Los Lobos have a dynamic and versatile way with how they write and perform music. One song can have a Mariachi vibe to it, while another will dabble in blues and then another comes in with rhythmic rock while being accented by the horns. This also comes from the ability that David Hidalgo, Louie Perez, Cesar Rosas, Conrad Lozano and Steve Berlin have when it comes to playing multiple instruments. It all makes for a fantastic live experience. At the Greenwich Odeum in East Greenwich on Sunday, people will be able to check out this band from East L.A., with a trio of Ian O’Neil, Dennis Ryan and Christopher Ryan from Providence indie rock darlings Deer Tick kicking the night off.
I had a conversation with Steve Berlin about getting used to playing live, the many session gigs he has done, a certain connection with a Providence musician and never being idle.
Rob Duguay: You didn’t join Los Lobos until 1984, so how was it at the start when it came to getting acclimated to the band’s sound? Were there any major adjustments you had to do?
Steve Berlin: I knew literally nothing about live music before I joined, so I had to get caught up. They guys were very brilliant teachers and they kind of showed me what I needed to know and I figured out the rest.
RD: You’ve done session gigs with a ton of musicians and bands such as John Lee Hooker, Faith No More, R.E.M., The Replacements, Sheryl Crow and The Tragically Hip among others. Out of everyone you’ve worked with, who would you say got you the most excited to be in the studio with them?
SB: The John Lee Hooker session was fun, not only because he was there but I thought it would be cool if we got Mario C., who was the Beastie Boys’ engineer, to mix the whole thing. It was pretty neat, you had John Lee Hooker with a guy who up to that point had done most of his work sampling being in the room with the real thing. It was cool to be a part of it.
RD: Sounds like it. How was John Lee Hooker in person?
SB: He was a very cool dude. We’d done a bunch of stuff together and we had the same manager for a little while so he’d play with us. Whenever we found out he was in town we’d go visit with him and he was a lovely gentleman who was fun to be around.
RD: That’s awesome. You also have a Rhode Island connection due to some work you’ve done with Deer Tick, who call Providence home, along with being in John McCauley’s side project Diamond Rugs. How would you describe John when it comes to being a collaborator and writing songs with other musicians?
SB: He’s one of the most interesting and unique people I’ve ever come across in my life. I’m lucky to consider him one of my best friends, he’s got a very restless mind and imagination. When he gets bored he’ll start another band and make a record again (laughs). I’ve been fortunate enough to be around for three of those records and I respect the hell out of the guy. I think he’s one of the best songwriters we got, he lives every moment of his life in his songs and none of that is imagined.
Every time we see each other, it’s like we’re brothers. I guess we are to an extent, Diamond Rugs is kind of like a brotherhood. I just love the guy. He also has a lovely family and they’re just awesome people.
RD: Since you play saxophone and keyboard, do you have a specific brand that you love to play?
SB: These days, we fly almost everywhere and our stuff gets thrown around so much that I find it impossible to take anything that’s worth any sentimental value because they get destroyed more often than not. The instruments I’m forced to play on the road isn’t usually what I prefer to play. It’s just a fact of the matter that it’s too much of a risk involved, flying everything kind of beats it to crap.
RD: That makes sense, especially with the way some airlines handle their cargo.
RD: After this current run of shows with Los Lobos, what do you have planned next?
SB: I don’t like to be idle so I’m involved with four records that are in various stages. We also just finished a Christmas record that’ll be out during the end of October and we’ve been talking about starting work on another album in November. I should be pretty busy for the rest of the year.