Record of the Week: Chicano Batman’s ‘Notebook Fantasy’

When you hear the title of Chicano Batman’s latest album, Notebook Fantasy, you might be reminded of that time in school when your imagination took you in another direction from the subject the teacher was teaching. As our minds would float off into these hopes and dreams, as young people, we would use our notebook to illustrate those ideas.

Lead vocalist Bardo Martinez includes this vision on the album’s title track:

Every time you go out to school
They make you feel like a fool today
You don’t listen to the music they do
They jumped into the boxes they made for them

And you’re doodling inside your notebook
Let your fantasies run away
Your paper is bleeding emotion
Crossing out every word that they say

“Notebook Fantasy

“It represented this time when you were young, or you could be any age, and you write down your hopes, dreams and aspirations in your journal,” guitarist Carlos Arevalo said. “This was that for us on this record, aspiring to be greater than the last record and the records before that. You want to progress and get better and stronger at songwriting and playing your instrument. That was us realizing that through the title.”

Arevalo, who now lives in Virginia while his other bandmates Bardo and fellow guitarist Eduardo Arenas remain in Los Angeles, says the band is old-school in their approach where they get in a circle and record their parts live. The process of Notebook Fantasy began at the beginning of 2023 when they went into the studio with producer John Congleton and captured the vibe right there in the room with each member of the band bringing their vision on how to approach the record sonically.

“The music I brought, I wanted it to be a little more minimal,” he said. “In the sense that I wanted it to stand on its own two feet with just bass, drums, guitar, keys, vocals, just those main elements. I wanted what you heard on the record to be recreated live and for it to sound similar. The songs I brought in were ‘Fly,’ ‘Live Today,’ ‘Notebook Fantasy,’ that’s the music I brought in. It’s always a collaboration with Bardo, I give him 100% control on what he wants to do vocally with those. The other guys wanted strings and grand piano on their tracks. I think all of that just made a nice complement to each other.”

He continued: “This is an album experience. For better or worse, it’s not made for the Spotify generation where you pick one song off the record and that represents the whole album, this is not one of those. It is one of those put it on vinyl, sit down, flip it, hear it from beginning to end, like you watch a film.”

Chicano Batman’s last album, Invisible People, came out during the pandemic in May 2020 and Arevalo says the rollout for this new album feels different than the last because they are able to get that reinforcement from the audience when they perform these songs live.

“The themes on that last record were similar to what was going on at the time, a little bit of the apocalyptic feel on some of the lyrics,” he said. “But this is different because I forgot what it feels like to put out a record, you go out on tour, and people are excited to see you play these songs and to hear these songs alongside the deep cuts and the older songs that everyone has come to know. It’s an amazing feeling and it’s definitely something that, unfortunately, we did not get to experience on the last record. I think it makes the new record more poignant because maybe people are on the fence about the new record or they haven’t given a listen. But I do know after they see us playing these songs live, they’re for sure going to go check it out.”

Chicano Batman are currently on tour for Notebook Fantasy recently stopping by Brooklyn Bowl here in Nashville. You can listen to the full interview with Carlos Arevalo and all our WNXP interviews on our podcast channel.

On the album’s first single “Fly”

“The label picked the song as the kick off track,” he said. “Their thinking was what will appeal to people outside of your cult following, what has the best shot with a general audience. But it was also a track that when we first heard the playback on the first mix, it was just undeniably cool. We never recorded anything like this. I never heard our production at this level before, and you could tell John Congleton had a great time mixing it, just trying little things to sweeten it up. It was just undeniably just a standout track. We were excited to put it out there.”

Said Arevalo, “The music video is very tongue-in-cheek, humorous, and paying homage to some Rick James and Prince vibes. It was directed by Juliana and Nicola Giraffe and they had a specific vision for the video that included choreography. Which is hilarious to me because we are not Backstreet Boys. It’s funny because there’s people that watch the video and take it at face value and get upset, like, ‘Why are they dancing, they’re selling out.’ Its actually making fun of ourselves and the fact that we can’t dance.'”

On the vision for the song “Live Today”

“That’s a song that I demoed at my home studio in Northern Virginia for a while,” he said. “I showed it to Eduardo during a session and we fleshed out some of bassline parts that he wrote. It was just in the backburner, I thought it was a cool jam. I had this vision for it being something akin to like a Miles Davis session from the late ’60s, early ’70s, where you have this piece of music and you find amazing musicians, and you give them minimal direction and let them flesh out the tune. We were on the last day of tracking the record, and it came down to a musical face-off between me and Bardo. Bardo had a ballad he really wanted to make. And I had this song idea that I thought would be cool because we haven’t done anything like this on the record yet, so maybe it’ll be a nice complement to the rest of the repertoire. Everybody agreed that it did, and everybody got excited by it. We went in the room and I just directed the arrangement and what I had written, and we just cut it very quickly. The songs that I bring, I don’t like to overthink it. I think if it’s feeling great, it is great. I just move forward and keep going. Don’t overthink it, don’t second guess yourself.”

Eduardo Arenas’ goal for “The Way You Say It” Feat. Say She She

“[Arenas] had written it on guitar,” Arevalo said. “He also did a demo session with some producers, where the song was with the melody that’s being played by horns, but it was played by a flute. I remember he was thinking about going back to it being like a guitar song, and I thought we didn’t need more guitar. We should explore more horns or the woodwinds. They got in contact with this saxophone player, Bradley Crow, and he just came in and crushed it. We were looking for this funky vibe, some Parliament, Steely Dan, and asked if he could throw down on that and he did.”

Bardo Martinez’s songwriting on “Era Primavera”

“That’s his homage to ’80s Boleros, which is basically Latin American soul music,” said Arevalo. “You had soul music, obviously from North America, Black musicians doing that and setting the standard. That rubbed off on everyone across the world. You have Latin American version of that and you have like people like Jose Jose, Juan Gabriel doing these ballads. And that’s what he was inspired by because he used to hear those tunes as a child when his parents would put on the record player on Sundays. “

The ballad “Parallels” by Arenas and Martinez

“Being in a group this long, there’s contention that happens amongst members,” Arevalo described. “It’s nothing secret if you’re in the music industry. Maybe some artists shy away from those conversations, and keep them private backstage banter. But we thought, ‘Hey, let’s put out this diss track.’ You have Kendrick Lamar and Drake dissing each other on their own record we thought lets diss each other on our own record together, let’s just air out. It’s like a group therapy for Eduardo and Bardo. It talks about emotional baggage and just the ways they haven’t seen eye to eye in the past and working through that in real time. Getting to a better place of understanding with each other through the parallelism of the fact they both have sons that are the exact same age and go to daycare together and their best friends.”

“We weren’t immune to those pitfalls during the pandemic,” he said. “You’re separate, and can’t meet up and organize if you wanted to follow the medical advice. I feel like we had a cold spell in terms of our relationship among the three of us. Communication was at a low, and we had to work through that just like anybody else. And we did. It took a lot of communicating, a lot of long discussions, sharing, and having those uncomfortable talks about how this made me feel or when you did that, it made me feel this way, how can we come to a common understanding? We did a lot of that hard work and this album is the result of that.”