Profile was originally published on uclaradio.com in 2012.
Meet the self-deprecating creative force behind Craft Spells, Justin Vallesteros. Craft Spells is a Stockton, Calif.-based band that is garnering major buzz for melding a Jen Lekman-channeling-Ian Curtis croon with heavy New Order-influenced instrumentals. The synthy-new wavers capture both misery and twee, the spirit of Morrisey and many other 80s UK bands in a winning, melodic sound. Listeners may also be reminded of contemporaries like the Radio Dept., Minks and Beach Fossils. So far, the up-and-coming band has released two albums: the sleeper 2011 hit Idle Labor and Gallery, on May 15th, 2012.
UCLAradio.com was able to catch up with the busy frontman over the summer to discuss recording EPs, Star Slinger, "Call Me Maybe” remixes and being on the road.
The band’s follow-up to Idle Labor, Gallery, was released in May. Gallery seems like a progression from Idle Labor. They’re similar because Gallery still covers a lot of synth and heartbreak. What’s it like writing the two albums?
Writing both albums were very personal since I do it at home. I wrote half Gallery while on tour with Beach Fossils, which was our first tour as a band. I wrote a lot of stuff while in the van [touring for Idle Labor] so that’s why they sound similar. I know that EPs nowadays are supposed to showcase what you’re going to sound like [on the] next record but Gallery was pretty much an extension to what Idle Labor was. But the next record is totally not going to sound in the realm of Idle Labor.
What's the next album going to sound like?
The next record is going to our very first studio record. I live in San Francisco now and I’m demo-ing at home. I’m taking it into a studio around winter, January, and you can expect a bigger, more proper sound. I was listening to a lot of studio records and I thought to myself, “I should invest the time in a studio record.” I want to branch out from that whole, “at home” artist thing. I’m excited to move from the laptop plug-in into actual analog compression and all that.
Both albums really have that lo-fi aesthetic. I read somewhere, that you produce the band’s songs from your parents’ house and that you bought all your equipment yourself. What’s the process like?
(Laughs) Yeah, yeah. So, Idle Labor was recorded at my parents’ house, as with Gallery. With Gallery, I made the decision to go visit my parents and just record in the same room I did Idle Labor. That marked a whole year since I did Idle Labor, but it felt really nostalgic writing in the same room. And plus, it was winter, so it made for a darker atmosphere but in no way, did I feel like the writing was getting more progressive. I felt like I had a couple of songs I had to get off my chest and that was Gallery. Months have past and I have different feelings now, of course. So, there’s a different direction I want to go for Craft Spells.
Is the creative force behind the band mainly you in terms of songwriting or is it collaboration with the other band members as well?
Currently, it’s me for writing although the band comes in when we do live things and they tweak things to make live shows different. For the studio, I think they’ll come in and maybe beef it up for rehearsal and do what I would do for demos. The writing process is still me, and they’ll splash it up and do their own thing.
You guys have garnered a ton of buzz your two EPs. But when you guys were starting out, was it hard for the band to get established with the indie music scene? There are so many acts out there, how did you guys distinguish yourselves?
I don’t know what it is really. When I first started Craft Spells, I uploaded a few songs off Myspace just for friends. I really don’t know how to pinpoint what attracts us to our fanbase. Maybe there’s a lot of depressed kids or something (laughs). I feel like I established that personality through the social media already.
Exactly! Craft Spells is known for its fuzzy, gloomy music. Where do you get your source of inspiration for this poppy sadness?
Influences came along on Gallery and Idle Labor, of course. But I feel like I’m just now finding my sound and parting ways that whole 80s thing. I’m stoked for this next record because I finally feel like I’m writing something I really enjoy. But Gallery and Idle Labor was really fun to record and really fast-paced. I recorded in like, a week and then we toured. But we experienced a lot and I’m ready to showcase myself as a musician and a writer.
The first track I heard from you guys was that remix of the Drums’ single, “Money,” when it first dropped. That remix alone ending up on every notable music blog and got you guys a ton of press. When did you first start doing remixes?
I haven’t really done any official remixes except for “Money.” I remix my own songs, which is weird, I know. The very first remix I ever did was the “Party Talk” remix and that got a lot of plays. I do enjoy taking any original song and jamming it four octaves lower just to hear it slow. I listen to 90s r&b hits. Part of why I like remixes is hearing it in a different tempo. Hearing vocals in an androgynous way, pitching it down where you can’t tell if it’s male or female; the whole experimentation is really fun for me.
Are you familiar with Star Slinger? Because when you said 90s r&b remixes, that’s who I thought of.
Yeah! Star Slinger’s cool. I was in a tiny chat room with him once. I think he hates me, I don’t know.
I mean, I don’t think he really hates me but we knew each other and didn’t say anything. But he sampled one of my favorite songs, called “Wild Horses.” I don’t know what that song is actually called, though. He’s good with an MPC so I can respect that. That whole realm of house music, I’m really into. I’m into bass music, break-beat and Chicago footwork kind of music.
And what’s your process like for remixing? How is it different from when you’re doing songwriting for Craft Spells?
That’s an interesting question. When I’m doing a Craft Spells song, I’m approaching it as, “How do I do this as a Craft Spells song,” as opposed to, “How do I chop this shit up?” Just for fun, I did that Carly Rae Jepson remix and just lowered her voice to make it androgynous, with Craft Spells aesthetics.
So you do solo work under the name Glass Mural. How is Glass Mural different from the work you do on Craft Spells?
Glass Mural wasn’t supposed to go public. I try to write a song or idea everyday and I just post it on soundcloud to show my girlfriend and friends. I made the mistake of posting the link and people started following it. It’s mostly quick bedroom recordings. They’re not guitar-based; they’re mostly house-influenced. I post covers and things on Glass Mural.
Call Me Maybe!
(Laughs) Haha right! I might take that song down. Everyone’s sick of that song. I’m sick of that song.
You guys have toured Europe, all over the US twice and Asia so what’s it like being on the road?
It’s super fucking nervous as a young band to go out there. We toured with the Beach Fossils who are our best friends now. But at the time, we were like, “Are they gonna like us? Are they gonna be assholes?” Seeing kids mouthing off the guitar melodies is really cool. I’m really happy with the reception we’ve gotten. It’s been a blessing to see us go from bedroom act to who we are now.
Bonus Question! Any recent artists you’ve gotten into?
A lot of Purity Ring. Fleetwood Mac’s “Mirage” has been on repeat. I’ve rediscovered Pavement and they’re also based in Stockton. Oh! Check out Aluna George. They’re a dubstep and r&b duo. I suggest you download them.