Photo: Becca Hamel

Valley

When the members of Valley were down and out, COIN's Chase Lawrence was there to pick them up

It would have been difficult to chat with Toronto-based group Valley at this moment, in 2024, without addressing the elephant in the room. A decade into their run, they are now a three-piece, following the departure of founding member Michael “Mickey” Brandolino earlier this year in his pursuit of other projects.

Understandably, the trio, made up of Rob Laska, Alex Dimauro, and Karah James, still seem to be navigating discussions on the subject, but were incredibly long-winded, and open, while touching on the sensitive topic, along with other less imposing ones.

Circumstances aside, all three were ready to jump back into the game. The Toronto natives provided some level-headed dialogue on the, at the time, white hot Drake/Kendrick Lamar feud, partly taking place not far from home in their native Toronto, and delivered a lighthearted yet stern, “We can’t talk about this yet,” at any mention of what was, at the time, an undisclosed project.

Today, the secret is out. Their new record Water the Flowers, Pray for a Garden, is set for release on August 30th. The title track, along with the focus single “When You Know Someone,” is out now.

Two Paths

Creating new music, regardless of what it turned into, was a necessary part of the healing process for the trio. They expressed it repeatedly. “It’s just kind of turning a new chapter,” said Laska. “We had two paths… it was like, ‘Do we stop and rethink?’ or ‘Do we just keep going?’ It took us a second to realize that the obvious choice is to keep going. That’s all we knew how to do.”

Studio sessions with Chase Lawrence of COIN were scheduled well prior to the shakeup, yet had greater implications than any of them could have predicted. Lawrence, who had once been through a similar experience with a bandmate, acted as a major morale boost both emotionally and creatively, and his fingerprints are all over this new music.

“Chase called me… and he was like, ‘You don’t even have to say it, I know what’s going on,’” said James. “There was no way he could have known, but I guess it was in the way we were speaking. And, he had sort of felt it was coming. He really took us by the hand and just walked with us through this journey. The big thing he said, that I feel like has started to become the messaging of this album, was ‘What a waste it would be if you went your entire lives without putting your most authentic selves out there.’ I think anyone can relate to that.”

Growing On Their Roots

Lawrence provided both the emotional support, as well as nudging the outpouring of artistic inspiration, for the band to continue turning stones in their music trajectory. To continue to push the envelope, as they have proven they are capable of, pivoting from foundational, everyday pop songs early on to multi-layered alternative rock-leaning compositions. 

“When you’re a kid… you’re not cognitive of everything in front of you,” said Laska. “There’s no control over your curiosity. That’s how we’ve always been as a band. Sometimes to a fault, and that’s ok. With making music now, we really grew together on our roots. Us being a band in a room, playing on instruments together… hitting things, turning knobs, getting funky with pedals. All of these things that didn’t exist for us the last few years, because we got so conditioned to making music on a laptop. We were fed this idea that you can make anything on a laptop, which you can, and we did, but we missed this organic-ness.”

No Labels/A Rare Instrument 

Marketing tools, as well as their own cinema-inspired visuals, have this new era of music pegged with a more Springsteen/The Killers aesthetic, though the trio, in what was a recurring theme throughout the interview, are presently opting to not put a label on these things.

“When working with Chase, we’re taught to do less of that,” said Dimauro. “Comparing ourselves, or a song, to another artist or song. I feel like once you do that, not that it’s not you anymore, but you have that element in your head thinking of the other thing. A lot of those conversations were shut down, not aggressively, just so we could focus on the genuine aspect of it.” Quintessence… a term adopted by the band from a Jerry Seinfeld interview, referring to maintaining the essence of an object, an emotion, etc., as is, and void of the need for variation, was used to describe this new batch of material. 

Lost In Translation, their most recent album, explores a mix of the heavier, more musically flamboyant sound of its title track that serves as the precipice for their current sound, with the transparent, springy indie pop of songs like “Throwback Tears,” “Natural,” and “Good, but not together” that their audience has become accustomed to. One cycle later, “When You Know Someone,” along with the title track of this upcoming record, seems to be more tightly focused on the former sound.

“When You Know Someone” in particular sees Laska on the offensive. His natural vocal tone, pop-leaning in nature, easily bestows itself to the opulent, bolder approach necessary for this more ‘anthemic’ style. Melodically, he effectively nails the presumed scientific formula for melody from verse to chorus that results in a robust, universally accessible hook. The formula is accentuated even further with James’ subtle harmonies and interweaving vocal lines, the saxophone, and the ever-consistent pulsating drum kick.

This style of music, less nuanced and tied down by a contemporary pop radio format, allows both Laska’s and James’ vocals to flourish in tandem. James sees her vocals as an accent to Laska’s, like in rockabilly or traditional bluegrass, while Laska sees her contributions as a more definitive piece of the puzzle. “I view Kara as a very, very rare instrument in the band,” he said. “It’s an instrument that only we own. Her voice can be very aethereal… very verbed-out and lush. Very direct and dry. As we make more music, I think people will hear how we’ve placed it… in a lot of unique ways.”

The Beginning

As the trio registers the milestone of their 10-year anniversary as a band, Dimauro, dubbed as “the numbers guy,” recalls the first initial interaction between the group on December 13th, 2013, at a recording studio. “We were double booked at a studio called River 16,” he said. “It wasn’t immediately like, ‘Let’s be a band,’ but we did become fast friends fairly quickly.”

Reflecting on that interaction, and the decade that followed, James was prepared with quick wit. “It was like… we U-Haul’d,” she said, ever-s0-slightly exaggerating the speed in which their friendship and musical marriage occurred. “We got married a week later. Had kids a year in. We were IN IT. I don’t, and I haven’t, and neither have these guys, done that for any other friendship.”

For their fans, both at home and abroad, the trio shared a collective message. “We’re just getting started,” said James, echoed by Laska and Dimauro. “This isn’t a 10-year thing for me, this is a lifetime thing. The surface that we’ve scratched… in what I hope will be the entire lifetime of this band is, quite literally, just the beginning. The fans that have been with us since day one… we’re just settling into what we feel we are capable of and can do.”

Stream “When You Know Someone” and “Water the Flowers, Pray for a Garden”: