FEATURES Cupid & Psyche Weather the Indie Hype Storm By Jesse Locke · October 27, 2023
Polaroids by Dan Monik and Andrew James Mackelvie

Twenty years ago, Cupid & Psyche’s Juan Velasquez and Michael Vidal bonded over a Smashing Pumpkins t-shirt.

One morning in 2001, while being dropped off by his mom at high school, Velasquez clocked Vidal wearing a rare piece of SP merch. Finding fellow music obsessives at that age was uncommon, and the two became fast friends. A shared admiration for Billy Corgan introduced the pair to David Reichardt and Reggie Guerrero, and together the four teenagers united as the band Abe Vigoda.

Throughout the mid-aughts, Abe Vigoda rode a wave of hype with a feverish sound sometimes described as “tropical punk.” Alongside Los Angeles bands they became closely linked to like No Age and Mika Miko, Abe Vigoda came into their own at all-ages DIY venue The Smell. Vidal and Velasquez heard about The Smell on college radio station KSPC; the first show they attended featured a stacked bill of the era: Portland’s Chromatics and locals xbxrx.

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“It was Juan’s birthday, so we went to the Old Spaghetti Factory and then went to the show,” says Vidal with a laugh over Zoom. He is sitting in Velasquez’s bedroom, where a Smashing Pumpkins poster is hung up behind them. “I had never been to a DIY punk venue like that before, and a whole world opened up. The kind of music I had been listening to privately was now being shared by a room full of people.”

As they spent more time at The Smell, the members of Abe Vigoda realized they could volunteer, learn how to run a soundboard, or put on their own shows. “Seeing young people our age playing there made it seem more real to me,” says Velasquez. “I would go to bigger venues to see bands who were on tour and it felt like a whole other level that seemed untouchable. I could imagine playing at The Smell because it invited you to be part of it.”

Abe Vigoda’s popularity expanded far beyond  L.A. city limits. The band landed opportunities such as touring with Vampire Weekend, but internal pressures eventually led to their dissolution. “It became an obsession,” says Velasquez. “I wanted the band to be my job and I wanted to be successful, for better or worse. It became my entire identity, with not great results. There was a level of dissatisfaction because I always wanted more, more, more.”

After parting ways in 2011, Valesquez formed the bands Roses and Lunch Lady, while Vidal released the solo album Dream Center. It took them a decade to reunite because, Vidal says, “we had collectively traumatized ourselves with this huge project. It couldn’t have happened until it did.” Velasquez agrees. “I lost touch with Michael, not because of anything he or I did, but because it was impossible not to be linked to Abe Vigoda. That felt hard to face.”

During the 2020 lockdowns, when live performances were shut down, the pair made plans for a jam session with no creative intentions. “We decided to get together and just play guitar,” says Vidal. “It felt like a healing moment to make feedback and screeching noise for five minutes. That was like primal scream therapy.”

At the end of their first meeting, they had sketched out an idea for a song, and the new duo Cupid & Psyche had taken flight. “Starting another band was never my intention, but it just felt so natural,” says Velasquez. “With Michael’s ability to make beats, it seemed like a whole different way to make music, but also really familiar.”

By their final release, 2010’s Crush, Abe Vigoda’s sound had evolved into a dramatic strain of electronic pop. Cupid & Psyche build upon that foundation yet the passage of time has made the music less manic, with more breathing room allowed for the melodies. On Romantic Music, Cupid & Psyche’s debut album, layered guitar parts recall The Durutti Column, while pulsing breakbeats channel the Adore-era music of the band that brought them together so many years ago. Vidal’s yearning, New Romantic-styled vocals are the glue that holds these opposing styles together, like Edwyn Collins on a doom trip with hope in his heart.

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Without the expectations that plagued him in Abe Vigoda, Velasquez says “making music now feels lighter, so I can definitely enjoy it more.” The lyrics on Romantic Music are largely concerned with overcoming these kinds of emotional struggles, whether openly expressing desires, embracing a higher power, or making the wrong choices and giving in to your vices. “Serenity’s Pit” sums up the album’s themes as Vidal sings about breaking free from his dark side and returning to the light. After three minutes of sputtering rhythms, the song drifts into a peaceful ambient coda, depicting the calm that emerges after the storm.

In the moments when he’s feeling vulnerable, Vidal shares that writing about his “default state” of anxiety can have a magical healing quality. “I don’t have the capacity to write songs about other people’s experiences or to tell stories,” he says. “Whatever I’m going through is the only thing I know.” When he experiments with writing from places of fantasy, Vidal has experienced something magical. “This miraculous thing happens where whatever I was trying to write about comes to fruition in my life. Lyrics are spells and each time you sing them you cast them. That changes the world.”

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