Checking in With Abe Vigoda

Posted by Billy Gil, February 24, 2012 10:20am | Post a Comment
It’s been a pleasure to track the development and success of L.A.’s Abe Vigoda. We’ve seen them go from teens growing up in Chino reconfiguring punk and no wave to their own devices (2006’s Kid City); to making their guitars sound like steelpan drummers on a coke binge in songs like “Bear Face,” from 2008’s Skeleton; to slowing things down for cooler, sexier takes on their guitar wildness (2009’s Reviver EP); to employing coldwave and industrial influences for a gorgeous noir-pop album with 2010’s Crush.
Abe Vigoda guitarist Juan Velasquez has been a good friend for a while. (And he’s an Amoeba alumn to boot!) He’s the self-described “bossy” one of the band, which includes singer/guitarist Michael Vidal, bassist David Reichardt, and drummer/programmer Dane Chadwick. I decided to corner Jaun to talk about the band’s development and new writing sessions. The band plays the Ace Hotel in Palm Springs tonight with Dunes and the Center for the Arts in Eagle Rock Sunday with Chromatics.
How are the writing sessions going?
Juan: It’s good. We haven’t worked on stuff in a long time. At first we were kind of just jamming around, it was kind of shaky. But we kind of have this new song going that I like. But it’s different than what I thought it was going to sound like. I don’t know, it’s really more power-poppy than I thought. It’s kind of fun!
When did you guys write that new song you’re performing?
Juan: That song, Michael and Dane got together and wrote the structure of it on a laptop, almost like a weird dance song. And then they showed it to us and we started working on that. That was like, God, a while ago, actually. That must have been like eight months ago or nine months ago? It was a long time, and we haven’t really worked on anything sense.
Do you usually write songs that way?
Juan VelasquezJuan: We usually write songs all together. We just jam together and work out the songs that way. That’s kind of how we’ve always done it. And the song that you’re referencing, that’s the only song we’ve written in that weird way, which I think we might do more of, but it felt good for all of us to get together in a traditional way and just like work on a song. So I think we’re gonna start doing a mix of both — working on songs on a computer and practice and then like mixing the songs up.
How do those two songs, the one Michael and Dane did and the newer one, compare?
Juan: They’re totally different. I think at least for me, because I wasn’t part of that songwriting process as much, I was part of it when we started formatting it and working it in, but they’re different just because I feel like I have more freedom to do stuff with this new song like for my own part, and before my part was already written. But it was fun to just do that, it was more like, working on the smaller details. But they’re both like a lot simpler than our older songs. So they’re both like similar pacing and like less stuff happening. Kind of like more room between all the instruments and stuff. It’s kind of like what we’re excited about — writing songs that don’t have a million parts shoved into one.

We actually in the last two sessions have written parts for like two other songs even that didn’t fit with this one. So we have like places to jump off on, which normally we would go like, well this part goes next because we wrote it next. And now we’re like, “oh no, let’s just store that away for another song because it doesn’t fit in.” It’s been so long since we’ve written that we’re kind of like stretching our legs and trying to see how we can write again.
Do you have some sort of deadlines or are you just open-ended?
Juan: No, it’s pretty open-ended. I have my own things where I want to keep the momentum going that we just started and just write and write and maybe just record with someone who will record them better than demos, like maybe what the record could be, and just get them recorded and get them down and just see what happens with it. But I would like, like this time next year, for our record to be out. Whatever that is. My timeline is in a year, the record will already have been out and we might be touring for it. That’s what I want, but I don’t know.
Have you already chosen who you’re going to record with?
Juan: No, nothing, because we’re just been writing in stuff and just getting back into working on the band. I just want to write and put out feelers and like, “do you want to record us?” That way we have 10 or 12 songs that aren’t just in our heads and we’ve already recorded them and we can just tweak them or re-record them or something. But we can’t really rush anything ‘cause it might just sound shitty.
But I kind of like working with a little bit of pressure. It’s kind of fun. It’s kind of why I started again because it was like, oh man, we’re playing some more shows and I want something new to play and it might make us more excited about playing shows if we have new songs. So I kind of lit a fire under my ass to just go for it and just make us write.
Would you say stuff like that, does that usually come from you?
Juan: What’s weird is that normally we’ll just write them during practices. But then we toured so long for our last record that we didn’t really do any rehearsals and practices. Dane had mentioned it, like, do you want to even you and me work on something? And so I think yeah, I think me being the bossiest one is probably why we do stuff like that. Because I’m like being bossy about it. So it’s kind of like, I don’t know if it’s because of me or because I get so antsy that I just want to work. But like yeah, I think in that way, I kind of push people to do things.
When did Dane come into the picture and how?
Juan: After Skeleton came out in 2008, we started touring and stuff, and our drummer, Reggie, he’d done this tour and we were about to embark on a really long stint of touring opening for Diplo — it was us, Telepathe and Dipo on like a really long tour — and then we were gonna go to Europe for the first time. So it was like, a lot. Like, whoa, now we’re gonna take it seriously and not do little rinky-dink tours and whatever. And then Reggie, our drummer, was like I want to go through with this, but I don’t know like if I can continue or whatever. Which was kind of a lot for us to handle at the time because we had just like started playing bigger shows, we’d done a few shows with Vampire Weekend and like little things and things were picking up and we had a label in the U.K., and things were kind of going in the way that we wanted them to.
Dane we had met before on tour in Phoenix — we’d always stay with him — and we played with one of his old bands in Phoenix like a long time ago, like when we first ever played in Phoenix. And he was like our friend in Phoenix that we’d always stay with and he’d come out to L.A., and we just thought he was a really sweet kid and really cool. … When Reggie told us this, after the initial like, this sucks, it was like, what if Dane was in the band? … And in between our Diplo tour and our tour in Europe, Dane came down for like a week in November. And we wrote a song called “November,” because we thought it was funny, and we just practiced at the Smell and kind of made it work. … And it felt pretty good. … Dane has a lot of input with everything. He’s not just a drummer; he’s really like talented with everything he picks up. So it’s kind of like invaluable to have him in the band because he thinks of cool ideas for other parts and editing and “we should do this, not do this” and he has a good ear for what works and things I would never think of. He’s really good at speaking up and saying “no, this,” which is awesome.

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Abe Vigoda (14), Juan Velasquez (4), Dunes (6), Chromatics (13)