"People always say that punk is the folk music of Los Angeles but mariachi is a close second, if not a number one," says Joby J. Ford, guitarist and ringleader of hard-knuckled LA rockers The Bronx who last year recorded two albums in the one sitting; the scorching punk-rock set Bronx 3, released last November, and the mariachi-style companion set Mariachi El Bronx, out this month.
Ford says the predominant Latino population of 'The City of Angels', where he grew up and formed the quintet in 2002, means the sound of Mexican music is ubiquitous.
"You can't walk down the street without hearing it," says the guitarist over the phone. "And the idea of a mariachi album had been kicking around for a while and then my wife bought me a vihuela, which is a small mariachi guitar, for my birthday. So I began writing songs on it on the tour bus."
With the addition of bassist and trumpet player Brad Magers and the contribution of guitarron (Mexican bass) player Vince Hidalgo (since replaced by Karla Tovar), the band swapped hardcore riffs for mariachi tones at their purpose-built studio Big Game Lodge, located in LA's "porn valley", Van Nuys.
"Live and in the studio I generally use the same set up. I have a massively mod-ed Marshall JMP 100-watt and I usually use Orange and Fender cabs and an AC30. Guitars, I play a clear Plexiglass Dan Armstrong which doesn't sound like a guitar, it sounds plastic not like wood and to me that's very pleasing. I also use a Les Paul with a Silvertone lipstick tube pick-up in the treble position."
Of course, Ford and co, who worked with former Guns & Roses guitarist Gilby Clarke on their 2003 debut, moderated their customary balls-out punk rock approach for Mariachi El Bronx.
"Most people, when they hear we're doing a mariachi album, they assume what we are playing is a style of mariachi called 'norteno' which is the most popular style of that music," explains Ford. "It's the northern style when accordian was introduced into Mexico by the Germans or the Polish and it has that very circus-y sound - it's like the nu-metal of mariachi. But the style we play is the old-world style mariachi which is very lush and beautiful. It's my favourite thing we've ever done."
Constantly on tour, Ford says he also pursues a parallel vocation on the road - graphic design. "No-one's really in a band even though they are," he laughs from a tour stop in Memphis. "Driving seven hours a day I would rather do some work rather than sitting there in the van. So I do artwork all day on my laptop. I use a computer to try to make everything look like I'm not using a computer."
So far, Ford has contributed album cover art for Jakob Dylan (son of Bob) and Paul Westerberg as well as for a line of Tequila called Majar. All three Bronx records also feature his designs.
"I like very simple use of type and image which I always try to incorporate into everything I do with the band," he says. "I just like to keep things translatable and unique, I think that's where the true art lies. I wasn't a very good student and I always thought I just wasn't smart but I figured out later in life that the thing I could do was make up stuff - so I make up artwork and I make up music."