With the current state of the music industry, some bands can fly pretty high under the radar if you don’t pay attention. The rise of independent musicians taking charge of their business by self-promotion, booking and telling their own stories is evidence. In fact, many, like the Greeley-based band, In the Whale, go so far as to write, record and produce their own work. They interact creatively with their growing fan base, and have landed a devoted cult following that has lead to a mini-run opening for the legendary band the Descendants in recent weeks.
Nathaniel Valdez, lead singer, and guitarist, and Eric Riley, drummer, and vocalist make up the band celebrating their seventh year and a new release July 27 at Washington’s in Fort Collins. The two-piece band is merely a guitar and a drum set and two dynamo musicians.
“I think, just the energy of a two-piece, the energy of fewer members, is more,” Valdez explained of the band’s size. “I think it is cool to me. Adding more members is just going to make us more like all the other bands that are out there.”
The hard-hitting duo started in 2012 with a constant question on their mind, “What are we going to do that’s different that’s going to make people come to our shows?” At their first FoCoMX, the band handed out rolling papers with a written time and place inside with a sharpie to promote themselves. At their first massive Denver show, Riley promised his fans that if they sold 50 tickets (which would shock them both) that he would play naked. Luckily Valdez’s mom bought the last two with the promise that he would at least wear underwear.
“You’ve just got to be clever,” Valdez said. “Everyone has in their mind that they have an awesome product. When I was in the garage with my very first band, I thought we were the coolest band on the planet. Now, if I heard any of that music, I may throw up. The thing is that you believe in yourself enough already, right?”
In the Whale is hitting the road with a self-booked tour promoting its fourth LP, “Dopamine.”
“So you’re already your (own) promoter. You have to use some part of your brain that isn’t just the music end of it and saying this is a good song,” Valdez said. “But you have to use the part of your brain is like, ‘How do I get this to someone that doesn’t need it, doesn’t want it, and doesn’t care? How do you sell that?’ And there’s a lot of people that are really good salesmen and women. Music is a form of that. We like what we do. We are validated in a way because we have people come to shows. But at first, it was not that no one cared. We had to give them a reason to care.”
In the Whale don’t define themselves with a genre. Valdez said they are in a grey area.
“We are not heavy enough to be like a metal on the metal station necessary like right in the middle between the metal and the alternative rock station,” Valdez explained. He said fans say they are a breath of fresh air. Every-day music lovers are being “punched in the face” with the same stuff over and over, and then they see In the Whale — not ultra popular, but different. Unrecognizable, but cool.
For devoted fans, Valdez and Riley promise they will shock people with the new sound of the album. They have been playing together so long now that the synchronicity has produced a new dynamic. They worked with a new producer and recorded the LP in a three-day marathon trying to capture the live energy that the band delivers. They played the songs in a repeated fashion for 12 hours straight over a period of days. And the sound as Valdez describes is as the best thing they’ve ever done.
“We may lose some fans. However, it’s so different, it is heavier, but it’s less punk rock,” Valdez said. “More metal. I think that it is which maybe is a turn-off but I think I like this where we’re at.”
They shopped it around to every label, and the labels responses are just like the fans, Riley said.
“Our manager is a fairly big deal; he’s represented some pretty big artists that sell thousands and thousands of tickets. He’s got a lot of clout,” Riley said. “All the labels are like, ‘We love the band, love what you’re doing. We saw you play live, it’s amazing. It is absolutely what we are bumping in the office right now. But you know, we just can’t put it out.’ I guess we’re too aggressive and hard to market.”
The only way to see what this band is up to is to connect in one of the 130 cities they play a year and follow their social accounts. When not on the road, they both have other full-time jobs. Riley said after the tour with the Descendents, where they played for almost 3,000 people in three days, fans “annihilated our merchandise.”
“The next day, I’m in the kitchen and Illegal Pete’s sautéeing vegetables, cutting steak and washing dishes,” Riley said.
Valdez spends his time as a mortician for extreme high crime cases.
As the band gets ready to headline Washington’s, they say they are humbled by the venue and the invite.
“This would be a moment that says this does make sense,” Riley said. “Selling out Washington’s would be the most tickets we ever sold as a headliner.”