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More than three decades have passed since Los Lobos released their debut album, Just Another Band from East L.A. Since then they’ve repeatedly disproven that title—Los Lobos isn’t “just another” anything, but rather a band that has consistently evolved artistically while never losing sight of their humble roots.
For Tin Can Trust—Los Lobos’ first release for Shout! Factory (due August 3) and first collection of new original material in four years—the venerable quintet reconnected directly with those roots by returning to East L.A. and recording at Manny’s Estudio, “in a rundown neighborhood,” says Los Lobos songwriter/multi-instrumentalist Louie Pérez. “That took us out of our comfort zone and allowed us to do what we hadn’t done in quite some time: to play together in the same room, as one. This was not about putting your feet up; this was about working.”
“This was a no-frills studio,” adds David Hidalgo (guitar, violin, accordion, percussion, vocals). “We didn’t even have a couch to sit on; we had to bring one in.”
“We went into that studio and the first day everyone was asking, ‘Does anyone have any material?’” recalls guitarist/vocalist Cesar Rosas. “So I said, ‘Well, I have a couple of songs.’ Then Dave started hitting the keys and he came up with something, and then Louie followed. That’s the way everything worked out; that’s the way we made this record.”
“What I liked about making this album,” says Hidalgo, “was the spirit of it: nobody said no to anything. If you had an idea, OK, try it. Just go for it and see where we end up.”
“It felt more like a group effort,” agrees bassist/vocalist Conrad Lozano. “We went into the studio with no ideas and worked some out. Before, everybody would come in with a finished product.”
That unified vision and strong work ethic are evident in each of the 11 tracks comprising the self-produced Tin Can Trust, but so is something even greater, “an intuitiveness,” says Pérez, “that happens only from being in a band for so long.”
A rare example of longevity in a volatile music world that stresses style over substance, Los Lobos’ lineup has remained uninterrupted since 1984, when saxophonist/keyboardist Steve Berlin joined original members Pérez, Hidalgo, Rosas and Lozano, each of whom had been there since the beginning in 1973.
“This is what happens when five guys create a magical sound, then stick together for 30 years to see how far it can take them,” wrote Rolling Stone, and indeed, Los Lobos is a band that continually redefines itself and expands its scope with each passing year, while never losing sight of where they came from. Through sheer camaraderie and respect for one another’s musicality, they’ve continued to explore who Los Lobos is and what they have to offer, without succumbing to the burnout that plagues so many other bands that stick it out for any considerable length of time. Their influence is vast, yet they remain humble, centered and dedicated to their craft. Each new recording they make moves Los Lobos into another new dimension while simultaneously sounding like no one else in the world but Los Lobos. As All About Jazz raved, “The genius of Los Lobos resides in their innate ability to find the redemptive power of music, no matter the style they choose to play.”
“We’re long haul guys,” says Berlin. “If you’re in it for the long haul it makes staying together a lot easier. It’s a challenge, but the thing I’m most proud of is that we’ve never rested on our laurels. We keep trying to make every record feel like the first one and try to do the best we can and not tread on territory we have already trod on. What you hear is exactly what we wanted to do.”
Tin Can Trust, like so much of Los Lobos’ previous work, is an album that speaks to the time and place in which it was conceived. But it wasn’t until the songwriting and recording process was well under way that it occurred to the band that an underlying theme was trying to make itself heard. The phrase that ultimately became the album’s title can be traced back more than a century, but for the band it’s apt for the rickety state in which so many of us find ourselves—and our world—today.
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