When Venezuelan rockers La Vida Bohème first performed at South by Southwest in 2012, they didn’t think that Austin would become their most visited U.S. city in the coming years. Since their debut album “Nuestra,” the band has returned almost yearly to play various local festivals including the Austin City Limits Music Festival and the Pachanga Latino Music Festival.
“I believe it’s good when you’re drawn to a town,” says frontman Henry D’Arthenay. “Austin is such a musical oasis, and we feel grateful that people like to have us there.” With each visit, they like to make time for record shopping, brisket eating and hanging out with the friends they’ve made over the years.
A lot has changed since La Vida Bohème’s first SXSW appearance. They’re now two-time Latin Grammy winners with two highly acclaimed albums. Their much-buzzed about third album “La Lucha,” which was produced by Calle 13 co-founder Eduardo Cabra (Visitante), releases on March 24. And now the rockers, who have been like brothers for the past decade, find both their sound and spirit maturing and evolving.
“I believe ‘La Lucha’ is a coming-of-age album,” D’Arthenay, 28, says. The past three years have been a whirlwind for the band, filled new experiences and personal challenges like the death of D’Arthenay’s mother. They also faced difficult decisions like leaving their homeland of Venezuela, which has been roiled by increasing political and economic crisis over the years, to move to Mexico City in 2014 to continue their musical career.
“We’ve been nurtured by (Mexico City), and suddenly we were not worried about things like water, electricity, access to food or medicine,” D’Arthenay says. Mexico has opened the doors to the global stage, allowing them to tour abroad easier and exposing them to new audiences. In Mexico City, they’ve been able to build a home studio, but it hasn’t been all rosy. They also experienced a mugging at gunpoint.
Still, D’Arthenay says there’s a magic to their adopted home and one he finds comforting. In Mexico City, like Caracas, you can spot massive tree roots breaking through and lifting pieces of sidewalks, D’Arthenay says. “When people cement roads or sidewalks, they mean for them to be flat, but that’s the power of these cities. They challenge your notion of what’s right because we sometimes see things very square, but the world is curvy.”
The band still makes time to travel back to Venezuela to perform. “What musicians can give to society is sound,” D’Arthenay says. “It heals, makes people not afraid to be together, makes you see that you are not so different from another person.”
It’s with that spirit that their latest album “La Lucha,” which was recorded in both Puerto Rico and Mexico, came together. After their first album “Nuestra” or “Ours,” and their second album “Será” or “Will Be,” the band knew that the third album “La Lucha” or “The Struggle” would help round out an aptly titled trilogy, “Nuestra Será La Lucha” or “The struggle will be ours.”
Producer Cabra, D’Arthenay says, helped elevate their musicianship and creative concepts. La Vida Bohème incorporated field recordings they captured to produce “a soundscape of daily life” featuring birds chirping or subway sounds aimed at making listeners focus on feeling, he says.
“We had a question in mind,” D’Arthenay says. “What is the struggle? What has been your struggle?”
For the album, the band wanted to interview someone with life experience about their struggle. Thanks to Cabra, former Uruguayan president Jose “Pepe” Mujica is featured on the record in a special spoken word piece. Mujica quickly gained celebrity status for not choosing a presidential life of luxury. Instead, he drove his beat-up Volkswagon Beetle around the country and lived at home instead of the presidential palace.
In the song, “Você,” Mujica starts his spoken word piece with the poignant words, “My most difficult struggle has been with myself.”
“We were very moved by his words,” D’Arthenay says. “And I agree. I believe our biggest fight is against ourselves. It’s a struggle to become who you think you can be. La lucha is also about surrendering yourself to things you don’t understand, a struggle against ourselves to stick to what we believe in, and an understanding that life is ephemeral.”
La Vida Bohème at SXSW
The band will perform at 1 a.m. March 17 at Speakeasy and on March 18 at the Palm Door on Sixth (time TBD).