How Los Retros Turned '70s Jazz Into Your New DIY Indie Obsession [Q&A]
Photo: Ross Harris
Los Retros is proof that the only thing you need to make a great record in the modern age is a living room, some instruments, and a fire under your ass. Mauri Tapia, the mastermind behind Los Retros, writes and records all of his music from his parents' home in Oxnard, California (a city that has also served as an incubator for artists like Madlib and Anderson .Paak.) Despite the barebones setup, Tapia manages to create recordings that paint a vast expanse of sound and color.
For the last few years, Tapia has been touring with a recurring cast of individuals around Southern California, spreading the gospel of his music and recording yet more songs from Oxnard in between shows. With the release of Los Retros' debut EP, Retrospect, on June 21 via Stones Throw Records, the public outside of the Golden State gets to experience Los Retros' unique sound for the first time.
It was Ones to Watch's distinct pleasure to sit down with Mauri Tapia to talk DIY recording, sources of inspiration, and turning a ride to a show into a marriage.
OTW: When did you start writing music, and how did that evolve into Los Retros?
MT: Well, uh, I don't actually write most of it down; I just kind of form it and do it, it's all memorized. I didn't have access to any recording software until I was about 15, and that's when I started really recording audio for the first time. At first, I just tracked guitar, then eventually drums, and yeah it kind of developed from there.
OTW: Your music has a very distinct feel that blends American indie/pop with Latin elements. Who are some artists that influenced the development of your sound?
MT: My parents for a long time when I was a little kid would play a lot of Spanish rock bands, some of those were, like, Los Freddys, Los Terricolas, Los àngeles Negros, and so on. I never really cared for the sound until I got older. You know, maturity. I think a lot of those songs were in my head, just thinking about them and remembering all those moments, and I was like, "Hey that sounds like something cool that I'd like to make." So I took some of those songs as a sort of reference to what I started making. Some of the others, like two on the album are kind of influenced by this dude named Tonetta. The whole album is actually a twist on a lot of stuff I listen to - it is original, but definitely reflects what I was listening to at the time. I recorded the album two years ago, actually, and I just finally decided to release it.
OTW: You took the inspiration for your moniker from a Chilean band called Los àngeles Negros that has been active since the 70s - can you dig into this connection a little deeper?
MT: Yeah. So our project actually used to be called what the album is called, Retrospect. That was the original name, but there was already a band with that name, and we didn't want to get sued, you know? We thought, "Alright, let's switch it up." I wanted to keep Retro in there because that's just something that, like, maintains with our whole reality. And I thought, I lot of those bands I grew up with have "Los" in their name, and in English the same for bands like The Strokes. Actually, somebody on my live channel mentioned the name Los Retros and I was like "You know what, that's a pretty cool name," so I just kept it and here we are.
OTW: With the DIY approach you take to recording your music, do you face any interesting challenges translating the pieces to a live show? How do you adapt your music for a live setting where you can't play drums, guitar, and bass all at once?
MT: Well, like I mentioned I write - well, not write down but you know what I mean - come up with the tunes, you know, record them, mix them. When we perform I have several friends that play with me. My little brother plays with me now and my wife does too, actually. And my friend who's been there since the beginning playing bass. I guess that's what makes it Los Retros.
OTW: I want to congratulate you on your debut EP that just dropped last month, Retrospect. How did you choose the six songs that would be featured on the project? Did you take anything in particular into consideration when choosing the play order?
MT: Kinda. So me and Wolf, the founder of Stones Throw, we hang out every now and then and we would always change it up. We had a bunch of other songs that we thought about putting on the album but we just thought these ones were better. We never really talked much about the order, we sat down and picked it in maybe, I dunno, four or five minutes. We thought, well, let's put "Last Day On Earth" at the end, because you know the "last day" implies the end. The first couple songs are all about my wife. But the truth is, I don't think it really matters what order its in. We just kind of threw it together.
OTW: A lot of your songs involve complex chord structures, and I'm told that you play every instrument featured on each track. How did you go about learning all these instruments?
MT: I started playing guitar when I was eight. I eventually got my own guitar at 11, and really started getting better at it. My school had this after school program called Rock Band, and me and a friend would go there, and I just had access to so many more instruments there than I had at home. So I just played around with anything I could get my hands on. I picked up a bass and tried some bass lines, which is actually pretty similar to guitar. I eventually got on the drums around 8th grade. I didn't get my own drum set 'til about a year and a half ago, actually, but I'd always play whenever I was at school. Then three and a half years ago I got my first keyboard, some people on YouTube started sharing my music and all that. Around that time I started getting into a lot of old bands from the 70s, kinda started playing around with the chords they were using, and it all developed from there as I found my own sound.
OTW: What is your favorite story behind one of the tracks on Retrospect?
MT: Yeah, the song "Friends." It's about my wife. So long story short, I didn't have a ride to show one day. I was kind of acquaintances with this girl, we had talked a little bit in the past, nothing too special. Then I invited her to one of my shows, and *laughs* I didn't necessarily lie, but I said I didn't really have a ride, since the car my drummer was taking was too packed with gear for me to fit. So she gave me a ride, and we ended up becoming friends for a pretty good while, you know, and there was definitely something there. So I wrote this song and figured I'd show it to her, and she'd have to do something about it, so... yeah, now we're married.
Photo: Ross Harris
OTW: You've developed a devoted following in your native Southern California and have played shows all around the region. As your career continues to develop, where are some areas that you want to tour? Do you have any bucket list venues?
MT: Hmm, I don't know, I haven't really though about it. I just wanna go play places where people will watch me. If I had my choice I guess I'd like to play in Japan, I've always been interested in Japanese 70s funk stuff. Honestly, New York sounds cool, too. I've only left California once when I was about two years old. I went to Mexico. But now the laws are a little different regarding specific people and my parents can't go back, and for me I'd rather visit with my parents than go by myself. I don't really have any bucket list venues. Maybe some cool back yards - I like intimate shows, haha.
OTW: Assume next year you could support any artist on an international arena tour - who would you want to support and why?
MT: Well, if he could even still play, I'd say this dude Alain Mion. He was a composer for this soul-jazz band called Cortex from the 70s. He's probably almost 80 though. Roy Ayers too, but I know he was just hospitalized, so that would be tough. Really any of those old funk guys, because that's the sort of music I wanna be making. It's a long shot but maybe George Clinton, though I know he's retiring pretty soon.
OTW: Clearly you have the chops to do great things on your own - but if you had the opportunity to collaborate with any active artist, writer, or producer on a project, who would it be and what sort of project would you undertake?
MT: Well actually, I'm collaborating with one of the best right now, Steve Arrington. I wish I could give you more details on that project right now, but I can't.
OTW: Who are your Ones to Watch?
MT: Huh, I don't know, I listen to a lot of old music, haha. He's not new, but I think people should know about Alan Hawkshaw. Brian Bennett, too. Oh, and Bill Evans. There you go.