Entertainment » Music

Abe Vigoda :: "Throwing shade" on the road

by Joseph Erbentraut
EDGE Media Network Contributor
Thursday Feb 10, 2011

When Los Angeles punk band Abe Vigoda (no relation to the acclaimed 'Barney Miller' actor) first emerged on the scene with their earliest releases in 2006, their music reflected both their youth and location -- sunny, at times brash music with tropical undertones and a raw, unhinged sensibility.

As the band has steadily gained a national following and toured the world over the last four years, their sound has also matured, as recently showcased on 'Crush', their fourth full-length album released last September. Suddenly, the band's trademark uncompromising guitars and foreboding vocals are joined by some killer synth and keyboard parts, creating a caustic-yet-catchy indie dance formula all their own.

The band also attracted some attention last fall when guitarist-keyboardist Juan Velazquez, who is gay, wrote a no-holds-barred account of his sexcapades while on the road with the band in Germany for BUTT Magazine. Following in the footsteps of names like Lance Loud and Pansy Division, Velazquez and his bandmates represent a new, more queer-friendly generation of the punk/DIY musical aesthetic -- their lead single off Crush is even titled "Throwing Shade."

Currently in the middle of a national tour in support of the band's latest offering, Velazquez recently spoke with EDGE about his his life on the road as the lone gay member of Abe Vigoda.

Earliest idols?

EDGE: Tell me about this current tour -- how has it been accompanying Wild Nothing? How did that come about?

Juan Velazquez: We are actually co-headlining with Wild Nothing. It’s really fun! Really amazing band and great guys. We have the same booking agent and we love them, and I think they like us a little too. I think our bands fit in well together, we don’t sound the same but there is an overlap in influences I think.

EDGE: When and how did you first get into music? Who were some of your earliest idols in music?

JV: I guess I have been into music since I was in elementary school. My early music idols were definitely the Smashing Pumpkins and Billy Corgan. I think they were the first rock band that I really liked. Before them, I was way into Madonna, the Saturday Night Fever soundtrack and Ace of Base. I was also really into No Doubt! Tragic Kingdom was a CD I listened to a lot, as well as the first two Cranberries albums.

EDGE: At what point did you guys "quit your day jobs" and decide to pursue the band full-force ahead? Has it been a challenge?

JV: I think it was a year ago. It is a challange but I think it is for the best. Not sure what other time in my life I can just do this. With that said, I do some odd jobs at home and am now a part-time personal assistant which is really fun and fits in with my band schedule perfectly. I like going to work, it keeps me sane I think. If I have lots of time off doing nothing I go crazy.

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Watch Abe Vigoda’s video of "Throwing Shade":

Queer curiosity?

EDGE: I have to ask you -- you wrote a pretty incredible (and detailed) feature about your sex life on the road in Europe for BUTT Magazine. What has the response been to that? Have you noticed an uptick in queer curiosity with the band?

JV: There have been different kinds of reactions. Many of my (not gay) friends have read it and it was a little unnerving at first and made me really nervous that people thought I was too explicit. But people that I really respect really enjoyed it and thought it was a brave move. FADER Magazine online wrote a thing about it which was cool and all, but made me even more nervous that non-gay readers/fans of our band would react negatively. There have been some comments about it that people thought it was too intimate or made them respect me less. These were online bully types, not friends or anyone I know.

There has been a little bit more of a gay interest in the band, which I think is cool. It’s fun to have gay kids come up to me and talk to me about that whole "being gay in a ’straight’ scene" sorta thing. Also I have actually become very good vid-chat friends with someone who found me through reading the BUTT article... which is cool.

EDGE: A lot of interviewers seem to ask you what it’s like being the only gay member of the band, but it doesn’t seem like it’s too big of an issue at all is it? Do you think the punk genre is a queer-friendly place currently?

JV: It’s not an issue in the way that people think. People do not, like, gay bash me - thank God! - or are uncomfortable in any way, at least to my knowledge. I think its more of an issue for me. People at shows are very queer friendly and some are gay themselves so that’s not been an issue. Its more, like, I want to go to a gay bar and it would obviously be great if there was another gay person for me to go with. Sometimes people at shows invite me to gay bars and it’s super fun! Other times I go alone just to see how the bars are in a town I have never been to.

I have another very good friend who is gay and in a band and we always talk about touring together. It would be so fun to have someone else that is gay on tour. This is all, of course, not to say that my bandmates wouldn’t go to a gay bar -- they often do! And that’s the great part about being in a band with them. They are friends first and bandmates second.

EDGE: There was a mixed reaction to Crush -- I loved it -- but do you think now, a bit more than a year after it came out, more listeners have adapted to the new direction your sound took?

JV: Definitely. Even at these shows I have had kids come up to me and tell me that now that they saw us play the songs live it all makes more sense. Also I think people are more used to it, which should be fun when we start writing new songs that probably will sound nothing like these. We have a bit of musical ADD I think.

What’s next for Abe Vigoda?

EDGE: In what ways do you think your sound is continuing to change since Crush was released? Any hints on what we can expect from new songs?

JV: We are more interested in clarity when we play live. We want all the electronics to pop and we want the vocals louder. We used to just want to be as loud as possible and aggressive. I think we have toned down in some ways. We want people to dance so the rhythm section is also very, very, very important to us in live sound.

EDGE: Valentine’s Day is coming up -- do you guys have anything special planned to celebrate the day?

JV: We will be in New York and we do have a short set to play that day as part of Radio Happy Hour, which will be fun. But I personally am gonna hang out with my good friend who lives there and probably go shopping at UNIQLO... We don’t have those in LA. Also, we probably will go out to a bar or two!

EDGE: What do you do when you have a little free down time besides shows while you’re on the road? I read somewhere you’re a big reader.

JV: Funny you should ask! Already on my third book of the tour! I do read a lot. Read the new John Waters book Role Models, Then We Came To The End by Joshua Ferris and Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned by Wells Tower. I love to read and long boring drives are the best time to do it. It makes the drives shorter for sure.

EDGE: What would be a dream film, TV and/or commercial that you would like to see an Abe Vigoda song licensed for?

JV: Oh, that’s a good question. I would love to be in a David Lynch film. We would write a song just for it! Also, it would be cool to be featured in a Richard Kelly film (Southland Tales, Donnie Darko). Not sure if they would be into it but hey! Also, I would love to be on any show that Julia Davis wrote or acted in or both. She created the amazing BBC show Nighty Night that I am really into.

EDGE: What is coming up for Abe Vigoda beyond this tour?

JV: After tour we are going to definitely write new songs. Right before tour, we started writing a new song and we are really excited about it. We are also going to be touring Europe in the late spring/summer! I love touring Europe and when the weather is nice, it’s the best! Going to some amazing places this time so I’m very excited.

Abe Vigoda are currently touring across the country, with upcoming stops in Philadelphia (Feb. 11), New York (Feb. 13-14) and Chicago (Feb. 18). Visit www.myspace.com/abevigoda to learn more about the band and the rest of their upcoming tour dates.

Watch Abe Vigoda’s video of Dream Of My Love (Chasing After You)

Joseph covers news, arts and entertainment and lives in Chicago. He is the assistant Chicago editor for The Huffington Post. Log on to www.joe-erbentraut.com to read more of his work.


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