Who Are…Abe Vigoda
Abe Vigoda came up in the art-punk scene that grew up around the Smell, a fabled punk dive/playhouse in Los Angeles that puts on cheap all-ages shows and keeps its doors open to creativity of different kinds. The group forged an early connection with fellow Smell-scene bands like No Age and Mika Miko, and they shared a similar early allegiance to a style that melded punk energy to softer, smearier sounds than often get attributed to punk in its traditional safety-pins-and-leather-jacket sense.
After breaking out a bit behind the 2008 album Skeleton, Abe Vigoda (named on a lark, incidentally, for the aged actor who played Sal Tessio in The Godfather) went through a change: Their drummer left, and then they found Dane Chadwick, a new drummer and electronics evangelist who wound up playing a big role in the darker and more expansive sound of Crush. Boasting a keen sense of play and a literate sense of drama and mood — imagine the National or Arcade Fire flipping through tattered skate magazines rather than, say, The Atlantic Monthly — Crush is a strong album that stands to shoot Abe Vigoda upward in the minds of more fans. A recent stint opening on tour for Vampire Weekend didn't hurt either. Guitarist Juan Velazquez spoke to eMusic's Andy Battaglia about being somewhere interesting between small and big.
On getting into '80s sounds and music that is “instantly nostalgic”:
Stuff like OMD or Depeche Mode or New Order all have that kind of feeling where even if you've never heard it before, it reminds you of something, which I think is kind of cool. I was born in 1986, so I didn't get much of it at the time. My cousin would give me these “KROQ Flashback” samplers with new-wave stuff on them when I was a kid. She was really into stuff like Morrissey, but I never knew the deal with it all — I just thought of it as my cool cousin's music. But anytime I think about it or see a movie about the '80s I wonder: Can I have nostalgia for something I've never experienced? I feel like a lot of stuff that was really popular then was riskier. Even when it was pop music, it was more experimental in certain ways. Maybe I'm just being a traitor to my generation [laughs], but it seems like pop radio in the '80s had way-weirder things on it.
On the surprisingly fruitful process of getting a new drummer:
When Dane [Chadwick] joined the band, we just taught him some of the songs so that he could play shows. But then we started writing songs with him, and he was a natural musician. Maybe out of his own boredom, he wound up having a lot of input into the melodies and other stuff — not like “I'm going to just write the drum beat.” One time he said, “You know, I have a sampler at home, and a keyboard. I don't know if you guys might be interested in that stuff…” He is into lots of different kinds of electronic music. At the time it didn't seem like we were going to change, but once we began incorporating his electronics and exploring other stuff like disco and house, we didn't really care how different it was. It was like we all of the sudden had a million kinds of sounds. Everything opened up. It almost felt like we could start over. So yeah, he has been incredibly influential in the way we sound now. You couldn't give him enough credit. I think it was him who introduced me to Burial. And he had this '90s Warp Records compilation. I remember thinking “This is all so different than what I thought it would be.”
On sounding dark but coming off as sunny and spry:
I've known David who plays bass since I was in seventh grade and Michael since I was 15, so it's very easy to be around them. We don't take ourselves too seriously. Everybody is pretty mellow. On the tour bus everybody is just listening to headphones or whatever. While a lot of the songs are pretty dark-seeming, we're pretty fun people, I think. Dane skateboards a lot and is really good at it. I read a lot, especially on tour. Lately I'm on a modern-writers kick, like Bret Easton Ellis and Dennis Cooper. And Jean Genet, which is a little more dense. It sounds a little corny maybe, but my favorite book is probably Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf.
On finding love (kind of) at a Cap'n Jazz show:
I was really into Cap'n Jazz when I was in high school, so I was really stoked to see them play in San Francisco. I was fully in the pit with all these kids screaming the lyrics and everything. It was so intense, so emo. This guy was next to me yells, “This is so great!” And then grabs me and makes out with me in the middle of the pit. I was really confused. But it was great, making out with some punky kid during a show. And then he picks me up and hurls me onto the stage, so I had to stage-dive to get down. I felt like I was in that Sonic Youth video for “Dirty Boots,” where there was this grunge couple and they're making out and jump off a stage. It was hard to tell if he was even gay or if it was just a really visceral, emotional moment for him.
On the first time knowing they'd made it big, at least a little:
When I worked at [legendary L.A. record store] Amoeba, on one of my days off, one of my co-workers said, “You won't believe this: Zack de la Rocha came in, walked immediately to the “A” section, found your CD, walked up to the register, bought it, and left.” This was right after Skeleton came out. So Zack de la Rocha from Rage Against the Machine somehow heard about our band and got so excited that he drove to a record store, bought it, and left. I remember thinking that was insanely cool. And it's funny, because now I see him a lot. I live in a neighborhood called Eagle Rock, and he lives here too, apparently. I see him at different restaurants here, and he just hangs out. A lot of my friends who live here say they see him at Target.
On opening for Vampire Weekend:
It was very different than any tour we've gone on. Every night was big, shows to a minimum of 2,000 people. We were part of their whole well-oiled tour machine. They have to be really professional because they're playing big places that are sold out. So it was really hard work, but it felt kind of good. Their professionalism was rubbing off on us. It wasn't like “Fuck sound-check, we'll just get there when we get there.” This was like “Let's not fuck this up! This is a really awesome opportunity, so let's do this the right way.”
The audience was at worst uninterested and at best really nice. Even if we made a dent in any of the people who were there, it was cool. They have a lot of really young fans, people who are like 14 and never go to shows. They'd be like “Oh, you guys are really good!” And their parents would be like “You guys sound really '80s.” It was cool. We played in North Carolina, and all these kids were waiting for them to come out to their bus. We were just hanging out by our van, loading stuff in and getting ready to leave, and then these kids asked us to sign their Vampire Weekend shirts. I was like, “You know we're not in that band, right?” But they were like, “That's fine, you guys were great.” They were really stoked.