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Digital Lizards of Doom

Digital Lizards of Doom is a multi-media musical project fronted by Gabriel Valentin. The band is beloved in the San Diego VGM and nerdcore scenes for performing interactive shows with songs that are heavily inspired by science fiction, horror movies, and video games. As of January, 2021, the band began releasing an eponymous graphic novel series that Valentin has been crafting since he graduated from high school. The first book, Level One: Dizzy Doom is out now!

We had the pleasure of sitting down with Gabriel to discuss his early influences, the interactive nature of DLOD shows, and the new graphic novel series.

Photo: Courtesy of Gabriel Valentin

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Interview

1.  What was the first instrument you picked up, and how old were you?

The first instrument I picked up was a bass guitar. It was a Valentine’s Day party that my mom brought my family to. I really didn’t want to be there, but I ended up meeting one of my best friends there. He was like, “you’re gonna play bass in my band!” I was like, “dude, I’ve never played bass before. I’ve never played anything before.” So he gave me a bass guitar to just practice on, and he just started teaching me different licks and stuff like that. I was like, “oh, how did I do?” And he was like, “that was terrible. What’s weird is you hit all the wrong notes, but you hit the wrong notes at the right time. So that part’s good, I just have to teach you how to play the instrument.” And then we just started a punk band, and kind of went from there.

2.  What were your early projects like, and how did you go from those styles to the orchestral arrangements you’re doing now?

So, I was mainly only allowed to listen to orchestral music, and a lot of hippie music. My parents listened to a lot of hippie music like Cat Stevens, and stuff like that. That’s pretty much all I was allowed to listen to. Then when I started playing bass guitar, a bunch of my friends and I got into AFI, Blink-182, and As I Lay Dying. Metal and punk is what I was into, so obviously at a young age those are your heroes. You want to emulate what they’re doing. I love the The Misfits and Iron Maiden, and so I just started playing a lot of Misfits songs and Iron Maiden songs. Any band I could get into at the time was usually like a punk band. There wasn’t too many metal bands. I got into metal a little bit later, but for me, even though I was… I don’t want to say, forced into listening to classical music or orchestral music, I loved it. I never hated it. I just fell in love with Mozart, Bach, Chopin. I just love these guys, so I always tried to incorporate those types of elements even into the punk bands that I played in. You know, we’d kind of just try to switch stuff up, or go into these random parts that kind of ascended in the way an orchestra would would with a guitar or a bass. I’ve always loved the epicness of orchestral music, so now just having that journey, it’s always been a dream for me to have orchestra arrangements of songs I’ve written. So far, so good.

3.  When you were listening to classical music as a kid, was there an orchestral instrument you wanted to play?

Cello. I’ve always loved the cello. It has so much range. Y’know, a violin can get kind of tinny. Not for me, but I’ve heard from other people it can be kind of annoying. But a cello has so much warmth. It can be a bass instrument if you want it to be, or it can be a more midrange instrument if it needs to be. I’ve always appreciated that about the cello.

4.  How did your music come to be so inspired by sci-fi and video games?

I’ve always just loved sci-fi and horror. What I mean by horror is that magnificent story, that marvelist type of story. Something you just don’t get everywhere. You get like, “the guy goes to the grocery store and falls in love with the girl. This thing happens. It’s kind of bad. It’s kind of good.” Then there’s a resolve. So for me, I’ve just always loved, “this guy gets sucked up into another planet and then he has to learn a different language, and he’s the chosen one. They give him a bunch of swords. They ask him to go fight this war for them.” That’s the stuff I’ve always been attracted to.

So yeah, I’ve loved sci-fi since I think I saw Star Wars. My dad had a VHS recording of Star Wars. The first 20 minutes of the movie were cut out, but I would just watch it on repeat. I didn’t know they had other movies at the time. Once I realized there were more Star Wars movies to get into, that was it for me. I got into Star Wars, Conan the Barbarian, Indiana Jones, Alien. I loved the Universal Classic Monster movies. Again, just those extra movies. There are no rules except the ones that the writer put in place for the book. Other than that, this guy becomes a wolf when it’s a full moon. That’s crazy, but it works because those are the rules in the film. In the story. That kind of stuff definitely inspired me. Anyone who’s heard music that I’ve written, even back with my punk and my metal bands, the lyrics are very fantasy based.

Final Fantasy was also a huge inspiration for me. I played video games, but I was never very good at them. I sucked at Golden Eye. All my cousins were playing Golden Eye, and I was the first one dead. On all the platformers, I just got rocked. It just didn’t really work out. So, I remember I got Pokémon, and it was more about using your brain, problem solving, and strategy than it was about punching buttons really fast. So, I was like, “this is my kind of game.” I thought Pokemon was the only RPG out there when I got it. I didn’t know what an RPG (role playing game) was. Then, my friend was like, “if you like this, this is ‘turn-based combat.’ You should check out Final Fantasy.” Then I got into Final Fantasy, and that just changed my life. Again, those stories where you fight this thing, you were just a spirit the whole time, your goal was the guide these people, and you completed your mission, so now you must fade away into nothingness. These types of stories are so awesome. Why aren’t more people reading this or watching this? So definitely, science fiction and fantasy has had a huge impact, not even just on my music and my art, but like life in general. There are beliefs that I have, and how I want to treat other people.

5.  Would you say that the music in sci-fi movies and video games was appealing to you even before you were a musician?

Yeah, it really was. I remember the first time I heard Let the Battles Begin!, the battle theme from Final Fantasy 7, I remember I was just in awe. It was just information overload, but in the best way possible. I was just overwhelmed with joy. This guy with the sword, and all this crazy stuff is happening. Then this orchestral music comes in. What made them choose to put that song there? Why is this song the battle theme, and not this other song? So, I just started watching documentaries and reading books about composers and different people who were in that world. I remember hearing about Tommy Tallarico in Game Informer Magazine. He was talking about how he chose what music goes in his games, and how he creates the music. I just thought it was so cool.

I also remember watching my uncle play Metal Gear Solid. I was pretty young when Final Fantasy 7 came out, and I wasn’t really allowed to play that game because it had cussing in it, but I would sneak over to my cousins house and play it. But I definitely wasn’t allowed to play Metal Gear Solid. I remember watching my uncle play it, and the music in that game blew my mind. I just remember being like, “somebody spent time.” There are just so many songs. I think that was really the first time I digested that. Someone spent time on this. There are so many different arrangements of music, and different themes, and sounds. I remember just thinking, “we live in the best time ever. I can enjoy this world. What a crazy thing.” I wanted to just run out into the streets and tell everyone, “you need to play this game!” So yeah, I loved just listening to the different composers. Back then it was really hard to find soundtracks. My friend burned a cassette tape with a bunch of songs, and I didn’t have a cassette player. So I went out to a pawn shop and got a cassette player. I didn’t even know what was on there. I remember listening to it, and there were just all these different really bad recordings of different songs from video games. That was so cool. 

6.  What do your live shows look like, and how have they changed over the years due to things like Covid-19, style changes, etc?

The first Digital Lizards of Doom show was just me, a guitar, a microphone, and a laptop. So, I had all the pre-recorded beats, the backing tracks playing, and then I’d play guitar over it, and I’d sing. The first show that was actually a Digital Lizards of Doom show was at House of Blues. We were opening up for a couple of bands. I saw “we” but I was opening up for a couple of bands. At the time I was like, “I wouldn’t want to watch anyone with a laptop and a guitar. That doesn’t sound like an entertaining show.” So I took the two characters from the book, Dizzy Doom and Commander Echo. We made costumes for them, and we had them come out on stage during the performance, and then we had like a rehearsed battle. So, Commander Echo is the main villain of the story, so they’re having lightsaber battles on stage. They had a Nerf gun battle. They went out into the audience and caused havoc. Commander Echo took somebody’s girlfriend hostage, and then the boyfriend came and saved them. And then we’d reverse it. Someone takes someone’s boyfriend hostage and the girlfriend would come and save him with a nerf gun and a light saber. We would just try to film it and capture it, and make this interactive show. We did that for a while, and it was super fun, but then money is a thing. I realized I can’t keep paying people to create these sets, because it just costs a lot of money. I gotta clean the costumes, and I have to buy more Nerf guns because people at the bars step on em and they break em, and they break the light sabers. So then we kind of put that idea on hold until I got to a better financial state and I could bring them back. I wanted to update the costumes and bring out more characters. Then Covid obviously happened after that, so I haven’t been able to pursue that so much. But I really can’t wait to get back to that because my ultimate goal would be to have something similar to a Broadway show based around the songs from the world. We could have 16 characters on the stage at one time all singing, and a rehearsed choreographed fight scene, or acting out a scene from the book that the music relates to. So, that’s the ultimate goal, but that’s also gonna cost a lot more money. That’ll be something that comes later. 

7.  Did your band always have a story element to it? Is this graphic novel series a new concept for DLOD?

o, I was bus driver for 2 years, and I was making music on my own under my name, Gabriel Valentin. I wasn’t really happy with it. I was trying out a bunch of different things and nothing was really sticking, so I was like, “man, I really hope I can find a new sound.” I was kind of discouraged at the time, so I was like, “let me take a break from music for a little while. Let my head chill out a bit. I’m gonna go work on this story that I had been working on since probably right out of high school. It was Digital Lizards of Doom, but it wasn’t. It was actually called Pirating Planets at the time. I just really liked having these titles where each word started with the same letter. So, Pirating Planets was the name of the story, and it’s about this character who trapped the whole world in a simulation. He was just messing with this world. So, I was working on this story. I just had it in my brain for so long. From that came Digital Lizards of Doom. There were just a couple of elements missing. I was dating this girl at the time, and I had fallen in love. Just head-over-heels for this girl. Just being around her really inspired me. She is one of the main reasons why Digital Lizards of Doom exists. She filled in a lot of the blanks for the story. I was trying to impress her. Like, woo her, y’know? So I wrote this song about her, and I put her name in the song. It was about this robot who crashes on a planet, and all this stuff. I wrote the song, and she liked it. So I was like, “that’s it. That was the missing part.” From that came Digital Lizards of Doom and everything else. Once I figured out who all the characters were, and what their motives were, it fell into place. As I was writing this story, I was thinking about what their world sounds like. Sound effects, and they played arcade games, and Dizzy was this Ninja Turtles dude-bro. So, I started figuring out what their world would sound like. I was like, “I’m gonna make this graphic novel, and I’ll have a soundtrack eventually. That would be so cool.” 

As I was messing with these sounds, I found the sound that I was looking for. Then I started writing these songs, and I was like, “this is the coolest thing ever.” I found out how expensive it was to make comic books. It was way too expensive. So I said, “ok, I can make the songs. That’s what I’ll do.” It’s one page of artwork, or two if you’re doing a back and front cover of an album, and then each song would relate to something that takes place in the world. So, we came out right out of the bat with Pretty Spooky Pop, which is this world where the ancient pineapple demon Pineapple Pete has trapped all these characters in different horror movies. People call it the Halloween EP, but I imagine it as different short stories for these characters to live in. Eventually, once this gets to a point, then I can tell the full story. So, the band just kind of took on a life of its own. It just became something that was kind of out of control, but in a good way. Then I eventually made a point to finish the story. I did that, and it got picked up by a publisher. I didn’t have money to make the book, so I made songs that basically marketed the book that didn’t exist, but I promised people it was coming eventually. It was this weird kind of figure-8 way of going about it, but it was mainly just because of money and resources. Or else the book would’ve come first. But I was like, “I know music, and I can do music, so I can do that on my laptop. Boom! Let’s get it out there and just start telling people about Digital Lizards of Doom. It was funny. I always told people it was a story, and that’s why I had the characters in our show. People were like, “why is there a robot and a lizard?” And I was like, “Oh, ok. Here’s the thing. This robot, he wants to assimilate the universe, and this lizard is gonna save em.” They were like, “okay, you freakin’ weirdo.” And it sounds weird. I know it is. So, eventually once the books came out, people started pointing things out like, “oh, that’s what the song is talking about.” On the first EP, there’s an event that happens in the last book, and there are 8 books. Possibly 9 now because we might split up the 8th book. I’m really excited for people to connect the dots. 

8.  Level One: Dizzy Doom is out now. When will the second book drop?

So, the first book came out last year, which blows my mind. It came out in January of last year. The second book was supposed to come out in November, but Covid messed a bunch of stuff up. All the stuff that happened in the Pacific with the shipping and the supply chain really messed up a ton of stuff for the printing and the shipping of the books. At the same time,I switched publishing companies, so there were all these extra steps on top of getting stuff done. It was just this weird bureaucratic thing. It was just a stressful and insane couple of months, but now everything is back on track. Level Two: Commander E.K.O. comes out next month, and Level Three goes into pre-order at the end of March. Level Four actually comes out at the end of the year. Level Five and Six will come out next year.

9.  Where do people buy or pre-order the books?

You can get it at any comic book store. Just ask for Digital Lizards of Doom. If you want to support me directly, you can buy it directly from the publishing website. Or just hit me up on Instagram!

10.  What advice do you have for kids wanting to start a band or become a writer or artist?

In any art form, try to find a mentor. Try to find somebody who is where you want to be. One thing that’s huge for me is to treat people well, and treat people with respect. I’ve had the door slammed in my face so many times, and it hurts. You’re trying to share a piece of your artwork with somebody, and they just shut you down so hard. So try to find a mentor. Someone where you can see yourself there in the future. Just be straight up with them. “I want to learn how you got to where you are.” Listen to them. Pay attention to them. But also remember that everyone’s journey is different. Just because someone did something a certain way doesn’t mean that’s the only way it can happen for you. Just learn. Be around whatever you’re trying to do as much as possible. 

Also, support other people that are trying to do what you’re doing as much as you can. ‘Cause you’re gonna make friends. I don’t want to make it sound like a war or a battle or anything, but in a way it is. You’re gonna make strong alliances with people, because you both understand where each other are coming from. Your failures can be your successes, and their failures can be your successes. When you have a bond like that with somebody, or multiple people, that’s nothing to discredit because that stuff is strong and powerful. It saved me from making a lot of mistakes with certain things. I think a lot of my failures have saved a lot of my friends and colleagues from making a lot of mistakes, too.

 

 

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