Digest Appropriately: A Conversation with Craft Spells

California-based band Craft Spells returns to the scene after a short hiatus with an album born from isolation. The subtle fragility of Nausea, a collection of hazy tracks arranged on piano, and its searching lyrics reflect founder/frontman Justin Vallesteros’ deliberate self-extraction from a world doused with streams of information and  a departure from his romance-grappling debut, Idle Labor.

We caught up with Justin a few days shy of the band’s performance at Captured Track’s Northside Showcase in Brooklyn’s Warsaw to chat about the new album, the internet, and Japanese bands.

craft spells the wild mag

What have you been up to since your last release?

I moved to San Francisco and then was mostly demoing, and it wasn’t really working out. I had writer’s block and couldn’t get out of it so I left my San Francisco place and went to my parents’ house for two to three months and wrote Nausea there, hung out with old friends, skateboarded, and just hung out without any pressure.

So all of that just helped pull you back into the creative zone?

Most definitely. Being back home is when I’m most creative—being around old friends and my old room, just a blank slate to write things, stay up weird, late hours, and be as loud as possible if I want to without my roommates telling me what to do. It’s not like I’m a heavy-ass band or anything, so it’s cool. My parents get it.

The last time I saw you guys was in 2012 at Webster Hall when you opened for the Drums. This upcoming show at Warsaw is your first in a while, right? How are you feeling about it?

Yeah, that was one of the last tours we’ve done. We played our first show in two years at a bagel shop in Seattle to just warm up. This is our first big show in a while, but I’m pretty relaxed about it. I get slight anxiety, but it’s mostly right before. I’ve been doing this thing where I chew gum on stage now, and it totally takes the pressure away. I learned that John Lennon and Liam Gallagher do it.

craft spells the wild mag

How do you think your craft has changed over the past couple of years?

I guess sonically, it’s a bit more sophisticated. When I escaped to my parents house, I was able to create more atmosphere in such a blank room, so in order to bring that out I was more attentive to detail. Most of the songs are written on piano rather than on guitar. I played close attention to my overall production aesthetic because I’m more of a producer before a musician. So I really wanted to have an atmospheric recording experience.

So where does the nausea stem from?

I had to escape to my parents’ house—escape reality, really—because I was really over-saturated with the world, with San Francisco, with the internet. So when I started recording, these songs were like old friends of mine. I was so attracted to them and kept coming back to them, and they just grew overtime. They became other worlds to me. Being stuck in these songs…they were like something to escape to, and being stuck in limbo with reality and these worlds I created made a dizzying effect, just kind of unsettling.

In recent interviews, you frequently mention your frustrations with the internet and with social media and how our generation has become obsessed with it. Are we all just screwed because of this over-involvement?

We’re not screwed, I think we need to digest more appropriately. I think over-saturating yourself—your whole day—towards the internet…it’s nice to know your surroundings and really enjoy the people around you. I’m not telling people to put their phones away, its just, like, remember that there’s more than…

More than the infinite scroll?

Yeah, it’s unsettling, but it’s funny, too. You can have some laughs, but when your whole feed is useless shit that you don’t need to know, I’d rather spend my time on Wikipedia or something like that.

But we’re in that age, especially for artists, where using the internet as a tool is necessary. How do you negotiate that?

I come from Stockton, a really small town in California. So it wasn’t ever my intention to put myself out there in the world. I just had a MySpace that I put music on for my friends to hear, and then Captured Tracks hit me up from that, so that was cool. But now I just like sharing my personal interests. I like playing music for friends, where it’s like our own little thing, and you can be a part of it if you want to.

And do you feel pressured by the internet to release things faster?

Most definitely. It’s unreal. I have to tell myself it’s cool, don’t get jaded by it, because the attention spans of kids are insane. Bands used to release albums within a four- or three-year span, so me taking a 2-year break shouldn’t be a big deal. And that added pressure doesn’t leave room for change. Two years for a person is a lot of experiences; for me, it’s nice to bookmark that two-year span into an album. It’s a new part of my life that I like to share. If I was given a year to write something, it’s just forced. I could write, like, 50 kinds of “After the Moment” or “Party Time,” put that shit on Spotify or whatever. But I’d hate that. Like I said, I’m a producer first, I can’t do that to myself.

craft spells

Okay, let’s get out of this semi-bleak conversation. What music do you have on heavy rotation right now?

I got into this Japanese band Fishmans. It’s like an early ’90s Japanese Radiohead, a little dub-y. The music is just so happy and atmospheric and groovy. I’ve also been listening to Arto Lindsay. He’s a really great producer and songwriter, really smooth. Yellow Magic Orchestra—all the members that made up that band like Ryuichi Sakamoto, Yukihiro Takahashi…I don’t really listen to much new stuff. Most of my music has just been going into a smooth realm, like night-cruising music, jazzy-influenced music.

And what are you looking forward to in the coming months?

I have a live band of really good dudes. I don’t have any problems with them. They’re the most relaxing people I’ve had in a band in a long time, so I’m really stoked to travel around the world with them. It’s just cool to bring this atmosphere we had in Seattle and share it with people.

Cool, well enjoy your time on stage at Warsaw, and you should definitely eat a pierogi or four while you’re there.

I’ve been told that! Cool, protein, I’ll need it.

Photos by Colin Marchon

text by: Claire Voon

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