In the Whale is a rock duo from Denver, CO, self-proclaimed as the “Kenny Powers” of the music because of their cheeky onstage personas coupled with their offstage nerdiness. Their punky and playful energy always deliver in their performance making an In the Whale show a must-see. Fortunately for you nerds, they ‘re currently on tour and will be headed back to Austin, TX to play Stubb’s inside with Electric Six (who are also damn good live – I’ve seen ’em twice!) Check out their tour schedule to find a show close to you, and in the meantime, enjoy this delightful interview full of comical anecdotes and some serious self-realization.
Check out their music video below for “Cavity”.
Eric Riley & Nate Valdez
SARAH: I read online that you guys are kind of like the “Kenny Powers” of music; what do you mean by that?
ERIC: I think it’s just that we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We’re very self-aware; there’s this push/pull of us wanting to be cool and trying to be cool, but also knowing that we’re not cool.
SARAH: But, in turn, that makes you cool
ERIC: It’s like this tongue-in-cheek sort of thing where it’s like we just wanna be ourselves but we also want to be known as cool people, but we just know that we’re not.
NATE: We’ve had a lot of interviews where they’re like, “After meeting you guys, you guys are the most square people we’ve ever met.” Yep, we’re pretty lame!
ERIC: And, to me, that’s what Kenny Powers really is; he’s really lame, he just doesn’t give a fuck!
NATE: He’s self-proclaimed as cool, but he’s not cool.
ERIC: Yeah, he’s a douche.
SARAH: He definitely is! Well, when I saw you guys last year in Boise, I didn’t know what to expect really, but I scheduled my trip around the Tree Fort Music Festival…
NATE: Oh, I love that festival!
SARAH: Yeah, it’s really cool because it’s modeled off of SxSw, which is just getting so big and corporate, but Boise’s so small and that fest is the very essence of SxSw and how it was started; I love that.
NATE: Yep, they just prototyped it and carried it up North into potato world.
ERIC: What’s cool about that festival, the two times we’ve played, is that I look around and I really just see, like, Boise is really invested in being a good city to just hang out in. So, I looked around and I just saw a lot of people hanging out and I could tell that this probably isn’t their thing. Like, a 45 or 50-year-old dude that’s probably just a resident of Boise and loves Boise and probably just wants to support Boise being a place for people to go, so they’re going to support Tree Fort and be a part of that, which is so cool! Ft. Collins, CO seems to be that way too. They have a lot of festivals that the city funds.
NATE: Yeah, they pour, like, hundreds of thousands of dollars into these festivals to have these really cool acts come in, and it’s free to the public.
ERIC: You just look at the stage and it says, “City of Ft. Collins”, and they’ll just donate. I think that if you’re trying to do a good thing and you’re investing in people, then people will go there.
SARAH: I think Austin has lost sight of that a little bit.
NATE: Well, I think that Austin has just become a little spoiled in that because Austin does have such a great community, but other things lead into that, and at some point, certain things shouldn’t become bigger than they are. When you grow so large, you don’t put a big mouth bass into a small little fish tank; it’s too big.
ERIC: There was this venue that we played called Holy Mountain in Austin. It was only there for a couple of years, and to me, it was the perfect venue because it was small. It was only around 300 capacity, it had great sound and stage and the vibe was perfect.
SARAH: Where was this?
ERIC: It was right down off of Red River
NATE: I think it used to be called Beauty Bar.
SARAH: Oh yeah, Beauty Bar was great, I loved it. I guess it became Holy Mountain after I moved to Rome.
ERIC: Yeah, it was so cool! The vibe was really good, people went down there knowing that they were going to check out a new band. Everyone was just there to see you and check you out. It was really cool, but one day the landlord raised their rent and they were like, “We’re done.”
SARAH: Yeah, that’s a common story here in Austin now. In fact, one of my favorite places used to be on Red River also, Emo’s. It was super small and I saw Queens of the Stone Age there with, like, 200 people, but that whole area keeps changing and old venues are pushed out. I still love Stubb’s and Mohawk, though.
NATE: Yeah, we’re playing Stubb’s soon.
SARAH: I know! I’m so sad; I leave that day to go back to Italy.
NATE: Nooo! Well, this will be our second time playing Stubb’s jr. or third? No, second.
ERIC: Well, if you count the Billy Idol show.
NATE: Oh, yeah, so this will be our third time we’ve played it. Well, we did like a back and forth for South By (SxSw); Billy Idol was outside, us inside, another band was outside, and then us. So, it was kind of festival style.
SARAH: That’s so cool.
NATE: Yeah, pretty cool. (laughing) All of our gear was right next to Billy Idols’, and we’re like, “That’s so cool!”
ERIC: This is the Kenny Power’s thing where we’re like, “We played with Billy Idol!” [well, he was out on the big stage and we were inside on the little stage].
SARAH: What’s your favorite place so far that you’ve played?
NATE: Like, in Texas?
SARAH: No, just in general, anywhere.
NATE: Shoot, well, I’d have to break it down so much…
SARAH: Break it down for me!
NATE: Well, in Boise I love the Neurolux; they’re just always really sweet to us every time we come in. In Texas, in the Ft. Worth area, I love Trees, which is in the Deep Ellum area.
SARAH: Deep Ellum rules!
NATE: It’s awesome! I love Stubb’s jr., but I’m with Eric in thinking that Holy Mountain was pretty awesome.
ERIC: For me, we played a show with Gogol Bordello at a place called Thalia Hall in Chicago; to me, that was probably the best show I’ve ever played. It was 1500 people or so, amazing venue, amazing stage, and the people were insane!
NATE: D.C. was probably my favorite.
SARAH: Did you play with someone there?
ERIC: The Presidents of the United States of America
SARAH: Man, that’s amazing!
NATE: Yeah, we’ve been around a lot!
SARAH: Yeah, you guys have played with some impressive people.
NATE: I’m thinking now, and in Vancouver I love the Rickshaw Theatre, and in Seattle we’ve always played El Corazon, but just because they’re good to us. Also, Dante’s in Portland kicks ass!
ERIC: There’s a place called Exit/In in Nashville…
NATE: We’re playing The End this time, right?
NATE: Which is kind of the baby version (of Exit/In), it’s a smaller room which will be good, but, yeah, I don’t know, we have a lot of places that we really like to play! I mean, I don’t know if you know this, but we tour a lot.
SARAH: I see that! That’s fantastic that you can keep the momentum going because I know it can be difficult sometimes in a music career.
SARAH: You guys have 3 albums or 4?
NATE: 3 technically, that we sold: Cake which was our very first EP, then our second one, well it was combined; it was 2 originally, the Nate and Eric EP that we made into one; and then the newest one is called Full Nelson
SARAH: Yeah, that one was kind of different
NATE: Yeah, and then we have another one that’s coming out at the end of the year that will be weirder.
SARAH: Weirder? In what way? I like weird.
ERIC: Not weirder…
NATE: Just more streamlined, I guess, more melodic.
SARAH: Yeah, I really like Full Nelson in that some of it’s folkier, but I love how you guys have that bluesy, punky, rock sound.
NATE: We’ve kind of been through that whole thing.
ERIC: In certain elements we’re just like, rock-n-roll is kind of the base and then you add in the energy of punk rock and then sort of like the dirty, griminess of metal; those are the 3 things we always put together and then we have variations of those.
SARAH: Yeah, you guys are very, very high energy and really loved your show.
NATE: Thank you.
SARAH: Tell me a little bit about your creative process.
NATE: Writing comes from, well, I write the bare bones of the song, like, the lyrics and kind of the idea of the melody and where we want to go. Then Eric and I will meet up together and he’ll fill it in, so to speak; Eric makes it more digestible.
ERIC: I kind of go in as like the “producer” before the producer. Nate will just be like, “Here’s a song!” and I add the drum part and then I’ll say, “maybe it needs this or this singing part or a screaming part”. So, yeah, Nate creates sort of the skeleton of the whole thing and we just work together to add the rest.
SARAH: It’s great that you guys are complimentary in that way.
NATE: Yeah, I have a hard time when I’m making something up because I’m so close to the idea already, so I need eyes that are fresh to come in. It really helps and I think that’s why we’ve been able to do so well and why we have as many catchy little bits that we do have. People really latch on to those things.
ERIC: That’s why having a producer is so important to us because there’s only two of us and we’re so close to something like that. We need to have one other person offer opinions to give us outside perspective. Which is why we’re really close to our manager too; we need that buffer.
NATE: Otherwise it’s the worst combination ever…
NATE & ERIC (back and forth): Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah that sounds good! Perfect!
ERIC: We’re so close to that thing that we don’t know what it actually looks like to an outsider.
SARAH: How long have you guys been together, or played with each other, I should say?
NATE: Well, we’ve played together a lot longer than this band has actually been together because I was filling in bass for his (Eric’s) first band.
ERIC: I think we’ve unofficially started in 2010 but we say we started when we first moved to Denver…
NATE: in 2011
ERIC: …which was in 2011
SARAH: Are you guys from Colorado and you both just moved to the bigger city, or…
NATE: I’m from Colorado, from a small town.
ERIC: I grew up in Texas.
SARAH: Ohhh, where?
ERIC: South… very south.
SARAH: South of San Antonio?
ERIC: Uh, 30 minutes north of Brownsville in Harlingen.
ERIC: Yeah, we went to college in Greeley, and that’s where we met, playing in other bands.
NATE: There’s a small music scene there, not a lot going on, so a lot of the same bands play the same shows together.
SARAH: And then you guys just made your way over to Denver… Do you guys like Denver? Do you see yourselves there for a while?
NATE: Yeah, for a while. I mean, it doesn’t really make much sense for me to move or him to move because it’s so hard, even for just two guys. I mean, some of the bigger bands can do that, just fly in when they need to, but at this point, we just can’t afford to do that.
ERIC: It’s like, “yeah, we’re making a new record, so everyone fly into LA” and spend 3 months making a new record and then a month recording it and then we all go back to our separate places and then the album will be released and then we all fly in and have two weeks of rehearsals and then go on tour… That would be awesome! But, I’m really content living in Denver and we have a really great base there; it’s where we’re most popular, so it’s nice to go out on tour and play those really tiny crowds but always be able to come home and play to a nice big crowd, you know?
SARAH: So, you guys play often there?
NATE: No, not really. Not anymore. At first, we did. We used to play literally every weekend. Like, “Hey! Look at us! We’re here! We’re doing this thing!” and now I think we’ve played one time this year.
ERIC: What we’re trying to do is if we’re offered a headliner in Denver we want to make it really good…
NATE: …really special.
ERIC: So, yeah, we want people to expect it to be a really kickass, packed, crazy show, so we want to be able to have ample time to promote, you know, and make sure all our ducks are in a row and all the people we want to play with are there; that kind of stuff, so when the show happens it will be really good. That’s what we want for Denver.
NATE: It’s a business; it’s the funnest business on the face of the planet!
SARAH: What would you do if Trump became president?
NATE: Oh, god… I think a lot of good punk music would come out of it.
SARAH: One last question and then I’ll let you guys get to Ft. Worth; what’s your best moment in music?
NATE: Like, us?
SARAH: Yeah, playing together. Something you look back on and you’re like, “Holy fuck, that was amazing!”
NATE: Oh, I was thinking more about moments like, “oh man, are we doing this? We’re really doing this!”
SARAH: Ok, best/worst if you want!
ERIC: Oh no, there are too many worsts…
NATE: The one that keeps sticking out in my mind is when we got snowed-in in Arkansas and the dude had his feet up on the table…
ERIC: *laughing hysterically*
NATE: He was like, “You guys have nowhere else to go, you HAVE to stay here!”
ERIC: Yeah, it was an ice storm, we were trying to get to Fayetteville to play a show with Lucero, but there was an ice storm and the show got canceled. So, we got stuck in Little Rock at an America’s Best Value Inn and it was so bad and so dangerous because every time we crossed a bridge we were all just like *holding breath*, bracing ourselves to slide, and we pull up to this place and this guy literally had his feet, no shoes on, up on the desk, like, “Dude, you’re fucked, you have no place left to go…”
NATE: Yeah, “I’m the only game in town!”
ERIC: “So, I don’t have to have shoes on. Fuck you!” So, yeah, it was the shittiest motel.
NATE: It’s like, you would close the drapes and there were blood stains, there were cigarette burns all over everything, in our shower there was a pair of pliers to turn on the hot water…
ERIC: Yeah, there was no knob, it was just like a little piece and you had to use the pliers to turn it on…
NATE: And then there was dog shit under the bed. I slept in my clothes on top of the blankets and just thought, “We’re really here! We’re really gonna do this!” And, we would have died in the van, it was that cold, so, I guess it was the lesser of two evils with the other evil being death; the step up from death was…
SARAH: I mean, you never know, you could have been murdered in your sleep by the creepy shoeless guy, so, I guess you were just rolling the dice…
NATE: You’ve got a point! So, knowing that story makes me think that we can do anything! We’ve been everywhere, we’ve had just about every terrible scenario, we had our pedal board destroyed by TSA…
SARAH: Are you serious?
ERIC: TSA doesn’t give a fuck! They do not care!
NATE: …and we always bounce back; we’re like the primordial cockroach!
ERIC: Like, the little band that could!
NATE: Yeah, so, I think, when I hear you ask, “what’s the best thing in music”, I think the beauty of it is that even though it was the worst scenario ever it was a beautiful realization that we can do anything. It could always be worse. Like, we blew up our van in Reno and it can always be worse.
SARAH: Have you had the same Van this whole time?
NATE: Different engines…
ERIC: Speaking of worse things… We were in Reno, NV and we blew a piston in our engine which means we had to replace it. We were on tour with Agent Orange and they were gracious enough to let us ride in their van and use their equipment for the rest of the tour, which was a two-month tour.
SARAH: So, you guys left your van in Reno?
ERIC: Yeah, and it was like an unfathomable amount of money, but, thankfully because we paid half of the gas for them, we were able to save that money from that and were able to keep touring to make up the rest of the money; it took almost the whole tour to build up all of it…
NATE: But if we had stopped we would have been in the hole, so we had to keep going.
ERIC: So yeah, I think we had about a week and a half left on the tour and we played here in Austin…
NATE: We played Stubb’s, no wait, we played Red 7, and right after the show the guys drove me to the airport and I flew out to Reno in less than a few hours at like 2 in the morning.
ERIC: …and then got the van, paid for it, and drove down to the next show.
NATE: We can do anything! We can do anything! There is nothing you can do to stop us besides killing us.
SARAH: Are you guys nervous about going overseas to play?
ERIC: Uh, a little bit. Nate’s been to Europe, so he kind of understands it a little bit. I’m a little nervous because I’ve only ever been to Canada, the U.S., and Mexico.
NATE: We’ll be alright as long as our liaison is with us. If the guy’s doing everything and toting us around.
ERIC: If he’s not a sketch ball.
NATE: Yeah, as long as he’s not a sketch ball and is able to speak properly on our behalf, then we’ll be fine; no problems. But if not, and we get Sketchball McGee who’s cutting in on some of the money and hitting on all of the girls, then we’ll have some issues, but I think we’ll be fine. We’re trying to be optimistic.
SARAH: I can see that you guys are very optimistic.
ERIC: It’s a tough life, especially when you’re a smaller band where you’re not really making a living wage.
SARAH: You guys are really young, though.
NATE & ERIC: Uhhhhhhhhhh
ERIC: I’m 32
NATE: I’m almost 30
SARAH: I’m 31, so, you guys are young!
ERIC: At this point, I’m trying to get to that place where the shows we play are always people going to see music, if that makes sense. Instead of, we’re playing a bar and there are guys just trying to get away from their wives or to play pool or watch the football game or alcoholic bar regulars, you know? That are just there, or like, “You guys are really good. I just happen to come here, you know, ‘cause my life is horrible. This is better than my life, but, hey, great band!” As opposed to, “We’re going to the venue to see ‘x-band’ and check out these other bands on the bill; we’re there to just see music, and I brought 20 bucks for merchandise.”
SARAH: It definitely makes a difference! You can buy merchandise on your website, right?
NATE: Yep! Inthewhalesucks.com
SARAH: Fantastic site name, you guys are hilarious! Well, I’ll let you guys go and get out of the heat.
NATE: Am I sweating that bad?
SARAH: No, I am. I’m no longer a lady.
Here’s their carefully curated playlist, made just for you!