Interview: Valleyheart on new EP ‘Scenery’
Posted: by The Editor
“Have you found your place?” Kevin Klein asks on “Stepping Stone,” the penultimate track on Valleyheart’s new EP, and it sounds like he really has. Scenery sees the Boston four-piece exploring new territory in ways that feel both exciting and like natural steps forward from 2018’s excellent Everyone I’ve Ever Loved. For only four songs and fifteen minutes, Valleyheart’s latest offering is as thoughtfully considered –– and explores as many moods –– as most bands’ full-lengths. I caught up with Klein to discuss the EP’s writing process, themes, and overall aesthetic. And 100 gecs.
Last time we spoke was a little over three years ago. Has anything happened since then?
You know, a little bit of this, a little bit of that. Eat, sleep, repeat. [laughs] A lot has happened globally, but we’ve been keeping the Valleyheart project busy, writing a lot. We went through a transition period last year where my longtime friend, collaborator, Valleyheart drummer, in November 2019 moved out to the west coast to start a new chapter of his life. I was at this crossroads like, “I have to find a new drummer,” because he was a really big part of this project for a long time. And we decided to keep going, got a new drummer –– my buddy Zach, who’s a homie and all around good dude –– and we’ve been writing the last year. Aside from this EP we’ve been writing more music.
Did you plan for this to be an EP then or did you just decide you wanted to put something out sooner?
It was a collection of songs that –– Jon Miller, our old drummer, he played on these –– so we wanted to put these out together. We wrote it as an EP, and it was right around the time that we’d come off our old label and were independent –– it was a weird transition period and we didn’t wanna do a full record because that requires a lot of time, money, resources. Instead of trying to break our backs in this transition period, we said, “Here’s some songs we really like and wanna work with, so let’s make an EP.” We decided to self-produce, self-engineer it, and I mixed it. It was the most DIY thing Valleyheart did. I was in over my head a bit. I do engineering, and I’ve worked with people a bit, and I’ve done pre-production with our past stuff, but never to the extent of this EP. Looking back, I definitely shouldn’t have done that, but sometimes that’s the best thing –– you learn a lot. I think this is a big culmination of who we are outside of any label or budget or anything. It was this moment of “We’re gonna experiment, try something new, do some different things.”
Would you say this is the end of chapter one, and whatever comes next for Valleyheart, that’s the next phase?
Definitely. That’s a great way to put it.
It definitely feels sonically diverse, like each song is pulling in a different direction. Is it fair to say that was the intention?
It was like, “We’re an alternative rock band, and we play post-rock, indie rock, whatever,” but something I’ve noticed is rock can get boring. Not like it’s boring in general, but there’s a lot of complacency that can build up so we thought it’d be cool to explore different corners of where we could push our sound. Something more straightforward, something more complex, something that’s more simple, something heavier. I thought of a square, pushing all different corners of that dynamic range. And from a songwriting perspective too, exploring the different things this project could be or do. But all four I wanted to be different corners of that range to leave people hanging about where it could go next.
The title track definitely comes to mind being different. It’s almost a pop song. How did that come to be and why’d you decide to make that the title track?
That song was written –– some songs take months to write and record. That was an anomaly in that it was written and recorded in a day. It was sort of a snapshot in time, which is why in the video I wanted some imagery of photography. I really woke up, I’d rented out a studio called New Alliance in Boston to demo out new solo stuff, Valleyheart stuff, and driving there the chorus melody came to my head so I whipped out a voice memo at a stoplight and recorded it. I laid down the drum machine there and it was meant to be a placeholder for what would be in the future and everything was recorded that day except the real drums. Everything else was written and tracked in that moment. It was such a different process from anything else I’d done. It felt special to have a snapshot of that moment rather than stew on different lyrics and different versions and mixes. It was like, “It is what it is and this is what it is and this is what it felt like.” For naming it, this EP’s all about contrast, lyrically and visually and sonically as well. Leaning into the idea that this is the most different, unique, contrasting song felt appropriate.
That’s the mission statement for the EP.
Exactly. It’s gonna be something that spreads into all corners of not what you’d expect.
That song seems really different for you lyrically, too. It’s almost impressionistic with some of the imagery you bring up. What inspired that one?
Like I said, I wanted to highlight the contrasts of this EP –– lyrically too. I wanted to push my lyrical songwriting. I feel like I never really explored that impressionistic thing. It was written after coming out of a drunken crazy night, trying to recall the memories of that night and them being blurred. A lot of it was written trying to recall things that feel like a blur, down to the way it was recorded. It was meant to sound a little blurry. I wanted to use the words as a palette of blurriness as well, a little more vague. Still a narrative but one that’s not as clear and lets you put together the pieces.
You mentioned before going independent, and then you put this out with Honey Pit. How’d that come to be?
Like I said, we were in this limbo phase. As the songs started to finalize, my buddy Alex who runs Honey Pit –– he’s been a friend from years ago when I played in my metalcore band in high school. [laughs] He’s a PR/label person and started this really cool independent label called Honey Pit and we just chatted. So he wanted to put out the songs and it was really organic, really natural, and wasn’t like signing a deal. At the time I don’t think I was ready for that. It was just a really good compromise to work with someone who really believes in what we’re doing and the songs we’re putting out. It was a really good experience.
Everyone I’ve Ever Loved and the Nowadays EP both had a lot of references to religion and nostalgia, and this seems to take a step away from that. I’m curious how Scenery fits into the arc of your band.
I think it’s a great question because people often ask, “Are you a Christian band?” And for me it’s funny –– I completely get the question –– there’s these industries based on being Christian bands, but for me it’s like, no. We don’t write with any intention of any industry. Some of us in the band grew up playing in Christian metalcore bands and that, combined with us walking away from traditional faith –– walking away from labels like that in general –– everything I wrote at that time was just me processing those things. For me specifically growing up in the Evangelical Church, it was just processing that. It just felt like a natural progression of, in my personal life, going through a season of deconstructing what I believe and how I perceive the world, God, and other people. Still thinking about those things, but finding other ways to ask and understand those questions with different people and different communities and different ideas. I think this EP is a reflection of broadening those conversations up.
The last song on Scenery, “The Point,” seems like a response to some of the ideas explored in “Dissolve,” especially in the bridge. Is that a fair way to read it?
Definitely a fair way to read it. If anything is a follow up to Everyone I’ve Ever Loved, it’s definitely that song.
Something that stood out to me in that song is that there’s a lot of references to a lot of scientific concepts, not to say there’s necessarily a dichotomy between that and religion.
Yeah, it’s not that religion and science are antitheses, but seeing it through that lens can put things into perspective that really help you walk away from your own personalized view of reality.
Do you have a favorite song on Scenery? You do a lot of things on here, play with a lot of sounds, so is one of them your favorite -–– or are you most impressed with being able to pull any of them off?
Yeah, I’d have to say “Scenery,” because of the story and I’m proud of that one. It feels a lot closer to the things I think I listen to.
I love playing rock –– and it is a rock song –– but it’s a little more the speed and pace I’m at now. That could change. I feel like everyone’s going through waves constantly. I go through chill singer-songwriter, then like hyperpop. Not to say it’s a complete migration away, but it feels like a moment in time for me and it’s very personal, very special.
I’m hearing that the next Valleyheart record’s gonna have a 100 gecs collaboration.
Yeah, every mix is gonna be pitched vocals, distortion, gonna be sick. We’re gonna get AG Cook on there. [laughs]
I really love the artwork and I think it fits super well with the lyrics and the general sound of the EP. It’s got almost a surrealist feel with the window on the sky. What was the decision behind that?
This EP was written and recorded summer 2019, and I had just gotten into film photography. It was kinda a paralleled thing. A big thing with film is getting a shot focused and holding yourself still in a moment to capture that moment. If you’re running around it’s gonna be blurry, to tie it back to “Scenery.” When I saw this artist –– he goes by yourfriendlyneighbor on Instagram –– he did the artwork for Christian Lee Hutson’s new album, and I saw his work, and it was universalistic and kinda cosmic but also very artistic and it was exactly what I was looking for. It spoke to me so deeply. We made this for the EP, specifically, and I’m really happy with how it came out. I was trying to capture all the concepts and themes of photography, scenery, introspection –– you know, the window kinda peering in –– and color, that warm tone. It just felt like an appropriate thing.
What do you want listeners to come away with after listening to Scenery?
The overall message or theme, one is –– first of all there’s whatever you get out of it –– but for me, thoughts of the future are violent, and thoughts of the past are violent, and the only safety we have is right now, in the moment. In no way do I have the key for living in the moment, but this EP is the persuasion that it’s worth searching for that truth.
What might the future hold for Valleyheart?
We’re writing a lot, and we’re pretty close to done writing another full piece of music. I’ll just say that. The remainder of this year will look like recording said piece of music, hopefully putting it out shortly thereafter. With that, whenever it’s safe for shows to open back up, I think it means playing these songs live, trying to understand what that looks like. So many of us are dying to get back out there. I think it’s trying to have other conversations, maybe even outside of music. That’s always our goal, to open up connections and friendships through music.
If you could go to Kevin writing Nowadays, or even high school metalcore Kevin, and you played Scenery for him, what do you think he’d think of it?
I think he’d be excited, and kinda surprised. Metal Kevin would say it’s too lame and soft. “Where’s the deep growls?” [laughs] But I think even at that time, all of us were listening to all kinds of stuff. I think it would be a pleasant surprise, but maybe also sad, like, “I thought I’d figure it out when I was 26, but maybe I haven’t.” But there’s a sobering reality in that as well. Maybe a mixture of impressed and sad –– not sad, but a melancholy like, “We’re still asking the same questions packaged in different ways.” [laughs]
Scenery is out now via Honey Pit.
Zac Djamoos | @gr8whitebison
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