Interview with Old Wives' Tale

A few months ago, we featured the cool and bluesy song "Momma Devil" by Old Wives Tale in a Weekly Roundup (link here). We recently had a chance to ask singer and bassist Felipe Valencia (he founded the band with his brother Jaime, who also sings and plays guitar) some questions about their latest release Late Night Paraphernalia and more. Here's the interview.

Josephine by oldwivestale

TWD: The opening pair of songs on your EP Late Night Paraphernalia seems to connect pretty well. After the more general look at giving in to a powerful yet destructive temptation on "Frenzy," "Josephine" seems a more specific example: an addictive, messed up relationship. Why do suppose it's so hard to avoid these kind of situations, to distance yourself from someone you are fully aware isn't good for you?

Felipe: We never thought about "Josephine" exemplifying a relationship with "someone you are fully aware isn't good for you," but we love that you, and maybe many others, interpreted it that way. Still, to answer your question, I think that there are numerous reasons why people have a hard time walking away from relationships that may not be the best for them. Some people do it because they are afraid of being alone, so rather than going through the trouble of finding someone out there who probably is better for them anyway, they go through the trouble of having to stand the mistreatment that occurs in their current relationship. Some people think it'll get better one day, but they don't do anything to improve the relationship, as if the relationship is going to fix itself magically one day. I guess there is a masochist in all of us.

TWD: On "Frenzy," the way the music shifts from slow-building to more frantic enhances the vibe of the song, mimicking what you are singing about. This is also true of the interplay of your two voices. Since you are brothers, I wondered how else do you complement each other, both musically and not?

Felipe: I think it's a good mix of having completely different personalities and the innate familiarity that we have between one another thanks to the genes that we share – as few as they may be. Jaime can actually sing, and damn well actually, so he has a cleaner and controlled voice. My "wail-it" technique has improved thanks to his guidance, but it's still a dirty, not-controlled-at-all voice. They are very different in that sense, but since our timbre is very similar (thanks to the genes we share) there is a familiarity that makes it interesting when heard together.

We share a lot of musical taste but we also enjoy totally different types of music. Jaime has shown me a lot of bluegrass roots that I never heard before, and I've shown him some indie / electro stuff worth listening to. I guess Old Wives' Tale is the result of the happy mess of us clashing.

TWD: I like how "Stranger" captures both the allure and emptiness of being with an intriguing stranger for a night. How much is a song like this inspired by being in a place like Miami?

Felipe: "Allure and emptiness," I like that. Well, these types of interactions with strangers happen everywhere. Maybe that's why so many people relate to it. Miami, in particular, has a very vibrant nightlife that can help strangers find each other. This characteristic is what makes Miami such a frequent (even permanent) stop for many people. Plus, in Miami everybody dances (one thing I've been missing in my new hometown, Los Angeles) and dancing is such a fun way to find strangers. People tend to lose themselves when intoxicated, and the dance floor is where a lot of these (intoxicated) strangers meet in Miami and probably all around the world.

TWD: I've been to Miami once – last year for Art Basel. I really enjoyed the place and the event, so interesting. Are there any other ways that such a distinctive city has influenced your music?

Felipe: Art Basel has helped Miami break away from the stereotypical reasons why people come to Miami. Some people consider it the best week of the year thanks to the great art and events that happen throughout the city. There is really a lot to see and experience. I think that a key influence to what we wanted to do with Old Wives' Tale has been the indie-rock nightlife that I first experienced when I was in college in Miami: Britpop, 80s, and New Wave dance parties where no dress code was imposed by the bouncer / promoters but imposed by the people themselves. It was almost like finding a lost tribe. Then we went to a show of The Faint and we loved that it was a great dance party. We knew that we wanted to make music to make people move, hence why we like to keep the tempo going. We want to help people break out of their shells, even if it's only for a short while. 

Momma Devìl by oldwivestale

TWD: The story of "Momma Devil" is in some ways a lot like "Josephine," but uniquely takes a blues approach, making it stand out a bit musically from the other tracks on the EP. I like that, and it makes sense given the subject matter. Are you blues fans? What other music do you enjoy that may not be an obvious influence on your music?

Felipe: The story of "Momma Devil" fits more on your "someone you are fully aware isn't good for you" category than "Josephine." Or at least, that was our intention. In "Momma Devil," the guy in the story ends up giving in to the temptations of his past lover. Due to this, he loses his current girl, or "baby," and ends up with neither one of them.

If you are into rock and roll, you are into blues. I may not be a blues expert, but I like the crudeness in blues, especially in the lyrics. We weren't trying to write a blues song, but the song had that personality about it and we do like to let songs write themselves as much as possible. We love different styles / genres of music, from classical to good Latin music and different elements from all music we love influence the music that we write.

TWD: The last two tracks seem to present differing perspectives on how to make life changes. "Noise" feels more like someone who is stuck and having trouble. The line that really sticks out to me is "I've gotten over a lot of things but I'm not getting over myself." "Bliss" suggests that there is always a way to change and that you need to follow what feels good. "Nobody can ruin my jubilation" is like the flipside of that line in "Noise." This duality is cool because generally everyone has experienced both sides. What other insight can you share about this notion of making personal changes? Do you find you are successful at making changes when you need to? If so, what helps? If not, why?

Felipe: I'm very glad the message gets through and you can so eloquently put it in simple terms. "Noise" is about hearing your inner voice  and breaking through any barriers. "Bliss" is the pleasure that comes when hard work pays off; taking your time to savor it with no rush whatsoever. Personal changes are tough. I like to think that I've been successful at making the right changes at the right time. There is no bulletproof plan when it comes to personal changes. What might work for some people might not go so well for others. One thing that I think applies to everyone is being true to yourself. There is no better or worse judgment than looking in the mirror. You can lie to yourself all you want, but at the end of the day, you know the truth and reality of things.

TWD: I'm always interested in recommendations for music, films, books, and TV shows to check out. Anything to share?

Felipe: Recently, we saw a montage that somebody did using Charlie Chaplin's speech in his movie The Great Dictator with recent visuals and it ignited some curiosity on Chaplin's work in us.

If your readers haven't already, I would recommend watching The Inside Job, especially with the Occupy Wall Street movement going on. I'm glad to see that our generation is starting to become more aware of things around them and less on their virtual social networking. So I think it's good to know the truth behind these types of events and not just follow a movement for the sake of joining it. Let's just see how long it will last.

I've been listening to a lot of my old albums from my heavier years for some reason – a lot of Pantera.

TWD: One thing we've started doing in our interviews is making running playlists over time from various bands' suggestions. The current playlist is: songs that were amazing to hear live – particularly those that took on a new meaning – whether it was one you never cared much about until you heard it a show, or one that you loved that became even better because of a special performance. What are a few examples for you?

Felipe: Oh man, there are too many. In no particular order: Radiohead's "How To Disappear Completely," Arcade Fire's "Month of May," LCD Soundsystem's "Dance Yrself Clean," Tool's "The Pot," all The Beatles songs that Paul McCartney performs live, TV on the Radio's "Staring at the Sun," The Faint's "Agenda Suicide" … oh I could keep going…

TWD: To finish things off, here's the little +5 quick question section:

Is there any old wives' tale you consider a truth to live by?

Nope. That's why they are old wives' tales.

Favorite Miami spot?

Grand Central in downtown.

The Beatles or The Rolling Stones?

The Beatles.

What director would you want to score a film for?

Quentin Tarantino, Guy Ritchie, or even David Fincher.

Go-to jukebox jam?

Billy Idol's "Dancing With Myself."


For more on Old Wives' Tale, check out their website here.