Stream: Luis and the Wildfires “Wild In The Head”
(from Brain Jail available now from Wild and Norton)
Luis & the Wildfires make records between egg crates and a tacked-up Charlie Feathers LP in a tiny backyard shed in Altadena where the spirit of the Sonics, Eddie Cochran, Little Willie G and Gene Vincent observe kindly from the corners. Wild Records started with Reb Kennedy plus Luis and drummer Angel Hernandez ten years ago as the Wild Teens in the Valley and now puts out the most materially honest CDs of the 21st century and 45s that will cost $100 in ten years. The hardiest die-hards of Wild meet after another backyard session for High Life and cookies doled out by Wild owner Reb’s wife and son. This interview by Chris Ziegler.
What did you mean when you said you’ve been mouthbreathing for 31 years?
Luis Arriaga (vocals/guitar): They make fun of me because I have a deviated septum and sleep apnea and I smoke and I drink and I sing—
Reb Kennedy (Wild founder/owner): And he nosebreathes.
And he’s a nightmare on tour?
Angel Hernandez (drums): Yes, he is! The worst!
Luis Arriaga: I still seem to survive it. I should be dead! I’m living on borrowed time!
Reb Kennedy: I always tell him to keep his phone when he’s on stage, and if he has a heart attack to call me, and my first call can be to the record manufacturers. ‘Make another thousand, quick!’
Luis Arriaga: The devil’s been knocking on my door, and Reb’s like, ‘Don’t worry—we got a contract, and you can have him after.’
Reb Kennedy: We did a show in Vegas last year and our stage was outside on a rooftop, and Luis jumped up on this balcony with a bar—he had his arms out doing the crucifix pose and the whole audience just went quiet. The drop was a couple hundred feet.
Luis Arriaga: Fifty-five stories up!
Reb Kennedy: ‘Fall! Fall! Fall!’
Luis Arriaga: With the manufacturers on speed dial. ‘Fall! Fall! I need another thousand copies of Brain Jail!’
Why don’t you fake your death?
Luis Arriaga: I die every day I wake up. I’m only alive when I’m sleeping.
How do you wake up in the morning?
Luis Arriaga: I’m angry at the world for the fact my eyes are open again!
What do you dream about?
Luis Arriaga: That I’m skiing! But only because I had four guys in my bed. ‘Swinging my skis and the snow was melting …’ And all the guys in the bed woke up—‘This is the best bed ever! The best rest I ever had!’ Don’t print that—my mom’s gonna read this!
What are your nightmares about?
Luis Arriaga: They’re never really nightmares. My nightmare is waking up.
Does this have anything to do with the line in ‘I’m a Man’ about living in a badger cave?
Luis Arriaga: ‘Panther cave.’ Do they really live in caves? It makes no sense. Proof of my life.
I know you got into rock ‘n’ roll when you were 16, so what were you into when you were 15?
Luis Arriaga: Before I saw the light? There are two answers—you want the real one or the other one? The honest one—I know it sounds extremely goddamn cliché, but I grew up in the San Fernando Valley. North Hollywood. There’s a theater there—El Portal. My dad took me there to see La Bamba. I was like 7 years old whenever that movie came out—I saw the movie and had no concept of what rock ‘n’ roll music was and I absolutely goddamned loved it. I told my dad I wanted a guitar, and my dad went to buy drugs in Tijuana—prescription drugs because they’re legal—and he brought me back a guitar. I attempted to learn it, but I put it down because everyone was evolving into different things, but I’d still come home and attempt to strum ‘La Bamba.’ Oldies things, as I knew them. Growing up I got into everything—grunge, hip-hop, everything. Not until 16 did I pick it up again and I’d watch other people play on TV. I learned one chord and then a second chord—
Reb Kennedy: And then he stopped!
Luis Arriaga: Only two chords since 16! I went back once I learned those two chords—went back to remembering those songs, and once I learned those songs, I was the only guy around what I remember in the Valley … the change came from one day to the next! I don’t know what was in my mind. I attempted to comb my hair into a pompadour! From there, I learned more music and met people—and I met him. We were really young. He’s my brother.
Reb Kennedy: Angel is the only constant in Luis’ bands.
Luis Arriaga: See those wrinkles? See that gray hair? He’s still 17!
What’s the most delinquency you’ve committed within view of a police car?
Luis Arriaga: My parole officer might see this! When we started the Wild Teens, a lot of us were teenagers. Growing up the way we grew up, we did stupid things!
Reb Kennedy: The most obvious—walk out of a club, fall down, stand up, get in the car and drive away!
In what ways would you be a good role model?
Luis Arriaga: You’re asking the most ridiculous questions!
Reb Kennedy: Luis and Angel won’t answer that! It’d be immodest! One thing that’s interesting—I’m Irish, and obviously people find it very bizarre that all my friends are Mexican on my label. We’re called ‘Mexican Rock ‘n’ Roll’ but I’m not!
Luis Arriaga: People in Europe think he’s Mexican.
Reb Kennedy: It’s the blue eyes!
So you’ve seen The Commitments?
Reb Kennedy: I know the guys very well! What you see in The Commitments is what you see any Saturday night at any Mexican party. It’s a very dignified thing, the love of music. I grew up from the age of whatever—being in bars with my family, being in bars singing!
Luis Arriaga: It’s that Catholic background.
What happens when you combine Catholicism with rock ‘n’ roll?
Luis Arriaga: X-ray vision!
Reb Kennedy: Hatred! But I do wanna answer that question. One of the most important things we’ve achieved as a label is that young Mexican individuals in California don’t have much to look to musically. They have Ritchie Valens—
Luis Arriaga: But they don’t look beyond certain things.
Reb Kennedy: There’s only a handful of things to look to. Luis and the Wild Teens and Luis & the Wildfires have given a new wave of teenagers something to look to! I tell Luis and Angel and the rest of the guys—it’s a really weird position. It’s very easy now to underappreciate what you’ve achieved because it’s now! But it will be looked back on as something significant. They are NOW role models for people—for Mexican kids who have nothing to look to.
Luis Arriaga: The young guys on the label started covering songs him and I did ten years ago. I heard and I went home and cried. And masturbated.
Angel Hernandez: Into a taco.
That’s a Saturday night.
Luis Arriaga: A fantastic Saturday night! Watching ‘Sábado Gigante’! Put in the fact I said ‘Sabado Gee-HAN-tay.’ Mexican!
How did the Wild Teens set the direction for Wild? They were the first band.
Luis Arriaga: We sucked! We truly did suck!
Reb Kennedy: They did! We just remastered the Wild Teens record a week ago—we really wanted something in existence to show the band was a good rock ‘n’ roll band. And back then the band couldn’t play.
Angel Hernandez: Sure could drink, though!
Reb Kennedy: Here’s a picture of the Wild Teens. They used to play my club almost all the time. The people who owned it were really cool people—gave them unlimited alcohol! Top shelf! They complained once because we drank $1,000 worth of alcohol. The owner came to me one night and said, ‘I have a problem. You know we give everyone as much alcohol as they want—but I don’t understand when the Wild Teens play why the bar is littered with bottles that they brought in!’ Free alcohol and they still smuggle it in—I think it gave them a hard-on!
Luis Arriaga: It was either that or guns! Guns, gangs, bandannas, whiskey—
Don’t give away the recipe!
Luis Arriaga: We were just silly boys. Silly boys. That first 45 was in 1999—ten years ago! There should be something in the liners about it being ten years. We revisited old songs that I never wanted to sing ever again. But Reb had the brilliant idea—
Reb Kennedy: I wanted to record something with guys who could now play! That band could not play!
Luis Arriaga: But we looked cool as fuck!
Sam Phillips said if you want a rock ‘n’ roll song, you gotta reach down and pull it out your asshole. Is that how you guys do it?
Reb Kennedy: It is! All ours guys have really big assholes. There’s a lot of stuff stored there!
What are the Wild Christmas parties like?
Angel Hernandez: The last ten years are pretty hazy.
Reb Kennedy: The public parties? They vary in so many ways. We had different places. We were every Friday at my house before my son was born—annihilation sessions. Friday and Saturday and Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday—
Luis Arriaga: Reb was a massive drinker.
Reb Kennedy: I drank for the Olympics. Some of the younger guys don’t see me drink. When my son was born I stopped. Partly because of my son and partly because I wouldn’t be successful if I kept drinking. When we do a Wild showcase in Green Bay or Vegas—right now we have sixteen bands on the label. An Australian band, two English, one Portuguese—I have to get every one of these fuckers on stage and off stage! I used to try and do that drunk and it was a problem! We did a show in Green Bay and had a review in the Metro Times that said we were the new Jesus Christs of music—they said amazing things about us! That day the show lasted what—fourteen hours?
Angel Hernandez: Plus the drinking session!
Reb Kennedy: Absolutely incredible show.
Is this like when everyone on Motown would come spilling out of the same tour bus?
Reb Kennedy: That’s the way it works.
Luis Arriaga: We pride ourselves on being the ‘Wild Records Family.’
Reb Kennedy: That’s corny as shit! Put a ‘TM’ and ‘R’! It’s the most ridiculous corny bullshit but we do function that way. If you were here two hours before, there’d have been another fifteen or twenty people.
Luis Arriaga: All doing handclaps on the record!
Reb Kennedy: It’s how we survive! We are a traditional label. Labels don’t exist like us where my job is to do everything. I try to do it fairly.
Luis Arriaga: It’s underrated sometimes. The guy who sits in back? Nothing would be possible for any of us if it wasn’t for him. He’s not just my boss—as sort of the manager and label owner—he’s one of my best friends. His work is never ever done. Ours is—we come here and we’re done when we leave the studio. He goes back in the house and thinks about what the hell just happened!
Reb Kennedy: And fix it!
Luis Arriaga: Clean up the studio and wake up the next day after five or six hours and make sure his son is at school and his wife is fine and then think, ‘What the hell is gonna happen again?’
Angel Hernandez: He has 47 children, basically!
Luis Arriaga: I want it to be known—it’s ridiculous!
That’s how they ran labels in the ’50s and ’60s—all those tiny family labels putting out soul in Detroit.
Luis Arriaga: We’re a DIY label—if that makes us ’77 punk, good!
Reb Kennedy: We’re not 1956! We’re 1976! That’s where I come from. I worked at Rough Trade in London.
Luis Arriaga: We’re gonna do a Joy Division cover—‘Digital.’
Reb Kennedy: I thought it should be ‘Isolation’!
Luis Arriaga: That would ruin me! But you know what’s cool? I’m already ruined! I can only go up from here! It cannot get worse!
What’s the most you were ever ruined in one night?
Reb Kennedy: He doesn’t remember!
Luis Arriaga: Punched in the head by Omar [Romero] in his own house!
Reb Kennedy: Last week was good—all these naked photos of Luis circulating among us! He was so mad!
Luis Arriaga: The hell with you, Reb! My mom is gonna read this! Don’t print it in Spanish. This isn’t a bilingual paper, is it?
What’s the most you ever had to fight through to finish a song?
Angel Hernandez: Do you mean fighting each other?
Reb Kennedy: What’s amazing is the condition he can be in and still get on stage and take your breath away. I’ve seen him in the most fucked-up state of any human being—he’ll get out and do the business. He’ll hurt before, he’ll hurt doing it, he’ll hurt for days after—he physically will hurt! He has asthma!
Luis Arriaga: I should be dead! Reb will tell the devil when to take me!
Reb Kennedy: I’m keeping him going for a little bit.
How do you cure your hangovers?
Luis Arriaga: I drink every day! I’ve never not had a hangover. My mom is gonna read this! Can I say, ‘Happy birthday, Mom? I love you!’ My parents have never seen me perform but they support that I do. He’s my brother—we were teenagers together—16, 17, from the San Fernando Valley. We’d stay at my mom’s house. We’d come home at 3 or 4 in the morning drunk as fuck—underage! We took the bus home!—and my dad would wake us up at 7 AM to pick oranges or mow the lawn.
With an evil smile?
Luis Arriaga: My family is the most amazing family. They tried to teach us a lesson and also laughed at us. A Mexican traditional family—they know we were gonna get drunk.
Angel Hernandez: After his dad would make us do chores, his mom would be like, ‘I don’t cook on weekends … but you earned it.’
Luis Arriaga: It’s a weird thing—music in my family. I never heard music growing up. At all. It was a very odd thing to play at home. If you were playing music, something was going on in your life, so you’d try not to play it. It was very hidden. If I played music, I was sad or happy and my mom would ask, ‘Why are you sad? Why are you happy?’ So there was no music in our household. I think that’s the opposite of most people in music? So I hid all my music. Or not hid, but I’d listen to it on my own. Headphones, old cassettes, Walkmans and shit. A lot of Brenton Wood. ‘Gimme Little Sign.’
Which you translated for Los Straitjackets?
Luis Arriaga: Yeah, and that’s how I met Cesar Rosas.
Did you tell him about La Bamba?
Luis Arriaga: I didn’t! I should have! What I did do—they put me on the spot and it was so awkward. They gave me the address and one day’s notice—‘Can you come tomorrow?’ I also translated Barbara Lynn—‘You’ll Lose a Good Thing.’ Freddy Fender did it too but I did my own—which I thought was amazing! Which I think I still have? Which Gizzelle should do. So they took me down to the house and asked me to do a few translations and who opens the door but Cesar with the goatee and sunglasses? I’m like, ‘Ohmygodohmygodohmygodohmygod!’ He has a whole section where it was the studio and lounge area. All the Straitjackets were there and some of the guys from Los Lobos and all over the walls were gold and platinum albums, and then a section where it’s all the guitars from all the albums they ever did! Like he never used them again type of deal! It’s a fucking shrine! I don’t think he did it—his wife did it, maybe? And he had a big long TV set with Grammys all over it, and there was a Grammy on the floor! So for the first time in my life and maybe only I picked up a Grammy and dusted it off—
Angel Hernandez: And put it in your pocket?
Luis Arriaga: And it’s right here on my keychain! The first and only time I ever held a Grammy.
Luis Arriaga: I’m too old! If I haven’t made it yet, I’m not gonna make it now! My looks are fading as we speak!
Reb Kennedy: There must be some quirk or perversion—women who like guys who look like hound dogs.
Luis Arriaga: People who like licking awkward things?
What’s the one thing you’ll never get tired of writing about?
Luis Arriaga: Everything I do is absolutely based on love. ‘Let’s Party’ was written while I was in love. It’s not necessarily about a corny love story, it’s about drinking and having a goddamn good time! Because I was in love and in a good place. ‘Wild in the Head,’ which is also on Brain Jail, is also love as well. Every song I ever write based on how I felt is because of love. It’s the leading force in anything I do. I’m very emotional—probably more than I wanna admit! More than I should admit. At some points embarrassing to admit. But everything I do is based off of love. I think some of my best friends know. Whenever a song is written—it can be the most minimal lyrics, but there’s a line in there that explains myself. I try to write a hook or a party song but I always try to incorporate me. If I’m happy because I felt that that day or was in that state of life, and if it’s a bad song … ‘Mouth Hug’ is not about blow jobs at all!
Reb Kennedy: You don’t give them! Or do you?
Luis Arriaga: People think that song is about hugging somebody. Really? I’m gonna write a song about a hug! I was receiving a mouth hug? I listened to everything there is about music. When I was a lot younger—when I met Reb I was probably 20 or 21, eleven years ago or twelve—I thought I knew what was happening with music, but I always wanted to experiment. Being around him made me wanna look for other music. He knows absolutely everything there is to know! Because he’s 75 years old! He was in World War I! He’s seen it all!
Reb Kennedy: Square wheels on cars!
Luis Arriaga: The first television set! Amazing! Not that he necessarily taught me, but knowing someone I was around was listening to something else made me wanna listen to something else. Made me say, ‘Why are they doing this? Who influenced them?’ Like Devendra—one of my biggest things at the moment. I don’t wanna follow anybody! I don’t follow anybody! I love every aspect of music—from rockabilly to soul to blues to garage to punk to indie to folk to freak folk. I don’t wanna be somebody else exactly. There are things I wanna do. Since I’m into the Devendra thing, I’d love to do something like that, but I’d never follow him. I do what I do and hope it’s a different direction. I don’t wanna stay dormant in one sound. I think I will die if I did the exact same sound for ten years—I will die! Sometimes I’m nervous to move on but …
Reb Kennedy: What’s really important with Luis and all our acts—everyone as individuals, Angel and Luis, they all like music. They all like music and they all listen to music. But I don’t see a heavy influence by anything out there. We all go to shows all the time. We’re not people who you don’t see out—we pay our money and watch whatever! We did the Rolling Stones song for Norton and did Van Morrison for Norton, but that’s not saying those are necessarily influences. Our guys are influenced by what we are doing as a unit more than the past or present. We’re lucky. Luis writes a lot of material. A lot of acts write a lot. Omar—it’s almost like competition. Not as winner or loser, but the guys try and write very clever things! Luis explaining how he writes songs is a very cool thing. Anybody can write, ‘I fell in love today, my heart was broke tomorrow …’
Angel Hernandez: Can we use that?
Luis Arriaga: It’s a hit!
Reb Kennedy: That’s what they wrote for the last 50 years! You have to listen and find where the emotion is! Even in rockabilly—Omar writes about the heartache he goes through, but he doesn’t write, ‘I fell in love today, fell out of love tomorrow …’
Luis Arriaga: Totally a hit!
Reb Kennedy: The guys are clever—it’s not writing by formula writing.
How does Luis & the Wildfires fit into L.A.? You seem so self-contained.
Reb Kennedy: L.A. has no influence! We could be anywhere in the world.
Luis Arriaga: Michigan! No Mexicans in Michigan. There isn’t—we were there! Rarely any Mexicans.
Angel Hernandez: Even the taco stand didn’t have Mexicans.
Reb Kennedy: People talk about indie music—we ARE independent music. Anyone else is full of shit! We are independent! This is our studio. We are self-sufficient! It’s all material by our own people. We record, mix and master our own material. We manufacture our own sleeves. Nobody influences how we sell or who we sell to. We’re truly independent. So it doesn’t matter where we are. We’re in this garage—we can take that anywhere!
Link Wray actually did that.
Reb Kennedy: It makes no difference we’re in L.A. We are the new wave and a lot of old acts are threatened by the new wave.
Luis Arriaga: We surpassed the people we saw—I know it’s a bold goddamn statement to say but we have surpassed… don’t print that! I don’t wanna get jumped later! They look to us but never wanna admit—the old generation don’t ever wanna let another generation in.
Reb Kennedy: The old guard may read that and say ,‘Fuck off! You can’t play as good as me!’ They missed the point! Luis isn’t saying that structured guitar playing is better—we have true energy, true soul… We’re not jaded! We were out last night absolutely fucked and we just did a ten hour day—
Luis Arriaga: And we’ll have some drinkin’ later on! [And we did.—ed.]
Reb Kennedy: We have that youth you lose as days go past.
Is soul real?
Reb Kennedy: It is!
Luis Arriaga: I signed mine to Reb!
Reb Kennedy: I have them all in bottles! I keep their souls! It keeps me looking young! If people feel they need to label music—we are a rock ‘n’ roll label, but the key word to everything we do is soul. You may not hear it in Brain Jail—if you’re deaf!—but soul doesn’t mean Otis Redding, or it does—soul is putting your heart into what you’re doing. Our guys do that—our guys are here today doing it!
Luis Arriaga: We do what we do—we have soul and heart and we’re all friends and we work hard for each other. It’s a DIY label … and this mustache is itching me.
Reb Kennedy: Give it back to the woman you took it from.
What’s the biggest difference between the crowd at a bar mitzvah and the crowd at the release party for the porno movie you soundtracked?
Luis Arriaga: So many years between! The bar mitzvah was when we were kids—all we had was that 45! That kid found me in Vegas and took me to a burger joint. He remembered me! ‘You played my bar mitzvah!’ ‘Who are you? Who is this awkward drunk?’
Reb Kennedy: Funny thing about the porno—a lot of acts aspire to get movies and soundtracks and we’d like that.
Looking for a Mitsubishi commercial?
Reb Kennedy: We are! I like Cadillacs.
Nick Tosches says rock ‘n’ roll was invented by a lot of guys who wanted Cadillacs.
Reb Kennedy: It’s the truth!
Luis Arriaga: We’ve done other pornos.
Angel Hernandez: Pizza delivery boy number one!
Luis Arriaga: The same guy that did Bad Luck Betties asked me and Angel for a favor, so we played a lot of music on it.
Angel Hernandez: So yeah, we did a porno together.
Luis Arriaga: Don’t print this! My mom is gonna read it! No—if it’s not in Spanish, it’s cool.
Angel Hernandez: ReBelle Rousers.
Luis Arriaga: Look at the credits. Just me and him—we recorded every single instrument. We didn’t know how to play.
Reb Kennedy: Skin flute?
Angel Hernandez: Rusty trombone.
Luis Arriaga: Now this is serious shit. It was nominated for an AVN award for the soundtrack because of us—they started the category for us! And check this shit. Bad Luck Betties—the next one—again in the category we helped start—print this shit! Let me help you type this! Bad Luck Betties was also nominated for ‘Best Soundtrack’ and we lost … to Eddie Van Halen! Not a bad second! He provided one song while Wild Records did a whole soundtrack.
So did you all gather round together and watch your porno proudly?
Luis Arriaga: The circle jerk? What was the question?
Reb Kennedy: The jerk-off competition?
Angel Hernandez: And everybody won!
LUIS & THE WILDFIRES WITH EL VEZ, THE LOVELY ELVETTES AND LOS STRAITJACKETS ON FRI., DEC. 18, AT THE TROUBADOUR, 9081 SANTA MONICA BLVD., WEST HOLLYWOOD. 8 PM / $15-$18 / ALL AGES. TROUBADOUR.COM. LUIS & THE WILDFIRES’ BRAIN JAIL IS AVAILABLE FROM NORTON AND THE “I’M A MAN” 45 IS AVAILABLE FROM WILD RECORDS. VISIT LUIS & THE WILDFIRES AT MYSPACE.COM/THEWILDFIRES OR WILDPRESENTS.COM.