Los Lobos – Full speed ahead, three and a half decades later

LosLobos_bw_20071It has been a long time since Los Lobos have had a commercial hit with the La Bamba soundtrack (1987, to be exact) but that hasn’t stopped the Los Angeles group from making some of the best music of their 35 year career in the past two decades.

The group is coming to New Brunswick to perform, playing this year’s edition of the Fredericton Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival at the Budweiser Blues Tent on Saturday September 19.

Even before the group struck commercial gold with La Bamba, they had long been critical favourites and have remained so to this day. Their 2006 record The Town and The City was one of my personal favorites of that year. It was a stunning collection of music filled with emotional songs that ultimately showed that regardless of how many miles are on the band’s odometer, they were staying current on their own terms.

Given the length of time they have been together, one has to wonder how a group of such diverse musicians manages to keep Los Lobos interesting after all these years.

“That’s a very good question,” Los Lobos member Steve Berlin notes. “Part of it is that we are pretty aggressive editors and we try to be aware of the fact that we’ve been doing it long enough that we don’t want to take too many steps backwards. “For instance, we do not rehearse prior to going into the studio. Everybody just brings their songs to that first day of production and we go from there.”

An unorthodox way to go about making records perhaps but like the saying goes, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

According to Berlin, another key component of keeping the band relevant and interesting to all concerned is ensuring that each member pursues interests outside of Los Lobos.

Berlin is not excluded from work outside the band; he was a performer on Paul Simon’s landmark Graceland album and has been in the producer’s chair for a range of bands including The Tragically Hip, Halifax’s Nathan Wiley and Great Big Sea.

“It is very easy to be trapped in your own world. Every band has its own eco-system and culture; it is very easy to think that that is your only world,” he explains.

“So getting out writing and recording with other people is important to our band. Some of those ideas that you uncover while working with others can be some of the most valuable ones you discover.”

Berlin says the band’s next release is a children’s record which is due out in the very near future. The album is the final record owed to Hollywood Records, their label of the past five albums.

The band has since inked a deal with Shout Factory and is in the preparation stages of readying their next proper studio record.

With so many bands eschewing the traditional record label system, did the band ever give any consideration to going independent for their next record?

“Yes, we did give some consideration to going independent and we examined various options of what it would mean and how we would do it. “But we have seen a lot of our friends who have gone that route and have discovered that you really need someone to take on the responsibility of manufacturing records, doing promotion and all that background stuff to make the wheels turn. No one in the band really has the time or energy to accomplish that so pursuing another contract was in our best interest.

“Our deal with Shout Factory is very similar to an indie deal,” Berlin says.

“Shout Factory licenses the record from us but we own the master recordings. It is really the best of both worlds.”

Don’t miss the opportunity to see Los Lobos at their upcoming performance at the Fredericton Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival on Saturday September 19. The Chris Kirby Band and MonkeyJunk are also on the bill.

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