Interview: Los Bitchos – Fried Chicken with a Side of Cumbia (May 2020)

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Los Bitchos are five hilarious, humble and super friendly ladies that form the UK’s best-known instrumental cumbia-inspired psychedelic rock band. Maybe the UK’s only band of the kind because it’s unique. And they said I could join their band! I’m just looking for a new Latin instrument to learn quickly and I’ll be there. 

Before chatting to them I danced around my front room listening to their music, only missing the tequila. Their songs are catchy and upbeat. And despite the annoyance of intermittent internet issues, it doesn’t faze them, and they tell me stories that make me laugh out loud.  The ladies come from all over the world: UK, Uruguay, Sweden and Australia.  They also impressively hold down other jobs outside of the band, Nic the drummer and percussionist is currently saving lives with the NHS. 

Their new vinyl The Link Is About To Die is out now and I recommend getting your ears into this one! But before that here’s a glimpse of life in my new favourite Latino-inspired girl band.

You play Latin and cumbia inspired rock, how did you get into this music as you didn’t grow up with it? 

Serra: I had never really listened to cumbia before Carolina sent me this compilation and I was like, how cool does this sound! And it’s a compilation called the Roots of Chicha which is Peruvian cumbia. You should definitely check it out.  I can’t imagine anyone not liking this type of music, because the vibe is just so amazing. It was just an off-hand comment by her but we wrote ‘Frozen Margarita’ and it all started from there.

You all have histories of playing in other bands, performing punk, indie and rock. How did you make the transition into such a different style of music?

Serra: I was playing drums in Indie bands and I wasn’t even playing guitar anywhere near a professional level. So that was a bit of a curve ball for me. A lot of cumbia music doesn’t use full-on drums as well, so that first track we decided not to program any drums and just programmed percussion. So it was just a matter of listening to stuff and trying to capture the vibe and then sort of giving it an updated twist.

How powerful that one Latin album can start a whole journey into touring as a band playing cumbia-inspired music. 

Serra: Yeah it’s pretty ridiculous. Augustina didn’t even play keytar.

Augustina: All the cumbia bands in South America use keytar and I always wanted to play, so I was like, can I do it in the band? Can I play keytar? Can you teach me?

Brilliant, can I pick an instrument then and come and join your band? 

Serra: Yeah I’ll teach you. I basically had to give Augustina a crash course in three weeks on how to play the keytar. We had a gig booked in and we had to play something!

You must have been so nervous about that gig?

Serra: Yeah I had never played lead guitar in my whole life.

Nic: The first show I played with the band I think we’d had one quick rehearsal and I had been playing in a hardcore punk band at the time and had never really played any of this music. So I was literally just making it up throughout the whole gig. I think it was at Moth Club. And I was just completely blagging it.  Let’s just hit some bongos.

Serra: I might jiggle this cowbell for a bit.

Nic: I was probably hitting everything way too hard and playing it twice the speed it was meant to be played. But it was really fun.

Serra: No you did really great, I remember that gig and you smashed it.

You guys really have each other’s backs and the chemistry really comes through in the music.

Serra: Yeah we love each other so much it’s ridiculous. There’s a lot of love and we always help each other and support each other. I freak out all the time because I get really stressed easily and there’ll just be moments where I’m like, ‘girls help me I’m dying,’ and then everyone comes to help. It makes me feel really safe.

Nic: One of the great things about having five people in a band is that when one or two people are really struggling the others can really carry things and pick it back up.

Do you guys ever have any Spinal Tap style bust-ups or moments that make you giggle looking back?

Augustina: When we play cards it’s always fun!

Serra: We don’t have many arguments between us to be honest, but girls do you remember that argument we had with those guys at that rehearsal studio. I think it’s quite funny…

So they were trying to charge us for some extra equipment. We had been rehearsing at this place that wasn’t our usual spot and the room was just really terrible. And then at the end they tried to charge us probably £5 maybe even £4 for the faulty amp. We were already at the level where we were like ‘what the hell are we doing here?’ The guitar amps weren’t sounding good, the room was a mess and we just wanted to get out of there.

So we ended up having this fifteen minute heated debate where we were like ‘no way, we’re not giving you this money.’  We were like. ‘that room is not good enough.’ And he was like, ‘hey we clean that room every single week. We’re in there scrubbing it up and vacuuming it.’ And then at that moment…this is the best part. We’re in the midst of this, the vibe is terrible and we’re arguing and we just want to go home. So we saw someone coming down the stairs but I was just in the zone and I didn’t notice who it was.  It turns out it was this guy we’ve met several times. And he’s always really, really nice and supportive of the band and then he starts trying to talk to Augustina. He starts asking her questions like ‘Hey Augustina, when are you playing next, when’s your next gig?’ So then she just screams at him  ‘THURSDAY’ and then just turns around and keeps arguing. The best part was that she never gave him any information at all. Just ‘THURSDAY’. Nothing more like, ‘do you want a guestlist? We’re playing at this venue.’  So funny. And yes we did get away with not having to pay for the extra guitar amp!

Those band moments are priceless – I’m sure that dude would have been on your side!

Do you think the band being five females gives the band a different energy?

Nic: Well it’s a different energy.  I’ve toured with mixed bands, bands with all men, and bands with all women and everything in between. I dunno.

Serra: When we started we were playing with our man friends, they were like our backing band. Various man friends. But at that stage the vibe was different because it was always on the condition that they were helping us out with the shows, because we didn’t even know what we were doing as a band. Because at the time it was just me, Carolina and Augustina. Maybe all being chicks you can empathise a little more.

Who would you want to collaborate with, dead or alive? 

Augustina: That’s a really tough one.

Serra: I’ve got mine. I would like to collaborate with Abba. They are so good it’s ridiculous. Björn and Benny and obviously the amazing girls. Call me.

Augustina: I’d say the same, or Blondie.

Serra: Nic, give us yours.

Nic: I’m having a bit of a moment here. It’d have to be something with a lot of drums and percussion on it. They would have to be better drummers than me and better percussionists than me, other than Serra who is absolutely awesome. We’d be absolutely having it. Haha it would make me look better.

Augustina: It’d be good to collaborate with La Femme.

Serra; I have one more actually… Gloria Estefan and Miami Sound Machine. Backing band right there, now that’s a killer combo right there. It’s making me hot thinking about it.

Alex Kapranos produced your latest music, how have you found it working with the lead man behind Franz Ferdinand? 

Serra: I think he’s one of the nicest men I’ve met, ever. In my whole career. And because he just knows so much about music and he can just offer a perspective from a listener’s point of view. In my writing I tend to faff a lot. I’m like, ‘this bit sounds really good so let’s have it for another eight bars.’ He said something really good, and it’s a bit of a hard pill to swallow.  He said, ‘no one’s going to enjoy that part as much as you do. When you write your stuff you write it with the intention that it’s amazing and good enough to put out.’ He helped us cut parts out and put new stuff in. He really worked a lot with Nic on really intricate drum parts and Augustina on really intricate synth parts. He’s just been such a big help in shaping the songs and making them the best they can be.

Nic: And he’s just so enthusiastic about everything and so positive. He’ll give an honest opinion and yet still be really encouraging about things. He gets really excited when things are going well and it’s really infectious, I guess.

Serra: He’s really present, when he’s there, he’s really there. He’s not thinking about when he can get some fried chicken next…. Haha that’s a little dig at Augustina there. 

I feel like there’s a story here with the fried chicken, is this your favourite snack, Augustina?

Augustina: Oh yeah I really, really like fried chicken.

Serra: So here’s the story, we’re having a meeting with Alex Kapranos, like our dreams have come true. It’s amazing, We’re sitting in our manager’s front room and we’re talking about making a record together.  Augustina had already expressed that she was very hungry and wanted to eat dinner afterwards. And then we hadn’t even finished the meeting and I can already see her texting her housemate saying, ‘can we get fried chicken tonight?’ And she’s like, ‘yeah, yeah I’m dying, I need chicken.’ It was the biggest meeting of our life and in the middle she was like, ‘can we order bird?’

You’ve got your priorities sorted there!

I know it seems futile to try and make plans in a lockdown, but what’s on the radar for your future?

Serra: Well, we just want to get our debut album out. We recorded three songs last year and the rest of the songs this year. So we’re in the midst of trying to finish that off. But obviously to finish that off we need to physically be with people. Hopefully we can finish it and release it next year. We’ll then be touring and trying to get on the festival circuit next year.

Augustina: And go to Japan?

Serra: Number one haha, yeah Augustina really wants to go to Japan.

Do they have a lot of fried chicken in Japan, though?

Serra: Actually I think they do, don’t they?

So how do you want people to feel when they hear your first album release? 

Augustina: We want them to have fun!

Serra: Excited. Blown away. Mesmerised. The first release is a big one and it’s quite nerve wracking actually, because it’s how you’re first presenting yourself. We’re all really behind the songs with the real percussion. We just can’t wait.

 

The Link Is About to Die is Los Bitchos’ fifth release and is out now. Check out these ladies and be prepared to taste fun and tropical sunshine!

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