Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Men Of Two Guitars...The Valkyrie Interview!

At both the Doom Or Be Doomed Festival in 2007 and the Declaration Of Doom Fest in 2008, Baltimore was graced with some of the finest bands that not only the doom scene but that metal in general has to offer. With all that, one of the bands that impressed me the very most was Virginia’s VALKYRIE. Having already been blown away by their demos and self-titled debut album (2005), I was mesmerized by these guys in the live format. Brothers Jake & Pete Adams fused their vocal & guitar abilities into what I could only begin to describe as a metallic take on the glorious harmony work of Wishbone Ash and added a rustic, rural feel to the heaviness that was singularly sublime. They put an exclamation point on all that a few months later this year with their stunning 2nd album, “Man Of Two Visions,” which features, in this scribes mind, some of the most riveting dual guitar work in recent times. Recently, I talked to Jake Adams about this new record, VALKYRIE’s live work, brother Pete’s entering the Baroness line-up and more!

RAY - Obviously there’s a beginning to every story. At least that’s what my creative writing teacher in college told me. So, as not to mess up my belief in that old guy’s greatness, how’s about giving me the low-down on how you got involved in music & how it led to VALKYRIE?

JAKE - I started playing guitar at age 13, my brother started around the same time- he was 11. it was 1993. We grew up playing guitars in punk bands and playing everything from Nofx to Nirvana to Allman Brothers to Sabbath. Towards the end of high school I had a band that played stuff influenced by the Wipers, Fugazi, and Dinosaur Jr. Pete had moved to Richmond and joined a street punk/oi band, then came back to Rockbridge to form a psychobilly/punk/metal crossover band. About four years later I formed Valkyrie out of an interest to play riffs and solos in the tradition of Tull , Sabbath, and Zeppelin. Pete joined up shortly thereafter.

RAY - The whole “brothers” thing…See, I’m an only child…which may explain my bi-polar tendencies, but with you and Pete, how does it work? Do you always get along well? Nearly kill each other? With you both singing/playing lead, do you think you 2 have a kind of connection that you couldn’t possibly have if you weren’t siblings, with the harmony leads & all that? Or am I putting words in your mouth and simply sound like an ass?

JAKE - Hahaha, no , you don't sound like an ass- there is a connection that comes from the genetic link between brothers that is hard to beat- it can be be very cool at times. We usually get along, but every so often we get into it. Usually we don't let it go too far though. But there have been times I have felt bad for our bandmates who have to hear us moaning and wailling from time to time.

RAY - You guys are located in Harrisonburg, VA in the Shenandoah Valley. Is this where you’re from originally? How do you think the rural environment affects your music? To me, even though it’s heavy stuff, highly amplified, electric and all that…well, it has what sounds to me like a very rustic, rural overtone that sort of embodies the feeling of the area you’re from. Of course, again, I may be full of shit. Please tell me to shut up if the thought crosses your mind.

JAKE - I have lived in Harrisonburg for about ten years, I moved up here to go to school, and still haven't quite finished. But we are from Rockbridge County, which is about an hour south of here. Our bass player, Will, is from there as well although now he lives in Richmond. Our drummer, Warren, lives about an hour NE of me in Greene County. I have always tried to reflect a rural atmosphere in the music- thanks for noticing that- I guess keeping some folky elements in there helps that, but I would like to think there a little more to the "vibe" that conjures up a "country" feel.

RAY - Let’s do some “band” association. Give me your thoughts on the following:

RAY - Wishbone Ash:

JAKE - majestic, soulful, mind-blowing harmonized guitars- I LOVE THIS BAND.

RAY - Black Sabbath:

JAKE - heavy, dark, psychedelic, what can I say? the godfathers of doom- and heavymetal 101.

RAY - The Wipers:

JAKE - one my alltime favorites, Greg Sage really captures spirituality and a spacy feeling in his music.

RAY - Thin Lizzy:

JAKE - Another group that comes across with real soul and conviction, some of the best guitars ever.

RAY - The Obsessed:

JAKE - All american doom rock, another one of my favorites, Wino's finest hour- my favorites are "concrete cancer" and "yen sleep."

RAY - Mastodon:

JAKE - they do some cool stuff with their guitars, and they have worked hard to get where they have. much respect, a unique sound, but typically too frenetic for me, it tends to give me a headache.

RAY - Let’s do some “word” association!

RAY - Budweiser:

JAKE - cheap beer, I guess it's good if you don't have money for better stuff, I don't drink anymore, so....

RAY - Sarah Palin:

JAKE - wolf hunting from helicopters

RAY - Marshall:

JAKE - some pretty nice amps. I like my laney though!

RAY - Female Valkyrie Fans:

JAKE - few and far between, but loyal

RAY - Obama:

JAKE - change? Hahahahaha

RAY - Too loud:

JAKE - yeah, you had better turn it down, unless you want tinnitus! haha I have never been an earplug guy- we'll see where that gets me.

RAY - It’s been awhile since the self-titled VALKYRIE disc. What kind of label is Noble Origin & how did you hook up with them? Do you think in this day & age, that a small label or even a self-release can be promoted as easily as signing with a larger label?

JAKE - I started Noble Origin myself, basically because at the level we are, we can tap into the same distro another label would be able to. At the point that we want to do some more touring, we might look for a larger label that can offer more promo etc, but for now this is fine. I think a smaller label can do a whole lot- it just takes time and energy, two things in short supply right now- but we are getting it out there slowly.

RAY - As great as “Valkyrie” was, “Man Of Two Visions” easily eclipses it, in my opinion. How do you think you guys have developed between records?

JAKE - Thanks! Well, my knowledge of heavy metal has expanded a lot, and I listen to a lot more progressive stuff now. I think we have more NWOBHM in there now, and less stoner. Also the sound is more upbeat.

RAY - How does the songwriting work in the band, do you & Pete bring in most of the ideas? How does it then work in terms of who’s going to take what solo? On the harmony leads, do one or the other of you always take the higher part?

JAKE - Usually I come in with a bass line, or main riff and vocal concept, and Pete will put down some harmonies, he has riffs that he has written as well, and we will fit those in . He wrote the intro for False Dreams, for example. Then again, he wrote the main parts of Apocalypse Unsealed, and I wrote the intro/outro. It all depends on nature of the song as to who plays what, but we will trade off solos as necessary, we usually both try to get at least one in every song. But typically I will stay with a lower octave harmony and Pete will find something that sounds good in the higher range. These days Pete tends to write more than he used to, but now that he is playing with Baroness, we will see how that shapes up , I might have to go back to a central songwriting role, like most of the stuff on the 1st album.

RAY - “Man…” seems to be the work of a very patient band. That is, songs like “Apocalypse Unsealed” & “False Dreams” contain what can be called “intros” and the pace never seems to be rushed, although there is still a ton of energy. Commentary?

JAKE - Haha, hmm. Well, what can you do, we try to write "songs," so a lot of it is creating an atmosphere, and that often takes time. You have to "build up" to different parts too. It adds to the overall effect.

RAY - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! Has VALKYRIE ever played (or would you consider playing) at a Haunted Hayride? Please consider your response carefully!

JAKE - Haha, sure, why not, I imagine it might be a bumpy ride, but other than that, it sounds like something worth doing.

RAY - The instrumentals, “Green Highlander” and “The Gorge” really send the album to a higher level, in my opinion. What can you tell us about the background of these? Who plays which parts? Does the title “The Gorge” refer to a real place?

JAKE - Pete wrote the Gorge and plays it by himself on the album. That was the culmination of a period of time when he was playing a ton of open tuning stuff. When he played it for me in its entirety, I said- "that's going on the record!" I'm glad I had that idea, it is a great tune. The chords for "Green Highlander he wrote, and I wrote the lead for that one. "the Gorge" is one of Pete's favorite fishing holes in Rockbridge, and "Green Highlander" is the name of a flyflishing lure he likes to use.

RAY - I understand that Pete has recently joined BARONESS. What was his background there, did he/you know them or did he just happen to find out they were looking for a guitarist? He seems like he would be a very good fit with them. Do you see this as a potential negative for VALKYRIE, as far as being able to continue that band?

JAKE - We grew up next door to Baroness' bass player Summer out in the county, and we played music all through high school in Lexington with their main guitarist/vocalist John. Allen ( drums) and his brother grew up a block down the street from John and we knew them but not well until later in high school. We had been mostly been out of touch with them for the past few years, on different scenes and taking a different path musically- of course they were touring their asses off. In hindsight it makes sense that eventually they would call Pete to play, but it was a little surprising when John called Pete and asked him to join up. Pete and John have a history of writing together so it makes good sense musically. It may be annoying having to work around their tour schedule at times, but it will probably be fine because I will be busy starting a teaching career in the next year or two so I will be busy with that anyway. Plus Pete's experience on the road will only help him in his role with Valkyrie, and he continues to encourage Valkyrie to higher aspirations- which we may pursue at some point.

RAY - I also understand you’re working toward becoming a 6-12th grade teacher. Besides possibly needing your head examined, tell us a little more about this side of yourself and your plans in that direction. Again, do you see VALKYRIE continuing to fit into your future plans, with this in mind?

JAKE - Well, it has taken me a while to figure out that if anything is my "calling" it would be teaching- I seem to have a knack for it. So yeah, this May (knock on wood) I will be getting my licensure to teach social studies in grades 6-12. Teaching works for me because it is a service-oriented career and in order to sleep at night I think I really need a job that directly helps others. You can't have much more of a direct impact than being a teacher. I want to do my part to help build a better world society, because right now we live in some dark times. As far as Valkyrie, I plan on keeping it going as long as I can, and eventually I would like to do some more serious touring. It might work out that I can tour during summer vacations! We'll see.

RAY - Being a teacher & all that, what the hell do you do when you end up with a classroom full of out-of-control high school senior’s who don’t know about anything other than rap music?! Seriously, what do you think is the best way to approach teaching kids that age these days?

JAKE - Well, you have to make the material relevant to their lives, so if it means having them write a rap song in order to learn it, so be it, Music is always good in aiding learning. No, I know what you mean, and it will be a challenge many times, but I think if I show a genuine interest in them as people they will respond to that. I think part of my strategy will be to use current events and issues to teach history, in order to make the learning more practical. Otherwise, why else would they need to know about what was going on hundreds of years ago unless it has practical implications for their lives now? But yeah, sometimes, pop culture, as much as it may be crap, is the best tie-in.

RAY - I know you guys have played up this way (Baltimore) a few times? How far have you gotten away from home base as far as touring goes? Do you get local gigs on a regular basis?
When I am not super busy with school , we tend to play locally every month or two. We have been as far out as Phoenix, and we have toured to Chicago and Austin, and Portland ME, in the north, so we have traveled a decent amount. We have gotten to where we can do a pretty successful tour of the mid-atlantic/northeast these days.

JAKE - RED LIGHT CHALLENGE! Do you think teaching an orangutan to play guitar left handed would make it more likely to be influence by Iommi? Or should hairier primates stick with acoustic instruments, for safety purposes?

JAKE - Ray, this question is too crazy to even be answered. It should stand alone.

RAY - Even with all the things you guys have going on…what do you see down the road for the band? Any new songs taking shape yet?

JAKE - I have a few new songs I am working on, no plans for recording yet, we do plan on doing a solid two weeks next summer, maybe in July 2009 of the east coast.

RAY - Of course, you know I’m not going to let you slide without this one… Tell us an interesting anecdote, a funny story or an utterly obscene tale from the history of your time in VALKYRIE.

JAKE - Well, there are probably funnier tales to be told, but I am drawing a blank right now. But one time we were playing a little bar in Asheville NC, it was our first time playing there in that city. We were playing with a side-project of Chad Davis( US CHRISTMAS,HOUR OF 13) called D-LAB. Anyway, it was getting late, and only a few people were there for the show, so we were sitting at the bar bitching with the bartender about how no one supports good shows etc, blah blah blah. Almost as if on cue, a ton of kids started streaming down the stairs for the show- it was all the crusty "scene" kids basically. We were like, "ok , I guess we can play now- " and it turned out pretty well, everybody had a good time. Actually a couple of girls tried pretty hard to take Pete home with them that night. In a sad irony, it turns out the rumor had been spread that BARONESS was playing, and that's why all the kids came! I think they were pleasantly surprised, but BARONESS had played there before, and at that time played more crust/dbeat stuff so of course they were there for that, not clasic doom rock- but anyway, it was still a crowd. What can you do?

RAY - Any final comments?

JAKE - Ray, thanks alot for all the support over the years. From one true fan to another, thanks. I really appreciate the insightful questions and genuine interest.

VALKYRIE are a super-unique band. They not only write songs that will stand the test of time thanks to an awesome combination of heaviness and melody but also feature some of the best harmony lead guitar work this side of Thin Lizzy & Wishbone Ash. VALKYRIE write music that has enough depth to evoke the feelings of the gorgeous Shenandoah Valley and yet heavy enough to stomp your ass into oblivion. Check ‘em out now & get ready to sell your guitar!

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