Abe Vigoda talk to Mid Pro about tropical punk, Los Angeles, and Douglas Coupland

In Interviews on February 16, 2011 at 6:50 pm

Abe Vigoda are a punk rock band based in Los Angeles, California. Originally from Chino, the band met while at high school, and started playing together because they ‘were big nerds and didn’t party’ who all ‘geeked out over the Smashing Pumpkins’.  After a few local releases the band hit it big with their third full-length album Skeleton (Post Present Medium 2008), which received critical acclaim around the world. I caught up with guitarist Juan Velazquez ahead of their show at La Sala Rossa to talk about their latest album Crush (Post Present Medium 2010), their shifting influences, and the Los Angeles music scene.

Hi Juan, it seems that you’re third record, Skeleton, was your breakthrough record, at least in terms of getting airplay outside of the indie/punk scene. How did you feel when you started to get that kind of success?

It was awesome! It made us think that the band could be more than a hobby or something that we would only do locally. It definitely opened our eyes up and sort of gave us the will to take it more seriously and think about the future. I don’t think it changed much for us artistically; we just focused more on songwriting I suppose.

Since the success of Skeleton, your sound has changed fairly notably, first through to the Reviver EP (Post Present Medium 2009), and then on to Crush. Why do you think your sound developed in that way over that trajectory?

We wrote Skeleton in 2007, so it had been almost 3 years since we wrote the material on Crush. The addition of our new drummer Dane Chadwick had a lot do to with the change as well. He brought in his own set of influences and his knowledge of electronic music. So in many ways it was an organic evolution, and we like to try new things all the time anyway, perhaps because we have “musical ADD” or something. As far as influences for the record go, we all like different kinds of music, but I think new wave, goth, and dance music had a large influence on the writing of the songs.

The change in sound from ‘tropical punk’ to the more synthy, dark-wavy stuff, has been well documented, but I don’t think enough gets made of the similarity between the two LPs. When I listen to them I still hear two punk recordings, and one is definitely more accessible than the other, but in many ways Crush feels like a refining of the calculated chaos that came before it, almost as if you were channeling it into something cleaner. Does that sounds like a fair assessment to you?

For sure, on this record we had more time and a producer (Chris Coady), both of which made the recording process different. The writing process was pretty much the same, which is for all of us to get to the practice space and collectively bounce ideas of each other. But this time we didn’t want to make a record that sounded like a live record; we were more interested in texture and tones. There are no presets for every song, we treated them individually and wanted a range of sound and dynamics. So the recording process was more calculated than the songwriting process was, and Chris Coady’s knowledge both helped and influenced us a lot. For example, one of our favorite tracks on the record, ‘Beverly Slope’ used to be a fast rock song but then took on a different shape in the studio.

Speaking or ordered chaos, the vocals on the album (and I’m sure you get this a lot) sound an awful lot like Robert Smith. Was that a deliberate homage to him?

It’s interesting that people compare us to The Cure, because while we like them, they are not a particularly prevalent influence on the record. I mean, I own some of their records, but I am not a mega fan or anything like that.

Were there any major non-musical influences on Crush?

There are always non-musical influences in our band, but I’m not sure how they relate to the actual music that gets written.  Though I’d say that there are aesthetics and themes that we are interested in, for example both the title of, and video for, our song ‘Throwing Shade’ is influenced by the documentary ‘Paris Is Burning’, which is all about drag balls in New York in the late 80’s.

I’ve read somewhere that you’re is a huge Douglas Coupland fan. Seeing as we’re a Canadian magazine,
would you mind telling us what you like about his writing, or any standout works of his?

I just really enjoy how he mixes elements of science fiction and humor. I love ‘Shampoo Planet’ and ‘Generation X’, and on one tour we listened to the audio-book for ‘Hey Nostradamus’. I find his writing very entertaining and at times absurd. I think he has really fun ideas about modern living.

How did you guys end up getting involved with (the drummer from fellow LA punks No Age) Dean Spunt’s label Post Present Medium? What has it been like working with the guys from No Age?

We have known Dean for a while and have always enjoyed his label and its aesthetics and the bands on it. He is a good friend, so it’s very comfortable to work with him and he is really excited about what we do which excites us, it makes us want to make new things and be creative for his label.

A lot of people have noted that Los Angeles has a thriving and creative punk scene. What is it like making music in the city? What are the pros and cons of doing so?

Not sure if there are any cons other than having to pay for a practice space! Los Angeles is very inspirational in many ways. The lifestyle and the scenery are really interesting, our friends are all there and they influence us and provide a great environment for us to be creative within.

Are there any bands from that ‘scene’ that you think are underappreciated, or who perhaps have not had the same coverage as you or No Age? What do you like about them?

DUNES! They are really one of my favorite bands in LA. They are kind of like an angular and poppy Siouxie and the Banshees, but with a very original twist. We love playing shows with them, because not only are they one of my favorite bands but some of my favorite people in LA.

Finally, seeing as this is interview will come out just before your show in Montréal, why should someone come out to your live show? What’s great about an Abe Vigoda gig?

I think we are all really nice guys, so if you want to come hang out we are more than stoked to meet new friends. Also I think for the most part our shows are pretty fun! Like if you wanna come out and dance I think we are a good band to come see. (Also if I get buzzed enough I will probably say some inappropriate things into the mic.)

Abe Vigoda will play at La Sala Rossa on February 16 with Wild Nothing and Silly Kissers.

–By Steve Eldon Kerr


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