Los Lobos on songs about immigration and the new bands they’ve inspired
The legendary Mexican-American band Los Lobos, closed it’s 40th anniversary “La Pistola” tour Nov. 2 at the Merriam Theatre in Philadelphia, with an all-acoustic, all-in-Spanish show in which they revisited the songs inspired by music from Latin America.
In interview with AL DÍA, Steve Berlin, who grew up in Philadelphia and plays the keyboards and horns for Los Lobos, talked about how a “gringo” became part of this pioneer band that has inspired generations of Mexican-American musicians in Los Angeles — including bands like La Santa Cecilia, Las Cafeteras and Los Cezontles.
After 40 years, the band is as active as ever, and is getting ready to release a new album next year. Here’s what Berlin had to say.
- About how he became part of Los Lobos:
"I was playing with a group called The Blasters at the Whisky a Go Go in L.A. and one night there was a band called Los Lobos opening. I had seen them playing their folkloric stuff two years before, so I thought it was going to be nutty because we were a high speed R&B, rock and roll band. I thought maybe it was a different band playing rock and roll but it was the same band. They blew everybody away that night, and we became friends. We got to talking and they invited me to come learn some of their songs, and over the course of the next two or three years I was in the band."
- About his relationship with Philadelphia and moving to L.A.:
"I grew up here and left in 1974 so it’s been a while. I still have a number of friends that I’m close to and I see them when I come to town, but my family is in California now. When I first started hanging out with Los Lobos it was amusing to me how the Philly international sound was more or less the soundtrack of East L.A. The Intruders are probably one of my favorite bands of all times, and that’s something we had in common even before we got to know each other."
- About playing folkloric music:
"It’s something we like to do. It’s like going back to the beginning, in a lot of ways, so I think it’s healthy for our psyche and our imaginations to do this kind of music."
- About being pioneers in songs about immigration:
"It’s impossible for us to be who we are and not have an opinion on that subject. It’s too easy to create a story and try to synthesize it and add an opinion to it, but we are trying to be subtle about it so we’re cautious on how we say what we feel. We don’t necessarily want to hit people over the head with it. We want them to think."
- About the influence they’ve had in the new generation of Mexican-American musicians from L.A., including bands like La Santa Cecilia, Las Cafeteras, and Los Cezontles:
"We are honored. All the bands that you mentioned are both friends and artists that we really admire, so we are happy that the bands that are going to be hopefully taking the torch from us are so great."
- About the interest of non-Latinos in the musical tradition of Los Lobos, and the Dutch Tex-Mex artist, Dwayne Verheyde:
"Even non Latinos are getting into it and exploring it for themselves. We’ve played with the musician you are talking about, a pretty young kid. We’ve played with him a number of times and he’s amazing."
- About connecting with a younger audience:
"It’s not anything that we consciously think about. The best is just to be true to ourselves. If we do that audiences of all ages will hopefully enjoy it. We’ve managed to keep our integrity all these years and we haven’t really done anything that resembles selling out or trying to play to whatever the flavor of the moment is."
- About releasing a new album and possibly collaborating with other artists like they've done in the past with Elvis Costello, Cafe Tacuba:
"We are going to start working on it in January, but we haven’t really done anything. It would be nice to do a record like we did with Cafe Tacuba and Ruben Blades, but having done that once we don’t want to seem like we’re going back over the same ground."