This is some kind of Sunday for Luis Arriaga. Wake up and go shoot .357s in Burbank, even though he's been scared of guns since losing his best friend to a drive-by. Then to a strip club as soon as it opens, watching hung-over dancers stomp across the parking lot. And $260 later, he's installed at a dark little Pasadena bar, where strangers will sometimes leave drinks waiting in his name in case he comes by. Here, they know him well. On the wall are records by a very few bands. There's Bob Dylan, the Rolling Stones and his own — Luis and the Wildfires.
“I want you to print this. I'm doing a man shower!” laughs Arriaga, several dedicated hours into a celebration of little Max, pending child of two close friends. He'd promised that if he had to step away from a lap dance to do an interview, he would. (“That's just the kind of guy I am!”) Instead, he steps away from probably his favorite barstool in definitely his favorite bar, which is where he goes when he has to step away from being the fireball in front of not one but two world-class rock & roll bands and just be a guy who wants to sit, drink and think.
Arriaga has been recording with Altadena's Wild Records for a little more than 10 years now, starting with Lil Luis y los Wild Teens. They were discovered by Wild founder Reb Kennedy at a dive bar in Downey that advertised “a night of Mexican rock & roll!” In the decade since, some drinks were drunk and some of the best rock & roll of the new millennium was put to tape on a secret setup in the back corner of Wild studios, an egg-crated shack in Kennedy's backyard. Musicians from as far away as Sweden or as close as Arriaga's native North Hollywood come to pound piano and perch on top of their amps while Arriaga cups an ear and sings, screams and whispers inside the homemade vocal booth: “Please forgive me, friends, if I seem strange … I'm still in love.”
Blood, flesh, bone, soul — these are the primal things that give power to Luis' lyrics and all-in live performances, where he'll swing his guitar around his back and become the animal he so often sings about. Drink is another: It's alcohol as solver and dissolver of problems. But even though he shot his first gun today, Arriaga is first and always a lover. He's a romantic so true it probably hurts. He even found the exact word for it: “Limerent.” It means in love with love; it means high highs and low lows. It means he's one of the singers who always means it, too.
As the man shower crescendos, he's talking about other singers he loves — like Tom Waits and Van Morrison. What he loves about them is what people love about him: “It sounds like they hurt so MUCH,” he says. “I love that.”