Nov 12 Feature – In The Whale
Whale (noun) 1. Big ocean mammal
2. Impressive example of something
Whale (verb) 1. To thrash somebody
2. Hit something forcefully
When I first saw Colorado locals, In the Whale, take a stage, I thought, ‘Hmm, what’s with the big hoopla surrounding this band? There are only two of them.’ Nate Valdez and Eric Riley. Two guys, unpretentiously taking up a small section of the stage, looking unassuming; shy even. This can’t be the band I’ve been hearing about, the band that, according to Places, Tyler Glasgow, “sounds like the Talking Heads got the shit beat out of them by Rage Against the Machine.” And then they played.
When I tell you that the sound coming from that stage made me feel like I was being mainlined with adrenaline and serotonin, it’s not an exaggeration. You don’t even realize it, but suddenly you’re moving around with a stupid grin on your face because the music is forging through your body with this implausible purpose. And you open your eyes (because you’re so into it, that they’ve closed without you noticing), and there are these two guys on the stage providing this incredible sound.
To fully appreciate this band, you have to see them play. You have to see it to believe it; and even then, it’s sort of unbelievable. It’s like nothing you’d ever expect from two seemingly introverted guys. And Valdez and Riley are funny as hell. Sitting around with them is like hanging out with two of your closest friends. They’re open books, and sarcastic, and just fun to be around.
Both hailing from Greeley, CO, Valdez and Riley met while playing the Greeley circuit in different bands. Their paths kept crossing; they got to know each other, and were both, “tired of the drama that goes with [being in a] band.” Says Riley, “We started the band sort of as a side project, so this was our fun project. We’re going to do whatever we want, and play what we want to play. It sort of evolved into ‘let’s just see what we can come up with, and that’s eventually what it became.’”
Riley started playing the bell kit in sixth grade, went through the whole program; marching band, jazz band, and played drums on the side. He played in high school band, but didn’t get too serious until he was 21. “I initially went [to college] wanting to be a band director, and quickly realized that being a music major in college is not like being in a band in high school,” says Riley. “I also realized I didn’t want to be a teacher. I tried to change my major, and realized that wasn’t good at anything else but music, so . . .”
After meeting at UNC, where Valdez grabbed a Master’s in Educational Psychology, while playing in a three-piece, “pop-grungy thing, and Eric was in the band What About Pluto?” Riley suggested trying a two-piece acoustic thing. “Nate led with an acoustic guitar, and I had a snare drum and a kick drum, and that was it. It was kinda like folk rock, and then we’d occasionally turn on the distortion pedal,” says Riley. “Then it just kind of evolved. We recorded two transitional EPs where it’s like, two heavy songs, and two soft songs.”
Mortician and Salad Extraordinaire by day, and powerhouse musicians by night, Valdez and Riley have odd-couple backgrounds. “I grew up listening to all the radio stations,” says Riley. “For me, music was my fun outlet in school, it was my extracurricular activity; that’s what music is to me, it’s fun. So when I hear “Call me Maybe” on the radio, it’s like, ‘Hey, this is fun.’ And for Nate, growing up in your small-town high school, it’s like, this is your outlet, this is how you get through your day.”
Adds Valdez, “It was more aggressive for me because we didn’t have radio stations so far south (Lamar, CO). I grew up on grunge, and Dead Kennedys and Meat Puppets, and shit like that. [I remember] stealing records from K Mart, risking my [freedom] (because my dad’s the sheriff) . . . it was a necessity. So Eric has this pop sensibility, which I don’t have.”
“I was really good,” says Riley. “Youth group, marching band, real nerd. I was the coolest kid in my marching band, and the coolest kid in my youth group. The king of the nerds, I was really serious about marching band—never drank, never partied.”
“I got picked on a lot in high school,” says Valdez. “I played every sport, swimming, track, baseball. It was just another excuse not to go home. I got out of high school early, took as many credits, just like, ‘I’m getting out of this stupid ass town, and going to where people are, and shit’s happening—”
Riley side notes with, “So you went toGreeley. . .”
“I did gradual steps . . . it was a big step, but still rural enough that it’ll remind me that I can go and be ok,” Valdez continues. “Then I moved toDenver, and like Eric said, we started with the acoustic thing, then we wanted to fill a void inDenver. We went to so many shows, and everything is acoustic this, acoustic that, and that’s not bad, but it’s oversaturated. So we were like, ‘let’s just rip some assholes.’”
The band name, In the Whale, is the result of “how I felt after a long relationship went bad,” says Valdez. “I felt abandoned, just like Jonah in the bible was abandoned by god,” says Valdez. And the lyrics are definitely influenced by heartbreak, wanting what you can’t have, and struggling to understand why. They released a four-track EP, Cake, earlier this year, and their new single, “Girlfriend,” will be available for download on November 6 on iTunes, Bandcamp, or their Facebook page.
So how do they describe their music? Says Riley, “I always describe it as White Stripes meets Queen of the Stoneage. It’s a loose description.” Adds Valdez, “Is there still rock? I’d say something rock. It’s not AC/DC or Led Zeppelin, but there’s a lot of rippage, and then there’s a lot of weird kind of punk stuff.”
Says Riley, “This is the music I’ve always wanted to play. It’s a combination of all the stuff I grew up on, and all the stuff I’m listening to now. It’s just like everything I’ve wanted to do and never have been able to before.”
“Eric and I are pretty zero drama, when something’s wrong, we say it right there, and deal with the situation, and it’s over,” which is a good thing, considering they’re also roommates. “The only time we really get frustrated with each other is with recording because we both care so much. But it’s really quick. We could probably record the whole album in a week—there’s just two of us. “You like this? Yeah, ok, moving on.”
Like I said, you don’t expect such a huge sound from these two. “I’ve had a lot of people say, ‘There’s two people on stage, I thought it was going to be some crap music. And then we skull f**k,” says Valdez. “I don’t know if it’s our demeanor, or what we look like . . . it’s nice though. I like to hear people say, ‘You arose above my expectations for what you look like.’”
Get do your musical self a favor, and get skull f**cked by In the Whale. You might even find yourself smiling.
Upcoming shows: Oct. 27 with the Wigs @ Larimer Lounge, Nov. 9 with the Yawpers, and Dec. 21 with Born in the Flood @ the Gothic. Yes, Born in the Flood.
by Jenn Cohen