Craft Spells Talk New Album “Nausea” & How Well They Know How to Spell

It’s been nearly three years since the release of Craft Spells debut album Idle Labors and for the first time ever Justin Vallesteros truly believes in his music. Craft Spells’ sophomore LP Nausea serves as a snapshot of Vallesteros coming into his own. We sat down in Brooklyn before the Captured Tracks Showcase and chatted about spelling bees, Kyle Mooney, the new album and songs for summer.

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Interview by Shannon Kurlander

Your new album Nausea came out a few days ago. What was it like shifting from writing on the guitar to the piano?
Justin Vallesteros: In this case I took a year break from writing after Gallery. I was demoing a lot and I wasn’t really happy about it. I was revisiting a lot of riffs on guitar that were redundant and stayed with standards of contemporary guitar music. I was kind of sick of it…it was a slight writer’s block. I eventually stopped playing guitar and just played piano. I wasn’t professionally taught and I gradually started making songs on the piano. Ideas started flowing better. It was visually, physically, and emotionally more of an attachment to the piano than the guitar. It brought more detail and elegance to what I was writing.

Jazz seems to be an inspiration on Nausea. Who are big influences for you in the jazz world?
Vallesteros: Lester Young, Miles Davis, Thelonious Munk. Lester Young was my favorite. I also like Shibuya-kei music, which is Japanese jazz music from Shibuya. Also jazzy drum and bass stuff…shitty mix-tapes from YouTube.

What’s your favorite thing from YouTube…any deep YouTube?
Cameron Case: I don’t know…we’ve been in a couple of K-Holes.
Vallesteros: We’re really into old “Saves the Day” music videos. Kyle: wonderful dude…we would love to meet him one day. Best edition to SNL in ages.

Maybe you could make a music video with Kyle.
Vallesteros: That’s actually a great idea. I’m going to have to tip my hat to you.
Nick Robbins: We never thought that ambitiously before.
Javier Suarez: But you know, now that we are kind of big…?

Are you more interested in the production or performance side of making music?
Vallesteros: I’m wholeheartedly a producer before anything. If it was my way I would just produce albums and not tour. Then once I start getting out of my shell and start becoming more social after recording, I love being around the band actually playing music. Bringing the atmosphere to life is more energetic and it brings more energy to the songs. It gives me a different perspective. It’s cool to sing with conviction this time around because I actually believe in this record moreso than the others.

Why do you believe in the new record more than the others?
Vallesteros: These feelings are a bit more fresh. Now that I’m 26 these feelings are a bit more cemented in my life. All of the changes that happened in the last years have been kind of crucial in my life. I don’t regret any of it. It’s nice to find myself slowly, put that onto a record and bookmark it in my life.

Is there comradery among your label mates at Captured Tracks?
Vallesteros: Our very first tour ever we shared a van with Beach Fossils. The eight of us in one van. That’s when Cole and John were still in Beach Fossils and now they’re in Heavenly Beat and DIIV. Meeting Jack Tatum, Wild Nothing, was great. I tip my hat to him as a songwriter. Mac DeMarco is just a really nice dude. Blouse are great Pacific Northwest people.
Case: Shout-out to Naomi Punk. We were/are friends. We grew up in the same suburb in Seattle and they taught me a lot about music and crafting a deliberate ethos around the music. They are very intentional about the way they frame their art and I respect that.

Your mini-tour is now underway. What do you miss most about home when you’re on tour?
Robbins: Right now Seattle is so crisp, clear and beautiful. It’s 70 degrees and sunny almost everyday. It’s a really beautiful place. It’s not something you realize while you’re there but it’s something you are excited to return to.
Vallesteros: I miss a lot of really close friends from Stockdon a lot. I wish they could just come over to a show and get belligerent. That would make me so happy.
Suarez: Washington state…the whole weed situation.
Robbins: That’s actually a good one…we just don’t have to worry about it.

There seem to be many fabricated stories about the origins of the band name Craft Spells. Can you share one with me…or maybe we can just finally set the record straight?
Suarez: There was a spelling bee that Justin was in during high school. He was disqualified.
Case: He was putting a hex on his opponents.
Vallesteros: They thought I was cheating because I was just nailing every f***ing word. In sixth grade I was immaculate when it came to spelling bees. Some of the kids were just hating hard, and this was pre-Drake and pre-Kanye, so it kind of just gave me an ego boost. I wrote these songs for Idle Labor about it and I decided I’m going to name my band that just to piss people off.
Case: Idle Labor was sort of a concept album about spelling bees.
Vallesteros: Idle Labor without the “u”-
Case: It’s sort of a reference to English Neo-Colonialism.

I thought so. What was your winning word?
Vallesteros: Behemoth.

Any recommendations for some great songs to listen to during summertime?
Robbins: That Fishmans song, “Night Cruising”. That’s a very nice summer night song.
Vallesteros: It’s more of an Autumn song but The Clientele’s “Reflections After Jane”. It works really well for a summer day too.

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