A-list exclusive interview with Steve Berlin of Los Lobos
Sax expert dishes on the band's terrific new album, "Tin Can Trust"; plus, enter to win passes to Diablo's CD listening party on August 4
Los Lobos includes (left to right) Louis Perez, David Hidalgo, Cesar Rojas, Conrad Lozano, and Steve Berlin
Photo by Drew Reynolds
Diablo recently hosted a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers listening party at the Den at the Fox Oakland, to celebrate the release of the band's new CD, Mojo. The event was so well-received that we've decided to start hosting semi-regular listening parties, whenever a band we like puts out a new record.
We're extremely excited about our next listening party on August 4, to spin Los Lobos' outsanding new album, Tin Can Trust, in stores on August 3. We'll be having the party at 555 YVR, a new luxury condo complex in Walnut Creek; Maria Maria will provide appetizers, Wente Vineyards will pour wine, and Ale Industries will have a couple of cold kegs tapped up. Our RSVP list for this free event filled up quickly—but if you would like to go, you still have a chance. At the bottom of this interview with Los Lobos saxophonist Steve Berlin, you'll find an entry form for the final RSVP's to the big event. Fill out the form and press enter, and we'll contact you if your name is drawn to come to the party.
The album’s title—Tin Can Trust—what does it mean?
It’s a metaphor for being broke, as in, “We’ve got no dough but lots of love.” (Guitarist) Louis Perez came up with that, it worked well thematically. A lot of the record is about surviving the current depression.
I have read that the band recorded this new CD live rather than track by track. Can you tell me a little bit about the recording process on Tin Can Trust, and how it differed from the past few records?
This was done in a neat industrial space in East LA—a really big room— that allowed us to play together. This certainly provided a new texture to the record…once we figured how to record in that space
We had done the last few albums at a studio at our guitar player’s house. It wasn’t designed to be a big, open sounding room… it was more rare to record more than two or three things at once.
So for this record, we decided to let the space be the sound. We got into the idea of playing everything live with the entire band. Probably four tracks are were recorded on the first two takes, which is kind of unusual, to be able to play them that well that quickly.
It was very inspiring to be in a new place, and try a new methodology for recording.
You cover the Grateful Dead’s “West LA Fadeaway” on this album, one of my favorite Dead tunes. You toured with the Dead, and covered “Bertha” on the Deadicated album. Can you talk a little about the intersection of these two bands?
We go back a long way. We played Laguna Seca together, that was the first thing we did I think. Jerry Garcia was a huge fan of Los Lobos, and not shy about letting us know that.
The Dead constituency has been very good to us, so accommodating to us over the years. We have noodled around on "West LA" in live shows, but for this record we decided to really learn it and get it down to honor the Dead.
One similarity I’ve noticed between Los Lobos and the Grateful Dead is that I’ve never seen either band play the same set list twice. Do you have a set list before you go on stage, or is much of a Los Lobos concert improvised during the show?
I’ll sit down and write out a set list before the show, but it’s more of a starting place. We never follow it closely. We just refer to it during the show, we’ll look down and say, “Oh, that would be good to play next.” Anybody in the band can start a song and everyone just follows along.
I’ve seen Los Lobos headline the Fillmore many times, but I’ve also seen you share a bill with some of my favorite artists, including Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, Santana, and the Jayhawks. Do you have a favorote band that you have played with?
Really recently, there have been some new bands that just f***ing rock. The Dirty Dozen, we love playing with those guys. Also, Warland and Arbuckle. Backyard Tire Fire, Grace Potter, she was great. And Trombone Shorty (pictured, left)—its ridiculous how good that guy is.
I just watched a Youtube video of Los Lobos playing at the White House last year. What was that like?
That was great. It was for Obama’s Latin music tribute night, we played with Pete Escovedo and some other great artists. Somebody told me that there was no music in the White House during the entire Bush administration, which did not surprise me at all. President Obama wanted to bring back a concert series and celebrate all kinds of different music—we were rather honored to get invited.
This concert took place before that couple that snuck in to a dinner and blew it for everyone. But what was really surprising about our visit to the White House was how open it was. Because just outside the gates of the White House, you would not believe the stupidity that is going on—just a carnival of anger and stupidity. But as soon as you get through the gate, we were allowed to walk around everywhere—we petted Bo the dog, we walked through the White House. [Press secretary] Robert Gibbs told us President Obama really wanted to make sure that the White House was the People’s House again. It was a pretty amazing experience.
The wildest Los Lobos concert I’ve been to was a benefit you played for the YMCA at the Diablo Country Club. I took a picture of you guys standing on the first green. What’s the wildest venue you’ve ever played?
I do remember that one in Diablo—we were hoping to get on the course before we played our set.
We played at this festival in Barcelona—it was kind of like their 4th of July. They do fireworks as well, but instead of shooting them off in the sky, their fireworks tradition is to basically set them off in your lap. We were in the cab on the way to the gig and the driver would not less us roll down the windows, because people would throw M-80s into the cab for fun.
When we got to the venue, they had these giant tents set up, it looked like something from the Civil War. They had cots set up for people who had been injured by the fireworks.
So they had Los Lobos go on at 4 am, and right after we started playing, someone threw an M-80 at us and it blew a two-foot hole in the stage. We had to stop and say, “Look, we love you, but we can’t play music if you’re throwing bombs at us.” Fortunately they stopped throwing them and we finished the show.