Allschools: It's your first time being in Bremen! Did you get the chance to explore the city? Do you know that Becks beer is made in Bremen?
Valentino: No, there's not much time. We're soundchecking pretty soon and we usually only have about two hours to two either what we have to do like running some errands or handle or computer stuff and so on. But we are a band that tries to go out and see the city if it's possible. On this tour we are really focused on what we are doing so it's more on the work side. But we'll have a day off in Manchester tomorrow so we'll probably go out and have dinner together. I didn't know that Becks beer is made in Bremen, I guess we'll have a case of it in our backstage room!
Allschools: Before I start asking you all my questions please tell me: which is the question you're asked the most in interviews that you're so sick and tired of answering?
Valentino: I don't know. There's no really annoying question. We've been answering a lot of questions for a long time now. If I don't feel comfortable answering a question I just don't.
Allschools: Even something like "where does your bandname come from?" or something like that doesn't bother you?
Valentino: No not really. It's just that some people don't know about John Steinbeck and the book Of Mice And Men.
Allschools: Could you explain how OF MICE & MEN were formed?
Valentino: Austin moved to california and met up with Phil and I. He already had some demo's and brought them to Phil and I and we started writing a record. We weren't necessarily friends to begin with. We were all in bands that we felt like our bandmembers didn't share the same mindset that we did and so the history of OF MICE & MEN is trying to find different musicians who could work together who are very like-minded. Over the years there have been line up changes and things that have happened and lots of touring. We're no three albums into our career and at this point we feel like we have the strongest team and where we are now is a great representation of what OF MICE & MEN is meant to be.
Allschools: You already answered my next question, it would have been do you think that you're the perfect fit now?
Valentino: Oh yeah, definitely. When we were in the studio we all got along very well. The four of us, Alan, Austin, Phil and I have gotten along in the studio in the past as well and once Aaron got brought into the mix it only made it even better. He brings a lot to the table, he's got a great personality and a great musical mind. So he matched right in with us and he was kind of that puzzle piece that we were missing. He brought us back into balance.
Allschools: But you're friends now or would you say you're more musicians that work together?
Valentino: Oh no, we're friends! When the band started we didn't really know eachother well but over the years we developed great friendships, we all live within five minutes of eachother back in California. So we always meet up for dinner or just to hang out.
Allschools: Where did you grow up and how was the music scene there? How did you get in contact with music?
Valentino: I grew up in southern California, San Diego. The music scene was awesome. For me the first time I realized I wanted to be a musician was after I went to see a concert in a small club and then I started playing in small coffee shops and stuff like that while growing up. The San Diego music scene is something that really shaped who I am today. When we play headlining shows in different countries we like to bring local supports to give them the chance to play in front of our fans and maybe gain a following. That's really important for any musician, to have people around you who are like-minded. I still talk to a lot of people in the San Diego music scene when I'm home. I don't know if the music scene is the same there now since I'm on tour all the time but I try to go and see shows when I get home. My family still lives there and my brother works in a music club so it's very cool.
Allschools: When was the time you were able to quit your average day job and make OF MICE & MEN your profession? What kind of jobs did you do before that?
Valentino: I think I was in 5th or 6th grade. I was really young. I grew up playing music my whole life. I think I was four when my parents put me in music lessons for violin and from there it went on to a ton of instruments. I found the drums when I was 14 or 15. But it was in 5th or 6th grade when I decided "I want to do nothing else but play guitar in a rockband". I play the drums now but I still play all the other instruments, too. My parents always told me that it was at a very young age when I told them I want to be a musician and that's exactly what I'm doing now.
Allschools: There are some discussions going on right now, how big or famous a band has to be, to be able to make a living by making music. You are a very well known band, so are you satisfied with your income right now?
Valentino: I think any musician will tell you, if you're playing music to make money you're in the wrong profession. You determine the success in a different way. To us, we make money by touring and making albums but none of us is living in a mansion, we all have appartments and we make enough to be able to only play music. And we're able to not starve on the road, we're comfortable now. But there's been a long time when this band wasn't comfortable. We were living off of 20 dollars a week for the whole band. The first time in the studio we were all broke. Now, that we can afford to eat and take care of our families back home, that's most important and thankfully music and our fans allow that for us with supporting our music and buying our albums.
Allschools: Because record sales don't make the same amount of money as in the 80's other parts like touring and merchandise get more important for bands. What's your opinion to that? Are you involved in your merchandise designs?
Valentino: Yes definitely, we are all involved, we actually just had a meeting about it last night. Our band has reached a level where a lot of bands would have people doing stuff for them but we still like to hold on to everything and make sure that our fans know when they come to a show or buy merchandise it's a process that we have gone trough and all of us approved the ideas. We love having our hands on the merch. We just approved a bunch of christmas stuff that we had ideas for. It's cool to have all these different outlets to be artistic.
Allschools: What is the biggest amount of money you would personally spend for a merchandising t-shirt?
Valentino: I paid a hundred bucks for a shirt before. I bought some vintage ones on ebay. Over the years I probably spent thousands of dollars on merch. I went to concerts since I was 14 and I'm 28 now. It's funny, my dad wears all my old concert t-shirts from when I was young. Last time I was home and visited him he was wearing a POISON THE WELL shirt which is one of my favourite bands. And I was like "yeah cool I remember when I bought that!" and he was like "yes I keep all of your old shirts".
Allschools: You released three records on rise records. Is there a contract making you stick with them?
Valentino: Yes, we just resigned with them on this last record. We know all the president and the vice president and the CEO, they're all good friends of ours so it's kind of like family. They believe in what we've done since the beginning. We had our ups and downs that many business relationships have but much like we feel with our band, like that we're very comfortable and balanced that's what we feel like with Rise Records, too. A lot of record companies are out just to make money from their bands and pump a lot of money into a band just in hope that they'll get big. For us, we never wanted that kind of attention from anyone. We always just wanted to create music and with Rise Records they really allow us to be creative in any way we want. They don't ever really say not to us for anything. They're really supportive and they like our music and come to our concerts. They're actual fans of our music so that's something for anyone who works for a band, we want them to love is as much as we do.
Allschools: How free are you in choosing which song will be your first single? Is there a lot of pressure from your label and/or management?
Valentino: They leave it up to us for the most part. They tell us their favourite songs but a lot of the times we see eye to eye on that decision. I do remember when we were coming out with "You're not alone" from Restoring Force as our first single we were a little apprehensive at first because it doesn't really sound like something we've done in the past. It's a step forward for the band and with any step forward we're very hesitating and like "will the fans like it?". But seeing the response was really awesome. There is a definite level of pressure but I don't think it's pressure from anybody than ourselves.
Allschools: Would you say that from Of Mice & Men to The Flood to Restoring Force there has always been an improvement?
Valentino: Oh yeah, definitely! With each record we try and challenge ourselves to do different things. Over the years you start to grow as a musician and you start to listen to other music and have different influences. I think it's really cool to see how the band has matured from when I remember writing the first songs to how our band no writes music. It's like night and day. Back then we were just like "well that's a cool idea, yeah now it's a song, awesome!" and now we're like "is that the best sound that we could play there? What would be better, let's try this or that". We learn how to do it better and I feel like we've reached a point where we're really happy with how we write music. It's cool to see that thorugh each record. I think between each records you can see a little step forward - a little bit of what you heard on the last record but also something new. That's what OF MICE & MEN will continue do to, always evolve and try to get better in writing and being musicians together.
Allschools: You played small shows and you played to thousands of people at festivals. Tonight it's a show somewhere in between. Is it even possible to say that shows in front of lots of people are better than small shows or do all of them have their special something?
Valentino: It depends on what the audience is like. We played a 17.000 Arena in Frankfurt few nights ago and then the next show was a headlining show in Luxembourg, it was our first time in that country and there were probably 250 people there in a hot little room. Both shows were amazing. Havin a crowd that can respond to your music, who are moving aroung and putting their fist in the air is just so cool. Even though there's a huge difference in the amount of people the feeling is the same, that they can connect to our music. I love playing big venues because to me it is so cool that our music can be played to so many people. That's what I get excited about "look at all these people that are going to listen to us now!" That is the coolest feeling. But at the same time small shows are awesome because it's fun to be intimate and that's where we come from, starting out small in a van and playing at a venue that can barely hold a hundred people with only 50 people being there. It's exciting in all ways that we're doing we always find something great about it.
Allschools: You're on tour with Linkin Park right now. Would you say that an average Linkin Park fan is also an average Of Mice & Men fan?
Valentino: Definitely! I don't think that there is nowadays the average fan. We're fans of all kinds of music and we have been a fan of Linkin Park since we were teenagers and now we're adults and have younger fans and older fans. There's no real difference between any fans, it's just that they connect to the music. You shouldn't be like "oh I don't like this band because of reason xy". If you like the music just listen to it. It's a cool oppotunity for us that Linkin Park put us on the tour and we're able to play for all their fans in sold out arenas across Europe and also in the US next year. It's an opportunity for somebody to hear one song from us that they like and then maybe they'll buy the record and get to know our music more. Restoring Force is a very dynamic album and it goes from super ultra heavy to very mellow and melodic. We like to have that different types of music because you just can't be angry all the time. There's a lot of different feelings going into music and we get better in showing that.
Allschools: Do you plan on being in a touring band for the rest of your life or could you imagine making music in a different way either as a studio musician or maybe as a producer?
Valentino: I love making music in all ways on all kinds of instruments. Just anything that has to do with music is something that I connect with. The way that I knew how to do it was by packing my drums up and stuffing it into roadcases and driving to a venue, hoping that somebody would watch our band that night. That's how we knew how to get involved with music, we didn't know big studio producers or anything like that. We've met them now through the years and what touring has been given us is that we got introduced to many people. Music is a wonderful thing to have in your life and I definitely can not see myself do anything other than that. It means the world to me and to the dudes in the band and if anyone reading this wants to get involved with music I would definitely suggest it! Just start somewhere, it could completely change your life!