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Just Another Man From East L.A. : Los Lobos' Louie Perez has traveled the world with the award-winning band, but his conscience is never far from home.

March 12, 1995| Growing up in East Los Angeles, Louie Perez 's ambitions didn't include becoming a founding member of a music group that would one day play before European royalty. But that's what happened to Los Lobos, whose recent "Just Another Band From East L.A." CD boxed set provides an impressive overview of a career that spans more than two decades. Yet some of the events of the past year, such as the passage of Proposition 187, anti-affirmative action rumblings and a lingering climate of immigrant-bashing--may have introduced a discordant element into the creative mix of a band whose songs frequently deal with social issues. Perez, drummer/guitarist and one of the chief songwriters for Los Lobos, discusses these and other topics with writer Mark Sachs. Perez, 41, lives in Whittier with his wife, Mary, and their three sons, Louis, John and Matthew

Q. How did Los Lobos evolve from a back - yard party band in East L.A. into a group known for its social conscience nearly as much as its music, and by fans who seem to cut across all age and ethnic categories?

A. We did not start out wanting to be the ones to "make a difference." We were just out of (Garfield) High School when we formed the band, and it was more the answer to a creative urge than anything else. But even that was kind of an abstract concept for someone 18 years old.

We kind of stumbled onto Mexican (folk) music before we realized how demanding it was musically. We were intrigued by it. We had been playing little fiestas and things on weekends, but when we started experimenting with Mexican music, an interesting thing started happening: With rock 'n' roll, you are usually playing to younger people, because after the music starts, the older folks tend to leave. But as we became a little better known for playing Mexican music, when those blankets would unfurl, we started to see older people sitting out there too. We were playing things they could relate to.

The audiences began to get mixed in different ways after we started playing colleges and universities. We began to see that music could be something more than a musical thing; it was something that transcended race and age. I guess at first we were sort of a curiosity, but after a while, people seemed to realize that it was OK to like different kinds of music from a band. We eventually brought that message to larger, broader audiences, and it wasn't long before we found ourselves playing Mexican music in places like Oslo, Norway.

Q. How has the measure of fame and financial security the band has achieved affected your perspective on who you are and what you came from?

A. I think the fame expanded my sense of responsibility for how Mexican Americans are perceived by others. But we didn't have to go to Helsinki to find people who didn't understand Mexican Americans--there are people right here who don't, people whose only concept of a Mexican American is from cowboy music or something.

I see progress and a lack of progress in Los Angeles. On a larger scale, in our government and in society as a whole, a class system has been created. About the only way to educate your children now is to be financially secure, which perpetuates the poor.

On the other hand, I see kids picking themselves up and doing great things despite the odds and despite the pressure of just trying to get by. I see people pitching in for each other in times of calamity and tragedy, the resiliency of human beings in general. I see the potential we all have inside ourselves that is seldom recognized.

We have all been pruned back to stubs, but every now and then a little bud appears. We have the potential for being good, but for too many young people, that

knowledge has been lost somewhere.

Q. How has your children's upbringing differed from what you experienced?

A. My parents worked very hard to give their children something that they never had, and I am doing the same. But I don't want to insulate them in any way. I don't want them to be Siddhartha, who was given all the golden things but was not allowed to see what the world was really like.

Q. How has having a family of your own filtered your vision as an artist?

A. When we went to the Shrine Auditorium in 1988 to pick up a Grammy, I felt kind of full of myself, I must admit. But when I got home, I found out that I had to go right back out and buy diapers . . . so that kind of thing really grounds you. When I walked through that door, I was just Dad again.

The way my schedule kind of works is this: During the day, I belong to my family. Then I stay up a little later--later than I should, probably--and that's when I can work. That's when the creative level takes over, when I play. It's kind of a parallel universe that my wife of 19 years can't complain about too much because she knew what she was getting into when she married me. But it makes it difficult for people like managers, booking agents and the support team that goes along with the group. We run in our own universe, and they have to realize that this is the way we do things.

Q. What was your reaction to the passage of Proposition 187 last year, and do you sense anything will be generated by it musically on an upcoming album?

A. Just on the human rights level, Proposition 187 is a horrible thing. The immigrants become scapegoats, really, for the rest of the us. The people in the band are from second-generation Mexican American families, but that doesn't mean we can say, "Oh, you're not talking to me, you're taking about those guys standing in front of the 7-Eleven, waiting to get picked up for work." Is everybody going to get tagged like the Polish Jews who wore the green triangles?

Who knows, it might manifest itself (musically). On issues that come up like this, we have always had some people around us who pound the table and yell, "Say something!" and others who tell us, "Don't say anything--you have to sell some records here!" I would risk anything to say something that would affect people on a human level. What we do in our work is always maintain a certain amount of awareness and try to say something. But I've never been one to have to browbeat people. I think the fact that we even existed was vaguely political anyway. I mean, in 1987, there was this band that recorded a Mexican song that was 100 years old, which was at the top of the charts.

I think that was political in itself.

*

Los Lobos is currently in the studio working on the soundtrack for the movie sequel to director Robert Rodriguez's 1992 cult hit, "El Mariachi."

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