Canada is on fire lately, just crawling with talent. It seemed a couple decades ago there were a handful or so of major acts from our friends up north like Shania Twain, Michael Bublé, Alanis Morissette, Paul Anka and Celine Dion but now Justin Bieber, Drake, Avril Lavigne, Shawn Mendes and an even fresher crop of new artists are making an impact, like Tate McRae, Kaytranada, Charlotte Cardin, Mother Mother, Charlotte Day Wilson and Toronto indie-pop foursome valley.
For the sake of this article, we are going to graduate their stylized lowercase “v” to a capital, because they deserve it. For fans of The 1975, Lauv, LANY and ARIZONA, Valley takes another spot in the pop universe with an inclusiveness and subject matter that feels refreshing and timeless. Having recently toured with other lower-casers, lovelytheband, Valley has been on a hot streak over the past few years even though they formed back in college. After already joining talents like COIN, Lennon Stella and The Band Camino on sold-out tours across North America, they are finally celebrating their own first-ever headlining stint with the I’ll Be With You Tour coming to the famed Troubadour on Thursday. The sold-out evening is expected to blend earlier favorites from their alternative hit album Maybe (2019) along with tunes from their first EP in 2016, The Room Is White, 2020’s sucks to see you doing better and new tunes from 2021’s Last Birthday plus their most recent three scoops of feels, The After Party. The band’s tour runs through mid-April and includes an upcoming appearance in June at New York’s Governors Ball.
Valley was nominated for Breakthrough Group of the Year at 2020’s JUNO Awards and they are honored again this year with a nod for Group of the Year. Consisting of lead male vocalist Rob Laska, drummer and female vocalist Karah James, guitarist Mickey Brandolino and bassist Alex DiMauro, Valley’s songs cut through the noise with their cathartic range of indie-pop and indie-rock, effortlessly blending their voices (yes they all sing), intentionally using choral vocal effects and seriously connecting with fans with their honest songwriting. Every song very much sounds like Valley but they have a knack for variety from the danceable earworm “Tempo” to the heart-warming groove of “hiccup” to the organic, acoustic sweetness of “7 Stories”.
“We all do harmonies, I mean Karah and Rob sing the most leads obviously,” said Brandolino. “They both are considered our lead singers but Alex and I go in on harmonies. On stage, even if on the record Rob is singing a certain harmony, live sometimes Alex and I will sing it, because we can’t duplicate Rob. We try to fill in all the spaces, it depends how we arrange it”.
“Also, in the studio, Mickey’s voice actually sounds very similar, not technically —but tonally to Rob’s voice so if Rob just isn’t around or he’s on lunch break and Mickey and I are still working, we’ll just do harmonies,” said James. “We like to have everybody’s voice on it, because that’s what we do. All of our choir stuff on record is the whole band.
Perhaps one reason bands like Fleetwood Mac, The Mamas & The Papas, Jefferson Airplane, No Doubt and Arcade Fire had such popularity is that any fan can see themselves or even hear themselves in the music.
“I do agree with you, Fleetwood Mac is one of the most iconic”, said Brandolino. “It’s very easy to do it in a tacky way, and we try to choose lyrics to not sound like they’re [Laska and James] dating. We try and not make it like a love duet. We choose lyrics, specifically like pronouns and stuff not to appeal to —I mean sometimes we do but generally we don’t want to cut anybody out”.
Valley have the rare quality of including both male and female vocals on most tracks, which they balance well and avoid making it sound like every song is about romance or a relationship or a break-up. James smashes the drums from the back of the stage while also singing lead on a lot of the songs with Laska.
“It’s tough, you gotta have the right sound people because there are issues when you are playing drums and the microphone is picking up stuff from the drums”, said James. “We are in the process of making it sound more clear live. That’s why we don’t see a lot of lead singers that are drummers because there’s a very prominent, technical hurdle, with that kind of thing but that being said it’s the same as playing guitar and singing, it’s the same muscle.
“We’re really lucky that way,” said Laska. “I think we used to see it through a negative lens in the sense where like we didn’t have a strict dialogue and a story and a person that’s narrating the brand almost —the vision of the band. I think there’s some real positivity to having that, and some bands have that, and a lot of solo artists have that, and it’s beautiful. They build their own story and they knit their own quilt of emotions and it’s amazing. What we’ve realized is that we can play in all fields being four people. If I’m not going through something but Karah is, well then we tap into her emotions and write around that. Or if Mickey is going through something or Alex is going through something, we have four individual personalities that could become Valley’s personality and I think that’s so important. That’s where we feel a lot of our own pressure to push our boundaries in songwriting ’cause, even yesterday I was at a Starbucks shuffling music and like you know, a lot of songs on Spotify nowadays you click shuffle and it’s like “you broke up with me and I’m mad about it” or “you broke up with me and I’m happy about it”. And that’s universal and that’s a feeling that will always be amazing, but I think there’s enough of those songs. I think we are always trying to tap into how much deeper can we go with something like “Last Birthday”, which is like unconditional love where it doesn’t matter if it’s romantic, it can be your dog or it could be the coffee you love to drink every morning. That’s like more universal to us or “sucks to see you doing better” where it’s like comparison and this itch to kind of feel like you’re better or feel more confident about yourself. Those are just feelings we’ve always wanted to explore and going into the next era of music, that’s going to be way more apparent. We’re going to really push what we can write about —songs can be a lot simpler but also be about things that people don’t even think twice about sometimes. We love wordplay, we love just standing on a simple subject and making it a little bit more than we just broke up type of vibe, we like to tap into more feelings.
From wordplay to punctuation, the band is also very intentional with their use of parentheses, which they call brackets as well as punctuation in their song titles, giving them more color and meaning. It just taps into how they feel and also how their fans might respond, from lowercase titles to others with punctuation to “brackets” while they are “out and about”, as they say.
“We do that sometimes, if there’s a little bit more context to a song,” reflected Laska. “Sometimes songs need a little bit more imagination for a listener, especially with streaming nowadays. It’s kind of like judging a book by its cover. On Spotify or wherever now, you read a title and you automatically have an assumption of what it could be about. So there’s certain songs like “Can We Make It?”, throwing “Jim Carrey” in there just automatically puts you in a space of thinking about him and his personality and his wits and the movies he’s been in. And then click play and all of a sudden you perceive the song differently. Titles are really important to us, ’cause there’s so many titles out there that are the same, so also you want your song to stick out in a way that feels like it’s unique to you. Whenever we are naming a song we will go on Spotify and put it in the search bar and make sure there are not 50 million of them because it would get lost in the noise”.
“Also, you want to name the song “Jim Carrey” by itself, but if someone hears this out and about and they want to go find the song, they’re not going to type in “Jim Carrey” and if they do, they’re going to find Jim Carrey”, said Brandolino.
The playfulness of Valley is also apparent on their music videos, illustrating lives that somehow look like Halloween is every day (we know they’re not), like with Karah in her Spice Girls outfit and Rob in his Jay Kay Jamiroquai hat in “Like 1999”. Likewise, on new single “Last Birthday”, the accompanying video reflects the song’s warm fuzzies of pure unconditional love and joy for another human with confetti and presents and vintage clothing displayed with that perfect nostalgic Instagram filter, all while serving up nothing but good times at a banquet hall. “Like 1999” was birthed out of wandering minds during a strange time in everyone’s lives (globally), and perhaps that is part of the appeal.
“That one, I think really put us on the map in a way that “Light In the House” and “Swim” did even early on”, said Laska. “Those three are the songs that really kind of moved the needle for our band. I think “Like 1999” came out because of the pandemic because we had nothing else to do but write music. So we went away and locked ourselves up in a cabin and just wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote, wrote. I think at the time, we were all kind of like wishing —there was a lot of talks about escapism and I think just the whole world was kind of fascinated with the idea of like what if we could go back in time, literally because things were just so horrible. And yeah, I think that’s where that concept came from. We were just joking around and our friend Jonathan just wrote the “use my phone as a coaster” line. That kind of just made it all make sense, once we wrote that we were like, put your phone down, put your drink down and be in the moment. I think from that, the whole song just sort of word vomited out, because it was something we were genuinely feeling at the time. And I think forever we’re going to feel that way. The more you grow up, the more you feel the past, so I feel like that song is just going to get more and more deep for us because we’re 90s babies but we were still very little. There’s even a harder underlayer of fascination with the 90s from us because our parents lived through it, we kind of lived through it, but only kind of through photo albums and our older siblings who showed us all the 90s stuff like Britney Spears and Third Eye Blind and just everything. So we have this real, especially our generation —a fascination with the 90s and I think that song just fell out of that concept. We’re super fascinated with escapism, especially with like eras like the 90s or 80s or 70s, that’s why we love Fleetwood Mac and music and culture and how it all kind of became a part of what we are doing now. What lived on, what didn’t live on, what continues to change. It’s all really cool to look back on”.
Songs from the 2019 album Maybe like “There’s Still A Light In The House”, “Push For Yellow (Shelter)”, “Park Bench” and “A Phone Call In Amsterdam” really sounded like nothing else at the time and still hold up. They collectively have a timelessness, an anthemic quality jamming around a campfire or an arena, truly paving the way for Valley’s more recent “hiccup”, “Oh shit…are we in love?”, “Tempo” and “SOCIETY”. “A Phone Call In Amsterdam” in particular has a falsetto quality from Laska and James and the guys that is choir-like and the production builds with the lyric “’til it all fades out”. The lyric can be interpreted in numerous ways and Valley said they have fans with tattoos of this lyric.
“When we were writing that record, we didn’t know what the lines really meant”, said James. “We were just banking on the fact that, if it means something to us, we hope that it means something to other people too. Maybe isn’t a pop-structured lyric or arrangement, there are some pop melodies in it but it’s definitely more alternative-leaning. We needed to make that record so that we could put all of our thoughts down. They say you have all of your life to make your first record, and I do believe that because every song, every lyric in that record was just something we had thought about at one point maybe when we were 15 and we wrote it down in our iPhones. And thank God for iPhone notes and voice notes and having that archive of everything, but that whole record pretty much is a culmination of the four of our human experiences. We weren’t trying to be relatable but we knew that it would be relatable to a lot of people and we didn’t know why. We knew that if it was relatable to each of the four of us within the band then why are we any different from anybody else’s human experience? There was no formula and nothing really calculated about it, so when we hear about people relating to those lyrics, there’s room for interpretation and that feels really good to us because that was the one and only intent for Maybe“.
Singer Rob Laska revealed that the chorus to new ballad “7 Stories” was written even before Maybe, and that’s likely why it has an acoustic element, taking the song back to a previous era for Valley.
“It’s such a pure time for our band”, said Laska. “We’ve been talking about this a lot, going into now writing another album. Like what things could we tap into or not tap into because we don’t want to repeat ourselves or reflect too much on an album that you made. You want to grow. When we were making Maybe, we didn’t know how the rabbit disappeared from the hat. Nothing made sense, you just believed what you wrote and you believed everything you said, and everything was important. I feel like going into Sucks [sucks to see you doing better] and Last Birthday we discovered the craft a little more and we figured out how the rabbit disappears. But through that, and knowing a bit more about the craft of songwriting and the tricks of the trade, we’ve been able to now grow as songwriters and also kind of do a full 180 but also kind of a 360. We were able to go back to what it felt like to just sit down and spew out a song and not care if someone else in the band is going to like it or someone on the team is going to love it. Like just write a song, don’t worry about anything else. I think we are now getting back to that point where it’s like, nothing really matters as long as the song feels good to us it will feel good to others.
Valley‘s Troubadour show on Thursday, March 3 is sold out and includes support from Catie Turner.
Valley’s I’ll Be With You Tour schedule
3.3.2022 Los Angeles, CA at The Troubadour SOLD OUT
3.4.2022 San Francisco, CA at Popscene @ Rickshaw Stop SOLD OUT
3.5.2022 Santa Cruz, CA at The Atrium
3.8.2022 Portland, OR at Holocene
3.9.2022 Seattle, WA at The Crocodile Second Stage SOLD OUT
3.11.2022 Salt Lake City, UT at The Grand @ The Complex SOLD OUT
3.12.2022 Denver, CO at Bluebird Theatre
3.15.2022 Chicago, IL at Subterranean SOLD OUT
3.16.2022 Minneapolis, MN at 7th Street Entry SOLD OUT
3.18.2022 Winnipeg, MG at Park Theatre
3.19.2022 Saskatoon, SK at Amigos
3.22.2022 Victoria, BC at Biltmore Cabaret
3.25.2022 Edmonton, AB at The Starlite Room
3.26.2022 Calgary, AB at Commonwealth
4.14.2022 St. Catharines, ON at Warehouse
4.15.2022 London, ON at Rum Runners
4.16.2022 Waterloo, ON at Maxwell’s
6.11.2022 New York, NY at Governors Ball