“We’ll keep doing this until we start sucking” – A word with Valence

You may have opinions about New York. Now you get to have another one, and a positive one at that. Valence are high quality progressive rock artists from the Empire State – individuals who defend instrumental music, oppose prog-rocker stereotypes and are proudly nerdy-but-pretty-fun. The way music should be. We made an interview with them, and hope you enjoy it.

First things first: what’s up with the whole “instrumental” thing? Don’t you guys love money, and don’t you know catchy choruses are bound to make you money? In all seriousness: what is your rationale for keeping vocals out of your music?
Ha! No doubt that even we love a good sing-along chorus, but we kind of enjoy the instrumental thing. When we started writing our first record, Sleepwalker, we weren’t necessarily set on writing an instrumental album, but being that we didn’t have a singer we wanted to make the music interesting enough to not need a singer. At that time, we were just getting into bands like Animals as Leaders and that was certainly an inspiration for us to keep it instrumental. You know, we can’t tell you how many times we’ve played metal bands to non-metalhead friends who say “I like the music, but I can’t stand the singing.” Whether it’s an aversion to death metal growls or even over the top operatic vocals, we wanted to appeal to a broad audience, including people that don’t normally listen to metal. That said, if we found the right vocalist, maybe we’d be singing a different tune…

You’ve been playing together for seven years now. How did you get together, and how has the ride been so far?
Way before Geoff or WilHelmus.! were in the band, Valence had a former life as a female-fronted pop rock/punk/metal band started by Mike and original bassist Peter. Mike met Chris at college and brought him in on drums for that incarnation of Valence. Peter met Geoff at college and afterwards brought Geoff in to write crazy prog metal instead of a poor man’s Evanescence. That was the start of Valence as an instrumental prog group. Peter left and Ian came in on bass, which was our lineup for more than five years and is the lineup you hear on Sleepwalker and Laser Baron. We went from playing awkward shows with weird lineups at dive bars to playing shows like the official afterparty for Clutch and The Sword. We bought a bus during this time and drove all over the northeast with it, eventually running it into the ground. When Ian left, WilHelmus.! was recommended to us and after one jam with him, the rest of us were like “we need to find a way to keep this guy around.” Luckily, the last year and a half with WilHelmus.! has been great, and we can’t wait to share what the four of us have been working on with the world. So it’s been a good ride, 9/10 would ride again.

Would it be an exaggeration to say that you are primarily a live act? Obviously, your recorded material is pretty swell, but you seem to be playing live a whole lot, and have received some pretty excited reviews about your public performances.
Well, by the sheer arithmetic of it we have spent far more hours on a stage than in a studio, so we would say no, that’s not an exaggeration. The live aspect of the band has always been paramount to us as a group. We love performing, and we try to put a lot of energy out there on stage. Hopefully we’re the opposite of the stereotypical prog rocker just standing still staring at his or her hands not moving at all. And we get it, a lot of people that do that play super technical music need that focus to play such challenging stuff. Our music definitely goes there sometimes, but as much as possible, and despite our love for classical music, we want our performances to feel like rock shows, not recitals.

Your take on prog rock is really quite interesting – I hear everything from Iron Maiden to Jethro Tull in there. What bands, genres and what-not would you say have defined or at least influenced your sound?
Our influences are very broad, for sure. Of the more contemporary progressive metal stuff, Between the Buried and Me and Animals as Leaders come to mind. Dream Theater, Opeth, and the older guard of prog metal as well. Classic progressive rockers like King Crimson, Pink Floyd, and Frank Zappa are definitely an inspiration to us. Jam bands, weirdly enough, like Umphrey’s McGee and jazz fusion too, especially Al DiMeola and some of the more adventurous stuff like Mahavishnu Orchestra. We all studied music in school, so there’s a lot of jazz and classical influence there. The ways that we organize our long scale instrumental pieces and treat the different instruments from an orchestration perspective are some of the ways the classical influence shines through. Part of our mission as artists is to make music that’s eclectic, but still cohesive. We don’t want our songs to feel like they’re thrown together or random, we want them to take you on a trip, but change the scene up along the way.

Do you think being from New York is an advantage or disadvantage? Obviously, as far as finding gigs goes the whole New York-New Jersey area should be pretty great, but perhaps there’s also heavy competition?
This is a question we ask ourselves all the time. New York is definitely a competitive place, not just between artists but so often you’re competing for people’s time. There is so much to do on any given day at any given time in New York City, and it’s all too common to find out that you’re playing a show the same night as another band you play with and share fans with once it’s too late. That said, we take a glass-half-full view on the realities of New York. For one, there are other bands doing prog (including many only instrumental) in the city and there is an audience for it, so most of the bills we play on have a great lineup that makes sense. There’s a scene and a community for metalheads and even prog fans and we love being part of it. We know prog musicians from other areas that complain about how they’re always playing on weird bills since there’s no one doing what they’re doing in their area. We’re very lucky in that sense. The other thing is that there are lots of decent sized cities not far from New York: Philadelphia and Boston are very close, Burlington, Vermont and Washington DC aren’t terribly far, and so many smaller but worthwhile cities between and after these that it makes routing a quality regional tour easier than probably anywhere else in the US.

What are you guys up to when not playing music? Sex? Drugs? Rock’n roll? Manual labor?
All of the above? Seriously though, we’re all nerdy but we’re pretty fun. Mike plays video games, Geoff watches weird art movies, WilHelmus.! won’t stop quoting the Big Lebowski, and Chris is getting married. And we all like a nice beer. On top of that, WilHelmus.! is a freelance bass player and voice over artist, plus he, Mike and Chris teach music lessons.

Do you see yourselves continuing with Valence for many years no matter what, or do you have some goals you feel you need to accomplish for it to be worth your while?
We’ll keep doing this until we start sucking. At that point, unless we’re making lots of money, we’ll stop.

You’ve got a new single coming up, entitled “He tried to kill me with a fork lift”. Is this title autobiographical? Please say it is so, and tell us what happened.
Well, that was one crazy Yom Kippur… In all (some?) seriousness, the title is an allusion to Mystery Science Theater 3000. I’m pretty sure the episode/movie is “Fugitive Alien.” Man is attacked with a forklift, stops it with his bare hands hilariously and moves on. We’d written the song, had just run through it one rehearsal and somehow the quote came up in conversation, and a lightbulb went off. We realized it was the perfect title for the song.

Your view of the state of music in 2017, please. More exciting than ever, oversaturated scenes due to the internet, not like the good old days, better than the good old days..?
We personally think the dust and fallout is finally settling from the whole Napster thing. For the past 10 years it’s been a bit of a crazy, I-have-no-idea-what’s-going-on vibe. Now with more and more people consuming using streaming there seems to be a clear path to where things are going… although the industry definitely needs to figure out the pay structure for this new medium. The internet has allowed people to find music they may never have heard otherwise and for people with niche tastes to find a community of people all over the world. At the same time, it is oversaturated, and it does make it difficult to cut through the noise. This is one of the reasons we feel the live scene and our live performances are so important: it gives you something you can’t get on the internet, and if you can make an impact, you will cut through that noise. As for the business of live music, that’s a whole other ballgame. Rents are killing so many great clubs in New York, which makes keeping a scene together harder than it used to be, or so it seems.

What are your plans for the immediate and long term future? More live gigs, I’m sure, but where and what else?
August 18th we release the new single, “He Tried to Kill Me with a Forklift.” We’re very proud of it, the production is killer, and think it shows how we’ve progressed as a band since our last EP, Laser Baron. It’ll be on our Bandcamp as well as iTunes, Spotify, and all the usual suspects. As for the live shows, the single release party is the 18th at Garcia’s at the Capitol Theater in Port Chester, NY with GEPH and Wess Meets West. The following week sees us at Brooklyn Bowl with Consider the Source and Schwizz Saturday August 26th, and on September 3rd we’ll be in Manhattan with our friends Open the Nile at Bowery Electric. We can also neither confirm nor deny that we’ve finished writing our next full length album to be recorded later this year. That might just be a rumor though…

Any ultimate words of wisdom?
“If you will it, it is no dream” – Theodor Herzl, State of Israel.
And:
“Don’t sweat the petty things and don’t pet the sweaty things.”

Thanks!

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