The hero… the archetype from the Greek meaning “protector” or “defender,” extended to those demonstrating moral excellence; an entity which progresses tenaciously in relative obscurity remaining unknown until a major debut.
We mere mortals may at some moment discover a major influence, someone to emulate or follow or study; that which embodies our version of success. Finding that example, and applying the lessons, is difficult at best.
Consequently, it takes a lot to stand out in LA. It takes even more to remain committed to the honorable conviction of being a role model. Yet the quartet known as Chicano Batman have decided to take up a musical quest in a complex city, which although is over 50% Latino, still caters immutably to other ethnicities. There’s no doubt that these gentlemen understand that moving from novelty to “investment worthy” continues to be a tricky path.
There’s a draw, a release and a conclusion… and Chicano Batman are on the hunt to fulfill their American Dream. Bardo Martinez, Carlos Arévalo, Eduardo Arenas and Gabriel Villa may have started-out relatively “laid back”, but now it’s all business. Lucky for us their trajectory follows a host of trailblazing influences from the 70s.
Though my Dad brought me up with Glenn Miller & Bing Crosby, and my mom with Elvis & Vicente Fernandez, it was my grandmother who bought me my first 70s album, KISS Love Gun (yes, with the paper-gun that POPPED). Grandma also bought me my trusty ‘ol Realistic radio-recorder, which led to years of Casey Kasem and to an appreciation of musicianship.
And this is what sets certain artists apart, what differentiates a work-of-art from a product… the attention to detail and the respect. Not merely crafting the song, but the actual art of making the music. Over the centuries virtuosos have filled halls with geniuses and intellectuals; those whose sole purpose was to master their instruments. The “final piece” was an inevitable result of all that screwing around, but by no means the ultimate goal.
The 70s were especially interesting when it came to pushing the limits of dissonance, insane arrangements and spiritualism. We had Al Di Meola, Steve Lacy, and Santana; prog-rock gods and disco demons; soul-searchers, punk activists and superhuman storytellers. This decade had it all…
And thanks to Chicano Batman, I get to re-live it again as they take some of the best of the 70s and mold it into a style that is truly unique. But these guys aren’t merely doing this for ME; they have embarked on an engaging heroic journey to inspire and entertain us all.
Citizen LA: Ok… You got people shaking their asses. You got really inspiring music. You got soul. Watching the performance, it was obvious the band was having a good time up there… except for you, Carlos, you were a little serious.
Carlos: I have so many things going on with my effects that require a lot of concentration. I mean, I wanna dance around too, but… [sad face].
Citizen LA: Aww, look at that. You don’t give Carlos a chance to dance! What’s wrong with you guys??
Bardo: We are all pretty busy up there. I play the guitar, the keyboards, and sing all at the same time.
Citizen LA: I think I saw you working a Hacky-Sack too.
Bardo: You know it!
Citizen LA: Chicano Batman, huh? So which one of you is Bruce Wayne?
Bardo: I guess that would kinda have to be me, cuz I came up with the concept. It’s all about us being superhero-like in your own right.
Citizen LA: So in this concept I hear: One part Santana… One part Latin Jazz Fusion… And a twist of Marley. No doubt there’s a heavy 70s influence in your music.
Carlos: If you live in LA you hear Art Laboe doing the Oldies on Sundays, and that’s been since we were little kids.
Bardo: A lot of what I listened to came from my Pop’s records and cassettes.
Gabriel: I love 70s music. It was so pure, so rich… so raw and delicious.
Citizen LA: Your music is at times a bit complex especially being performed by only four people. Is there room for improvisation?
Bardo: It’s actually pretty methodical and thought-out. We let ourselves jam around the idea, but I don’t really think we’re a jam band.
Eduardo: We have to seriously rehearse the set because we have a lot of changes, a lot of dynamics. It’s definitely not easy. And if we don’t rehearse the set, we’re gonna lose each other playing live. So there’s little improvisation.
Citizen LA: So how does LA treat you?
Bardo: Our music is real and honest. I think our LA fans identify with that and understand what we’re doing. We hope to empower them. And being from LA there are many Latinos fans that don’t get many opportunities.
Citizen LA: For years I lived down the street from Boyle Heights, and I can tell you that East LA really needs heroes. The kids need people like you. Someone that they can look up to and say, “I wanna be like him.”
Bardo: What you’re saying is absolutely true. People say, “You guys are going to Coachella, right? Don’t’ forget about us, please. ”
Citizen LA: Aww… that’s so cool.
Bardo: We carry the weight of our families, especially for those family members that are old and can’t make it. For all the fans that come to our shows, and buy us drinks, just cuz they believe in us. For me, all this is not mine. This is not “our” band”, this belongs to everybody. This is a moment for everyone. Let’s own it, man! Let’s be proud of this, because this is just the beginning.
Citizen LA: Right on… wait… so who’s buying you drinks? Cuz, bro, hook me up!
Carlos: It’s all about peace and love and harmony. That’s what we’re trying to project as a group. If you come up to any of us, we’re gonna give you a hand. Everybody’s on the same playing field, no matter where you’re at and no matter how high up on the ladder you THINK you are. There’s nothing more real than our brothers, our community.
Adventures, challenges, enlightenment, and eventually praise comes to the hero, whose originality emanates from the suppression of the ego. The path has reason and reward, however the hero must contend with constant demand to “be someone”, or worse yet “someone else.”
After a few minutes of watching Chicano Batman perform, it became apparent that these guys are committed to their art, to their instruments. After a few minutes of hanging-out, it became apparent that these guys are rooted in a positive mindset with no contrived effort to be anyone other than themselves. Their fans should feel confident that these guys are the real deal.
And upon learning that we all had a similar LA upbringing, Bardo referred to us as “homies,” a humble compliment to say the least– especially coming from a power quartet whose talents run circles around many of today’s musical acts.
In my opinion, they all have a little bit of Bruce Wayne in them. [:P]
Yes, Haley Pharo is lovely. Her face, her voice, and her words all work together to produce a physical persona that undoubtedly melts hearts. Haley’s true beauty, however, emanates from wisdom and an appreciation for life. The fearless singer/songwriter is on a mission to leave the world a better place than when she came to it.
Haley’s poignant songs are comprised of life lessons coated in a sweet musical veneer that is simple and accessible. Tracks vacillate from melodic hooks to anthemic choruses which hint at tonal qualities found in Blondie, No Doubt and Tory Amos. An interesting blend of synth samples creates a playful clean sound reminiscent of 80’s Pop without sounding dated or retro. Haley’s songwriting abilities are more than evident.
Yet beyond all this unbridled musical talent, we can appreciate Haley for being a simple girl with simple dreams. Haley carries a heartfelt conviction to share the gift of music while navigating through an unmerciful industry that eats adorable popstars for breakfast…
And she’s biting back.
Citizen LA: You we’re in the Amazon at an early age. How has traveling affected your music?
Haley Pharo: I think traveling is the greatest educator there is. Seeing some of the more poverty stricken parts of the world has taught me to be grateful for everything… I’ve been very lucky.
Citizen LA: After taking a good look at some photos on your MySpace site, I immediately saw that there was a benefit to both parties. You were happy that you were there, and they were happy that you were there.
Haley: I walk away from those situations gaining more than I could ever imagine giving someone. All they want to do is give you all the joy they possibly have. And that’s what I want to give back to the world.
Citizen LA: According to your bio, you make it a point to keep a very detailed journal. Are you an open book when you’re out in public?
Haley: The way that I know to be vulnerable and best express my feelings has always been through writing and through music. I think in everyday life I’m a little more of a closed book or a “question mark”. I’m very warm, but to get to know me takes quite a bit of time.
Citizen LA: Do you consider yourself an extrovert or an introvert?
Haley: I just consider myself a weirdo. Hahaha. I think I’m a total goofball… and a bit of a square peg in a round hole. I’m sure my high school guidance counselor agrees.
Citizen LA: Yeah, all the best ones are square pegs in round holes.
Haley: Being normal is over-rated.
Citizen LA: Looks like you’ve been at-the-right-place-at-the-right-time many times. How do you account for that?
Haley: It’s been one adventure after another. Like a domino effect of getting lucky.
Citizen LA: Synchronicity?
Haley: I just stumbled down the right road. I met a buddy who was a background singer for Justin Timberlake when I was 12. He took me under his wing, and then I was just one thing after another. My parents encouraged me to be exactly who I was at that moment. At every moment!
Citizen LA: We usually learn more from our failures than our success. How comfortable are you with your failures?
Haley: I embrace my failures. If I hadn’t made a millions mistakes, I wouldn’t be who I am now. I’m grateful for all of them, good and bad. You can either choose to let your mistakes make you ‘bitter or better’.
Citizen LA: So you’re a pretty brave person?
Haley: I’d like to think so. Worst case scenario you fall flat on your face, but you can get up and try again.
Citizen LA: In your bio, you mention “honesty” when collaborating with others. How do you remain honest in the entertainment business?
Haley: I think it has a lot to do with my upbringing. It’s important as a songwriter to always be honest with yourself. So much of it is people telling you that you are ‘so great’, or that it was a ‘great idea.’ And you look in the mirror and say ‘No. No. That was stupid.’ But it’s ok. I think being critical of myself has helped me stay honest. You definitely grow from criticism.
Citizen LA: It’s key.
Haley: There are a lot of opinions out there… but at the end of the day; the one that matters most is your opinion about yourself.
Citizen LA: Now how long have you been in LA?
Haley: 5 ½ years.
Citizen LA: This city can chew you up. If you don’t come to LA and meet the right people relatively quickly, it can be tough.
Haley: I’ve heard horror stories from people being new to LA and meeting crazy people, but I haven’t had that experience. I was so fortunate. I’ve met really cool people who have been weirdoes themselves who celebrate each other’s uniqueness.
Citizen LA: I guess that’s what keeps the right people in LA.
Haley: That keeps people sane here.
Citizen LA: Unless you start out insane.
Haley: Maybe that’s what happened to me; I’m crazy and I just haven’t noticed it yet.
Citizen LA: About the music itself… over-production is a definite soul-killer. How do you keep your songs from becoming pop-garbage?
Haley: I think it goes back to that honesty thing. I think when it goes too far you just reel it back in. But keep the message of the song, which is most important. Not necessarily what radio wants to play or what is cool that month. It’s always a battle trying to find that “just right” area.
Citizen LA: And it also helps to be working with someone like Andrew Dawson.
Haley: Yes, we were in the studio a few months together.
Citizen LA: So, from a production standpoint, what have you learned about producing your music?
Haley: Andrew always encouraged new ideas and helped me to push the envelope further than I would have originally thought to do. I learned to not have any boundaries, have fun, let go, and don’t over-think it.
Citizen LA: Do you see him working a lot from intuition?
Haley: He has his own flavor. I think his ideas and my ideas worked out really nicely together. He is so talented and so kind. I don’t have enough nice things to say about him. Honesty I don’t think there’s anything the man can’t do.
Citizen LA: That’s a huge compliment.
Haley: I’ve been very fortune. Everyone that I have worked with has been so talented.
Citizen LA: Again, the right place at the right time.
Citizen LA: I noticed that you are very comfortable on stage. Is that Haley the “little girl” or the “grown up”?
Haley: The stage is my playground. Oddly enough, it’s the one place where I feel all my walls go down. All the fantasies and dreams I had as a little kid up come to life on stage. When I perform, it marries the adult me with the five year old me.
Citizen LA: So what inspires you?
Haley: Anyone I come into contact with is inspiration. We have so much to learn from how people handle themselves; the way people treat you. My biggest song writing motivator is relationship driven. So it comes in handy that I have picked guys that weren’t very good for me.
Citizen LA: Are you a little heart-breaker?
Haley: I think at times, yes, and at times I’m the one that gets stomped on.
Citizen LA: So relationships inspire you. Los Angeles inspires you. Does Texas inspire you? You’re from Texas, right?
Haley: I’m from Dallas.
Citizen LA: Very nice people… and very good BBQ.
Haley: And VERY good Tex-Mex. I miss it. They don’t even have queso out here. Velveeta just doesn’t cut it for me.
Citizen LA: An ex schooled me on the finer points of “queso”.
Haley: Texans do love their queso.
Citizen LA: So what words of advice do you have for the little girl in Dallas who believes they have what it takes to be the next you?
Haley: Never stop believing in yourself… and don’t take “no” for an answer. You’re going to hear “no” a thousand times before you get a “yes”. But all it takes is one important “yes”. Rejection is just a small part of it.
Citizen LA: Were you always this confident?
Haley: Actually, I was a really shy kid. I hid behind my mom’s leg and wouldn’t talk. But one day I saw a girl sing a song from The Sound of Music at a family talent show and told my mom I wanted to do that. My mom said, ‘That’s really weird, you don’t want to be a singer… you’re gonna be a loner if you’re a singer.’ After that I nagged the crap out of her to let me sing.
Citizen LA: You seem to do it well. Everyone’s paying attention.
Haley: I’m tryin’.
Citizen LA: No. You’re doin’.
Haley: Hahaha. Ok.
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There’s a standard for Jazz clubs that is eternally etched in our minds. It’s a relaxed, alluring, intimate space that allows us to sit close enough to feel the notes that radiate from instruments and vocals alike. The Jazz musicians who grace these rare venues offer performances that leave us feeling lucky to be at the right place at the right time.
Though Mexico City has many hidden live-music gems, none embodies the quintessential Jazz club metaphor better than Zinco. Bank turned nightclub, Zinco is located in the city’s historical center and is dripping with “cool”. The minute I walked in, I knew it was special. And haunted. Very haunted.
On my first visit to this amazing spot, I was fortunate enough to watch a two sets from Sachal Vasandani; a 25 year old crooner with a burgeoning satin-tongue and a calming presence. A very smooth cat. Honestly I knew little of his career, but when I read that the Grammy-Winning Producer John Clayton produced his latest album “Hi-Fly” I knew I had to check this guy out.
Inside, red velvet curtains sprawled across the entire length of a long wall. This was no simple interior design element; Zinco was definitely making a statement. Just in front of the curtain sat a pianist, a bassist and a drummer. Just in front of these cats stood Sachal the vocalist and songwriter.
Two 45 minute sets were filled with playful heartfelt standards and original music. This young talent capably summoned the legendary spirit of Jazz, wearing Sinatra and flirting with Fitzgerald. Sachal had the crowd completely under his control.
After the show, I caught up with Sachal as he was signing CDs and charming the ladies… and some of the men too.
Citizen LA: Not that Wisdom is measured in years, but you seem pretty young.
Sachal Vasandani: Thankfully I’ve been very fortunate. Opportunities have been presented. And people look after me in a positive way. I’m just happy to be here.
Citizen LA: So how did you get to Mexico?
Sachal: They brought me in for a special performance last night and tonight… and… well things just happen with a happy coincidence. This is my very first time in this country, and I’m loving every minute of it.
Citizen LA: You unveiled a new piece tonight which was written during your time in traffic. I think people here in Mexico City spend more time in traffic than doing anything else.
Sachal: The traffic is very intense, though it did give me enough time to write a good song. But it has nothing to do with stoplights or bad drivers.
Citizen LA:Your sound is a bit straight-ahead, a bit scat, showered in standards. Who are your influences?
Sachal: Ella Fitzgerald, Joe Williams, Jimmy Rushing, Frank Sinatra, Anita O’Day, Billie Holiday. I also spend a lot of time listening to what’s current. I feel like I was born and raised with Jazz in the traditional sense and now I’m open to what the world has to offer.
Citizen LA: How do you fit into this world? Do you consider yourself a song-writer or a musician or a poet?
Sachal: It’s not so much how I see myself, but what I create. I’m inspired by the poetry of Baudelaire. I’m inspired by a Paul Simon song. I’m inspired by the great musicians I shared the stage with tonight. So all that stuff comes out in my own ethos. In the way I interpret the word. Sometimes it’s whatever the cat just played on the piano. It all comes through me. I’m like a sieve.
Citizen LA: On stage you were completely in the moment. But more than being comfortable, you were so there. It seems the place could be on fire, and you’d STILL be singing.
Sachal: That’s a great compliment. I’ll take it.
Citizen LA: You choose to perform in a focused and calm manner. Yet you are inspired by horrific traffic that results in a beautiful song.
Sachal: Ha! It’s true.
Citizen LA: But HOW does it come to you. As a phrase? A note? A melody? A feeling?
Sachal: Inspiration comes from all sources. I just try to be ready for it. So I can retaining it and turn it into something meaningful over time. Inspiration comes quick. It comes fast. It comes like a bullet. If you’re not watching, you may miss it completely. I try and remain ready with the tools to turn inspiration into a real song.
Citizen LA: I’m’ sure that you feel lucky to be in the position that you’re in; to receive inspiration and share it with others. Tonight everybody out there in the audience appreciated you. Thank you for a great night.
Sachal: Thank you. Very much.
Citizen LA: So what makes you tick?
Sachal: Enjoying the moment. Enjoying experiences that are both good and bad, and making music out of them. Mundane, inspirational, crappy, beautiful… turning that into music. That’s the challenge.