Our interview with dream rockers DulceSky
DulceSky, the American dream rock, shoegazer influenced band with Chilean roots has been creating distinctive, dynamic, melodic music since its inception in 2002 by founder and frontman Oliver Valenzuela. The band’s sonically-involving, lyrically thought-provoking, memorable songs transport the listener through vast panoramas of sound. Gloriously ringing to gritty guitar lines from Oliver and Brett Kocherhans sweep to the expansive skies above while propulsive bass from Oliver’s brother Daniel Valenzuela and kinetic drum-work from Mitchell Razon plunge into the deep oceans below. Oliver sings in a mellifluous, contemplative tone that contrasts with and provides a respite from the dramatic guitar and drum turmoil.
DulceSky has released three EPs, two albums (captivating debut Lands and invigorating follow-up Invisible Empire), and a demos/rarities compilation. After going on occasional hiatus between 2012 and 2014 due to familial obligations and other factors, Oliver, Daniel, Mitchell, and Brett have reconnected and, with reenergized focus, they are looking forward to the future and the infinite possibilities that can exist in their music. DulceSky is set to release Spies of the System: 03 – 14, a retrospective compilation album that spotlights the best songs from DulceSky’s musical history. A new DulceSky album is also in the works and slated for release later this year.
NorthernTransmissions: Hello Oliver, Daniel, Mitchell, and Brett! I’m so psyched to be interviewing you all because I’ve been a long-time fan of yours and have followed the band’s musical evolution over the years. This is a super-exciting time for you now with the imminent release of Spies of the System: 03 – 14. How have preparations been going for the album’s release?
Oliver: Great! It’s been a lot of hard work, but still doesn’t feel like we’ve covered everything we need to.
Brett: Rehearsals; getting our live set-up working.
NorthernTransmissions: Oliver, it was a dream of yours to form a band when you were growing up in Santiago, Chile in the 1990s. What was the spark that ignited your desire to start a band?
Oliver: It sounds cliché, but it all started with The Beatles. I remember seeing the TV documentaries when I was little, it was every year at the end of the school year and the beginning of summer, I would arrive home and they were on TV (coincidence?). That same event happened 2 or 3 times and I would hallucinate about being a Beatle, until I realized that I didn’t have to be somebody else, I could do my own band and be myself.
NorthernTransmissions: Oliver, you were involved in other bands and personal music projects before founding DulceSky. What kind of music were you playing/singing and did you consider what you were doing as a stepping stone to DulceSky?
Oliver: 80s British music started to define my music style (The Cure, Depeche Mode, Echo & The Bunnymen), but in my mid-teens I had this parenthesis where I got into punk music, and started playing in this band that never left the practice room, but writing very basic music and playing with other people was definitely a kickstart to being a musician. Then I discovered the The Jesus And Mary Chain and they totally rocked my music radar. Then came Ride, Pale Saints, Catherine Wheel, The House of Love, and all that awesome music from the early 90s which started to define more what direction I would take. I had a band called Subdroides that was very influenced by these afore-mentioned bands, which had to be left behind once I moved to the States. We’ve had a couple of reunions since, but now it’s mostly an occasional project.
NorthernTransmissions: Daniel, when did you become interested in playing bass and did you share Oliver’s vision of creating a dream-rock band from the get-go? Was bass the first instrument you learned how to play?
Daniel: I started with the guitar, but I always was kind of attracted to the bass. The first time I played the bass was with DulceSky and I fell in love with it. I like the textures and the sounds I can get out of it. About the dream of our music, it wasn’t immediate; I was invited by Oliver because the original bass player quit the band and he knew I played a little guitar so I filled in the position. It was intimidating at first (I had never been in a proper band before), but I was excited to try it out. Over the years I started understanding the concept of the band, and I started to gain more and more confidence. I was able to give my input to the songs we were creating, and able to create my own style in a way.
NorthernTransmissions: Your whole family relocated from Chile to Salt Lake City, Utah in the mid-1990s. That must have been a huge and challenging transition! Did you move to the U.S. with the purpose of establishing the band there or was it due to other circumstances?
Oliver: It was my parents’ idea to move, Daniel was 16 so he had to move with them. I was in Argentina serving a LDS (Mormon) mission at the time and decided to come and visit after I was done and then I would go back to my band Subdroides, but then due to many different circumstances I ended up staying. So once I made that decision, the next obvious move for me was to form a band in my new country.
NorthernTransmissions: When did you actually form DulceSky, the band? Were you ever a duo working under that name?
Oliver: Every music project I would start with whatever people I was working with at the time, if we didn’t have a name I would bring up the name DulceSky. Towards the end of the 90s/early 2000s it started to take form as a working entity but I still didn’t have the right bandmates. It wasn’t until I was left with no band members and that I invited Daniel to play bass in 2002 that DulceSky was really defined. You can say we were a duo for a short period of time, until I invited my wife Dannika to play keyboards and to sing backing vocals and then Mitchell entered the picture with the eventual addition of Brett that DulceSky was really consolidated to its true form.
NorthernTransmissions: Speaking of names, what inspired you to come up with the distinctive word combo DulceSky?
Oliver: It was a revelation. I think it’s symbolic in the sense that it was a transition time for me coming from a Spanish speaking country to an English speaking one, so it has a word from each language, but I remember thinking that I wanted a name that would represent the sound I wanted to make and also something big and sublime at the same time. Corny, I know…
NorthernTransmissions: No, not at all! DulceSky is a really amazing-sounding name. You released your engaging debut EP, Film, in 2003 on Eden’s Watchtower Records. At that time, the band line-up included Dannika Valenzuela (Oliver’s wife who contributed keyboards, rhythm guitar, and backing vocals) and drummer Stefano Ashbridge. Did you choose to pursue that record label or did they contact you to be on their roster? Can you describe the early sound of that EP compared to your more recent music?
Oliver: That record label was started by a friend of mine, Hyrum Summerhays, here in Salt Lake City. We would initially play shows with his awesome band named Elsewhere and I knew he was up to something, but I never straight up asked him, until one day he told me he wanted to start an official record label and he would love to have us. We jumped at the chance, knowing he had a lot of experience and access to a nice recording studio. I eventually became more involved with the label doing graphic design and helping other artists, as well as recruiting artists.
Recording our first EP was a big learning experience. I’ve been in other studios before, but this one where we were recording at at the time was the closest to a ‘real studio’. We were stubborn too about how we wanted things to sound and even though that can be a good thing, it can also make you blind to the possibilities of trusting a more experienced studio engineer. All in all I’m proud of it and I think it’s a pretty decent sounding debut EP.
NorthernTransmissions: Not long after that EP’s release, you met Mitchell, a fellow Chilean who was a fan of the band. Mitchell, how did you hear about DulceSky? From what I understand, you all became friends and then, Mitchell, you were invited to come on board as the drummer for DulceSky. Were you playing in other bands at the time?
Mitchell: I was reading an article in a local magazine and I realized that Oliver was Chilean as well. Right after, I went to their website and took a listen to their music and to my surprise it was right up my alley I felt very intrigued by their sound. I was playing in a rock band at that moment, but it never felt right. When they asked me to join, I didn’t even let them finish the question when I said: “Yes, of course!”
NorthernTransmissions: You had a breakthrough as DulceSky with the 2004 release of your next EP, the impressive Media Luna/Half Moon, which garnered national and international notice. This is when I first found out about your band and was swept away by both the English-sung “Half Moon” and the Spanish version “Media Luna”. Why did you decide to record that song in both English and Spanish?
Oliver: Thanks for those kind words about that EP. Of all of our releases it’s the one that I feel the most insecure about (What was I thinking with that cat song at the end!?). I guess you can say we had more grandiose plans for it, with having the two different versions of the song, maybe breaking into the Spanish market, but I think we still were a little naïve about parts of the business and Eden’s Watchtower Records didn’t have all the resources at the time we needed to make it happen.
NorthernTransmissions.com: The critical success of that EP opened up a lot of opportunities for you to perform live and support bands like Vast, Of Montreal, and The Delgados on tour. What was gigging in different cities, instead of locally, like for you? Do any specific shows or venues or incidents stand out from that time period?
Oliver: We seemed to connect the best with the Vast crowd. In fact we gained many new fans from those shows. Vast came through town a couple more times and they would request the promoter for us to open for them.
Our first tour was very fun and very adventurous at the same time, like showing up to a venue in San Francisco, in Chinatown, in a basement of a restaurant that didn’t have mics, or mic stands for that matter, so we played an instrumental show and ran as fast as we could from it. We also played this very cool little room in a community center in Arcata, California, where we theorized that all the people were sea-creatures because of the way they showed up all of the sudden from behind the sand dunes. We wrapped up that tour though with a really cool show in L.A. for this “Dream-pop” night called Club Violaine.
NorthernTransmissions: Mitchell, you pushed for a band-producer partnership with Matt Winegar for DulceSky’s debut album Lands. Why were you set on having Matt produce your debut? What was it like working with Matt?
Mitchell: Being a long time friend with Matt I knew that we were ready for the challenge and I knew that Matt was the right producer for the sound that DulceSky wanted to achieve. Matt Winegar is black or white; nothing in between; he will push you until he gets the best from you. At first I was very intimidated just because I knew exactly how he works, but he gave me all the confidence in the world in order to play up to par. The man is a genius in his trade and a great listener when you are trying to achieve a sound that is in your head.
NorthernTransmissions: Around this time of album production, Dannika left the band to care for your and her children, Oliver. Was it a difficult decision for you and Dannika to make? You ended up recruiting Leigh Hendrickson on keyboards and backing vocals. Did both Dannika and Leigh end up contributing to Lands?
Oliver: Dannika did all the female backing vocals and most of the keyboards and even some guitars for Lands. Leigh came into the picture when we had already wrapped that part of the process.
When it seemed obvious that it was getting very difficult for Dannika to keep playing with us, we were playing one last show with her in Ogden and she enjoyed it so much that she said she wanted to keep playing with us and we were very excited about it. She and I were willing to make any arrangements that were necessary to make it happen, but eventually it became way too difficult. She appeared here and there in a couple of shows when we were able to make it happen and also recorded some vocals for the Unfamiliar EP.
We met Leigh when we opened for Of Montreal. It impressed me the way she played the piano. Later I found out that her band had broken up so I called her up and invited her to play with us. She accepted right away, which took me by surprise. She was a great replacement for Dannika and became one more of ‘the boys’. She was with us for about a year, but what we wanted to do as a band then and where she was heading with her life became too much for her, so we separated amicably a couple of months after we released Lands.
NorthernTransmissions: Lands was released to great critical acclaim in April 2006. The songs on the album mesmerize with stormy drum tempos and an undercurrent of guitar and electronic noise and dreamy, yet melancholic vocals. The lyrics are also an important part of the experience. What are the main themes that you address on Lands? Would you say that some of the lyrics reference your memories of living in Chile?
Oliver: The lyrics are in fact a reference to the memories of Chile AND finding yourself all of the sudden in a totally different country, something we hadn’t planned or thought of a year before moving to the U.S.! The 3 Chilean boys could totally relate to that, so the lyrics that talk about being in alien places definitely reference that and we tried to project that feeling with the music and the atmosphere. The other songs that are not so obviously about “places” happened while we were still getting used to being part of a new society, where feelings of belonging or not belonging are enhanced by the lack of familiarity, not having your childhood friends to turn to, and isolation itself being a product of the situation.
NorthernTransmissions: Leigh had to leave the band and you continued on as a trio through a tumultuous 2007 where you parted ways with Eden’s Watchtower Records, formed your own record label named Nueve Music, played local shows and a gig at the Comet Tavern in Seattle, and worked on songs for your Unfamiliar EP. Why did you decide to leave Eden’s Watchtower and what was the experience like setting up your own record label?
Oliver: I remember at the time feeling like I could do everything Eden’s Watchtower Records was doing for us by myself and from home. We still didn’t have all the resources EWR had and in fact we kept teaming up for a couple of projects, but it seemed easier for me to just go straight to do what we needed to do rather than going through other people. Not like they were interfering or anything like that; all the contrary; it just seemed more convenient to just control and do everything from start to finish.
NorthernTransmissions: You had been asked to contribute a cover song to a Ride tribute album, but unfortunately that project ended up falling through. You held on to your riveting cover of Ride’s “Unfamiliar” and built up an EP with that song as its centerpiece. Nothing against Ride, but in my opinion your version of “Unfamiliar” outshines the original due to your driving guitars, dynamic drumming, and deep and rich vocals. Are you planning on recording any more cover songs in the future?
Oliver: We never set ourselves to outdo the original version; in fact we would have been happy playing it the way it was originally, but we felt that we had to challenge ourselves to make it a worthwhile project, and great results can come from getting out of your comfort zone. I still love the original version very much, I just see our take on it as an updated version or maybe how it would have sounded if somebody wrote it in the year 2007 using contemporary elements.
It’s always been a dream of mine to do an album of covers, but our own music comes first, so dedicating the resources to do that all at once is more cumbersome that it seems, especially when we are also trying to release original material. But we are planning on releasing a couple of covers periodically in the near future. The first one we are still giving the final touches to is a cover of Soda Stereo.
NorthernTransmissions: You were hard at work on your second album in 2008 when you enlisted your friend Brett to play guitars and keyboards in DulceSky. Brett, how did you connection to the members of the band come about and were you playing in other bands when they asked you to join them?
Brett: I had been playing in another Chilean band. I had also been following DulceSky. The music is awesome. Mitch and I have been friends for a long time. I lived in Chile for over 2 years and have a strong connection with the country and people. When DulceSky asked me to join, I was excited. I knew it would be awesome. I needed them and they needed me.
NorthernTransmissions: Your striking and ambitious sophomore concept album Invisible Empire was released in 2010 on Nueve Music. The album is rife with edgy, hard-rock guitars, driving bass lines, high-powered drumming, and meditative, but compelling vocals. The incisive, relevant lyrics are integral to music as they deal with the dangers of this information age, where the individual is shaped by the ones who are in control. What is your take on the state of modern society and the balance of power between the individual and the institution(s)? Have you been personally affected by the system?
Oliver: We are all affected by the system every day. The quality of life deteriorates by the day, but most people don’t notice it because it is so gradual and when they notice, is too late. I’m not talking about just the quality of or availability of jobs, but also of the air and ocean pollutions, GMO foods, free speech versus political correctness, the police state, etc… We are living in an era where conspiracy theories that people laughed at in the past are coming true, but we’ve been conditioned to mock them and they’ve been in the mass consciousness for so long that now that some of them coming true. It’s like they always were here and nobody really cares, because we have Netflix, and our phones and iPads to distract us. It is a tiresome topic for me talk about sometimes these days, and I got really burnt out working on the concept of Invisible Empire that even my own self wanted to get distracted and talk about dreams rather than reality. But it’s too late for me; I already took the red pill, and I live and see the reality I willingly accepted sometime ago.
NorthernTransmissions: While 2011 was a low-key year for DulceSky, you amped it up in 2012 with the release of the stirring single “Life As We Knew” and a return trip to Chile to play a couple of shows. I’m assuming that over the years you all have been visiting family/friends in Chile when you could, but maybe I’m mistaken?
Brett: Unfortunately, I had not been back to Chile since I left in 1999. It was so amazing to return with DulceSky.
Oliver: I’ve been to Chile a few times since I left, when I reunited with Subdroides and to visit. I always try to combine the vacation trip with some musical effort, but taking DulceSky there hadn’t happened until 2012.
NorthernTransmissions: In 2012 you had to put the band on the backburner for a while due to family obligations and by 2014 you had to go on hiatus again due to personal matters. Even so, you all contributed to DulceSky in various ways during this time period. Oliver, you continued to write and record during this trying time period, and you and Daniel worked together to release the Awake and Arise EP in 2014; Mitchell and Brett, you played on the songs “Soul Vampire” and “Desigual”; and Shawn Whorter joined the band to play live. If I can pry a little bit into your personal lives, what was happening outside of the band that led to its temporary break?
Brett: Dark days for me.
Daniel: During that time DulceSky was going to play in Chile and I wasn’t financially prepared to go, so I stepped down and let the guys find another bass player for the trip. I heard that they played really well and it was a really good couple of shows. When they came back I’m not sure what really happened. But Oliver still wanted to make music, so he collected two songs that we had already recorded as a group, with Mitchell and Brett (“Soul Vampire” and “Desigual”) and he decided to create two more songs which he showed me and I helped him with the bass on “Don’t Ever Fade”. After the EP was done, we invited Shawn to help us promote the CD.
Oliver: There was different stuff going on with the guys; Brett had to attend to some personal problems, Daniel had bought a new house that needed some work and spent a lot of time and resources fixing it, and I don’t know what happened to Mitchell; busy with some other stuff, I believe. I decided to plug along recording on my own a couple of songs which became the Awake and Arise EP. Even though it wasn’t DulceSky in its true form, it helped me to keep busy and distracted me from the ‘blues’ of not having a fully working band.
NorthernTransmissions: You all reconnected by the end of 2014 and start of this year when you realized that DulceSky the band only existed with you as its 4 core members. How are you all feeling about this ‘reunion’ and reawakening of the band?
Brett: It is awesome to make music with mis hermanos. There is some awesome magic that happens with the 4 of us. I am so glad that we are able to continue as DulceSky.
Mitchell: I’ve been a fan of the band since I listened to their 1st EP and it’s an honor to be part of such a great project.
Oliver: I was in denial when we needed to take a break as a band for some periods of time and I was denial again when I tried to form DulceSky in any other way but with the 4 of us. It is really something else when we are all in our rehearsal room and write and play together. I can totally see a big difference with the songs that we had pre-Mitchell and pre-Brett and how they were taken to a totally different level when they joined. There’s a chemistry of personalities as friends and musically that bonds us together.
Daniel: After a while, we reconnected again and we started talking about putting the band back together, so we decided one day to start practicing, and it was like we had never stopped playing together; we just reconnected immediately. This may sound cheesy but there is something magical when it’s the 4 of us. So we are starting to work on some things we had left unfinished as well as creating new stuff. Hopefully everything will come out soon.
NorthernTransmissions: Focusing on your latest album, Spies of the System: 03 – 14, it’s Lands-heavy, while skimming lightly through Invisible Empire and your EPs. The balance between your dreamy side and more rockin’ side is spot on though. How did you decide on the tracklist for it? Why did you choose not to add “Media-Luna”, “Lands”, and “Unfamiliar”?
Oliver: We worked with a few lists back and forth. Like any other “Best Of” we were going to do it in chronological order, but then we decided it needed a more interesting dynamic, as well as giving some songs from Invisible Empire their due spotlight. Like I mentioned before, the Media-Luna EP, even though it was a necessary stepping stone in our progress as musicians and as a band, it has always been the release I have the most regrets about for some of the decisions we made. I guess most of them were ‘behind the scenes’ more than anything, so I didn’t even consider it and decided to include “Half Moon” from Lands instead. With “Unfamiliar” it was mainly that we didn’t want to have to jump through the hoops of getting the licensing and paying for the royalties again. We’ve been toying with the idea though, of doing a second pressing with some extras, including a couple of new songs, depending on how this first press does and if doesn’t interfere with getting the new album done.
NorthernTransmissions: Two songs from your debut EP, Film, made it onto this compilation album; “Music For An Action Film” and “Ride With Me”. On the EP they are titled as ‘BlueKats’ versions. Is this what is on the album or did you re-record the songs?
Oliver: The BlueKats versions are a nod to a disappeared venue in the city of Sugarhouse in Utah that would require us to play more stripped down versions of our songs. The original “Ride With Me” was a lot more rocking, but we never recorded it as the the ‘BlueKats’ version turned out so much better and we didn’t see the point of doing it afterwards.
NorthernTransmissions: You have plans to release a new album of original material later this year. How is that coming along? Have you had time to create any new tunes yet or is that something to do in the near future?
Oliver: We had several songs floating around for a while that we are re-working as well as new ones. We are debuting one of them called “Detached” in our upcoming shows. We’ve never been a proper ‘shoegaze’ band per-say, nor we intended to jump onto any band-wagons with the reunions and this renascence of the style, but things are sounding very spacey/dream-poppy at the moment and since we started writing this batch of new songs, even back to before we went to Chile.
It’s always an accelerating feeling and the main reason of it all is to be creating new music, even if it never leaves the rehearsal room.
Interview by Jen Dan
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