Los Lobos rolls out the red carpet with The Ride, a casual tribute album to their 30th year in show business. Among the featured guests who deliver unforgettable performances, from the wacky to the serene: Tom Waits, Mavis Staples, Ruben Blades, Elvis Costello, Bobby Womack, Richard Thompson, Little Willie G. and Cafe Tacuba, sprawling across the genres of gospel, blues, R&B, folklore, Rock en Espanol, and oh yeah, American rock. As usual Los Lobos makes it all sound easy like Sunday morning, blending four remakes from their first two decades with a bulk of great new songs. If you can't get your head around all of it at first, don't worry; like a magic chicle, The Ride releases more and more flavor the longer you chew on it.
Songwriter and musician Louie Perez took a moment recently to speak to the Indy by phone about songwriting, life in America and The Ride so far. You can catch Los Lobos live this Wednesday, June 23 at 8 p.m. at the North Carolina Museum of Art amphitheater in Raleigh.
The Independent: Tell me about your new album, The Ride.
Louie Perez: We decided to make a record that would celebrate our 30th year together by inviting friends and heroes and influences and see who will come to the party.
How did you get the idea to enlist Cafe Tacuba?
We thought it was important for us to provide some forum for the new music that's coming from Latin America, which we were very fond of, and at the same time, to indulge ourselves by having somebody as good as Cafe Tacuba appear on the record. They have been our favorite for a long time, because they remind us of our band, for the stubborn kind of approach where [they say], "this is the way we do it, and we're not going to budge," and by boldy mixing a lot of different genres and styles, the folkloric being a part of that. We came up with this song that had these B-sections, and with very little direction we sent the stuff to Mexico City, and just said here, this part is yours, do whatever you like. They came back with this beautiful, symphonic section. It was a great addition to the song, and really, it's one of my favorites. It reminds me of The Clash. It just has so much energy and a band sounding like they really mean it.
Well and the theme too, of vengeance which is coming, I mean it's sort of a warning. It's strong medicine in a way.
I came up with this title, the revenge of the underdog ["La Venganza de los Pelados"]. That could be taken almost universally. It could mean ethnic groups, it could mean something as petty as a rock band like ourselves at odds with what's happening in the industry, which has pushed a lot of bands like ourselves back out onto the fringes again. So that's what it is, it's going to come back around, and you're going to hear from us eventually.
People talk about the four covers of your earlier material, but what's actually more striking to me is that there are nine new songs here.
Yeah, it really is a different spin on the tribute record. We have artists performing old songs and artists that are guesting on new material. So again it's Los Lobos doing their all-over-the-place sort of thing.
Considering your incredibly rich songbook, you had to be very judicious to limit it to four. How did you choose?
We thought about particular artists at that point. Recording these songs was just trying to jumpstart the whole process. We said, where do we start, how do we plant the seed in our minds? So we said, well, let's record "Someday, "and maybe we can get somebody like Bobby Womack, or wow, wouldn't it be cool if we got like Mavis Staples to do it, before we even sent out word or had any clue who would be involved. Then we came up with this long 10-minute jam on "Is This All There Is?" and we thought, oh boy, how about Little Willie G. from Thee Midnighters? And of course, "Matter of Time," hands down, it was going to be Elvis Costello because it was a song that he actually performed on his acoustic tour. "Wicked Rain," that was probably the last of the older songs that we had come up with, we thought about having Bobby Womack, who had already agreed to perform on it, and we said, why don't we put one of his songs together with ours? Steve Berlin came up with the idea of "Across 110th Street," and it just seemed to make sense lyrically, it kind of creates this arc. We put together an arrangement, and then we presented the idea to Bobby and [he] was just knocked out. That is pretty much how those came together. Then Dave, myself, and Cesar separately from us--he writes on his own--we sat down and we spent about a month working on some new songs, and out of that writing period came up with nine new songs.
Did appearing in the recent PBS Martin Scorsese documentary on the Blues influence The Ride at all?
I don't think that working on that show rubbed off on the record. By the artists that were chosen it just started to lean that way. It goes back to our years being kids listening to music, and back then we listened to a lot of Motown and soul music, and of course the East L.A. sound, like Thee Midnighters did in the '60s, was in fact East L.A. musicians' interpretation of Rhythm and Blues. So R&B has deep roots with us culturally and as far as just music fans we've always enjoyed it.
At the same time we have "The Wreck of the Carlos Rey" with Richard Thompson, which was something that is more ethereal and different. But things like "Charmed" and "Chains of Love," definitely have a more bluesy sort of thing.
In 30 years how has the stage experience changed for you?
We've become more and more like one thing. More intuitive, more like we really sense where everything's going. We don't ever perform a song the same twice. That's why I think a lot of the jam bands' followers have taken a liking to us. Playing on stage for us is always a new experience, it's always reinventing ourselves every time we go on stage.
In 1984 you asked the question, How Will the Wolf Survive? Have you figured out the answer to that yet?
He survives. When you think about survival you think that somebody goes through this experience that requires a lot of energy and struggle, and then finally there's the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel. In our case, we continue to struggle, because there are the powers that be in this industry. Being the way we are, terminally stubborn about what we do, it has been a struggle. Has the wolf survived? Yes, he has survived, but there's still a lot of work to be done.