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Chicano Batman keeps its style, but returns to roots in new album 'Notebook Fantasy'

SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

How does a band grow and evolve when they've already found their groove? As Chicano Batman sees it, by stripping it all back to the beginning, whether that's revisiting relationships or reliving childlike wonder, as they do in their fifth album, "Notebook Fantasy."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "NOTEBOOK FANTASY")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Singing) And you're doodling inside your notebook. Let your fantasies run away.

SIMON: Bardo Martinez is the lead singer of Chicano Batman. He joins us now from Los Angeles. Thanks so much for being with us.

BARDO MARTINEZ: Thank you for having me.

SIMON: You're singing about notebooks that a lot of us had as kids in which we would scribble, I don't know, dreams, thoughts, hopes, aspirations.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. The notebook for me has been my place to - I still live in it. I still feel like I'm 5 years old. I still act like it, too.

SIMON: (Laughter) Oh. Been there myself. I know what you mean.

MARTINEZ: So throughout my process with Chicano Batman, it's been a very personal journey. One thing that I've learned as a performer on stage is that the best way of actually getting everybody to follow your energy is to be, you know, really tapped into your own strength. So I've kind of put that foot forward when I'm doing any piece of art or music.

SIMON: Yeah. You still have a notebook or something like it?

MARTINEZ: Absolutely.

SIMON: And is it a notebook or a message app?

MARTINEZ: I do both, but I do write in a notebook. So songwriting for me is kind of like my way of writing down what I'm feeling at the moment.

SIMON: Let me ask you about a lyric in the song "Live Today."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE TODAY")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Singing) You can't get mad at every dog that barks at you, can't free all of the animals inside of the zoo.

SIMON: You can't get mad at every dog that barks at you. Now, this sounds like something you learn as you grow up, as you, God forbid, get mature.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. I mean, I took that passage from, like, Lao Tzu or, like, a Buddhist writer. I was reading a book on Buddhism because I'm trying to, like, also just relax. Just like, OK, I got all these things going on in my life, like we all do, right? How do I just, like, tap into something more positive so I can not suffer, you know? I mean, yeah, that's - I feel like I'm always very sensitive person, which is - I pour into the music, right? And I'm just very transparent with it, which is - it makes me who I am and the music I am a part of.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "LIVE TODAY")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Singing) I don't know when I'm gonna go. Gonna live today.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. That's that lyric. It's just like, the world's going to be coming at you if you see it that way, right?

SIMON: Yeah.

MARTINEZ: And that's also part of it, too. You're going to emit the energy that you're perceiving. So that's what that song is about. Like, hey, just live today. Like, you know, just chill out, essentially.

SIMON: Then let me ask you about this song. Let's hear a little of "Parallels."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "PARALLELS")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Singing) I never trusted you. I always saw through you. Why don't you say that to my face? I didn't think so. Huh.

SIMON: What's the story behind this? Usually don't hear that kind of intimation make it into a song lyric.

MARTINEZ: Yeah. Yeah. It's just - it's - Eduardo and I are like brothers.

SIMON: Eduardo, your band mate.

MARTINEZ: Eduardo Arenas. We pretty much started this band. Actually, him and I have always been very competitive with each other in making music.

SIMON: But you're in a band. I mean...

MARTINEZ: I'm in a band. I'm in a band. So it's like - that's absolutely it, you know? So, you know, it's the back-and-forth. That's kind of the original feud, so to speak. I mean, it's kind of natural in a band - right? - where you - that's what happened. So I always make music on my own and just kind of write a song a day, you know, type of thing.

He showed me a song that I liked, like, a piece. He was like, hey, I want you to work on this with me. And I was like, well, why don't we just do a duet then? And automatically, I just imagined the stage. I was like, yo, you could have a mic, and I could have a mic, and we could just literally duel it out.

So it was really a grounding thing for this record. But we would spend, like, an hour and a half just talking about our relationship, essentially, or what we got going on in life, or it would just turn into therapy sessions, you know? I feel like this whole record for me was kind of like a therapy. To be honest, I do feel better now.

SIMON: I want to ask you about a - by contrast, kind of an ethereal moment in the song "Era Primavera."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ERA PRIMAVERA")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Singing in Spanish).

SIMON: Where's that moment come from?

MARTINEZ: You know, I grew up with a lot of pop music. Like, my dad had, like, thousands of CDs. And then fourth grade, I was made fun of so bad that I would just - I literally stayed in the whole summer.

SIMON: You were made fun of?

MARTINEZ: Yeah.

SIMON: Any idea why?

MARTINEZ: I've always been an animated person, kid - a lot of energy. And so I remember, like, I was just kind of like acting. And we're acting out a scene, and I was having so much fun with it. But the kids just bashed me so hard because, yeah, I'm sure it was pretty weird and funny. But that made me an artist, to be honest. All these moments of like, you know, rejection or whatever made - literally just kind of allowed me to create my own world inside of myself, you know what I mean? Like, OK, the world is not accepting me. Let me create my own world.

SIMON: You know, that's one of the best descriptions I've heard of it. The world doesn't accept me for who I am. So I'm going to create a world that will.

MARTINEZ: Absolutely. Yeah. So going back to that moment, that big moment in that song, I think it's just pop - music in general has a way of creating these beautiful moments in music. I grew up with a lot of '60s, '70s, like, ballads in Spanish as well - Leo Dan, Jose Jose. These are very big exponents in that world. I mean, it's awesome. It just - it's about the energy, right? So we're just creating that energy now.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "ERA PRIMAVERA")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Vocalizing).

SIMON: At this point in your career and the evolution of Chicano Batman, what do you think your music can do for people? What would you like it to do?

MARTINEZ: I mean, I wanted to move them. I want them to feel it. I want them to connect, you know? I think it's all about connectivity, you know? And there's no better place than a live show. I think we engineered these songs to hit - like, beats going to drop, and everybody's going to shake.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHICANO BATMAN SONG, "THE WAY YOU SAY IT")

SIMON: Bardo Martinez of Chicano Batman. Their new album "Notebook Fantasy," out now. Bardo Martinez, thanks so much for being with us.

MARTINEZ: Scott, thank you so much.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "THE WAY YOU SAY IT")

CHICANO BATMAN: (Singing) I took some time to reflect. Wish you would talk to me direct. You're always waiting for tomorrow. The way you say the things you say. Mind tricks in my head all day. You're always pushing for tomorrow. We could've settled it right here. Instead, it took a year. So many thoughts inside my head. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon
Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.

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