I’m a sucker for weird band descriptions. For example: El Valiente is a band that blends Tex-Mex and spaghetti-western influences into experimental, instrumental, indie rock. See? Instant intrigue!
The three-piece band from Madison, Wisconsin, creates moderately intense, 10-minute symphonies that border on jam band-y, but never cross to boring or cheesy. We recently spoke with Eric Caldera of El Valiente.
The Pitch: So, you're about to embark on tour. Are you visiting new places?
Caldera: Yes, except for the occasional out-of-town shows here and there, this is our first tour together! We're basically heading down to Texas (from Madison) and back (10 days total, with a show each night). I'm originally from Texas, so I'm excited to be playing down there again, but I've never played in many of the Midwest cities. I'm really excited to see more of the Midwest. Joe (our drummer) has toured a lot with other bands, so I think he has played most of the cities on the tour ...
Do you have any KC/Lawrence connections? Have you been here before?
Nope, we haven't been down that far before. We were lucky to come across the nice folks at FOKL!
Are you all from Madison? How did you guys meet/form the band and decide on a name?
I'm originally from Texas. Joe Bernstein (drums) and Kris Hanson (bass) are both from Wisconsin. I moved to Madison from Austin in 2005 for graduate school and started the band a year later. I found Joe Bernstein and our original bass player (Dave Sperka) the way folks new to town find anyone, I guess ... Craigslist. It sounds too easy, but I just made a post stating my general approach to playing/writing music and some influences. After sifting through a few e-mails, I decided to meet up with Joe and Dave. We had never met before, but we started writing music almost instantly, and surprisingly with little verbal communication. I took that as a good sign, didn't feel like I needed to try playing with anyone else, and the band was born. Initially, I wasn't sure if I wanted to sing or have an instrumental band (I had never played in an instrumental band). But after we started writing, it was clear that we were writing instrumental tunes, and I was pretty stoked about that. We decided writing instrumental tunes was what we were about. (A couple years later, Dave moved to Boston for grad school, so we recruited Kris Hanson, the bass player in a band called National Beekeepers Society, that Joe and I were big fans of.) The name "El Valiente" comes from one of the cards/characters in a game called Loteria (also called Mexican Bingo). I grew up hearing stories of my family playing loteria, and I've always liked the imagery and colorfulness of the game, so it’s kind of nostalgic for me. "El Valiente," which sorta means the brave/valiant one, we felt was a good fit for the music we were writing.
Some of the music I've heard sounds almost like a film score. Are some of your influences taken from film music? I also ask because I noticed your music was featured in a 2009 horror film (I adore Troma).
We've been told that some of the tunes invoke a spaghetti-western score. Sure, we have a lot of influences, ranging from film scores (especially Ennio Morricone) to bebop and free jazz and, of course, lots of rock bands. Initially, we didn't intend on writing such long/expansive songs, but they just came out that way. On our first album, we sort of felt that our album could be played along with a film like El Topo, so that inspired the title a bit. Yeah, it was great to be part of a film on Troma!
What other bands have you guys looked to for influence or enjoy playing with?
There are several local bands in Madison that we love playing with and are inspired by (e.g., Icarus Himself, United Sons of Toil, Land of Vandals, Pioneer, the Hussy - all those bands are great and are working hard to get out there and hit the road). We have been fortunate to play with some instrumental bands (or members of bands) that we really like, such as Tortiose, Dub Trio and Don Caballero. Generally, we're influenced by bands on the more experimental/noisy side ... we've all been fans of Sonic Youth, Pavement, Dinosaur Jr., Godspeed, and Flaming Lips for years ... other influences include surf (like Dick Dale and Link Wrey) ... there's not much that's off-limits really.
Do you think instrumental bands are enjoying a bump in popularity lately?
I'm not sure about that, but I will say I have been somewhat surprised by El Valiente’s popularity in Madison — not to sell ourselves short. ... When the band first started, I anticipated that we would be a little too “out there” for the indie-rock scene. But people have found us surprisingly accessible … being voted best new band in 2008, best alternative album in 2009, and best experimental band in 2011 has been a nice confirmation that playing experimental instrumental rock doesn’t necessarily banish you too far to the margins. … We’ve been presently surprised with the reception to our music.
Are you working on any new material?
Yes, we are! Our plan is to finish polishing off new material for our next record on this tour (this will be our third record). We are scheduled to record the new album once we return from tour.
Any plans/tours/festival appearances planned for later this year?
Right now, we’re just focusing on finishing and getting the next record out. But we’ll be looking again toward festivals and such soon. We’ll probably play Summerfest in Milwaukee again this year.
See El Valiente tonight at 9 p.m. at FOKL. Support from the Atlantic and the Puritans. Cost is $5.