To get an inside look at the new album and understand the secret to their longevity as a group and musicians, AARP talked to the band’s longtime member, sax player Steve Berlin.
What makes L.A. such a musical melting pot?
It’s a hive of ideas. You have people bringing ideas from so many places and cultures, as opposed to Memphis or Chicago, where there’s a regional concept that informs the music. In New Orleans, the music you make is going to be part of the city’s continuum. In L.A., there isn’t really a historical continuum that you can tap into.
How did that shape Los Lobos?
We felt like we just needed to represent ourselves. We’re not trying to represent a historical anything. One of the things that was cool about making this record is that we were able to represent so many genres. Once we started the ball rolling, it was obvious there was an unbelievable wealth of material. We could have done three records. The discovery process was fun for all of us. One thing I feel we missed was something that highlighted how much punk rock of the ‘80s influenced us. A lot of those guys were our fans. We just couldn’t find a song and ran out of time.
Has the band’s genre-hopping ever limited its audience?
It’s one of the things that’s kept us around this long. We don’t just do one thing. We’ve done folkloric records and hard-rocking records. Native Sons is all over the place. To their credit, our fans seem on board with that and have expressed nothing but support for us going wherever the proverbial muse takes us. They sign up for the whole package. As far as people not understanding that, it’s more on them than on us. “La Bamba,” our biggest hit, was clearly a one-off. There was no expectation of the next song sounding like that.
How did ‘Native Sons’ get started?
We were touring when we signed a record deal with New West in the fall of 2019. The normal window for us to make a record is two months, and we didn’t have that window. The thought was: How about a covers record? We could do it in fits and starts between tour dates. Little did we know what would happen in 2020. The L.A. theme was my idea. A focus, even a broad focus, keeps us in a lane and gives us something to talk about at the end of the process.
How did you deal with recording during the pandemic?
We started in February, then, boom, everything shuts down. Touring and traveling is done, obviously. As things opened up a bit, we were able to get together again. The studio we used in East L.A. is big, so we were able to spread out. We had a nurse test us before every session. We wore masks. We took every precaution we could, and we were able to pull it off. I was working quite a bit last year. I started a few records before the lockdown that I was able to finish. I made three records with people I never met.