Los Angeles native Rey Villalobos is a singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist who goes by the moniker House of Wolves (a direct translation of the Spanish “Villalobos”). His impressive debut album, Fold in the Wind, is a collection of minimalist alt-folk songs that are all too often heartbreakingly beautiful. Suffused with soft and hazy melodies and blended with poetic and melancholic lyrics, the album is possessed of a remarkable cinematic quality. But moreover, his music is utterly otherworldly – the kind that will haunt you long after you’ve finished listening to it.
I was first introduced to House of Wolves with the devastatingly beautiful song, “50’s” – the album’s first single and standout track. Before the first 15 seconds were up, right around the time when Rey Villalobos softly croons “Kiss me like it’s the fifties”, I instantly realized I was faced with something truly special. And towards the end of the song, as he sang “it’s the bitter side of life that I like”, I was completely sold and already halfway through purchasing his album. His music is immediately gripping, and demands a full listen.
The greatest strength of this album is its simplicity. The musical arrangements are subtle and largely unadorned, often consisting of solely an acoustic guitar and a piano or horns here and there, which proves the old adage that “less is more”. In this age of drum machines and Autotune, it is always refreshing to find music that doesn’t rely on over-production to be powerful, but instead on the raw emotion that it conveys. It’s going back to basics. House of Wolves has all the warmth and intimacy of candlelight, in contrast with the impersonal harshness of fluorescent lights.
The simplicity of the music allows for his lyrics – and above all, his voice – to stand out. Without a doubt, Rey Villalobos’ tender and vulnerable vocals are the album’s greatest instrument. His voice has an androgynous quality that makes every song that much more gripping, and adds to the ethereal aesthetic of Fold in the Wind; his quivering falsetto – sometimes dropping to almost a whisper – conveys deep and often desperate emotions. But what is truly remarkable is how much of himself he pours into his music: every song is awash in longing. His voice is tender and sweet, but there is always an underlying pain or nostalgia, which echoes with every poignant verse and heart-jarring plea. He bares all, making every song feel personal and intimate, as if he were whispering a forbidden secret to you.
The songs are soft and subtle, yet deeply affecting. The album is full and encompassing, leaving you hanging on to his every word and every note. It has the kind of beauty that is sensed, more than stated.
The track “Follow Me” has a very distant, yet raw feel to it; Villalobos’ soft and sorrowful plea, “promise me you won’t die”, paired with ethereal melodies that have a Sigur Ros quality, conjure up feelings of hopelessness and impotence when confronted with the impossibility of saving someone who cannot be saved, and losing ourselves in the process. With “Jealous” we can feel a growing tension in his voice, as he captures and convincingly delivers the self-consuming aspect of the emotion. The echo effect applied to his vocals only highlights his longing; the pleading becomes increasingly desperate, until he gently sings: “I’m seeing reality” as a feeling of helplessness takes over.
Rey Villalobos, much like his music, has an immediate warmth that is instantly charming. During our exchange he was candid, friendly and just an all-around swell guy, and we’ve immensely enjoyed this whole process. Listen to some of the tracks while you read the interview below.
How would you describe your music?
Hazy & far away, nostalgic.
How did Fold in the Wind come together?
I had one lyrical phrase “roses in the nordic countries” which i was thinking would make a good album title for a collection of mellow songs that I’d been writing and saving up for a year, that title ended up becoming a song on the record, then one night i heard a Dodos song on the radio and really like the sound of it, so i looked up who produced it, and it turns out it was John Askew, we had met years before a few times through mutual friends. So i called John up, he was super into producing the album, once the date was set, i finished up the lyrics, hopped on a plane up to Portland Oregon and we started tracking the album Feb 1st 2009. The record only took 2 weeks-ish to record, but over the course of 2 years, we would get together every 3 or 4 months or so when ever we could arrange some time.
What is your favorite song from the album, and why?
50′s because we got the sound that i was going for on the album, (the sounds of the distant horns, the pace and textures while using minimal instruments.) I also love Follow Me, we recorded the vocals in John’s kitchen and something about that song i really dig.
What is your process when writing songs? Do you draw inspiration from real life experiences?
I start out on the guitar, record my song ideas in 30 second clips or so on a little tape player then totally forget about it, then later on I’ll go through all my ideas, pick out my favorite song ideas and start to work on them. As far as inspiration, yes i do draw from real life experiences, but i never think about any particular life experience and then write a song about it, for me its not about writing songs, it’s about finding songs, like getting little gifts from the sky or finding hidden buried treasures.
Some songs are best played at certain moments of the day, like Sunday mornings, when it’s raining, or while walking back home at night. What would you say is the best moment to listen to your music?
Late at night in the car on a long road trip.
Generally speaking, what inspires you?
Forests, lakes and oceans, the past, movement, the sun above and the mud below.
You’re a Los Angeles native, but your family comes from Mexico and Italy. Has your mixed heritage influenced your approach to music? If so, how?
Yes for sure, my mom is a singer, and she would always be singing old standards around the house from the great American song book of the 1940′s like Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Billie Holiday, Lena Horne, Nat King Cole, Dinah Washington, Sarah Vaughan, etc, and also traditional Italian songs along with classical music too, and my father would always have Latin music on in the car especially bossa nova, and i just recently realized that’s what I’ve been attempting to do is mix the old classic standards with classical music, bossa and folk, i think some of it came out on this album but you’ll hear even more of that vibe on my next record.
You’ve listed Chopin as your first musical influence, and your music sounds similar to Elliott Smith’s, which is always a good thing. What other musicians have influenced you?
John Lennon was a huge influence on me, his music is so honest and raw, and also Frank Black.
You’ve toured across the US and Europe with awesome artists and bands like Sharon Van Etten, The Middle East, Avi Buffalo and Fanfarlo. Do you have any good stories or fond memories from the road?
I woke up one night in my sleep arm wrestling with my keyboard player Other than that i love meeting other musicians and collaborating together, and i also love discovering all the good Coop’s and thrift stores along the way.
What is the first album you ever purchased? Would you buy it again now?
Led Zeppelin 1, and hell yeah i’d buy it again, i used to play drums in bands, and Led Zep’s drummer John Bonham was a huge influence on me.
Which artist or band would you love to work with?
Twin Shadow – Arcade Fire – Beach House – Low – The Knife!
Could you name an artist or band that you’d consider a guilty pleasure? We all have one!
OutKast “Hey Ya” – And the 2011 live Emmys performance of “I Need a Doctor ” by Dr. Dre, Eminem, Skylar Grey -
Do you believe in love at first listen? If you do, tell us about a time when you experienced it.
I had moved up to Portland while i was recording my record, and one night i went out after to see some music and i randomly saw Y La Bamba a local Portland band and I instantly loved them, Luzelena Mendoza’s melodies and song writing que bella!