As indie band Abe Vigoda tours the country, lone gay bandmember Juan Velasquez sometimes just wants to settle down with a boyfriend
GREGG SHAPIRO | Contributing Writer
Juan Velasquez has been with Abe Vigoda since the beginning. No, he’s not the lover of venerable Fish and Godfather star Abe Vigoda, but the indie band that co-opted the actor’s name.
Velasquez is one of a growing number of out musicians who play in cool indie bands including Grizzly Bear, The Soft Pack and These Arms Are Snakes and Vampire Weekend. Crush, Abe Vigoda’s new disc, might take some of their existing fan-base by surprise, considering the (welcome) use of synthesizers and dance beats. At the same time, the band has definitely increased its potential for a larger LGBT audience.
Velasquez spoke about being the only gay in the vill… er, tour bus, and whether the actor knows about his eponymous rockers.
Dallas Voice: Were you and the other members of Abe Vigoda listening to different music than you ordinarily would have prior to recording Crush? Juan Velasquez: No, not really. It had been two years since we wrote music together. Influence-wise there’s different music that we like, stuff that we’re interested in and enjoy. I think it was a natural thing that happened. There wasn’t anything out of the ordinary. We don’t all communally love one thing.
You said that it was a natural thing, so would you say that the sonic difference of Crush was a conscious decision or did it occur organically? Definitely organically, but it took a while. We write sporadically, usually when we’re practicing. Our drummer [Dane Chadwick] really likes dance music, so he introduced electronic elements to the band. We toyed around with them as a thing that we would be able to use and then we realized how much we liked it. It’s fun because you’re not restricted to guitars and drums. There are more things that you can use. I think we were finally more comfortable using synths.
How has the response to Crush been from longtime Abe Vigoda fans? It’s very varied. Some people just don’t get it. To me it sounds more “accessible” than other things we’ve done through the years. Some people are not so jazzed on it and some people like it. It’s not what they expected and because of that they like it. Sometimes we’ll play shows and mainly play songs from Crush and people will be like, “Why didn’t you play anything older?” I think people are still getting used to it. Even more important, people that didn’t like us before are maybe not getting into it because it’s a whole new thing and they didn’t know what we sounded like previous to this record. It’s a mixed thing, which is kind of what we expected. It never enters our mind when we’re writing what it’s going to be like on the other side of it. We just want to produce something that we like and then after that, it’s up to unknown forces whether people will be into it.
You run the risk of alienating some people, but you also stand the chance of reaching a whole new audience. Yes. For me it’s more exciting than just doing the same thing that people are going to like. I’m excited when bands change and evolve. We’ve never been a band that sticks to the exact same thing. It’s fun to try new things and push yourself.
The songwriting on Crush is credited to the band Abe Vigoda. How would you describe your role in the process of song creation in the group? It’s different for different songs. Sometimes Michael [Vidal] and I will have an idea or something we’re fiddling around with on the guitar and bring that to practice. Then everyone does their own thing on it. We generally jam together as a band. Everyone is in charge of their own instrument as far as what they contribute. Within the structure of the song, my main part is already there and we’ll work on it together. Sometimes I’m just adding something to what Michael has already laid out. We all edit each other and edit ourselves. It’s pretty democratic way of writing songs, I think.
What’s the best part of being the lone gay member of a band? [Laughs] What’s funny is that some people think everyone [in the band] is. Or they think there is one, and it’s Michael, the singer. When we’re on tour, the other guys in the band aren’t looking for girls. They’re really nice guys, which is awesome. If anyone, I’m probably the one who’s more like on the prowl [laughs]. I get really excited when I find someone else in a band who is gay because there aren’t that many of us in indie rock. Sometimes I’ll venture out (while on tour in a city) and check out the gay bars or if I have a friend in town we’ll go out and do our thing. In a way, I have a little freedom where I can go and do my own thing. I get some space away from the whole touring thing and being in close quarters with everybody.
Because they’re not going to tag along. Sometimes they do. Sometimes we’ll all go out to a gay bar. It’s a non-issue, obviously. I don’t think I could be in a band where it was an issue.
Are you aware of a contingent of LGBT fans among Abe Vigoda’s fans? I’m not aware of one if there is. Not to generalize, but we’re usually playing for kind of a straight crowd. Sometimes, someone will mention that, come up to me and say, “I’m gay, too.” But that’s rare. But I’m sure there are [gay people in the audience].
I’m not even sure people know that there’s a gay member of the band. It’s also not the focus of our music. There are some bands for whom that is the focus of their music, to be in a queer band to give voice to queer issues, even in a fun or punk way.
Like Scissor Sisters. Exactly. Or Hunx and His Punx. They definitely have a gay following, whereas we have a more mainstream indie rock following.
Does being in a touring band make it difficult to maintain a relationship? You betcha! If you would have asked me this at this time last year, I would have said, “No! I have an amazing boyfriend.” I never really until last year had a relationship or somebody that I was really excited about. It was the first time that I legitimately fell in love with someone. Before that it had been more casual. In January of last year, I was in love. We went out on tour with Vampire Weekend and then recorded Crush around this time last year. I was gone and missed him and talked to him on the phone. It felt like a relationship. It was great and exciting. Then I got home and soon after I got dumped. He didn’t enjoy that I was gone for so long. I never saw it that way. Being gone for a long time is rough on relationships, but I’d never really thought about it because I wasn’t in one. You only have a certain amount of time when you’re home to meet someone and once you get started then you have to leave again. Hopefully, I’ll meet someone who doesn’t mind that their significant other has to leave for a while. It’s definitely stressful. I don’t mean to sound like a cry-baby. I’m over it now. At the time, it was pretty shitty. Because it was something I couldn’t control. It’s my job. I’m not going to choose somebody over this.
Do you know if your namesake is aware you named your band after him? I have a pretty strong feeling that he does. One time somebody who wanted to interview us, instead of contacting [the band’s publicist], found his publicity person and messaged them. They got a response saying that it wasn’t the band’s publicist that they had reached, it was the actor’s. If his publicist knows, he knows. And he doesn’t seem to care, which is good.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition Feb. 4, 2011.