Interview with vocalist Chris Huaraque | By Brandon Ringo
Since their formation, Portland, OR’s, Defeat the Low has had a DIY approach: filming their own videos, taking their own promo pictures, controlling their own promotion, and even recording their debut record. They’re even signed to their own record label (sorta) thanks to their rhythm guitarist and Rise Records’ head honcho Craig Ericson. The band signed to Rise in early 2014 and is now planning a fall release for their debut album A Nervous Smile. Vocalist Chris Huaraque discusses how the band came together, why they signed with Rise, and the lyrical inspiration for the record.
How and when did the band come together?
Well, we’ve been together for going on two years now. We’ve actually only been playing shows for close to a year. We all live in Portland, we’ve all been friends, and most of these guys have been on the Rise roster, so we’ve all known of each other for a while [from] growing up in the Portland area. We just started jamming for the fun of it. We had no real intention when we first started jamming; we were just jamming to have fun in the basement.
What can we expect from the record?
It’s the first few songs we wrote, so they have a lot of meaning to us, because we were just taking a therapeutic approach, if you will, and just playing music for our own souls. So, you can tell that some of the songs on there are more recent and our writing has progressed. That’s something I’m real excited about. Now that we’re taking this full on, we can actually put full effort into it and see the evolution of the songwriting and our creativity.
When you started recording, did you have a particular sound in mind or did that develop as the process went on?
Definitely. Our sound, it did start to take a little more form as we wrote more songs, but it did start out with a definite feel that we tried to keep with the initial first few songs that we wrote, a feeling of like a mid ‘90s kind of alternative with late ‘90s punk. It’s just stuff that we grew up listening to that we like to listen to and that we like to play, not trying to be anything else. So that was initially how we just started jamming. Riffs that we had lying around that had meaning to us. We tried to stick to that alternative, just straight rock sound, and with a little bit of punk influence in there.
Are your lyrics stories you’ve created or are they about real life?
Well, most of the stuff I write is just thoughts and feelings that I’ve had collected in notebooks throughout years that define certain experiences that I’ve been through. How I was feeling at the moment. I’ve struggled with a couple of things in my life, so I try to write about mostly perseverance and overcoming, trying to keep it positive even though there is kind of an ominous undertone to a lot of it. I try to keep it positive. I keep coming back to the term “therapeutic,” because a lot of the stuff I write is just how I’m feeling and that’s how I let it out.
Does the title A Nervous Smile reflect that mix of positivity and darkness?
A lot of the stuff that I write, I try to make it adaptable so people can take their own meaning out of it. Obviously, it has a lot of meaning to me, but I try to keep it general enough so someone can take whatever meaning they want from it. The whole Nervous Smile thing is also kind of touching upon… For us in this band, we’re all like a little bit older dudes, we’re all pushing 30, so we’ve all got jobs and businesses and families and stuff. So we haven’t actually been touring, been on the road promoting too much, [or] even playing too much music. It’s sort of like, before [we] step on stage, this is all well rehearsed and we’re confident about it and it’s cool, we’re stoked to bring it to the table, but also there’s this little anxiousness, this little nervousness, a nervous anticipation. I think that’s what that’s hitting on.
You guys use phrases like “self-sustaining music” and “DIY ethos.” What does that entail?
All of us, we kind of bring something to the table. As far as music, we’re all a little bit in the business: Craig does his thing [with Rise], [guitarist] Ryan [Furlott] is an engineer… So we were able to actually record everything on our own, we can promote everything on our own, we can book everything on our own. We have a guy in the band that’s really good with media, so we shoot our own videos, we do our own promo pictures, and all that stuff. That’s just what we do. We were doing it before we were in this band, so it’s cool having all of those elements together in one and being able to do it ourselves.
Does doing everything in-house make it more stressful, or make it easier by cutting out the middleman?
It makes it a lot easier, because we can talk about it, adjust however we want to, and do it at our own pace. But, being on Rise now, I can’t say honestly that we’ll be doing that a lot. We’ll take advantage of the resources that we have. So it changes things a little being on Rise and being able to [have] those resources at our disposal.
Did you consider other labels?
Well, initially, when we were just jamming, just recording our demos, and just wanted to play local shows for fun, we weren’t even gonna look at a label. We weren’t gonna put anything out. We started playing a few shows, considering putting together a real full-length, then talk[ed] about representation and trying to get it out there. Being in a band with Craig, we joked about signing to Rise at first, but we played with the notion of signing with a smaller label, maybe using their resources and promotion. But… Why would we want a middleman? Why would we want to give someone else a cut? Why wouldn’t we take advantage of the resources that we already have in-house? They’re good at what they do. It would be cool to not say, “We’re just signing to Rise because we can,” [laughs]. But when it came down to it, it was like, “We have these awesome resources. We have everything that we need right here.” Rise is doing great, they know what they’re doing, so why not?
Will you be touring or is it difficult with Craig’s duties running the label?
The everyday stuff tends to hinder that, but at the heart of everything, I think that we will tour. We’d be really excited to travel and play music, and we’ve already been toying with that. That’s something we have to do if we want to promote an album. It doesn’t really hinder us, because music is our passion and our lives, and so it wouldn’t be heartbreaking to quit a job and go on tour.