Introducing: Craft Spells’ Dual Realities

craft_02Photo: Cameron Getty.
With a case of writer’s block, Craft Spells’ Justin Vallesteros took a step back from living in San Francisco and went back to where it all began — to his parents’ home. “I just relaxed and let all of the frustration and all of the oversaturation ease out,” says Vallesteros. “I felt everything when I wasn’t congested.” There, he found solitude and inspiration in piano music and books— leading him to Nausea, Craft Spells’ sophomore LP.
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The time alone definitely evolved Craft Spells’ sound from synth-pop — seen on the band’s debut, Idle Labor — to woozy, beautiful surf-rock on their latest album Nausea. Although fans of Craft Spells’ first album might be surprised by the difference in sound, it’s easy to get acquainted with the warmer, dreamy sound Vallesteros was going for this time around.
We’re excited to premiere the video for “Nausea” — the title track of Craft Spells’ latest album — which features rotating images that make you feel a bit uneasy. With its swirling graphics and neon colors, the music video definitely depicts a vivid, psychedelic anxiety. Vallesteros opened up about his personal reflection, finding lyrics in literature, and being stuck between two realities.
How was Northside Fest for you guys? I caught you at Warsaw in Greenpoint.
"That was a really fun show. It was relieving and fun. We hadn’t played in two years, so that was a good way to kick off the tour. It was two years of not playing with anyone. With half of our songs being new ones, it was relieving to get it over with."
I’ve read that you recorded your first record while getting stoned and chilled out. For this record, did you do the same thing?
"Yeah. I had to shut off from everything. All I did was read books, and I hung out with my parents a lot and my friends from back home."
What were you reading?
"I was reading a couple of Yukihiro Takahashi books and I read a couple of Haruki Murakami books. I reread Norwegian Wood again because I read it in Europe, and it really fucked me up. I wanted to reread it when I was alone again. I wanted to relive that feeling of falling in love with that book. I also read some short stories by Richard Yates — some American literature like that. It kind of helped me with the suburban-sprawl feel."
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How has literature really fed into Craft Spells’ lyrics?
"Before being a musician, I like writing quite a bit. I’m a producer first too, so it really creates the atmosphere around especially when you have a solid idea of what you want to say and you build the world around it. One of my favorite things to do while writing is the lyrics."
Can you tell me a little bit about the Nausea LP and what really influenced you this time around?
"I took a two and a half year break from writing — I was touring. The first year, I had pretty bad writer’s block. I was living in San Francisco at the time. I moved out of Seattle [and] was living in San Francisco for three years. It was just uninspiring — an oversaturated city with the whole tech movement. Plus, it’s just a city always full of tourists. So, I went to my parents’ house and was in my studio for four months and demoed there. I shut off from the Internet. I didn’t have much of a nightlife, and I didn’t go out much. I stayed indoors, walked around the park near my parents’ house, skateboarded, and got stoned a lot. I created these songs and made these other worlds and atmospheres of these songs. It was kind of being in limbo with reality. That’s where the Nausea comes from. I finally got out of the writer’s block. I had stopped playing guitar; I wrote everything on piano. That’s essentially how the album came about."
The graphics in the video for “Nausea” are really cool, but they’re definitely all over the place and can make you a little anxious. Was that your goal?
"Yeah, it’s a groovy video. Our friend Colin made it — he went to the New School. What I wanted out of the video was something not so heavy on plot or a band playing. It’s like a music video for someone to zone into and get stoned to; you don’t need to think that hard about it. It’s not conflicting; it’s just something someone can enjoy without deconstructing it too much. It’s a very nice visual."
What’s the biggest growth you’ve seen as a band since your first EP to this LP?
"I started writing on piano rather than guitar, so in that sense I’m attached to the piano these days. I’m more emotionally and physically attached to it. After doing that for so long, you start composing with more detail and feeling. So, that brought out a lot of detail and sophistication in the production. After demoing for three months, I took the demos to Seattle to three different studios. I produced them in real studios instead of finishing it in my bedroom. I didn’t own any of the equipment I used. I borrowed a lot of my friends’ stuff, so it’s been a huge change of production value over the years."
Do you miss recording fully in your bedroom? Is there something to be said for that?
"Yeah, I have to record at my parents’ house — it’s a thing. It thought I could do it in San Francisco. I have to revert in my bedroom or at least demo. Being in suburbia is a nice blank slate. It’s boring. No one bothers me. Recording at home is my sanctuary."
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What’s your favorite song to play on the piano, since that’s your new go-to instrument?
"I learned how to play 'Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence' by Ryûichi Sakamoto. He’s the main composer of Yellow Magic Orchestra. He did the soundtrack for Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence, which David Bowie is in; it’s one of the most beautiful soundtracks. Other than that, I like playing some Beatles tunes. I’m not that great at reading music, so I have to take a lot of time to figure stuff out. I like contemporary composers and piano pieces."
What do you want fans to get out of the track “Nausea?”
"With the track alone, I want to make sure that everyone understands that it’s okay to be alone, and it’s okay to stay home at night. It’s important to be comfortable with yourself. When you’re alone, I think it’s important in an oversaturated world to be okay with being alone for a night or two. You get a better understanding of yourself. You get to know yourself better, and remember who you are without articles telling you how to live your life or that you’re socially wrong. The “Nausea” feeling is being stuck in limbo with those two things — reality and that synthetic reality that’s shoved in your face from the Internet."

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