“Good art can both satiate creative wants and inspire idealism in others.”
Interviewing Vincent Valentino is essentially agreeing to an interview yourself, or at the very least, an introspection. Our conversation is full of rhetorical questions, and rightfully so: just about anyone writing songs today is battling some sort of unknown about the changing world.
The front man for the wildly popular new band Montezuma (made up of some portions of respected outfits Brujas del Sol, Turtle Island, and Fingers) is no different, straddling a philosophical precipice:
One side is blasting full steam ahead with managers and branding and music videos and tours, capitalizing on band buzz; and the other side is a world in need of art and healing.
“The struggle isn’t so much about what art can do, but what can I do,” he said. “Making art is absolutely how I’d like to spend my life, but it takes a support system and a social safety net. These days there are people actively destroying those supports, and it’s both infuriating and heartbreaking. So I look at that and ask myself, ‘What should I do? Pursue my own art? Or put down the guitar and pick up the protest sign?’”
Well, we think just asking that question is a good place to start…
Who are the artists that first brought out the notion in you, that music must mean more than just a good song? There’s so many, it’s honestly a bit hard to say. I mean, D’Angelo put out Black Messiah half a year early because of the Eric Garner and Michael Brown rulings. Radiohead warned about the post-millennium gloom that we’re all feeling today as early as 1997. On top of that, all of the rock, soul, and folk music that was coming out in the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s. The emergence of hip-hop alone was an entire class of disenfranchised people impacting pop culture and disrupting the middle-class zeitgeist of the ’80s, followed by the anti-popness of ’90s grunge. Good art is always impactful. We’re all trying to say something and be impactful. Sometimes the scale is personal, sometimes the scale is global.
Last month, you donated proceeds from a show to Planned Parenthood. And you have plans to to further this social enterprise model of local touring? What we want to be able to do is donate from every show we do in Columbus, at least from our own door money and merch sales, so at the very least it’s always something we’ll do while we play [here]. Alone, we won’t raise a lot—a single band doing this will be a drop in the bucket. But if we can show that it works and that people care and that the Columbus artistic community can make an impact by organizing and working together, then maybe we change what it means to be an artist in Columbus right now. Or maybe we’ll all just starve together. Who knows.
You guys hit like a light right out of the gate, and this isn’t your first rodeo. Is it hard to reconcile taking advantage of potential career moves and weighing that against helping the community around you? That’s the crux of the issue, really: both things take a massive investment of time and creative energy. You can’t phone in a song and you can’t phone in a protest. And to really make great art, to really create change, you need to be all about it all the time. So inevitably, there has to be a split; you can’t do everything at once. So right now the question is, do you take advantage of what could potentially be your one and only shot, or do you get involved and get organized at one of the most pivotal moments in American history? Which is true to yourself? Which is good for your community and your brothers and sisters around the world?
Are your songs, or at least many of them, really structured in three acts? Not all of them, but we’re working to make the album flow that way. There is a distinct beginning, middle, and end. The first song is written to be an overture—the lyrics talk about this character from an omniscient point of view and kind of foretells what’s going to happen throughout the story; that might be the only one with a three part act structure.
While we’re having fun with that, let’s play a game: you actually have to turn Montezuma’s songs into a piece of theater. What’s the plot? I’m actually working on making this in conjunction with the album release. Not to steal a page from Father John [Misty], but I’d like to release an actual short story, a written version with the album.
People in Columbus need to go to one show this month and it can’t be a Montezuma show. What’s their national and local option?
Bummers EP Release @ Ace of Cups (4.22).
Spoon @ Newport (5.11).
What was the first concert you went to? Do you remember being like, I’m gonna do that someday? My first concert was MGMT with Tame Impala in 2010, so I didn’t actually see my first show until I was 18. By then, I’d been playing in bands for a couple years so it was more of a “How do you even do that?” moment.
What’s the best lyric ever written?
Jesus don’t cry/You can rely on me honey
You can come by anytime that you want
I’ll be around/You were right about the stars
Each one is a setting sun (Wilco, “Jesus, Etc.”)
What was the first album you ever bought with your own money? And first album you owned, if different.
The first album I ever owned was The Offspring’s Americana, a gift from my older sister in fourth grade. The first album I ever bought with my own money was The Beatles’ Past Masters, I split it with my brother in the 8th grade.
Finally: what’s the ultimate compliment you can get from anyone that hears your music? “Where can I listen to your stuff?”
You can see Valentino and Montezuma live this month at Ace of Cups, opening for the Yellow Paper Planes (4.21).