Getting to Know You… Craft Spells

On the 22nd of November, Captured Tracks mainstays Craft Spells (of Los Angeles, California) played a highly energetic and wholesome set at BLEACH, complete with songs from across their various albums and EPs. Sometimes sad, sometimes mad; ‘Craft Spells’ brought an ethereal charm and knowing charisma to the stage, all the while staying personable and shy. They applauded their support acts; the effervescently delicate Blush and droner boys Morning Smoke. Having been a fan of Craft Spells for some years, I dropped by the venue early to catch an interview with the band’s frontman; Justin Vallesteros…

Let’s get started with a normal one, is this your first time in the UK?

This is our third European tour, so this is our third time in the UK.

I was talking to Cameron [Bassist for ‘Craft Spells’] earlier about how I saw on your touring schedule that you were supposed to be playing in Paris on the 16th…

Oh yeah, that was 2 days after the attacks. We heard about it all when we were in Switzerland and everyone freaked out. We thought we were going to be able to play it but things got worse and I think we were all pretty mortified, especially since we weren’t in the States. It worried us because there was talk of anywhere in Europe being under threat, even London. So we went to Bruges to have 2 days off, so that eased our minds but it was still very melancholy. However, if France was still okay with letting bands play we would have, but we weren’t allowed to since there were more than 50 people in attendance. I was okay to play it because music is a very human thing where everybody is on the same level, meaning it can be very pretty, and to oppress that union is exactly what they [the attackers] want. I guess instead of fighting fear, we’d like to promote togetherness.

It is a shame though, Cameron told me that you’ve had some of your most successful shows in Paris.

Yeah, the show was actually sold out. But, you know, we’ll come back!

Yeah, a fourth European tour perhaps? You could stop in Brighton again too, have you gigged in Brighton before?

This is our first time in Brighton. We’re enjoying it. I think it’s a very cool seaside place, I would imagine that summer is great here. We haven’t had the chance to look around, but I do hear the beach is lit up at night so I might have to check that out.

Diverging slightly, it’s been said that you’ve derived creative inspiration from people like Yukihiro Takahashi and Mishima…

Sure, I’m a fanboy of both. I was introduced to Mishima by my friend Ben Funkenhauser, who is in the band Hausu which I think is a Japanese horror flick, he introduced me to Mishima’s books and after that I just kept reading them. I’ve actually collected quite a bit of his work. His biography; I finally got around to finishing, such a weird childhood. I mean, you can tell from his books because they’re all pretty much childhood encounters. Just growing up strange…

Oh, how so?

Well, seeing your single mum having sex. Peaking through and watching. That kind of stuff. He was flamboyant, going back and forth from being straight and gay. There’s a lot of depth and beauty in his work. He wrote a lot about Samurais and stuff, a mix of traditional and contemporary. He wrote a lot of fucked up shit, but in such a beautiful setting. It’s a rush of influence, it’s really cool… Takahashi though, Yukihiro Takahashi is the shit. All of ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’ are wonderful. Sakamoto is one of my favourite composers too.

So, do you listen to quite a lot of them when you are writing?

Yeah, once I got into piano, and writing ‘Nausea’, I was listening to a lot of Sakamoto. Then from Sakamoto to ‘Yellow Magic Orchestra’, even though I kind of knew them a bit already, then you get into Haruomi Hosono, the bass player. Then you have Takahashi who was like the more romantic pop guy. Then back to Ryuichi Sakamoto, the composer, the more pastoral songwriter. Then you put them all together and it creates like, THE band.

Talking of songwriting, between your album ‘Nausea’ and the latest release ‘Our Park By Night’, have you found a difference in your writing?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve kind of locked back into the point where I’m not writing so much in a desperation to talk about my feelings. It’s more like I’m having fun writing a record, where I’m doing more production stuff, like I used to. Rather than thinking of an organic and pastoral record, I’m going back to my beat making days. Like a lot of trippy ‘Madchester’ stuff, a lot of drum and bass and breakbeat stuff. So, entirely different actually.

With these changes in your writing styles, have you made any changes to your live sets at all?

Now that we’ve added a piano player it’s easier to emulate the new stuff. Plus, knowing what the next record is going to sound like, I can already feel that we have the  assets to do it all live. But I feel like we should always play around with the ‘Idle Labour’ [the first album] stuff too.

And you don’t feel like, if you changed the instrumentation between albums, you’re not going to isolate parts of your fanbase?

No, I feel like melody is number one for me. That’s always going to be an integral part of Craft Spells, so hopefully it stays intact for that reason. Though, I do like ‘Our Park [By Night]’, it’s a good transition track. I hope the [new] record will be able to make a smooth transition. It’s like ‘Everything But the Girl’, they used to be such a twee band and then they turned into a great down tempo house group. That’s a really good transition. A better transition.

Those kinds of changes can really keep music interesting.

Yeah, how many boring guitar riffs can you make, you know? I’m nervous about the future of guitar music, just being regurgitated all so often that there’s really not going to be anything special to look forward to. Hopefully, the future can come up with something new.

Here’s to hoping. Finally, if there was going to be any over-riding message behind your live set tonight that you could put into words, what would it be?

For tonight? Stay warm, I think.

Words by Harvey Dent

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