Hed: Hypocritic Oath
Doctors take the Hippocratic Oath, in which they promise to do no harm, but Denver rock duo In the Whale sees a lot of hypocrisy among those sworn to heal — particularly in their devotion to Big Pharma.
"There's this never-ending pandemic of drugs that are being pushed into people," says guitarist Nate Valdez. "It happens to be backed by the biggest drug dealers, which happen to be the pharmaceutical companies that are giving kickbacks to doctors who are prescribing these drugs."
With that sentiment in mind, In the Whale composed and recorded its most recent single, "Drug Dealer." The dissonant, post-hardcore romp's aggressive sound conveys the agitation that a drug addict might experience. The track is filled with Eric Riley's screaming backing vocals, while fast guitars compete with slower drums to create a push-and-pull effect and an overall edgy vibe.
"We just wanted to reflect the lyrical content," Riley says. "I feel like we really achieved that with making it feel sort of desperate and jittery, almost. That big breakdown of the bridge is sort of like the breaking point of the whole song, like the breaking point of an addict."
Valdez says he tries to write about issues happening in the world instead of falling back on rock-music clichés like getting trashed at a friend's house party: "If you have a platform, you have the ability to go and say something. You should try and say something."
The video for "Drug Dealer" recycles stock footage of anti-drug ads from the good old days, when doctors recommended smoking cigarettes and prescribed amphetamines for bored housewives. Valdez was surprised when he started going through the footage — mainly by how casually racist advertisers and animators appeared to be in the 1950s.
He's not concerned about anyone approaching him about copyright infringement, because, well, they'd have a lot of explaining to do. "They should be thanking me for cutting out all the racist things," he says. "It was incredible just how much stuff I had to tiptoe around to make the video not racist. … I was watching the clips and going, 'Oh, my God.'"
The forthcoming six-song record promises more brooding content. Valdez adds that he and Riley wrote the songs before 2020, so it's funny that the lyrics are so epically negative.
"There are a lot of things in there asking some large questions," he notes. "What are we doing about the drug problem? What are we doing about the gentrification of Denver? What are we doing about restarting? What do we want to do about what seems like the end of the world?"
COVID-19 and not being able to tour has made the project's release date a little uncertain. Valdez and Riley normally spend much of their time on the road, so live music all but dying out this year has cramped their style. Their booking agent has been pulling his hair out for months trying to figure out a way to proceed.
"We've had this record in the can for a while," Riley says. "We were planning on booking a tour and touring on the record when we had a tour to support it. Obviously, that didn't pan out. We didn't want to wait a really long time to release music, so we decided to [drop] the single and see what happens with it."
Riley currently works a landscaping job and says that not being able to have an outlet for his passion via music has been "really fucking bad." And it's not just performing that he misses about touring; it's the gross parts, too.
"We're doing live streams and stuff like that, which is fine," he says. "It's good to play and stuff like that, but I really miss just playing in front of a crowd of people and driving in a fucking van and staying in a roach motel. What I wouldn't give for a bedbug scare right now."
Keep Westword Free... Since we started Westword, it has been defined as the free, independent voice of Denver, and we would like to keep it that way. Offering our readers free access to incisive coverage of local news, food and culture. Producing stories on everything from political scandals to the hottest new bands, with gutsy reporting, stylish writing, and staffers who've won everything from the Society of Professional Journalists' Sigma Delta Chi feature-writing award to the Casey Medal for Meritorious Journalism. But with local journalism's existence under siege and advertising revenue setbacks having a larger impact, it is important now more than ever for us to rally support behind funding our local journalism. You can help by participating in our "I Support" membership program, allowing us to keep covering Denver with no paywalls.