Los Bitchos are a London-based group whose members hail from all over the world, bringing a wide range of influences into their uniquely psychedelic sound. Serra Petale was born in Western Australia and draws inspiration from her mother’s classic Anatolian rock records, Agustina Ruiz comes from Uruguay, Josefine Jonsson is from Sweden, and Nic Crashaw, who drummed in various punk bands before rounding off Los Bitchos, from south London. Their entirely instrumental debut album, Let the Festivities Begin!, which was produced by Franz Ferdinand’s Alex Kapranos, projects their fusion of Argentine cumbia, Peruvian chicha, Turkish psych, and surf rock in a way that’s both cohesive and delightful, toeing the line between giddiness and restraint. Not for one moment does the group stray from the spirit of the album title, injecting a sense of humour and lightheartedness into the consistently dancey, propulsive set of tracks. For as unapologetically festive and retro as the vibe is, there’s a lot going on in this party – Let the Festivities Begin!, and you might find yourself someplace new.
We caught up with Los Bitchos for this edition of our Artist Spotlight interview series to talk about their first impressions of each other, working with Alex Kapranos, and more.
You’ve obviously known each other for quite some time, but I was wondering if could share what your impressions of each other were when you first met.
Nic Crawshaw: I know I thought Josie was super cool because I’d seen her play with her old band. She had this really cool stage presence where she’d just stare out across the audience. [Josefine laughs]
Serra Petale: And then she met me.
NC: Yeah, and then I met Serra and Agu and they’re completely deranged. [laughter] God, I don’t know, that’s such a good question.
Josefine Jonsson: I mean, I’ve known Serra for so many years, coming up to 10 years this year. I really can’t remember the beginning of meeting Serra. But I do remember meeting Nic and Agu, because I think similar to you Nic, I saw you play live with your old band and I knew that you were a really sick drummer.
Agustina Ruiz: I remember meeting Josie and thinking, “Oh, she’s really tall.”
NC: And then you met me!
JJ: [laughs] I’m not even that tall.
NC: I mean, when I first met Serra, it was literally to have a go playing through the songs because we’d been introduced through mutual friends online. It was just a very friendly, welcoming, fun time. It was a really nice, relaxed vibe. And I remember thinking she was quite loud, which I love.
SP: Just not at the moment, I’m sorry.
NC: You’re doing great, my love.
JJ: I remember my first impression of the group hanging out, I remember us being really loud. And I was like, I’m more loud than I am normally because we always kind of encouraged that from each other. When we get together, it’s like… [makes loud noises]
SP: Like vultures picking at a carcass.
JJ: Yeah, but like, in a fun way. I think we all just work each other up in a really nice, fun way.
Is that how everyone else remembers that first meeting?
AR: The second time I met Serra properly, she fell into a little pond. And I helped her dry her socks. That was a good memory.
SP: That was a nice memory for me. You were really kind. I remember you’re just really nice, you always make me feel really comfortable and welcome.
When you were first sharing those influences that you were getting more into as a group, did that give you a newfound appreciation of the sounds that you grew up around?
SR: I think it did for me. When I was a teen, my mom would always be like, “This is the music I listen to” – my mom’s from Turkey. And obviously, it’s cool as hell, but I think as a teenager I was maybe a little bit more resistant to absorb as much as I do now in my later life. I don’t know why I did that, I kind of feel a bit bad about that now. But I noticed, when I was over with her in Australia, we were really sharing a lot more music together. We did this mix for Clash magazine where I actually learned about the Laz region from Turkey. There’s this artist called Neşe Karaböcek – she’s signing in Turkish, but the Turkish is a bit off, and my mom explained that it’s from this really specific part of Turkey. I got to know all this history and then she introduced me to even more music from that specific region of Turkey, and it was a really cool moment. We could share that a little bit more with each other. For me, that’s just something that’s come with age. I’m more receptive and I delve into a lot more.
AR: For me it’s the same, because even though I grew up in South America, I didn’t listen to the typical South American music growing up. I was more like, “Oh, I really like punk.” And when I moved here, being in this band really opened my mind to listen to a lot of South American music that before I wouldn’t listen to that often or wouldn’t appreciate it.
What about you, Nick? I know you were playing in punk bands before – was it a way of opening your mind to these new sounds as well?
NC: Big time, yeah. It’s been quite a journey learning about some really different music that I just hadn’t been exposed to much before. I learned classical percussion growing up and a bit of jazz as well, and then played in punk bands since I was a teenager. I’d kind of reached this point where my existing band, I could tell it was winding up. And I really just had this hankering for something completely different and completely new, and I wanted something to push my playing in a different way. And then these guys showed up. I’d been on the lookout for about a year, so I did have to wait a little while. Serra’s a sick drummer and percussionist as well, so she’s kind of pushed me. It’s been a really good challenge for me to learn so many different rhythms.
And you, Josefine, what’s your musical background? The press release talks about the influence of Swedish pop on a song like ‘Las Panteras’, which I do think comes through a bit.
JJ: Yeah, very similar to Nic, I’ve been playing in DIY punk bands since I was 15, 16, but I also didn’t quite appreciate the music that my parents listened to. And like, the Swedish, ABBA stuff – you know, you always get through that phase of “you’re too cool for school” in certain genres. And you reach a point where you’re like, “Hang on, I was so wrong all these years and it’s actually wicked.” I listened to more old music from Sweden and around the world, and being in this band has opened up so much in terms of genres. I’d never listened to South American cumbia or anything like that before. I’d heard about it, but I didn’t understand and appreciate it the way I do now. And obviously, the playing is completely different, but it’s been so fun and eye-opening. You have to push yourself to work out where you fit in there. But I also think it adds to the sound that we’re not all from the same region, we didn’t all grow up with the same thing. We can all pull our experiences into the sound we’re doing.
I imagine that when you first started the band, a lot of the excitement came from learning new things, new instruments, new ways of playing. What keeps it fun to this day?
SR: I think it’s exactly that, though. You’re always finding new ways to do things and there isn’t a rulebook that you’re necessarily sticking to. I think the constant learning curve that is music is what keeps it really fun and interesting. Learning and experimenting, even structure-wise, melody-wise, what instruments you put on, all of that stuff is what keeps it really fresh. And I think the fact that we’ve been learning about so much different music over the last few years has really been a catalyst for that as well. And of course, when you’re learning so much about that stuff, it’s like a melting pot – you can take the best bits or bits that you like from certain bits of music or from certain regions, and then those bits become something new because you’ve just melted it all into one. For me, that’s what keeps it really exciting.
It’s a constant process.
SR: Definitely. I realized that a little bit with our song ‘Lindsey Goes to Mykonos’. I think it’s one of my favourite songs on the album, to be honest. For me, that song is a weird mashup of like, Faith No More, you know their song ‘Epic’? [sings chorus] I love that song so much – it was the first song that I remember getting my brother to download on Napster back in the day. [laughter] I just remember that that was the catalyst for ‘Lindsay Goes to Mykonos’. I don’t even know if that comes through – [mimics guitar part] there’s this really cool guitar going. I love that because you can take all these genres, different bits of music, and you can just stick it into this cumbia, Turkish psych, festive little album.
The album was produced by Alex Kapranos. I know you worked with him on the first singles as well, but were there any moments where you were surprised by his approach and what he brought to the table?
JJ: It was kind of a new experience for all of us to work with a producer that is as invested in what we do. That was a surprise for me. Working with a producer to start with was kind of eye-opening for me, and it’s such a learning curve. I think it’s just so useful to have someone like Alex to come in and really help us to make the album the best it can possibly be. And to have someone that just comes in with fresh ears, that hasn’t listened to the songs and gigged them for years like we have, I think that’s the most valuable part.
SR: I didn’t know how much he liked cumbia. Franz Ferdinand are really huge in South America, so I guess that makes sense, but I had no idea that he had such a wide range of music and therefore such an in-depth knowledge of that specific type of music. That was surprising for me. But it was very useful, because he can bring all of that stack of knowledge and he knows how to steer tracks in what direction. He knew what to bring out in the tracks and he really understood the production side of things.
I was reading that one of your aspirations is to one day shoot a music video in Mykonos.
JJ: It’s me, I really wanna go. I won’t shut up about it. [laughter] It would so fun!
SR: I love how we weren’t even planning on releasing ‘Lindsay Goes to Mykonos’ as a single.
JJ: With every video, I’m like, “When are we gonna go to Mykonos? When are we gonna go to Mykonos?”
Will it be like an expansion of the band’s cinematic universe, or will it be the start of a new series?
AR: It will be a start. I think it’ll be one episode of that. One story.
NC: A standalone feature film.
JJ: Maybe our take on Lohan’s Beach Club series.
SR: That would be amazing.
Could each share one thing that personally inspires you about another member in the group?
AR: That’s so sweet.
NC: I’m gonna do Agu. I think Agu inspires me to be myself, to not care what anybody thinks, and just be really open and honest about things.
AR: Aww. Thank you, that’s lovely.
NC: Now someone say something nice about me.
JJ: I can! Nick is so inspiring when it comes to just seeing the best in people and people’s intentions, even when it’s not clear. She’s very good at stepping away and being like, “We’re all just doing our best.” She’s very good at reading people and is very perceptive of emotion.
AR: That’s true.
NC: Thank you, Josie. This is like group therapy.
JJ: Yeah! [laughs]
AR: I have something about Serra. I think she’s a really generous person and that really inspires me. She really listens when you talk, when you have a problem or whatever. She’s a really good friend that understands and sympathizes with you. And I really admire that.
JJ: What about me?
SR: I’ve got something about you. With me personally, I’ve just always felt that you always steer me to do the right thing. I think your sense of moral compass is really, really inspiring. If there’s – I don’t know, just with anything, it’s like I can always really… [tears up] I can always really trust you to steer me in the right direction. And there ain’t a lot of people that will do that.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.