It’s alright to be alone: an interview with Craft Spells

by Samuel Hernandez

Artists handle anxiety in different ways. With Scott Reitherman of Pillar Point the feeling of isolation that arose from social media inspired him to write dance music, the better to get people moving closer together. For Craft Spells’ Justin Vallesteros similar feelings drove him in opposite direction.

As a musician how do you deal with the growing feeling of distance? Do you build a literal wall like the behemoth that was constructed by Roger Waters to stand between himself and the audience? Or like John Lennon, Liam Gallagher, and Justin do you chew gum during your set to mellow out, let the music speak for your ideas.

At the Captured Tracks Northside Festival Showcase this year I had a chance to talk with him before his set. We went outside into the wet Williamsburg day and stood in the smoking area and talked. It was a short interview but Justin was introspective and ready to explore the same themes he’s covering on his latest release Nausea, this wasn’t just a musician making and playing music, but an artist with intention.

Samuel Hernandez: I just wanted to start by asking you about the new record. I read that it’s in response to feeling out of touch with the San Francisco music scene. As if you had no peers.

Justin Vallesteros: Most definitely in Seattle I’ve found a good community. I’m a producer so I do make beats on the side with my friend. We have this project that we do in Stockton in the summers where we get together and rap. In San Francisco though it’s very go getter. The DJs are trying to cash in hard on just bringing a laptop and a mixer. I’m not into the nightlife. I’m really bad at it.

SH: Does the theme of isolation in the new record come specifically from your time in San Francisco? 

JV: Well my isolation came from escaping San Francisco to my parents house 45 minutes away. It’s in a bleak suburban town. It was just a blank slate for me in making music and I needed to isolate myself from social networking.

SH: As a musician you’re still operating in a very social medium. It feels as if a listener is required for part of the process, and you’re about to get up on stage and perform. 

JV: I’m super behind the idea that everyone needs to be alone sometimes.  It’s okay to be alone some nights. To be okay with being alone. That’s the most comfortable you can be when you’re alone and you don’t have to feel nervous or anything.

SH: Music is sometimes the complete opposite. It’s participatory. You have this image of the big time rock star touring the country. How do you handle the juxtaposition?

JV: I come from a small town, Stockton. My goal and all the bands there wasn’t to make it big and tour. The only band that came out of Stockton was Pavement. And they’re their own thing. Nobody ever expected anyone to get signed from Stockton. I come from the mentality that whatever I’m just going to put out music and if more people can here it than that’s awesome.

SH: How has Captured Tracks helped you develop? Often labels are the opposite of what you just described, more concerned with promotion and sales than nurturing an artist.

JV: They’re just a really progressive label where they understand that it takes time for people to develop things. I’m a producer before a musician and I need time to write. I need two to three years to craft something new. Craft Spells isn’t just a band, it’s my project, and it’s going to always sound different. I’m never going to make ten more “After the Moments” or “Party Talk.” I couldn’t do that and sound redundant with guitar music. I wanted to create an atmosphere rather than a genre.

SH: At this point I don’t have anymore questions but I’m curious about your last name because it’s pretty unique. (Here I pronounce it with a Spanish accent and he corrects me.)

JV: Yeah it’s Vallesteros. It’s a small town in Spain.

Craft Spells new album Nausea is out now.