March 2, 2017

arenas

During my interview with Eduardo Arenas at the L.A. Bakery, I hear the door’s bell ringing and footsteps approaching our table. An older Korean woman comes up and asks us for directions, her heavy accent making it difficult for me to understand what she is saying, but Eduardo seems to catch her words quickly. Growing up in the city allowed Arenas to take a piece of paper, draw her a map and send her happily on her way. Eduardo Arenas is the bassist of the psychedelic band Chicano Batman, and throughout our interview, he explains the importance of rhythm and how integral it is to our everyday interactions.

Eduardo usually stands towards the side of the stage, bolstering Chicano Batman with his funky basslines. Yet on his debut solo album, Nariz, the spotlight spins towards him. He doesn’t disappoint, supplying an album of soothing vocals and infectious guitars, both tender acoustic riffs and psychedelic squall. He walks the path cut out by one of his many inspirations, Prince, recording about eighty-five percent of the record all by himself.

Nariz is a colorful album that conjures up inspiration from Arenas’ time in Panama and Brazil. Whether it’s the sound of salsa or the songs he sings in Portuguese, the music takes you to an exotic place full of romance and cultural joy. Eduardo uses his harmonic singing to vocalize the strong emotions related to relationships and the power of friendship. Nariz is a stripped down album, and accordingly, every instrument assists in creating strong feelings of community and connection that constructs a reflection of Eduardo as a person. —Gabriel Murillo


You’re from LA. Have you been here your whole life?


Eduardo Arenas: Yeah, mostly. I’m 34 now. When I was 21 I lived in Brazil for almost a year and then I left again to live in Panama but most of my life has been here in the city—Boyle Heights and Pico Rivera.


How was Brazil?


Eduardo Arenas: It was great, man. I mean it was just a different way of seeing the world and a different way of living. You can compare a lot between Brazil and the U.S.—the U.S. being a big consumer culture, you spend a lot of money here. We have a lot of commodities and we have a lot of space, like our notion of space around us. Go on a bus at five thirty here in LA, you’ll see it’s busy but go on a bus in Brazil or Panama at five and your notion of space is gone. There’s not more than three inches around you. Everybody here drives in their cars so you don’t have to deal with the realities of other people on a bus. Like, everybody has to go in the same direction so you become no better than anybody else. Those type of things become really apparent.


I feel like people take that for granted around here and I think that would make a lot of people uncomfortable.


Eduardo Arenas: Yeah. I mean people already hate going to the DMV but the DMV ain’t nothing man. Try going to the doctor, like urgent clinic in northeast Brazil and stand in line. Your standing in line for hours and in the end you may get an appointment to come back next Tuesday or Thursday.


How did the project get started and how did you decide you were going to focus on a solo album?


Eduardo Arenas: Well I never really focused on going solo and it still doesn’t ring in my head. It’s just, if you have an idea for a project then do it. It really started with just me coming up with songs in my room. I have an acoustic guitar I picked up in Brazil and I play it religiously so a lot of my ideas would just start off with the guitar. You can have a conscious effort to make an album, but in my case it was just a conscious effort of writing a song down and recording it so I could move on to the next song.

I would keep writing songs and songs that wouldn’t fit the Chicano Batman aesthetic. Like a lot of them don’t have drums—they’re super rhythmic but they don’t have drums. So I just kept writing these songs and after a few years I was like, well, if I have so many songs, why don’t I put them out into an album and just kind of put my story out there? I mean, we live in a time where we can do anything ourselves. It’s a DIY world and that’s how I started.


Singing is a very vulnerable thing. Was it hard getting into that mindset of dropping a wall around yourself?


Eduardo Arenas: Yeah. I mean, even when I did the Kickstarter campaign, man. I remember I did the Kickstarter campaign. I launched it and then left my house and I didn’t come back for hours, I didn’t check my phone. I was like man, I can’t believe I’m putting myself out there, you know? My family, my friends, people that thought they knew me. And it’s not even a big deal, really, but it is for someone that’s not used to it. I’m a very private person.

I’ve always been kind of low key and here I am asking for money from a big community of friends and family. It’s like a lot of people don’t like being judged but they judge others, you know what I’m saying? Sometimes they don’t like people that judge them or judge other people the same way that they themselves judge other people and I think every time you put yourself in a position to speak more truth to the world then you don’t have to worry about those things because at least your on your way to something.


I totally get that. It’s like someone can joke around with you but when you joke around with them the same way they might take offense to it.


Eduardo Arenas: Yeah give someone their own shit back, that takes some thick skin. I grew up with my brother we bag on each other. You know, we grew up in the bagging culture and that’s how you establish trust—people forget that shit and they shouldn’t. That’s how the homies establish trust and it’s just culturally how we do it.


I grew up being the youngest in the neighborhood so I had to get used to it and learn just to joke around back like it’s not really big deal.


Eduardo Arenas: Yeah, like don’t take it personal, even when they say a joke about your mom…It’s to see what you got in the bag.


The track “High On My Own” is probably my favorite track on the album. How did that song come about?


Eduardo Arenas: The song has to do with my relationships. I had a long distance relationship with my wife for a few years. We lived in Brazil and Panama and we had something going for a good steady while and then I get called back for a Chicano Batman. So then I’m thinking, damn this is it, you know? This is the end of that so I’m just thinking, ‘damn.’ But it can’t be over because we just shared so many great things together, like we got into a rhythm that was ours and now it’s unique.

We’ve seen the most beautiful things in the world together, we’ve gotten into the most dangerous things together, and it’s all one romantic journey. It opens up that avenue of, if all of a sudden you are a single person, can you handle that? That’s a big point. Can you handle being single? If not, then why not? Do you have bad habits? Do you have an addicting personality? Do you need to feel loved? Do you need validation? Do you not know how to take care of yourself? So that’s what that really entails. Can you be alright on your own because you’re just high on your own now?


Change happens so slow in our culture and in people’s lives, too. Everyone always says they’re going to do something, but it never really happens until you do it. Do you think that happened with this album?


Eduardo Arenas: Yeah, exactly. I heard somebody say, ‘If you have a plan to do something, do yourself a favor and don’t tell anybody about it because you get like eighty percent satisfaction of having done that plan that’s just in your head just by telling somebody. So then you have twenty percent incentive to do it.’ Once you start telling people and you hear yourself say, ‘I’m working on an album,’ now you coast and you start getting comfortable. The doing part becomes diminished, you know? And hell yeah that happened! As soon as I said, ‘Oh yeah, I’m working on an album,’ maybe I had like nine or ten songs and I need two more, I was like, ‘Ugh, this album you know, I don’t even want to do an album…it sucks anyways!’ Massive self doubt starts coming into play.