In the Whale on Guilty Pleasures: Seal, Vertical Horizon and Johnny Depp's Scarves

The musicians of duo In the Whale have established a bit of a reputation as road dogs over the years. Based in Denver — when they are not living on the road — the two have risen in the ranks of the local rock scene while inciting some controversial accusations of sexism based on lyrics and live performances. In addition to their rigorous tour schedule, drummer Eric Riley and guitarist Nate Valdez of In the Whale managed to record a new album and take time to talk about being shameless with their taste while in the van.

Eric Riley: We are at a friend’s house in College Park, Maryland. We have a day off.

Westword: You have a day off? I didn’t think you guys took days off.

Riley: I think this is the first one.

Do you make a habit of that, like Mike Watt?

Nate Valdez: A day off is a loose money day, so we try not to take days off. We mostly just keep pushing through. You just have to trick your body into going as hard as you can until you’re done.

How long is this tour?

Riley: A month long.

That seems to be the In the Whale standard. Since you are the first duo I’ve interviewed, do you guys have a shared guilty-pleasure song?

Valdez: Mine would be “Kiss From a Rose,” by Seal. Every time it comes on, I just start singing it even though I don’t know the words. It’s just one of those songs where I’m like, “I can’t even be mad right now.” My dog just died, my girlfriend left me, the van blew up, but Seal’s smooth sensual voice takes me to another planet.

Riley: That’s one of those songs where you can’t just sing the chorus. If you start singing a line, then you end up singing the whole song.

That’s become a pretty popular karaoke jam as of late.

Valdez: Really?! I have never done it. I think if someone puts the lyrics in front of me I’d be like, “Those are the words?” Because I’ve be going, “La la la la la la la la la la” for years.

Do you guys have any plans to cover Seal? That way you would finally have to learn the words.

Riley: There’s only two of us and I think that song has four- or five- part harmonies.

Valdez: And, like, real musicians.

Riley: Yeah. I think there's an oboe in that song and shit. [For] my song, I’m gonna go with “Sexy Back.” It’s so catchy. The whole chord progression is like two notes. It’s just...

Valdez: "Take it to the chorus!"

Riley: Everything is just bouncy fun. It’s just a perfect pop song.

I can see how “Kiss From a Rose” is a guilty pleasure, but “Sexy Back” is so popular and good. Why is it a guilty pleasure for you?

Valdez: I should clarify. Neither of us are too guilty about these songs. We don’t take ourselves that seriously. There really isn’t anything that were embarrassed by.

Riley: I’ve always been a pretty big Justin [Timberlake] fan.

Even going back to N*SYNC?

Riley: Uh, not really. My little brother liked N*SYNC, so I was forced to listen to it a lot growing up. Once [Timberlake] embarked on his own is when I jumped on the train.

I've got to be honest: I assumed you guys were going to talk about Nu Metal.

Riley: [Laughs.] We can talk about guilty pleasures all day, man!

Valdez: There are definitely a lot songs that pop up where we look around the car: “No one’s here? Okay. Turn that thing up!”

Riley: “Break Stuff," [by Limp Bizkit]. That’s a good guilty pleasure.

I think you're the first group that's had trouble narrowing down a guilty pleasure.

Valdez: [Laughs.] For sure! It’s so funny, because I think — as someone who enjoys music — there are certain things that you and your friends are not going to see eye to eye on. And that’s okay! They don’t have to be in your iPod, they don’t have to hear you scream at the top of your lungs to Seal in the car.

Do you guys put together a playlist that’s just for the two of you that you can play in the van?

Valdez: Dude. No joke, at the beginning of our touring, we had to listen to Vertical Horizon. We listened to it from top to bottom and sang along to the whole thing.

Riley: Once a tour.

Valdez: At least once.

Riley: It’s pretty funny.

Valdez: And it’s weird. “We know every word to this?”

Riley: That album is so huge. Again, if you’re driving six hours at a time, you can’t pick one song here and there. They are really well-written, well-crafted songs. They're just good pop-rock songs. I mean, eventually you've got to branch out from introspective Radiohead and not feel bad about yourself. You know, put some pep in your step when you’re driving ten hours.

Valdez: [Singing] "He’s everything you want! He’s everything you need!"

I kind of love that song.

Riley: I remember I was fourteen when that song came out, and I had a crush on a girl. She didn’t like me back or whatever. And she was like, “Can we still be friends?” I was like, “I don’t know. Just listen to this song and you’ll know exactly how I feel!”

Valdez: [Laughs.] Wow. We are the squarest dudes. Super-square.

I take it Eric was the one who put on Vertical Horizon the first time?

Valdez: Maybe. I don’t know.

Riley: It’s become this thing where someone puts it on and we’re like, “Okay, fine. We’ll listen to that.” It’s like a game of chicken.

Valdez: Like the scene in Tommy Boy. That’s kind of us all the time.

Well, hopefully you make sure the hood is latched down. Has there ever been a moment when one of you have put on a guilty pleasure and the other one is not feeling it?

Riley: There’s been times where I put on Dream Theater or progressive fusion metal and Nate’s like, “Turn that bullshit off.”

Sometimes you just want some Vertical Horizon.

Valdez: I just thought of a song I put on that Eric was like, “This is dogshit.” We were driving, and I said real casually, “You remember that group Eiffel 65?” There was a time in my young life where I would walk around singing [“Blue”] out loud.

Riley: You were in sixth grade!

Valdez: I know, but it’s still catchy as hell! I put it on once and Eric was like, “What are you doing?” “Oh, are we not into this? My bad.”

I think it’s great that you have a close enough relationship that if one of you crosses the line, the other will call him out.

Riley: You're talking about us like we're a couple.

You are a couple!

Riley: If you surround yourself with yes men, you end up like Johnny Depp, wearing weird scarves. You need someone to be like, “Dude. What are you doing?”

Valdez: Doesn’t he wear a parrot now? That seems like a natural progression. Start as Steve Tyler and end up going full Depp looking like a pirate with a patch over your eye.

Riley: He needs someone who knew him in high school. Like, “I knew you before you were Johnny Depp. Stop it.” You need someone in your friends who will keep it real.

Valdez: We’ve also painted ourselves into a corner being so self-aware and tongue-in-cheek that if we don’t call us out, our fans will.

So if you are a couple, then your fans are like your kids.

Valdez: Very snarky, dysfunctional kids.

In the Whale is playing a homecoming show at Larimer Lounge on Friday, October 28. The band's latest EP, Quicksand, is available for pre-order now at
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