ABOVE: JUSTIN VALLESTEROS (SECOND FROM RIGHT) WITH THE REST OF CRAFT SPELLS. PHOTO COURTESY OF ANGEL CEBALLOS.
It’s been a little over a year since Justin Vallesteros, the charismatic guy behind Craft Spells, gathered up a band and played his first handful of shows with them in support of his lush debut album Idle Labor. Since then, the project has blossomed: Vallesteros has become an old pro at touring, spending most of the last year on the road, and is set to release a new EP, Gallery, next month. On the new EP, Vallesteros’ hallmarks are in place—that melancholy romanticism, that slight haze, those undeniable hooks—but his sound has evolved, too. The songs are longer than on Idle Labor, for one thing (the album opened with a two-minute song; the opener on Gallery clocks in at 4:41, and deserves every second of it)—they’re a more complicated extension of what came before.
We caught up with Vallesteros in transit, in anticipation of his Webster Hall show this Sunday, and discussed his mom’s collaboration suggestions, Tumblr trolls, and why he’s so proud of Drake.
ALEXANDRIA SYMONDS: Hi, Justin. How are you doing?
JUSTIN VALLESTEROS: Hey, I’m doing well.
SYMONDS: The last time that we talked to you for Interview, it was almost exactly a year ago, and you were getting ready to play your first-ever show in New York. It seems like things have changed a lot since then.
VALLESTEROS: I remember that. I was walking around Brooklyn for the first time alone and talking to you on the phone.
SYMONDS: You had just woken up.
VALLESTEROS: Yeah, had just woken up and got coffee. Since then, we’ve toured the US twice now and then Europe. We just came back from Asia and did our first South by Southwest, and been doing some festivals. The EP is about to be released on May 15, so a lot’s changed. I moved from Seattle to San Francisco a few weeks ago.
SYMONDS: Oh, wow.
VALLESTEROS: It’s good to be back in California.
SYMONDS: How much time are you able to spend at home? It seems like this past year, you’ve been traveling so much that “home” must just be a cursory idea, a place where you get your mail.
VALLESTEROS: Yeah. It’s, like, tops, like, three weeks I get to enjoy myself. Another two weeks, I start worrying. This whole record, I took time to kind of recuperate from all that from last year.
SYMONDS: Is there anything that you do immediately, as soon as you get back from a long tour?
VALLESTEROS: Yeah, just become really, really lazy. [laughs] Well, I like to visit my friends back in Stockton and make my rounds. I miss a lot of people from back home, so when I’m on a long tour, the people that I want to see the most… I’ve been cooking a lot when I’ve been home.
SYMONDS: Yeah? What are you good at making?
SYMONDS: You could be more specific, if you want.
VALLESTEROS: I mean, I’ve been cooking a lot of basmati rice with certain shit. It’s extremely awesome, I’ve been making my own sort of recipe, and also making Indian food. On my downtime, I just like to cook and just smoke a lot of weed.
SYMONDS: Where are you playing on 4/20 this year?
VALLESTEROS: 4/20—I think we’re playing in Salem, Oregon?
SYMONDS: Oh, awesome.
VALLESTEROS: Yeah, it makes sense.
SYMONDS: It’s coming up.
VALLESTEROS: Yes. That’s crazy. We’re going to be gone for a month.
SYMONDS: Are you still playing with the same lineup that you started out with?
VALLESTEROS: Our drummer, Peter, who just left, he was the 17-year-old. He left because he wanted to do his own music and stuff. Of course, you know, he’s 17, he still needs to finish a couple of things. So he left. We’re still on good terms, though. We have a new drummer, Andy. He is excellent. After a lot of touring, we wanted to step up our game, so Andy has been playing the quick tracks and backtracks, so the live sound has been much better than our last couple times we’ve been around.
SYMONDS: Was Gallery recorded with a band, or no? Was it just you?
VALLESTEROS: Just me, again. It was recorded back in my parent’s house. They bought like $2,000 worth of home-studio stuff, and I didn’t use any of it, except for I think, one guitar pedal. I didn’t feel too comfortable recording in Seattle, so I left all my stuff there and flew back home and recorded at my parents’ house again with hand-me-down stuff.
SYMONDS: Are you parents pretty supportive? They were okay with you. . .
VALLESTEROS: Hell yeah, my parents are supportive. They love that shit! [laughs]
SYMONDS: Your dad was a DJ, right?
VALLESTEROS: Yeah, my dad was a DJ. You remember, that’s good. Yeah, my dad loves that shit.
SYMONDS: Does he try to talk to you about your music, or do you just kind of leave it?
VALLESTEROS: He doesn’t ask me, like, what my lyrics are about, he doesn’t make it weird like that. He knows what’s the hook and what’s a good pop song, and he’ll tell me if he feels like it’s a hit or whatever.
SYMONDS: Does he do that parent thing where he makes suggestions? I feel like my mom will call me up and go, “I have a great idea for an article.” Does he do that with you?
VALLESTEROS: [laughs] My mom is the one who does that. In high school, I dated that pop star Dev, the girl who sang “Like a G6.” My mom is always like “You should do a song with her!” I’m always like, “Mom, what the fuck?”
SYMONDS: “That would be so awkward, Mom!” Actually, I would love to hear that.
VALLESTEROS: You would be into that? She’s like popping bottles on the backtrack…
SYMONDS: It’s essentially about the same thing, at the end of the day, right? [laughs]
VALLESTEROS: [laughs] Right, yeah, yeah.
SYMONDS: So I’m curious, I know that you’ve moved around a little bit, and now that you’ve done quite a lot of touring, are there any venues you’ve played that are venues where you used to go see bands?
VALLESTEROS: Oh, yeah! The Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. It’s been a thing, like I always wanted to play the venue, I’ve seen so many stellar bands there. Finally, I get to play it, which is pretty cool. And I met my girlfriend there, like two years ago.
SYMONDS: Did you go to a lot of shows when you were growing up? Were you one of those kids where every single night was a show?
VALLESTEROS: Oh yeah. When I was 14, I started going to punk shows and stuff like that. Because Stockton had the Blackwater Cafe, and just a really big punk scene. At a young age, a lot of friends would go to shows. Eventually, I started going to shows out in the city and would pay to see big bands. Then it got too expensive, so I stopped doing that.
SYMONDS: When you first started out and people would ask you who your dream band to tour with would be, you often cited The Drums. And now that’s what you’re doing. So, A, how did that happen, and B, now that you’ve achieved that, do you have a new, less attainable goal?
VALLESTEROS: Oh man. The Drums, when they released their single “Money,” their manager, Amy, emailed me asking me if I could do a remix. I did, they liked it, and they thought it was proper, and they put it on Rolling Stone. From then on, we kept a good correspondence through email, and she asked if I wanted to go on tour with them. We were supposed to go last year, but that didn’t work out, because we were in Europe. So, we finally got it happening. We’re going to be with them for a month. A less-attainable goal to play with? Probably someone like New Order, because that will never happen now. At least, the original lineup.
SYMONDS: That’s kind of a macabre answer.
VALLESTEROS: I know! [laughs] Let’s see, I don’t know, it would be cool to play with The Wake, too, I think that could work out, because now they’re together. I just want an excuse to play with them. We got to meet OMD in Singapore. It’d be cool to play with them, now that we got to actually talk to them, that might be cool.
SYMONDS: Yeah, they’re kind of having a moment right now, OMD.
VALLESTEROS: Yeah, yeah! OMD’s coming back!
SYMONDS: They are. I wanted to talk to you about the Internet a little bit. This is a strange time to be a musician, because the traditional modes of getting discovered and representation and radio play, all that stuff has kind of disappeared, and there are new, slightly more interesting ways to forge a path. Do you think it’s easier for introverts to become working musicians now?
VALLESTEROS: [laughs] Yeah, it’s a thing. But also, it sucks for them to go on tour. I’m talking about myself, here.
SYMONDS: It’s more jarring, right? If you don’t have a personality type where you’ve been wanting to put yourself out there, you know, forever.
VALLESTEROS: I think I mentioned in the last interview that I’m a hermit when it comes to recording, and a lot of my friends get pissed off that I don’t hang out with them. So when I go on tour it seems like a hassle, but once I’m on the road for two weeks it’s okay. After two weeks, I get miserable. So, the Internet, it’s so good for that time that you’re home and recording and just being able to be productive on the Internet as a musician, so I don’t feel lazy every fucking day.
SYMONDS: You’re pretty active on social media.
VALLESTEROS: Hell, yeah. Except for Twitter. I don’t like Twitter.
SYMONDS: But with the Tumblr, right?
SYMONDS: I’m curious about the chicken-and-egg dynamic of that. Do you feel like you do that more because you have a following now? Or you would have, regardless?
VALLESTEROS: It’s just easier. With Twitter, I’m the kind of person, I say things with no filter, and I feel like I can get in a lot of trouble. I was pushing boundaries last year with certain tweets, people were getting upset. And I didn’t want to be followed for a certain reason, I don’t know. There’s a lot of “Twitter personalities” who are people from bands. I didn’t want to become a personality, you know what I mean?
SYMONDS: Yeah, totally.
VALLESTEROS: I didn’t want to be a meme, or a genre or persona band. I rarely tweet. Tumblr, yeah. It’s just easier. I like the aesthetic of the Tumblr so far.
SYMONDS: Some of your answers to people’s questions people ask you on Tumblr are kind of jokey. Are you trying to construct a different persona there than you would have just talking to someone who came up and asked you that same question face-to-face?
VALLESTEROS: Oh, no. You know, the Internet, fun and games. Especially since I don’t pay attention to the messages on Tumblr, once they start piling, I’ll have a free night where I get to go through them, and I’ll start to answer them accordingly, but then I’ll get kind of wacky at it.
SYMONDS: Does anything strike you as a particularly weird thing that someone has asked or tried to tell you?
VALLESTEROS: Oh, yeah! Something about, like, fucking, something that comforted her. Like, “Sucking on my mother’s teat was comforting growing up. What’s comforting for you?” And I was like…
SYMONDS: [laughs] Wow, that’s personal.
VALLESTEROS: Yeah, they give me some personal information and now I feel like I have to show them something from my past, that comforted me in depth. I don’t know.
SYMONDS: Do you remember how you answered the question?
VALLESTEROS: I think I replied with, sucking their mother’s tit. I had to give them the one-two.
SYMONDS: I feel like he set you right up for that one.
VALLESTEROS: Oh, yeah. And sometimes I think that they’re probably seeing if I’m on my tippy-toes about the answer I’m gonna give.
SYMONDS: This is really specific, but: you’ve posted some stuff about Drake that actually makes it hard to tell whether you like Drake or not.
VALLESTEROS: Oh, I love Drake!
VALLESTEROS: You know, I think Drake is a respectable hip-hop artist. He treats women so good, like, telling people he’s so proud of them, repeating that “I’m so proud of you” five times in a row. I’m proud of you, Drake, for not being a stereotypical rapper.
SYMONDS: There’s a weird discourse about Drake because of that now, that liking Drake makes you a pussy.
VALLESTEROS: Fuck that!
SYMONDS: All right!
VALLESTEROS: I love Drake.
SYMONDS: Is there anything else that you’d like to talk about?
VALLESTEROS: I’m excited for New York, and I’ve been working on new stuff. Stuff I’ve been working on in San Francisco. I don’t know, it’s kind of off of the Craft Spells aesthetic. So, there’s a song called “Floating Around.” I haven’t been giving direct links or saying its name. It’s going out under Glass Mural. It’s just little, short demos that I’ve been doing at home: a lot of samples and a lot of guitar.
SYMONDS: That sounds great.
VALLESTEROS: So, have fun with that, if you find it.
CRAFT SPELLS WILL PLAY AT WEBSTER HALL ON SUNDAY, APRIL 22. GALLERY IS OUT MAY 15. FOR MORE, VISIT THE PROJECT’S FACEBOOK PAGE.