January 26, 2018 Interview – Valentino Arteaga from Of Mice & Men Talks Defy
Southern California’s Of Mice & Men has been blasting out heavy music for the past decade now, with their latest offering, Defy, having just arrived a mere week ago, on January 19th. Chock full of abrasive bangers but ending on a pensive and poignant note, Defy is a phenomenal testament to Of Mice & Men’s talents as musicians and longevity as a band. In fact, despite massive hurdles along their journey – including the 2016 departure of Vocalist Austin Carlile due to illness – Of Mice & Men have soldiered onward with a positive and unbreakable spirit and, tighter than ever, the boys will hit the road in the beginning of February to bring Defy to their beloved and loyal fans.
With so much to discuss – from the band’s Unbreakable Documentary to their brand new album Defy, covering classic Pink Floyd to touring with friends Blessthefall, labelmates Cane Hill, and up-and-comers Fire From The Gods – Drummer Valentino “Tino” Arteaga recently sat down for a totally laidback conversation that entailed all of the above, along with debates on Metalcore and the work of Writer-Director Christopher Nolan.
CrypticRock.com – Of Mice & Men has been around for roughly nine years now. In a music scene where there are a million bands that are constantly coming and going, to what do you attribute Of Mice & Men’s staying power?
Tino Arteaga – Honesty, focus, and real passion: we really love what we do! We feel very privileged to do it and, at the same time, “the best laid plans of mice and men often go awry.” When things get their worst, when it seems like things may not end up working out, I think in a lot of ways bands don’t make it through those initial hurdles; and I think the hurdles are all about how life is. The challenges are going to happen regardless of whatever you do, but you have to love what you do and you have to love the music that you make, specifically if you’re a musician. I think because we truly connect with our songs and we connect with our fans, we have a real connection, and that’s why we have the staying power – because of that honesty. Everything in this music community that we are a part of, that’s what it’s about really.
CrypticRock.com – There are a lot of bands out there today who are not particularly honest or sincere in their music or their careers.
Tino Arteaga – Sure, and that’s fine too. Not everyone has to do it that way! For us, the way that all of us were raised as musicians and the scene that we come from; well, we all come from different scenes per se, we’re all from different hometowns. Really, the way that we look at music and the way that our fans allow us to do it might be different from the band to our left or the band to our right. We’re not really too concerned about them: we’re concerned about us and our fans, you know? So, to us, it’s never a competition and I think because it’s never a competition, we don’t have to feel the same way as somebody might feel within a competitive atmosphere. You know, it’s just music! Everyone’s here for the same reasons.
CrypticRock.com – Yes! Now you guys have the Unbreakable Documentary and a song on the new album entitled the same. Was “unbreakable” the kind of mindset that the band had going into the recording of Defy?
Tino Arteaga – I think it was kind of the mindset at the time. When we were writing that song, we knew we had some festivals lined up and we knew that we were going to be playing shows coming soon. We just wanted to give an example of what Of Mice & Men was going to be like moving forward. In a lot of ways, showing an unbreakable attitude and showing all of that, it was important in that situation.
CrypticRock.com – So to dig deeper into the album, did the band consciously do anything different in the studio this time around?
Tino Arteaga – No, not necessarily consciously different. I think we go into making every album with the same mindset: we all try to be overly-prepared for whatever the producer’s going to request. We try to come in with a bunch of ideas and we try to be as prepared as possible for that. So we didn’t necessarily do anything different. The biggest thing that was the difference was that Aaron [Pauley – vocalist/bassist] was doing all of the screaming in the studio, which was absolutely insane to get to see how he works in the studio and how his voice – I’ve never seen anything like it! I feel like Howard Benson [producer] really, truly captured some amazing performances, and what you hear there is him performing it. There were so many times where Howard would just be dumbfounded and have this huge smile like, ‘Did he really just do that right now?’ There were so many moments where Aaron could really come into his own on this album. It was so cool to get to see that in the studio, as well.
CrypticRock.com – Everyone’s performances truly shine through on Defy, it is a great album! Out a week now, what has been the early feedback from fans and critics on Defy?
Tino Arteaga – Yes! It’s been so far, so good. It feels so crazy to have really put our hearts and our lives into this album over the last year. Just kind of retrospectively thinking of everything and how it’s all been, we feel super proud of it and it’s just a good feeling to be in the wake of that. Seeing, from magazine reviews to our fans, people really connecting with songs that maybe I wasn’t sure if they were going to connect with or anything like that; it’s just so cool seeing so much positivity towards it. Not to mention, it just kind of goes to show that we are still speaking the same language, musically, that our audience really connects with and that’s important for us! Our audience is everything! They’re the ones that come see us live. They’re hugely important. They’re hugely influential to us in the songwriting process, too. So to in turn see them being excited about the music, we couldn’t ask for anything more than that!
For us, that’s just so cool to know that we don’t do it for the grades. This isn’t like school for us, so in no way, shape, or form would it matter what anybody rated the album. Seeing it connect with so many listeners is something we haven’t seen in a very long time. What’s exciting about it is with everything moving forward and all the tour-dates and with the album, the Of Mice & Men freight-train is becoming unstoppable again. It’s just so cool to see everyone kind of just rallying around and showing their support, and they don’t have to – we live in an era where more people will negative-review a restaurant than they will positive. Even if they loved their meal, they’d rather be like, ‘Oh, this sucks!’ There’s so much negativity that people want to put out there.
CrypticRock.com – Unfortunately, obnoxious comments and shit-talking will roll in just because people have the power of the keyboard.
Tino Arteaga –Oh, of course! That’s fine! With every positive comes the negative and that’s fine. It’s not like we’ve never dealt with negative talk before. (Laughs) This is our fifth album, we’ve dealt with it on every album. For us, we can’t please everybody, but we feel like it’s important to be honest enough in our message and to put out the best music that we can; and be the best Of Mice & Men that we can and make sure to have everyone come out to the live shows and enjoy it live.
To us, that’s what it’s all about! That’s how this whole Metal and Rock culture got sold to us, when we went to that show and got our asses kicked by not only the band but everyone in the crowd. I don’t mean that in an actual we got our asses kicked, but, you know, you don’t leave a Rock show without a couple bruises or something from the pit. It’s everyone having a good time, letting out emotion, and I think that’s important and people need to do more of that; I think they’d be a lot happier.
CrypticRock.com – Exactly! That kind of segues nicely into the next question, which involves the lyrical wisdom and maturity on Defy. To what do you attribute this maturity?
Tino Arteaga – A lot of it just comes from how we were feeling and what we were experiencing at that point in time. Trying to find the most honest way to write about it – that not only resounded with us as a group but that we could explain to our produce, and that could come across as not so obscure, you know what I mean? Finding that balance of interesting ideas and, also, I feel like Aaron did a great job on the lyrics on this, too. He’s a very intellectual kind of person and he’s very cerebral; he’s very in his head with stuff. He’ll just blurt out the most amazing chorus you’ve ever heard! He’ll be like, ‘I’ve been working on that for three weeks and I just free-styled it.’ It’s a cool thing to see somebody in their element, to be able to write and to be in-tune with their feelings like that.
A big thing about it too is that we talk a lot about our music, we talk a lot about our topics: it has to resound with the band, it has to resound with Of Mice & Men or it won’t be Of Mice & Men! That is a huge part of why there is so much congruency in this album with the music: we wanted to make the best music that Of Mice & Men can make! Who better to make Of Mice & Men music than Of Mice & Men? So, we had to kind of take a look at everything we had done in the past and really use that to dictate how are we going to move forward. Our fans helped us find the way, too!
CrypticRock.com – Defy includes a cover of the Pink Floyd classic “Money.” Why select that particular track to cover?
Tino Arteaga – We had, I wouldn’t say an abundance of extra time, but, like I said, we come into the studio prepared. Howard wasn’t even prepared for how prepared we were! We were ready to go, firing on all cylinders and excited. We got a lot of work done in the first three weeks, and Howard suggested that this album has so many, as we call them, bangers. It has so many pillars and important songs and he goes, ‘But you know what it’s missing is a cover. Have you guys thought about a cover song? It could just be fun, you don’t necessarily have to put it on the album. We have the studio time, so why don’t we just see, let’s do it!’ He was like, ‘What song would you guys want to cover?’ We had been listening to Pink Floyd that morning and Aaron blurted out “Money.” Everyone kind of looked and was like, ‘Uh, anything else you guys?’ Everyone was like, no way, Pink Floyd are untouchables! (Laughs)
We are so respectful to all of our forefathers in Rock-n-Roll, in Metal, and everything, so we would never bite off more than we could chew if we didn’t feel like it. After we had sat on it for about ten minutes and we were like, ‘Maybe we’ll do a more contemporary song or something like that,’ then Alan [Ashby, Guitarist] was like, ‘Dude, no, I hear it! Listen!,’ kind of singing what he heard musically. Then we were like, ‘Dude!’ We kind of jammed it a little bit, and it was just a fun moment in the studio to throw together a cover song of a classic song that all of us grew up with.
To me, that’s not even a genre, it’s Pink Floyd! Everybody has those sounds embedded in their brain of what sounds good or what sounds interesting, and Pink Floyd didn’t have any technology or hardly anything to do that with back in the day. It just felt good to have fun doing something like having a cover song, and now we’re going to get to play it live which, being in a cover band, how many cover bands are there in the world? Tons! It’s so much fun to get to be able to play cover songs with your friends and jam them. When you’re first starting a band you guys don’t jam originals, you jam cover songs; tunes you guys like. It kind of took it back to that feeling of just having fun with it! What would Of Mice & Men do? Of Mice & Men would do a cover song because it’s fun! Let’s have fun and play something live that would be awesome! So it was cool to try and really tap into that on this album and, like I said, to just have fun creating.
CrypticRock.com – It is a great cover and it fits the record well. Going back to the album, it wraps up with the stellar “If We Were Ghosts,” which was inspired by the untimely passing of Chester Bennington. It is a bit of a digression for the band, sound-wise, but superbly done and one of the standouts on the album. Can we expect that there will be more material like this in the future?
Tino Arteaga – In a lot of ways, Of Mice & Men has always had the kind of ballads or the more emotionally toned-down, like you said the digression of… it can’t just be aggression, it can’t just be pummeling, in-your-face all the time. With our albums, we really try and take the listeners on a journey. It was important for us to include that song, because, at first, we didn’t know. We wanted to have all pillars and we didn’t know that a song as raw as that song…then Aaron came up with the lyrics around when Chester passed. That song really fell into a place in a way that I would have never ever expected. I think you’re absolutely right: that song is insanely powerful.
It’s not only something that’s necessarily for Chester, per se, but I think in a lot of ways dealing with loss and trying to understand that is important for anybody. I know that a lot of us turn to music in order to find that help, and to have that kind of honesty and to have somebody that can have that conversation with you and you don’t have to say anything, you know? It was important for us in our grieving and healing process, and, at the same time, to turn that to music, it’s pretty amazing to see how those things come together when you never would imagine it to be like that. So, absolutely more material like that! Not necessarily a focus, because we’re very much a heavy band – we love mosh pits, we love circle pits – but we also love acoustic stuff; and we love all kinds of music. We definitely don’t discriminate!
There’s absolutely going to be a tone to an Of Mice record, but much like all of the ones in the past, we’ve always kind of had a ballad-type, downtempo, if you will, song that fits on the album to give it, whether it’s a breath of fresh air or just a breath away from something. In the past, we’ve always stuck toward the end of the album. We felt like after you’ve been through everything on Defy, ending on a note like that is very pensive; it kind of makes you think “If We Were Ghosts,” how different would this actually be? Could I say how I felt? It’s crazy: music is powerful, music is very emotional! There’s something for everybody in the Of Mice & Men discography. If you’re a fan of this music or not, I think we have songs for everybody! Everybody can take away something important from our music.
CrypticRock.com – It seems unfair to ask you to choose a personal favorite track off Defy, but are there any songs, in particular, that you most look forward to adding to your live set?
Tino Arteaga – “Money,” for sure. That’s going to be super fun to play live! I think “Forever YDG’n” is going to be another fun one, because that one has a really throwback Of Mice & Men vibe and I love playing our old stuff. I can’t get enough of it! (Laughs) To me, it kind of has that feeling of early Of Mice & Men, and I love that about our music. I’m going to be really excited with that song, too! All of them, too. We tried to make all of these songs, we tried to keep everything pretty interesting because we’re going to want to be playing these songs for quite some time after this. We really wanted to do something that was a little more technically proficient than anything; and not necessarily having a focus on that, but really trying to do something a little over-the-top with every song.
CrypticRock.com – So speaking of touring, you are about to hit the road in a few weeks, headlining in support of Defy with Blessthefall, Cane Hill, and Fire From The Gods supporting. This is a killer and heavy line-up! So, what should fans expect from this tour?
Tino Arteaga – We’re pumped! They can expect really loud music! (Laughs) I’m excited with the bill because every band brings something really cool to the table; they don’t all sound the same, it’s diverse enough. It’s going to be real cool to see! We love going on tour and bringing our friends, so Blessthefall was kind of a no-brainer for us. At the same time, it was cool to see some new-comers like Fire From The Gods as well as Cane Hill, and see what they’re all about. They’ve got some new music coming out, too! It’s going to be great! Like I said before, there’s something for everybody there: if you like heavy music, there’s something for everybody out there.
CrypticRock.com – Actually, Cane Hill’s Too Far Gone released late Friday too. Have you heard it?
Tino Arteaga – Yeah, we’ve heard a couple of the tracks and it’s pretty filthy! They’re some filthy New Orleans boys! I kind of dig that about them, they’re pretty crazy. Like I said, every band brings something really cool to the table and we all really enjoy what we do. It’s going to be cool to see everybody rocking out together on-stage and in the crowd!
CrypticRock.com – It should be high energy! Okay, so to step away from tour talk, it is no secret that Of Mice & Men are somewhat consistently categorized as Metalcore. Despite categories meaning virtually nothing these days, is “Metalcore” a scary word in 2018?
Tino Arteaga – No, we embrace it! It is what it is! People are going to call us whatever they’re going to call us. To us it doesn’t really matter because we just make music, you know? We don’t just make necessarily Metalcore, we make all kinds of music and there’s all kinds of stuff. If somebody’s going to call it something, then that’s what they’re going to call it and bands will waste breath and lose hours of their life fighting to be called one thing or another. For us, it’s not important, it’s just music! I don’t think it’s a bad word! I think it’s a great word! It’s a fusing of Metal and Hardcore, that’s what I grew up listening to. So the fact that I’ve been playing that same music for over a decade is pretty crazy!
CrypticRock.com – It is not a bad word, but it is also not befitting of many of the bands that are categorized as Metalcore; instead it has become a bit of a catch-all categorization that no longer truly holds any meaning. Nearly every new band in heavy music is being labeled “Metalcore” and very few even truly fit that categorization.
Tino Arteaga – Right. That’s where it gets into the nitty-gritty of, if you go into a record store, and say something, someone will be like, ‘Oh, no. That’s not Metalcore, that’s Deathcore.’ Then it’s people’s own interpretations of that.
We were actually just, Alan and I… Alan Tweeted something the other day and it was about ‘Who is the first Metalcore band?’ He got a bunch of people talking about it, then he and I were having the conversation and it’s kind of vague. You know, who’s to say what the Metalcore… we didn’t have an answer. Then we found that there’s a whole Swedish style of Metalcore! We just toured with In Flames, so we were thinking they were pioneers back in-the-day. In a lot of ways, that’s real Metalcore. Then you have modern day Metalcore bands… It’s up to whoever is digesting it. I can think of eight different types of Metalcore bands or whatever, but we try just not to stick in a genre. We say it’s heavy music, ‘cause it is! Sometimes people say we’re more Nu Metal or ‘This is a Nu Metal album,’ blah blah blah. Sure, there’s influences, but does that make us a Nu Metal band? I dunno. We are a new Metal band! (Laughs) It’s not the same thing, but people say we’re not Nu Metal. (Laughs) It’s a long conversation to have, but I don’t think, at the end of the day, it really matters. If people who like it like it, then that’s cool; and if they don’t, that’s cool too.
CrypticRock.com – Agreed. Last question: at CrypticRock, we cover music as well as films. Last you spoke with the website several years back, they had asked you if you had any all-time favorite Horror or Sci-Fi films. Instead of rehashing that list, this time around, let’s discuss any newer Horror or Sci-Fi films that have really resonated with you.
Tino Arteaga – Okay, let’s see. That really resonated? Anything Christopher Nolan does is super amazing. What was that with Matthew McConaughey? Interstellar (2014)! As like a Sci-Fi, you know? I thought that movie was really interesting, and I love how deep Christopher Nolan gets. I like to try and think of music the way Christopher Nolan thinks of it. I tend to watch a lot of videos while I’m making music, trying to get inspiration from other things, not necessarily just my own mind. I always liked his stuff! Recently, one that I really enjoyed, after seeing Prometheus (2012), was the new Alien movie. I thought that was super badass! I love how they tied them in and I totally didn’t get it, then I got it! (Laughs) I was like, ‘Dang!’ It was cool! I’m kind of a nerd when it comes to Sci-Fi stuff like that, and I’m pretty easily entertained too. I’m not like, ‘Oh, it’s not the original so screw that!’ I’m a lot more open-minded when it comes to that stuff! To me, if I’m entertained, I’m enjoying it! As long as I’m entertained!
Feb. 1 – Santa Cruz, CA – Catalyst (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 2 – Portland, OR – Wonder Ballroom (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 3 – Seattle, WA – El Corazon (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 4 – Boise, ID – Knitting Factory (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 5 – Salt Lake City, UT – Complex (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 6 – Denver, CO – Summit Music Hall (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 8 – Minneapolis, MN – Music Hall MPLS (no Cane Hill)
Feb. 9 – St. Louis, MO – Ready Room
Feb. 11 – Chicago, IL – House of Blues
Feb. 12 – Detroit, MI – Crofoot
Feb. 13 – Toronto, ON – Opera House
Feb. 14 – Montreal, QC – Corona Theatre
Feb. 16 – Boston, MA – Paradise Rock Club
Feb. 17 – New York City, NY – Gramercy Theatre
Feb. 18 – Asbury Park, NJ – Stone Pony
Feb. 19 – Philadelphia, PA – Trocadero (Click here for tickets)
Feb. 20 – Charlotte, NC – Underground
Feb. 21 – Atlanta, GA – Masquerade Heaven
Feb. 23 – Orlando, FL – Beacham
Feb. 24 – Destin, FL – Club L.A.
Feb. 25 – New Orleans, LA – House of Blues
Feb. 27 – Houston, TX – White Oak
Feb. 28 – Dallas, TX – Canton Hall
March 1 – Albuquerque, NM – Sunshine
March 4 – Las Vegas, NV – Vinyl – Hard Rock Live (Click here for tickets)
March 5 – Flagstaff, AZ – Orpheum
March 6 – Phoenix, AZ – Nile Theatre
March 7 – San Diego, CA – SOMA
March 24 – Flemington, Australia – Download Festival
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