From the bedroom to beyond with Craft Spells

Temple of gloom
By REYAN ALI  |  July 28, 2011

craft spells
YOU SHOULD CLOSE THE DOOR “I was always in my room,” says Craft Spells’ Justin Vallesteros
(second from right). “The recording was my way of releasing a lot of what happened in the past couple
of years.”

Take a moment to consider the bedroom — a destination that's recently become as good a place to cultivate buzz-friendly indie rock and electronica as to play video games or beat off. There's been an enormous wave of musicians gaining notoriety for creating work where they sleep, and subsequently seeing their star rise as blogs have picked up on the results. Sometimes, these folks are tagged with the painfully vague tag term "bedroom pop" (implying their recordings' lo-fi quality). But almost always, they've got a built-in origin story and an unspoken sense of authenticity.

Christopher Prudhomme of indie synth-pop act Painted Palms recently described the bedroom as a sort of "temple" — an archetypal space that's all one's own, a holy ground where truest expressions can pour out. Justin Vallesteros agrees with this. Vallesteros began Craft Spells with the sole intent of creating recordings in his bedroom to appease only himself. A full band, let alone live shows, were never a consideration.

Vallesteros grew up near Stockton, California, tinkering with genres such as "really standard folk music and pop-folk" in home recording projects. He later headed to San Francisco with his girlfriend, but when she broke up with him, he spent a year steeped in existential despair. He retreated to his parents' place near Stockton and got jobs he despised, like making coffee and working in a photo studio with a shitty boss. Depressed that his prospects weren't getting any better, he enrolled in community college. Then, sometime around early 2009, to make himself feel better, he borrowed some gear and started a new recording project. "It was a point in my life where I was a hermit, so I was always in my room," says Vallesteros in a call from his new hometown of Seattle. "The recording was my way of releasing a lot of what happened in the past couple of years."

After he uploaded some songs to MySpace, a couple folks took notice. In keeping with the viral situation you hear about so often with regard to bedroom artists, someone passed his work onto someone else, and pretty soon Mike Sniper, mastermind of both the band Blank Dogs and the small label Captured Tracks, was hitting him up for music. Eventually, Vallesteros's work would materialize as Idle Labor, Craft Spells' fantastic Captured Tracks–released debut LP.

All it takes is the quickest of listens to Idle Labor to grasp the kind of mood Vallesteros was in when he made it. It's faded indie, post-punk-bred pop where every element, including Vallesteros's contemplative vocals, feels washed out and sad. Even with their melodic inclinations, his songs are beaten down by the listlessness of life. Vallesteros is already tired of the New Order comparisons, but their sound is evident in his nostalgia for stripped-down '80s post-punk and synth-pop. And he admits he grew up listening to his father playing a steady stream of New Order and Depeche Mode.

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