Los Lobos Finds A New Sound At The Beginning Members of the band Los Lobos talk about their newest album Tin Can Trust. David Hidalgo and Louie Perez returned to the East Los Angeles neighborhood where the band got its start to record the album. They talk about the inspiration behind their latest tracks and their decision to boycott the state of Arizona in solidarity with those who oppose the state's new immigration law.
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Los Lobos Finds A New Sound At The Beginning

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Los Lobos Finds A New Sound At The Beginning

Los Lobos Finds A New Sound At The Beginning

Los Lobos Finds A New Sound At The Beginning

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Members of the band Los Lobos talk about their newest album Tin Can Trust. David Hidalgo and Louie Perez returned to the East Los Angeles neighborhood where the band got its start to record the album. They talk about the inspiration behind their latest tracks and their decision to boycott the state of Arizona in solidarity with those who oppose the state's new immigration law.


I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

They've been making beautiful music together since 1973, a bunch of guys from the neighborhood in East Los Angeles. They used to find gigs wherever they could, including their fair share of weddings. Los Lobos is that East L.A. group. They made news a couple months back by canceling gigs in Arizona after that state passed its controversial anti-illegal immigration bill.

They tour almost all the time, it seems, but now they're backing up a new CD "Tin Can Trust." It's getting reviews as one of their best. Here's a taste of the new CD and the song "Burn It Down."

(Soundbite of song, "Burn It Down")

LOS LOBOS (Band): (Singing) It's only dignity I heard. For once I go there is no coming back. Throw away all that I one time had. Gonna burn it down. Gonna burn it down.

MARTIN: Joining us here in Studio 4B are three members of the five-man ensemble: David Hidalgo is the lead vocalist, guitar player, according, writer of many of the group's compositions. Also with us Cesar Rosas. He's another lead vocalist, guitarist and writer. And the new guy in the group, Steve Berlin. He does sax and keyboards. He's a relatively new guy. He joined the group in 1984. Thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. DAVID HIDALGO (Musician): Thank you.

Mr. CESAR ROSAS (Musician): Thank you.

Mr. STEVE BERLIN (Musician): Thanks for having us.

MARTIN: Now, we heard a bit from the new CD, and I read someplace that you recorded in a very spare studio in East L.A. that didn't even have a couch. You had to bring one in.

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah, that's the place.

MARTIN: Yeah, how come?

Mr. HIDALGO: You've been there before?

MARTIN: I heard about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: How come? Seems like you could've had a couch or something. You just wanted to get back to what?

Mr. HIDALGO: It was a friend of ours owns the place and it was back in East L.A. And it felt good to go back and...

Mr. ROSAS: A lot of great Mexican restaurants are there, around.

MARTIN: Cesar, you wanted to add something. So, really, what did draw you back there? You just felt it was a good place you wanted to be all together or what?

Mr. ROSAS: No, I think all of that and it just felt good there to be back in the as we say, the hood, you know.

MARTIN: Four years, though, between albums, you know. Folks missed you.

Mr. HIDALGO: Four years, really? I didn't...

MARTIN: Yeah, you didn't...

Mr. HIDALGO: I didn't realize that. Well, there was a children's album in the middle there that we did that Disney stuff.


Mr. BERLIN: Oh, that's right, yeah.

Mr. HIDALGO: It was called "Los Lobos Go Disney."

(Soundbite of music)

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) Hi ho. Hi ho. Hi ho. Hi ho. Hi ho. Hi ho. Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho (Singing in Spanish). Hi ho, hi ho, hi ho. Hi ho, hi ho (Singing in Spanish).

Mr. HIDALGO: That was the middle point there.

Mr. ROSAS: That was about a year and a half go.

MARTIN: How did this one come about? Steve?

Mr. BERLIN: Just basically, you know, four years kind of time to act. You know, that's kind of a long time for anybody. It took us a little while to figure out exactly how we were going to do it. Our last contract had ended and it was, you know, there's lots of options these day. You know, a lot of people are self-releasing and something in between. So it took us a while to find an appropriate home for what we wanted to do. And so that took a little while. But, you know, it was definitely time for some new material, you know, we needed it. I think our fans were ready for it.

MARTIN: How does that work, since several of you write? Is there, like, a meeting? Do you text each other? What do you do? Cesar?

Mr. ROSAS: In the old days, yeah, I suppose, you know, when we first started out we sort of did all of that, you know, especially preproduction on the music. You know, we would write it, go to a rehearsal hall and rehearse it for a couple of weeks and then go in a studio and record it.

Nowadays we found out that it feels better, you know, be spontaneous with it, like, in the studio, you know. So it kind of it gives that vibe, you know. We like the way that works with us. Especially the writing, too, you know. We did a lot of the writing in the studio, as well.

MARTIN: David?

Mr. HIDALGO: It was just our time was a big factor in this album. We wanted to get it out for summertime. And we didn't have any songs. So we went in the studio. We just went in and said well, we have a date booked that we could just go. We got to come up with something.

MARTIN: Steve, you want to add anything?

Mr. BERLIN: Well, just, you know, I wouldnt recommend it for any aspiring musician.

MARTIN: I'm scared listening to this. I'm scared listening this. Okay, I'm getting that blank page sweat that I would get when I have a blank page. I'm thinking, okay.

Mr. BERLIN: There's a good bit of that.

Mr. HIDALGO: Well, you, yeah.

Mr. BERLIN: There's definitely some terror the first couple days, you know, you literally feel like oh man, this is never going to work, you know, what's going happen. And, you know, slowly but surely, you know, the ideas kind of generate themselves. Like Dave said, you know, it's just like something starts something and then, you know, gradually a song comes together and then another song comes together and...

Mr. HIDALGO: And then, of course, you know, the mortgage comes up so...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIDALGO: ...youre scared straight, you know? Then we go okay, let's write some music.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Let's write some music. All right. Well, let's play a little bit. Let's play a little.

Mr. BERLIN: All right.

MARTIN: Let's play; we want how about "Yo Canto?"

Mr. HIDALGO: Oh, great.

MARTIN: I love that. Here we go.

(Soundbite of song, "Yo Canto")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) (Foreign language spoken)

MARTIN: Okay. Who took the lead on this one? Cesar, you took the lead on this?

Mr. ROSAS: Take the lead? Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, how did it start?

Mr. ROSAS: Just liking that sort of rhythm, the cumbia thing. It's sort of like it's been the thing with me now for the past few years. It's music that certainly works well on our live shows and it gets people moving, so it's a cool thing, you know.

Mr. BERLIN: Like you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSAS: (Unintelligible)

MARTIN: Yeah. That's true. I was enjoying myself.

Mr. BERLIN: Yeah.


Mr. BERLIN: It's effective.

Mr. HIDALGO: For me, when in doubt, just write a cumbia, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

(Soundbite of song, "Yo Canto")

MARTIN: And I think a lot of people would be excited that you cover a Grateful Dead song in this one.


MARTIN: How did that one, the "West L.A. Fadeaway," how did that come about?

Mr. ROSAS: It was...

MARTIN: I'm not giving away a secret, am I?


Mr. ROSAS: No. Oh, no.

MARTIN: Okay. All right. David?

Mr. HIDALGO: We were invited to open for the Dead in '88. So it was a weekend of shows - three nights. And the first night we asked Jerry, you know, if he wanted to come up and play with us, you know. So he came up and played a couple of songs with us.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. HIDALGO: And afterwards, he asked me if I would sit in on a song with the Dead and I was pretty, I mean it was pretty...

MARTIN: You said, oh, let me think about it.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIDALGO: Let me check my schedule.

MARTIN: Well, no. Let's see - okay.

Mr. HIDALGO: So, well, the song we played was "West L.A. Fadeaway," so that's the history of what we have with him.

(Soundbite of song, "West L.A. Fadeaway")

GRATEFUL DEAD (Rock band): (Singing) ...on the highway (unintelligible) in the streets. Hey, hey.

(Soundbite of applause) (Soundbite of cheering)

MARTIN: If youre just joining us, this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. We're visiting with three members of Los Lobos. They have a new CD out, after four years. It's called "Tin Can Trust."

And I wanted to ask about the decision not to play in Arizona on this tour. Was it a unified decision?

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah, pretty much. I mean, it was hard. I mean, well, just for the fact that we were playing on the reservation and a lot of people had bought tickets already, so that was hard to walk away from that. But it...

MARTIN: Why did you?

Mr. HIDALGO: It doesnt make sense. I mean it's their law, I mean, so we had to walk away from it, you know? It was right when they had this big walk from all over the nation, you know, like a pro, the law, you know, and it was the same weekend we were playing so it just didnt seem like a good idea.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: Didn't feel right?

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well, what do you make of the fact the polls show, at least for now, that most of those surveyed in Arizona support the law and, in fact, a lot of the...

Mr. HIDALGO: I think...

MARTIN: ...national polling says that nationally, the majority of those surveyed support the law. David, what do you think about that?

Mr. HIDALGO: Well, it depends where you go in Arizona. If you go down by the border, I'm sure its a different - the poll's going to be different than it is up in like say Tempe or Phoenix, you know. I dont think it's the whole state's opinion, you know.

MARTIN: Steve, you want to add something?

Mr. BERLIN: I think it's just an amazingly troubling aspect of the way politics are sold, that, you know, people are only presented with that as a solution to anything. And clearly, it's not going to, you know, it can't solve anything, it can't fix anything, it's not going to stop anything, it's not going to certainly, totally, people aren't going to go anywhere and I think people realize that it's a sad unfortunate decision. And I frankly, think it's, you know, traitorously un-American. I mean this is what this country's built on and then all of a sudden its, you know, what are we if we're going to basically tell immigrants that this is not a place for them anymore?

MARTIN: Sometimes artists do pay a price, though when they get involved in the political discussion. Like, I dont know if everybody remembers the Dixie Chicks.

Mr. BERLIN: Yeah, sure.

Mr. HIDALGO: Sure.

MARTIN: And they did pay a price. I mean other people say well, it was compensated for, but they even, to the point of some people argued changing the name of the group in order to distance themselves from it, that it was a painful time for them. And I did wonder whether there have been any repercussions to you all?

Mr. BERLIN: The version of history that I read is that this country is built on dissent and it's built into every part of the political process from every legislature, every deliberative body is built on dissent. And what's very, you know, again, this troubling aspect is that there are voices, mostly in the right, that are trying to squash that and saying well, you know, dissent is somehow un-American and, you know, you have to follow this path or youre un-American and you hear it every bloody day, and it's just a tragic simplification and, you know, I just, my hats off to them as far the selling job, because the selling job is practically propaganda. But I dont think it helps anything. I dont think it solves anything. I dont think it fixes anything. I think it just creates a more polarized consciousness in the country, which is I dont think an answer to anything.

MARTIN: Well, before we move on to a little bit more music, I do want to ask, do you feel though, with all the debate that is taking place around this, do you feel confident or at least some sense that the issue is moving toward resolution, even though there's a lot of heat right now, perhaps not as much light as you would like?

Mr. BERLIN: You know, I think we might have to get through more the noisy part. It seems like the noise is overwhelm. You know, there's an expression in the music business called signal to noise, where there's like signal, which is sound and noise, which is useless. And right now the noise to signal ratio is extremely high.

MARTIN: Well, thank you for making some music despite that feeling a little bit, you know, a little bit sour about something so...

Mr. BERLIN: You know, its our job, right?


Mr. BERLIN: (Unintelligible).

MARTIN: All right. Well, let's go back to one of the earliest songs, just because I think a lot of your fans will not forgive us if we dont play a little something from back in the day. And I wanted to play from the CD "How Will The Wolf Survive," and this song is "Matter of Time."

(Soundbite of song, "Matter of Time")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) That's there's a better world out there, though it don't feel right. Will it be like I hope, just a matter of time? And I hope it's all it seems.

Mr. HIDALGO: So happy.

(Soundbite of song, "Matter of Time")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) Not another empty dream. There's a time for you and me in a place living happily.

MARTIN: Why are you all cracking up in here?

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: They're all cracking in here while we're playing - what's going on? what am I missing?

Mr. ROSAS: It's like when you listen to an old recording, it's like seeing a picture of yourself like with your ears look too big.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSAS: It sounds like, you know, if you got a funny haircut, you know, it's kind of.

Mr. BERLIN: Lederhosen.

Mr. ROSAS: Yeah.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSAS: A little embarrassing moment.

MARTIN: I don't know. I think it's sweet.

Mr. ROSAS: I mean I like the song...


Mr. ROSAS: I really - I like the song. It means a lot to me but you just hear...

MARTIN: Things that you do differently.

Mr. HIDALGO: Things. Yeah.

Mr. BERLIN: We play and sing so much lower now that it just - it literally sounds like the track was sped up and I know it wasnt.

Mr. ROSAS: Yeah.

Mr. BERLIN: It's just so funny sounding.

MARTIN: Why do you sing so much lower now?

Mr. ROSAS: This has been 30 years.

Mr. BERLIN: Gravity.

Mr. HIDALGO: Gravity, yeah.

MARTIN: Gravity.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERLIN: It doesnt let up.

Mr. HIDALGO: Doesnt let up. Exactly.

MARTIN: But I do want to ask though, number one, how youve managed to keep the relationships in tact after all these years? And how you keep touring...

Mr. HIDALGO: It's amazing.

MARTIN: ...after all these years.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: I would like - I think a lot of people would like to know. Keeping your voice and what happened?

Mr. HIDALGO: It's greed and hatred.

(Soundbite of laughter)

MARTIN: You know, can't let the other guy win? No, seriously.

Mr. ROSAS: No, you know...

MARTIN: And so - all right. Okay. All right. So to keep a group together, I wonder there've been a lot of marriages have lasted.

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah.

MARTIN: So how do you think you do it?

Mr. ROSAS: We stop every once in a while and just realize hey, we're blessed, you know, with what we do. You know, having feel that, you know, you naturally look at your brother and you go hey, you know, that was yesterday. Let's move on, you know, to kind of keep doing this and it's a cool job, you know? Cool gig.

Mr. HIDALGO: Beats working.

Mr. BERLIN: Beats hot mopping in July or whatever, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSAS: We're blessed. You know...

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah, we are.

Mr. ROSAS: ...we get to play music that we love and...

Mr. HIDALGO: It's still sincere with us, you know.

Mr. ROSAS: ...with our fans and it's a cool thing.

MARTIN: You probably haven't been ask this in a long time, but I do have to ask, why Los Lobos?

Mr. ROSAS: You mean the title?

MARTIN: The title. Yeah, the title of the - the world.

Mr. ROSAS: Oh god, it's a long - that's a long story. But way, way, way in the beginning, when we got our first gig, which was actually almost a coincidence or an accident, we were forced to make up a name for the band, to put on the, you know, the contract, where the little, it says, you know, the name of the band. And the gentleman who hired us, he's a good friend of ours and he was just, you know, he says I'm going to come back tomorrow and, you know, you got to have a name because you guys are going to play at this, you know, at this function, you know.

Mr. HIDALGO: This (unintelligible) city schools. Yeah.

Mr. ROSAS: And, so we were under pressure and we thought well, you know, we're a band of, you know, young hippie kids with beards and long hair...

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSAS: ...playing Mexico folk music. We thought, well, we should name it something that's appropriate, you know, to the music that we're playing. So we came up with a lot of names, but the one that stuck was Los Lobos, you know, Los Lobos del Este de Los Angeles back then. And we just cut out a few. Just to Los Lobos.

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah. It wouldnt fit in the marquee level.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. HIDALGO: Yeah, it wouldnt fit in the marquee.

MARTIN: Have you ever wanted to, you know, switch it up, something else?

Mr. ROSAS: No. We just...

MARTIN: The Cool Guys?

Mr. ROSAS: ...set it and forget it, you know.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. ROSAS: The Lobos.

Mr. HIDALGO: The Los Lobos.

Mr. ROSAS: Yeah.

MARTIN: All right. Well, so what's next? What's next for you?

Mr. ROSAS: Just we're tour.

Mr. BERLIN: Tour. Tour. Tour. Tour.

Mr. ROSAS: Tour behind the album and hopefully, you know, get the word out, and people enjoy it. That's the whole thing.

MARTIN: All right. I think we're going to play the title track. I think we'll go out on "Tin Can Trust." All right.

Mr. HIDALGO: It sounds like "Tin Can."

MARTIN: It sounds like "Tin Can?"

Mr. ROSAS: That's cool.

MARTIN: Okay. Los Lobos "Tin Can Trust" is out now. We are visiting with David Hidalgo, Steve Berlin and Cesar Rosas. They were here with me in our studios in Washington.

Thank you all so much for joining us.

Mr. HIDALGO: Thanks for having us.

Mr. BERLIN: Thanks for having us.

(Soundbite of song, "Tin Can Trust")

LOS LOBOS: (Singing) It dont look, dont look like I'm going nowhere. My faithful bottle, bottle rolling down the stairs. All in all, aint got, ain't got much than a tin can trust.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and youve been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News and the African-American Public Radio Consortium.

Lets talk more tomorrow.

(Soundbite of song, "Tin Can Trust")

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