Ollin: Chicano meets Irish in this punk-folk collective

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Ollin (se pronuncia Olin or Oh-leen) is an 8-piece punk-rock-folk collective that’s been owning East LA for more than 15 years. Amantes del punk-rock since their teenage years, twin bothers Scott and Randy Rodarte actually ended up mixing that sound with  traditional Mexican music, cumbia, Afro-beats and out of all things, Irish folk.

Their latest EP, San Patricios is just un abreboca to the new album they’re recording con Ry Cooder (Buena Vista Social Club, Rolling Stones). The title refers to the little known true story about  a group of Irish soldiers who sided with Mexico in the 1847 Mexican-American war.

Check them out in their New Yorck City debut  this weekend, first at Hank’s Saloon in Brooklyn and then at Roseland Ballroom where they’re opening for Irish-punk rockers (and their buddies) the Pogues….on St Patrick’s Day!

Name: Scott Rodarte

Roots: We’re from East Los Angeles. Our musical roots are of a punk rock origin. We started off like a lot of marginalized kids in the mid ’80s by playing backyards…

Where do you live? In the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East LA

What does the name Ollin mean? It’s a word in the Nahuatl language that signifies all natural movement – earthquakes, rolling streams, the suns and moons daily trek across the sky, etc. At the time of our inception we were involved with the Chicano Movement, so associating with our ancestral roots seemed the natural thing to do.

How did you transition from a hard-core punk to embracing your Mexican roots? It was the combination of leaving our teenage years behind but still wanting to play protest music or music with a message. Specifically, it was watching our hometown heroes/homeboys, Los Lobos, do an acoustic tour that caught our ears and hearts.

Where does the Irish influence come from?
We had always been called “The Mexican Pogues” because we were punks with folk instruments. I learned of the Irish -Mexican connection while studying Chicano Studies pre-Ollin. One of our members, Billy Branch, was a white guy who grew up with us in a predominately Mexican neighborhood. He was a completely assimilated Chicano, (talked the talk , walked the walk) but was also a proud Irishman, so it just kinda rubbed off on us.

You’re opening for the Pogues but  you’ve covered their records and played with them before. How did your relationship start? They’re just cool guys who truly care about underground music. They really enjoy going against the grain. It all started in San Francisco, CA…We somehow finagled the opportunity to play a Pogues show at the legendary Filmore Ballroom. It wasn’t even a supporting slot, it was playing in the Filmore lounge in between bands. By design we got to the Filmore during the Pogues soundcheck. After soundcheck , the headlining band has dinner in the lounge where we would be playing that night. Typically the lounge is for singer/songwriters, one maybe 2 musicians..We were a party of 7 or so, maybe more. So while The Pogues were having dinner we played for them, kinda like an audition..And they loved it..Spider Stacey makes a call right then to their booking agent and demands that we open for them in an upcoming LA show..The bill was already set but he called some shots to make the changes..He later mentioned that there was some kinda negative thing going on with the agency and he was looking for an excuse to fuck with them, so he chose our cause to be it.

Can you tell us about then new record? We’re starting to do pre-pre production, which is collecting the tunes we plan to record. I know we want it to be good so we’re gonna put some time into it…Our last output was done in 4 days and this time we’d like to put more flavor that only the process of aging it a bit can do to our work.

How did you hook up with Ry Cooder? Well, our relationship with Ry stems from our trumpet player Vincent Valdez. Aside from being a great horn player, Vincent is most known for his work as a very successful visual artist. He’s amazing and we met him through one of his art projects that we were, in a way, tied to. Ry had commissioned Vincent to do a few of his album covers and a major project that has caught world wide attention. It involved  a painting on a classic car that told a bit of buried Los Angeles history, The story of Chavez Ravine. Ollin was involved with the same story, not with Ry, but with Culture Clash. We wrote music and were cast members in the CC play back in 2003-2004. So with all this in common we came together. It wasn’t till a few months went by that Ry asked us to be a part of a tribute show for one of his very close friends who had recently passed away. We were the band and he was the musical director and we played some classic low rider and cruising music, the essence of old school Cali life.

What’s it like working with him? We learned a lot form Ry, mostly discovering what the musical pocket is all about.. He’s gonna be helping out on the record and we are really looking forward to that!

Can we expect any collaborations in the new album? Well Ry’s got an endless stream of legends who could possibly end up on our record. I don’t wanna jinx anything or scare them off, so I’ll answer that once I know for sure who’s in.

How do you blend Polka, African, Celtic, Asian, Collective Folk so seamlessly? Well there is a common thread with all those genres and it’s usually that the tempo and energy are the same.

Your live shows are super high energy, is that what you enjoy the most, playing live? We feel we’re lucky enough to be up that stage so the time to enjoy life is right after we count of..1, 2 3!

What’s a cosmopolatino anyway? I’m not sure,  but it sounds expensive.