The origins of Abe Vigoda are, like so many other bands’ beginnings, swathed in suburban mediocrity. Guitarist Juan Velazquez, singer Michael Vidal, and bassist David Reichardt met at a high school in Chino, Calif., a crux berg of the Los Angeles-adjacent, smog-filled Inland Empire. To get their teenage kicks, the boys would trek to the far seedier environs of downtown L.A., to a dirty little all-ages venue called The Smell—which they would eventually play on a regular basis. In the past year, the bands that have come to call that club home have been enjoying burgeoning widespread acclaim, and Abe is no exception. The band’s 2008 LP, Skeleton, won over critics and fans alike with its unique pile-up of mbira-styled guitars, loads of muddy distortion, and muffled vocals; the Reviver EP, released earlier this year, captures Abe in transition, evolving past the limited “tropical punk” label its music has been saddled with. Prior to the band’s performance tonight at Rhinoceropolis, Decider caught up with Velazquez to talk about The Smell, his mom, and what comes next for Abe Vigoda.
Decider: You’ve said that Skeleton was influenced by the band’s discovery of Konono No. 1. Was there anything that similarly informed the Reviver EP?
Juan Velazquez: There was a lot of time between recording those two records and I’ve gotten a lot more into goth and industrial bands since Skeleton. Our lyrics were never exactly positive, so I’m excited to play stuff that’s a little darker and more new wave-y. But that’s just me. Our new drummer [Dane Chadwick] is really into cool electronic music like Kraftwerk, and there are a lot of different influences going into our new, new stuff.
D: What can you say about the music you’ve been working on?
JV: We have four new songs and all of them are very different from each other. We wrote Skeleton in a short period of time, so a lot of those songs sound alike, but we’ve spaced these out. Some are a little slower, some are a little longer, and they’re definitely dancier. I sent a couple of the songs to my mom—I’m always curious to hear what my parents have to say—and she was like, “It sounds like it could be on the radio,” which is the highest compliment coming from her.
D: Are we talking proper choruses?
JV: Yeah, more repeating choruses and stuff. It’s exciting to try something completely new to us. I mean, these aren’t totally conventional song structures, but they’re poppier and not as fragmented as our older material. Having a new drummer makes us think about things differently. It’s a new dynamic. Some of it’s a little heavier too.
D: The press has saddled Abe Vigoda with a couple of recurring associations—namely the “tropical punk” tag, and your ties to The Smell. How has this affected the band’s development?
JV: The tropical punk thing got so pounded into our heads that it’s affected our creative process. If anything slightly reminds us of that phrase, we go, “Mmm, let’s not play that.” Of course, it wasn’t something we thought about in the first place, but it got to the point where people were asking us questions about super-obscure world music and telling us we sound like Vampire Weekend. It wasn’t totally bad, but no one likes to be pigeonholed. As far as The Smell is concerned, I’m fucking psyched to be associated with that place. Going to shows there gave me confidence to be in a band in the first place. When we go through Europe people always ask us what it’s like. They have an intensely mythical idea about it—they envision this great nightly gathering of the coolest and most interesting people—and we’re like, “Well, it looks a lot like this place. It’s a venue, and people go to shows there.” But I never get tired of talking about it.
D: What are you most proud of in representing that family of artists?
JV: Mainly that everybody involved in all of those bands—No Age, Mika Miko, HEALTH, us—we all did it on our own terms. Everyone in the crew is really honest about what they do, and if good things have happened it’s because everyone had cool attitudes and didn’t have any pretensions or douchebag ideals about making music.
D: It seems like you guys have been on the road since Skeleton came out. Is that about right?
JV: Yeah, we used to just go on tour in the summer when we all had breaks from school, but we’ve pretty much been on the road since last June. This tour’s gonna be grueling, but that’s what we’re out here to do. We really like playing, and besides, if you’re not doing shows, you’re spending money, so we’ve gotta stay busy. We’re home for longer after this one though, and it’ll definitely be nice to get working on writing new music.
D: So much of the band’s character comes from the interplay of your and Michael’s guitars. Have you two always had a strong musical rapport?
JV: Oddly enough, yeah. We’ve been playing together since before the band even formed. When we were 15, freshmen in high school, I’d go to his house and we would jam on guitar for hours. We were just bored, but it worked out well for us. We write really quickly together—it’s pretty natural.
D: Before you mentioned that it was easier to tour in the summer because of school. Is everybody done with school by this point?
JV: Well… everyone took a break. I had about a year left of school, but I’ve since taken a leave of absence that’s already lasted for a year and a half. [Laughs.] We’re doing this full-time right now, which is cool, because for the first time there’s nothing stopping us from doing exactly what we want to do. So the answer is no, nobody’s done with school yet, but nobody’s planning on going back any time soon.