreciation. Reflecting these roots, Mar Iguna depicts these “ancestral plants” — marijuana and the nopal — through fast paced tempos and merengue bases that represent so much more than what is shown.

With his partner in crime, better known as Lorena Endara, Arenas spoke of his wife’s support and the mutual love that comes from her artwork. “She’s definitely my right hand. She’s…I can’t think without her,” said Arenas. Since collaborating on Nariz, Endara’s photography captured a different side of Arenas, a different side that will lead to many other projects in the future. Not only is her talent seen on display on Love is not a Drug, but her simple presence and organization pushes Arenas to these deadlines.

Unable to even compare to the product of Chicano Batman (as each are on individualized flows), I assumed the delivery of sound and story were Arenas’s own political punch through this cumbia influenced style.

“Well, for me I always grew up…it’s like this. There’s the animal cookie parade: you got your chocolate chip cookies, you have those wafers, and you have those pink elephants. So for me, cumbia, quebradita, merengue, all that stuff is all pink elephants — and they actually do sell the damn pink elephant bag, where it’s only the elephants. That’s what ‘this’ is for me. It’s only the jewels of all the stuff I really, really love. This is like the supreme top. On weekends I’ll listen to just like merengues and salsa…it’s just my flow. It’s just how I identify.

“And um but I also dig the versatility of being able to play, break down metal and be able to funk in a funk band. That kinda thing, for a musician, it’s the most ultimate, ultimate experience because you can pop in and out of different circles and identify with whatever, and you don’t have to pretend all you need to do is play. And so I think these songs are just a relief, a relief musically and just in a different direction and also it’s just perfect that California now legalized weed and now here we are. I think with quebradita a lot of times, the lyrics are not always deep, but they do have catchy melodies and a hook, that kind of thing. And I think for this song [‘Mar Iguana‘] I wanted to juxtapose that, play with that idea. People are still dancing, [has] catchy melodies, and it’s still vibing, but now they gotta stop and think, ‘what the hell am I singing?’ so I think that’s what drew me to want to make this push.”

 

“That’s exactly what I was doing I was singing it to my mom, and she’s like are you singing about…what are you singing about,” I trailed into the voice of my mother judging marijuana and explaining quebraditas as a boarder town sound, once again bringing up a hidden political agenda. Arenas laughed at my mother’s speculation and continued to explain.

“It’s actually interesting that you say that because for me it’s always been how do we engage son/daughter/parents in a different way, you know. You put a topic in there that’s like well, we both like this but, ‘no, eso no me gusta.’ Why don’t you like it? ‘Oh it talks about weed.’ Well mom it’s legal now.  Then it’s like, ‘what do you smoke?’ and no, I don’t!,” Arenas quickly defends in his scenario before he continues.

“So then it’s well I do, then ‘Como que, que!‘” says Arenas imitating his mother. “Then it starts to open up things that are right and wrong. Stereotypes. We start to open up stigmas. And look, bottom line why the hell are we so damn scared, especially as Latinos, to talk about weed, but we’re so free to talk about pork and beef, and sugar, and stuff that kills way more Raza than weed. So, you know it’s just like where do you want to place the stigma? It’s like a bully. Let’s put the stigma on you, now we’ll free up all these other agents that make millions of dollars and ruin people’s health. One way to look at it.”

E Arenas at The Morrocan Lounge 2.2.18
Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

Nariz ended on a note of hope, while Mar Iguana was the self-belief within Arenas that only could come from the successful debut. I rambled off with concepts, hinting if anything bigger will come from the sophomore installation.

“Oh absolutely. I think I’m trying to understand what process is next to develop the next album. I have concepts written down, have a couple of expressions I kinda wanna evoke, you know, and I think it all comes from sincerity. It has to be real sincere, super rhythmic, but yet this opened up the door for creating an another album. You can always put 12 songs together and create an album and let it sit. How are you gonna conceptualize what it is and how it connects the people? That’s when I think most of your work is done, even before recording your first drum beat. I think that’s what this process has been like.

“Especially since the release of Nariz, why would I ever do that again? I don’t want to engage in 6 years, maybe 3 months and it’s done, you know maybe less. I think that’s the kind of vision I see, in the end music is going to be subjective anyways. It’s not up to me to decide whether it’s a hit or not, but obviously I have to like it.”

“Do you regret holding on to the last album, Nariz for 6 years?’

“No, I can’t regret anything that you had no idea was an issue or anything wrong with it. I think only by outing it, I see that opportunities presented themselves. People really like it and it was well received, at that point I thought ‘why would I have thought this album sucked? Look at all these responses‘ — I still sell this album all the time, thinking, damn this is not time based, like one year it was hot; people are gonna constantly have a relationship with it which is cool. But regrets, no. You need to do things like this to understand why you can’t do them anymore.”

Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

Influenced by growing up watching his uncles in a band, Arenas admired the way they made the “dance-floor happen” applauding the energy and family togetherness, as well as noting something amazing about seeing older people “not smiling” but still dancing.

“I think that there on their way to something,” Arenas continued with the joy of viewing an elderly couple dancing, almost speaking as if he held a loved one’s image in mind. “I think that’s a crazy experience for me, just seeing people get up and dance, like wow. Straight face, and I’m like ‘yeah there not gonna give you everything there gonna go to about right here,'” Arenas said as he motioned his hand at a half way mark, “and I’m grateful for that.”

“I think they’re probably trying to count or concentrate,” I chimed in, referencing the elderly people not showing any facial expressions while dancing.

Arenas laughed, “I know, straight up!”

Holding the elderly couple in mind, there seemed to be a great joy that radiated from Arenas as he spoke of connecting with people and making them move. Not a stranger to witnessing him live with his brother’s of Chicano Batman, there was always movement from Arenas whether it be behind the bass, or behind the guitar.

“It’s like when I take off the bass and I go to the guitar, I feel like I just entered the house, to like a friend’s house, or an aunt’s house and there’s a party going on and I know everybody. ‘Ayyyyy there’s this person there’s that person‘, ‘hey I haven’t seen them in a long time.’ Then I get up to the mic and I’m just like — my feeling is like ‘we’re all here for the same reason right, you know.’ And I think that’s what it is. I use the force, the hunger and I channel it all in the same direction everyone is going in to. And it’s just like, there’s this innate feeling of knowing what they want and what they want is rhythm, they want melody, they want to dance. They want to have fun they want to let loose for a little bit, and so do I. It’s just getting that mentality and projecting the fun that you want to see be had.

“And I think everyone has that notion of what that fun is and for me it’s just like, it’s smiling man. It’s letting loose, just disconnecting on root rhythm. Like you walking down the street and start talking to someone in Spanish and you click in the same kind of dialect and it’s like, you can talk about whatever for a long time, just because the flow is up. So, I think I just try to match the flow of the room. Sometimes the room is alive, sometimes it’s not. And when it’s not, I just laugh too, ‘like man, y’all didn’t come prepared. y’all didn’t know this was gonna happen. You don’t know this element of your own self?‘ because I think we have that element in ourselves and I think sometimes we just need an opportunity to have someone unlock it. So, those are the kind of things I think about. Not that I put myself in that role, but that’s what I think about to inspire me, to go over the edge to unlock that door inside of everybody.”

 

Once again noting that this style of music is simply his identity, I was curious on what Arenas thought about newer bands that are starting to embrace and cling to the LatinX culture.

“I think it’s cool. People need to come to grips with a certain sense of identity and I know it’s harder and harder every year, more thanks to social media and all of that, where you think things get easier to find truth, I think it’s becoming more difficult in certain regards because truth can be something you just look at on a screenshot for about 4 seconds but you don’t dive into any real topic. You know you just “like something” a political topic and now you’re part of the group that likes political things but you’re not engaging in discourse or doing anything about it or standing your own ground on the issues you believe in. I think sometimes you can’t get too caught up on. This is my take, I was in MECHA all through college and that was great, changed my life. Once I left MECHA I started thinking what the real world is like.

“I think Latinx could be useful or really provocative in a bad way because a lot of times we wanna think that we’re being liberal but when we put stuff like “latinx” as a label sometimes we can hide behind that and be judgmental towards other things. And I think we should realize that and be delicate to that because I think at the end of the day it’s judgement. We cant be putting judgement on other people. It’s like ‘oh i’m not Latino I’m Latinx’ OK, maybe you should like engage in a better conversation on why you believe that for yourself and then educate or just respect that not everybody is on the same level. You know I think, when I was in MECHA I spent a lot of time trying to force my ideas on other people: ‘Dad she’s not a girl, she’s a woman,’ or ‘hey man you can’t say bitch, that’s a female.’ There’s certain things you gotta stand up for and other things are just like, wow you’re really up against a big mountain and some of that stuff still applies today.

“At the same time you gotta, just don’t judge people that aren’t on the same page as you. Wanna use Latinx, that’s cool. People who don’t use Latinx, that’s cool too. They probably have a lotta love and compassion towards other things, maybe not so focused on Latino identity, but they are focused on motherhood or growing food, or focused on other things that are fulfilling in their own life. And I think when we put that as a primary thing, ‘oh he’s not down, he’s not down with it,’ we start dividing each other and creating subgroups of who’s down and who’s not down. That’s the ultimate thing, you’re not down if you’re not using Latinx, to ‘oh they’re down.’ Then all of a sudden you have this battle with who is more down.”

Agreeing with Arenas on the title, I expressed how it was something I always wanted to ask an artist who specifically dabbles in Latin music, bringing up my own judgement of being a hybrid and being seen as not Latina enough. Arenas acknowledged and continued to explain the label.

“Ultimately, we just judge each other too much. We judge each other too much and we don’t even know it. It’s so deep in grain. Our parents showed us a certain way. Media taught us certain things. Hell, as a Latino artist you know, touring around the country, we have a stigma, we carry it around with us. We assume people think that we’re less inferior because we are Latino, we carry around our pride and our music and our success — there’s nothing to be ashamed of. That’s where it starts, self-empowerment and just believing in yourself. Then you find the need you just want to give people a chance too because you’ve been given a chance also.”

Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

As we continued to talk, I brought up NAMM, the tiring days and the future of music, and social media. Noting that now anyone could essentially be a musician, referencing NAMM’s innovative products adapting to this need, and the sad truth of poor and ‘crappy music’ that will now be on display. Arenas didn’t see it as a negative thing, but enjoyed the future possibilities.

“That’s amazing and that’s the future. It’s like, now you don’t need the money to put out your work now all you need is the will power and the aesthetic decisions and good songwriting. Now there’s a buhzillion songs on the internet so how is yours gonna stand out? How are you gonna build a community around your music? How are you gonna build an audience? So I think now we can focus on the actual craft supposed to trying to get a couple thousand together and go to the studio and record a full-length album. Or don’t record a full length album, record 2 songs, record 1 song, do a music video and then see how that goes on YouTube. Choose your direction and then follow it.”

Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

“Crappy things don’t stick around. So they will catch some weight for a couple of days and then just die off. That’s the true test if it doesn’t stick around. Some people have amazing music and they don’t have the skill to use social media, and that’s another thing, so it’s a balance now. It’s like you can have great music but that’s now 50% of everything. 50% of the other stuff is how you pitch it, how you get it into people’s hands. You gotta be savvy or team up with somebody great that can do social media, or record….

“Everybody has instincts on when to post, so maybe they’re right? There’s a science to it at the end of the day, and they’ll be a big ass study that says ‘the right time to post is Tuesday at 3 p.m.’ then it’s like ‘foo I’ve been doing that shit for 3 years!” laughs Arenas in between his rising and comical tone. “‘Go hit up that foo I’ve been doing this shit for a long time and he’ll hook you up.'”

“Is that his legit title?”, I asked.

Arenas nodded and confirmed the official title. “Foo I’ve been doing this shit already. That’s the one you wanna go get help from.”

As we continued to talk about social media and what you put out there, Areneas trailed into the representation on social media is all what one “chooses to display.” With anything, this ideal comes into play and I asked what he aimed to put out there on stage wheres Arenas quickly responded, “I’m trying to connect with myself for 45 mins, an hr.”

Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

“I’m trying to go to the next level where its not possible on this earth, you know, it’s only possible through vibration and harmony with other humans. And I think it’s a lucky place I find myself when I perform, you know, if I can get lost and go to that other space– it’s like mediation, there’s nothing on earth that can replace that, you’re doing it with other human beings; you’re taking flight. You’re creating music, so that’s dope. If you can have lasting impressions on a lot of people — emotionally, memory — that’s just a great position to be in; an artist.”

“What would you be doing if you weren’t an artist though?”

“I would seriously be building furniture.”

“What, why?”, not expecting that answer.

“Because I love working with wood, I love working long hrs, I’m super detailed orientated. I like picking up trash on the street, love recycling things – I like being creative with that and refurbishing a lot of wood into nice pieces of furniture…can’t wait for this music thing to be over so I can be like a carpenter.”

“I mean, I’d buy from you.”

Arenas laughed, “Dope. I got one client.”

Tying everything together, Arenas spoke about the line-up giving great credit to b.i.g.f.u.n. and Chola Orange for joining them, speaking more about the eclectic line-up. I thanked him for his time and truly admired his continuation within his music as well as humble attitude that genuinely made me appreciate him more. Arenas thanked me for the kind words and said, “It’s only gonna get better, I promise. It can only get better.”

“Plus the furniture, I mean,” I casually added.

“Oh yeah. Give me 15 years for that…maybe 10.”

As I waited for the night to begin, Arenas hugged me and dashed off to find family members, with what I can only assume had trouble with parking, bringing together his opening line full-circle.

Photo: Martin Santacruz Jr.

Arenas’ show release was a natural homecoming, bringing together fans and musicians that continue to support each other. Through a wide arrange of uptempo tracks, the night also showed Arenas’s softer side, displaying beautiful ballads that warmed the night. There was a sense of belonging that filled the Moroccan Lounge as Arenas made us feel connected, and most importantly made us all dance.

Stream Mar Iguana on all platforms.


 

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