Interview Series: Carlos Cardenas talks The Vast Alps and being an artist today

Ok, I know I haven’t posted in awhile (as per usual) but I have great news! Recently, I created a twitter profile page for my blog (@notreallyindie). Selfless plug time — follow it if you want to keep up with music news and up-and-coming artists! But that’s not the point. The point is, shortly after I created this twitter page a bunch of up-and-coming artists followed me. There was one band in particular from California I took an interest in, so I reached out to them and hoped to land an interview… and it worked! For this post, I interviewed a member of a band called The Vast Alps, and I’m very excited to share with you guys.

The Vast Alps are a 4 piece band from Riverside, California, which is a little over an hour from LA. The band members include Chris Lacayo, Cory McCormick, and brothers James and Carlos Cardenas. Their latest EP, the Auto Pilot EP was released on May 16th, 2014, and since then they’ve been working hard to bring their new fans a bunch of new music. Recently, they entered the NPR music competition known as Tiny Desk and have started a project they call the “1/1 Project” (1 By 1 Project) in which they put out a new song each week. I was lucky enough to speak with their guitarist and vocalist, Carlos Cardenas, about the band, their music, being a new artist in today’s media world, and where they’re going next.

Maddie Luchsinger: So just go ahead and tell me a little about yourself and the band.

Carlos Cardenas: So we’re called The Vast Alps and we’re from Riverside, California. The band is made up of myself, Carlos, and my brother James, and two of our best friends Cory and Chris. We’ve known each other for probably 10 years just as friends. We met in high school and we’ve been friends through college and stuff like that so we’ve been pretty close in that sense. We’ve all played music before being in this band, and we’ve been playing music for the last couple years — not as The Vast Alps, but just for music projects or for fun or for little films — stuff like that. Officially as The Vast Alps we’ve been a band for I want to say eight months. So we put out an EP last year and we’ve been putting out more music. That just started happening in February. We’ve been putting out like a song a week, which is pretty crazy for us. We’re pretty excited to be doing that, actually.

L: So at what point did you guys sit down and say we can do this and put out our own music?

C: I think The Vast Alps started pretty organically. Like we were all friends before this and we were comfortable just playing around and doing everyday things. And then one day we were like, ‘Hey, we have all these songs, we have all these ideas. Why don’t we just start a band and market ourselves?’ and become what we are today. And the timing was just right. I just finished college last year in the summer and our other member Chris has been done with school for awhile. Two of our members are still in college, but it felt pretty good and pretty right for us to start last year and go from there.

L: Did you have any initial hesitations or challenges that you thought might prevent you from being able to form this band?

C: No, I don’t think we really thought about it that much, like we should do it full blown. I think we’re all pretty committed people. Like in everything that we do we like to give it 100%. I think the timing was just right. Like our oldest member Chris got married a year and a half ago. There’s just things in life I guess, you know, finishing school, getting a job, stuff like that, that you don’t wanna be dealing with and trying to be creative as well because I feel like that can get in the way a lot. Like you know, you don’t have a job or you don’t have enough money, you can’t make it a practice and stuff like that. Things just kind of fell into place really well last year and I guess that gave us the time and the energy to do it.

L: Well what kind of gigs are you playing now?

C: Well it’s a weird thing because we’re from Riverside and that’s probably like an hour away from Los Angeles, and it’s so weird the way the music industry is now. It’s crazy. Like you’ve got to be a better band online than you are playing live I guess. So we always talk about amongst each other how ‘we’re not a live band’ just to be funny you know? Like we kind of grew up in the 90s, going to shows and stuff like that. But the way things are now, nobody really goes to local band gigs. Either you hear about somebody from YouTube or something like that. So we don’t play that often, but we try to be pretty selective on the shows that we do play so that it should benefit us. Like the last show we played was at Cal Poly [Pomona] for the school I graduated from. They had a big fashion show and we were actually the headlining band there… So we try to do shows that are going to help the band and promote the band in some way or another. But we’re not really about ‘oh we’re playing at a local pub, friends come and see us’ because people don’t really go to shows that much, so we really focus on our online and social media.

The Vast Alps

L: Did you notice a surge in social media activity with the release of your first EP?

C: It happened pretty slow for us, because like I said we’re kind of 90s kids I guess. So social media is really important to us, but we’re still learning a lot from it. It’s just changing constantly all the time. I guess the coolest thing that happened to us was we made a video for the Tiny Desk contest and then we had like probably 100 or 200 views in the first couple of days and then NPR put our video up on their tumblr page, and as soon as that happened we had like 1000 views the next day or something.Things like that kind of show you the power of promoting yourself on social media and making the right moves… It’s so beneficial to artists who are just starting out. Because it is hard for artists to get noticed but it can be really easy too if you know what you’re doing — if you play the social media game well.

L: Well let’s move on and talk about the music. What are your biggest musical influences?

C: So basically we have three songwriters in the band. There’s Cory McCormick, Chris Lacayo, and myself Carlos. We all write the basic structure of a song and we bring it to the band and the band makes it into a song where we all collaborate. All three of us are pretty influenced by pretty different genres and stuff. Like me for example — I’m influenced a lot by Spanish music, and Spanish rock, and punk and stuff like that. And Cory — he loves classical music and he listens to a lot of hip hop and things like that, and then Chris listens to a lot of mass music and weird sounding stuff that not everybody gets all the time, but it’s really cool, so it makes our music really — like for me it’s hard to pinpoint our genre exactly. Like if you listen to “Fiction,” which is the song we recorded for Tiny Desk, and then you listen to a song like “Dear, Man,” they’re kind of two different genres.

L: Well tell me a little bit about what’s on the Auto Pilot EP. Why did you choose to release those songs?

C: So this is what happened: we have a collection of just recorded songs or just recorded ideas, and we have a lot of them currently. So we thought ‘Ok, we have all these songs, so we should put something out that kind of will let people know this is  what we sound like at the moment, like this is kind of like our sound.’ So we picked four songs that all sound like The Vast Alps but don’t sound exactly like each other. Like we picked the instrumental song that’s just music that’s the one called “Auto Pilot” because we thought it was this really cool instrumental song that we made up and we picked a pretty poppy one which is “Let Your Walls Down” and we kinda just threw in a little pop, and a little experimental, and a little bit of artsy “Dear, Man” kind of vibe and that’s how we chose to put out those four tracks — so people could get an idea of who we are.

L: What’s changed since you released Auto Pilot both within the group dynamic and the music?

C: That’s a good question. The thing that’s cool is that when you release a song you kind of get over it in a sense that it’s like, ‘Ok, we’ve released these songs, they’re forever out on the internet, so what’s next?’ So it makes you kind of look for the next song or the next sound. So more recently we’ve been kind of experimenting with new songs and we’re releasing a song a week… and it’s gonna be pretty different from Auto Pilot because once you put out songs it feels like, ‘Alright, I already did that song in that genre, so what can I do different, and better?’ So it kind of makes you a better artist I think. We’ve just been working on new material and trying to write better songs.

L: What are you calling this project where you put out one song a week?

C: It’s called One By One (1/1).

L: How did you come up with that idea?

C: Well everything kind of goes back to that social media aspect of being an artist. Like people are on their phones like 24/7. That’s just the reality of the world we live in. I don’t know about you, but I wake up and I’m like,’Oh I need to check my twitter’ and “I need to check my Instagram.” Like that’s how our brains are starting to think. So people want content. They want something everyday. And as a musician it’s hard enough to put out an album a year but since we have all of these ideas and songs that we’ve recorded over the last couple of years or months or whatever, we decided it would be cool if we could put that out every week and put out at least one song a week and give the listeners something new every Friday because if you just put out last year, if we don’t put something out next year, you lose so much traction. Because so much is going on everyday. It’s just trying to keep up with the pace of the world I guess.

L: Is it stressful knowing you have to release something each week?

C: It can be, definitely, but there’s a lot about The Vast Alps that a lot of people don’t know. Like we’ve been playing music for a long time and we’ve really honed in on what we’re doing. Like we’ve recorded everything ourselves and we’ve made life really easy for ourselves. And it could be super stressful if we were like, ‘Dude, we don’t have anything for next week.’ Then it would be a nightmare. But we pretty much have it covered for awhile. We have enough material in our computers and stuff that we can just put it together and release it. But it could be a real challenge if we didn’t have the setup that we have… That’s why we try to be self sustainable and do everything ourselves from website, to music, to social media, to everything. It’s the only way to make it nowadays.

L: Well to wrap it up — it’s been almost a year since the Auto Pilot EP dropped. Where do you guys see yourselves next year?

C: Honestly the way that the industry is and the way things are, it’s so hard to picture where you want to be or where you will be in a year. The nature of the game has changed so much you see bands that are overnight successes or something happens that’s just like “Wow!” For us it was being on NPR and the Tiny Desk thing and the fact that we had like 1,000 people listen to our music in a matter of hours has just made me realize that things can really change on such short notice nowadays. So to answer you’re question, I don’t know. I don’t know where we’ll be a year from now. Hopefully we’ll be writing more music, and putting out more videos and just doing what we love to do. That’s why we’re in a band. We love making music — not because we want to be famous or make a ton of money. If that does happen, absolutely! We’ll take that any day, but we do it because we love music.

All Images were found at the Vast Alps Facebook page.

You can find them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Check out their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/TheVastAlps, and follow them on Twitter and Instagram @TheVastAlps.

The Auto Pilot EP as well as all of their 1/1 Project releases can be found on iTunes and Spotify. I highly suggest checking them out. They’ve got a lot of variation in their music and you can tell they really love what they’re doing. They’ve also released several music videos, all of which can be found on YouTube!

I wish The Vast Alps the best of luck in the coming year and look forward to working with more artists like them!

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