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by Zoya Raza-Sheikh

The Canadian indie-pop collective on their fateful beginnings, finding their groove, and getting ready for tour.

Toronto quartet VALLEY first met in their college days. What began as a double booking mishap became a shared experience that would lead to the band’s genesis. After releasing their experiential debut EP Car Test in 2015, VALLEY navigated the plains of pop to curate albums awash with the kind of songs that could pass as romantic eulogies on heartbreak and longing.

As the band matured, so did their sound. With each release, VALLEY has become increasingly self-aware of their escapist Toronto pop sound. The band’s latest EP effort, Last Birthday (The After Party), a successor to similarly titled Last Party, is filled with slowed moments and post-party allure. With days to spare before the band embark on the U.S leg on their headlining I’ll Be With You tour, we caught up with all four members (Rob Laska, Karah James, Alex Dimauro, and Michael Brandolino) over Zoom to talk new music and big plans.

For those unfamiliar with VALLEY, how did you all meet?

This is kind of a broken record but the most important of our is the way we met. We met very organically. Alex and I (Rob Laska) went to high school together and one day we decided to book some recording time in a studio and we all got double-booked by the engineer. So, we all showed up serendipitously and decided to start a band after hearing each other’s music. I think that’s pretty precious.

Since your first EP in 2015 to VALLEY’s sound has shifted with each release. Did the band’s growth feel like an organic evolution?

It definitely felt natural. It’s really just a result of us finding new music and making new friends or admiring a new style of writing. It happened very naturally and it’s cool too because our listener’s tastes have changed too and it has been really well received. It’s very just like a subconscious. We all sort of learned how to write and produce together so we have that same overarching cue to sound. I definitely don’t think it’s intentional, though. There are like moments in songs like the ‘1999’ bridge where we wanted it to sound like an Alanis Morisette song, which was intentionally nostalgic. But, for the most part, it all comes out in very unintentional ways.

VALLEY has changed a lot since its earlier days. Do you see your progression in album cycles, era or something different?

Definitely eras. In our early days, we put it too much in a box, but I feel like every cycle, era or EP, we have creative points that we emphasise whether it’s hair or a certain kind of styling that we do with our stylist, it’s always all intertwined. We work with a pretty amazing crew of people to help us sew it all together and make sure there’s a certain perspective on it. It’s super important for us. I think it’s special and makes all the releases feel unique to like our listeners rather than just putting out another song or another EP or album.

As a band, what are some of your favourite lyrics from Last Birthday and Last Birthday (The After Birthday)?

I think personally like the lyric in ‘Can We Make It? Jim Carrey’ where it’s like ‘Every day couldn’t be like Disney / Everybody can’t be Jim Carrey’, because I think that there’s something to be said about the narrative saying you should always be happy. I think that’s a very unrealistic pressure to put on somebody. That song is kind of nice because it basically gives space for people to feel like not happy, anything but happy. You wouldn’t know what it feels like to be happy unless you weren’t happy sometimes. I like that lyric because it gives some forgiveness to have bad days. There’s also a lyric on the EP in the second verse of ‘Paper Cup’ where every person’s name in the band name is said. I think it’s so raw and personal and real. A lot of times as a songwriter, it’s really easy to get caught up in the clever Nashville writing, but it’s very hard to just like, write freely and Rob really nailed that one. I remember listening to it for the first time and getting the tingles. If this was my favourite band, I would think this was crazy.

Do you have any fun anecdotes behind any of the songs on the Last Birthday or After Party EP?

There’s one that I say on stage all the time and there’s a song on Last Birthday called ‘Ain’t My Girl’ and it’s one of the first songs we ever wrote as a band. I think it might be the first one like a very, it’s very old, I think, like, coming up to seven and a half years. And yeah, we just wrote it one day, and then just like, threw it and threw it in Dropbox. We were at this cabin B&B situation writing for the next record. We would work from 10 until like 8 and then we would have a dance party, listen to music and take edibles. One night we got pretty into the edibles and they took the night where it needs to go. There’s always a point where you start playing old demos from 2013-2014 and ‘ain’t my girl’ came on and we just like all looked at each other and we’re like ‘holy shit, this song is fucking insane. We didn’t know if we were high or not or if it was the edibles talking, but we woke up the next day thinking the song was great. So we ended up recording it, rewriting lyrics and we put it out. That’s my favourite story from this era because thank God for the edibles that night or I don’t know if we would have gotten into the dropbox history bank!

What are your thoughts on the Canadian soundscape shifting and getting more exposure?

Toronto has always been pretty eclectic in terms of taste and what’s come out of here. A lot of people forget how much Toronto has “exported”. I feel like we’ve always been really lucky. We’ve had such an amazing upbringing in Toronto with music. There’s such a strong Hip-Hop and R&B scene and we’ve been really tapping into that as of late. Growing up, you could go throw a rock down the street and there’d be four shows of completely different genres that you could step into. It was pretty nuts. As much as Toronto has been stereotyped as the R&B and Hip Hop export, there’s amazing world-class pop music, producers and songwriters coming out of the city. Every year there’s a new artist or a new kind of vibe coming out of the city and I’m super proud of being from here and to be a part of that.

Speaking of the Toronto scene, can you give a shout out to a few upcoming acts we should all know about?

Literally so many. All our friends and beyond so go check out The Accents because they’re an amazing duo. Go check out Elio, another amazing pop artist. Go check out Baby Girl. Go check out Dizzy. Go check out No Disco and check out Best Friend. It goes on and on.

So, last of all, what’s next for VALLEY?

We’re going on tour around mid-February and then we have some videos coming out for several different things and some festivals. We want to say things but I don’t think we’re allowed to! We’ll do a little bit of writing, but we’re probably going to get really into right after we come back from the headline and start working on the next body of work.

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