Sometimes you come to love a band because they put out amazing music. Sometimes you love them because they are amazing people. In the case of upstate New York's Darling Valley, both are true in abundance. Playing wonderful folk-pop that is the perfect balance of radio-friendliness and old fashioned goodness, this quartet comprised of two couples gave us something amazing with their debut LP Crooked Orchards.
Due to some complications, this interview sat in my inbox for an absurd amount of time, but the kind folks in the band still allowed us to run it here.
Rob 1340 (RF): Hi! Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Would you mind introducing the members of the band and what everyone plays?
Ashleigh Whitfield (AW): Lauren (Foster), TJ (Foster) and I share vocal duties. Lauren also plays trumpet, and I do keys and percussion. Jordan (Stewart) is our guitar, mandolin and cowbell extraordinaire, and TJ plays everything from guitar to drums to didgeridoo to theremin.
RF: How did the four of you come to be Darling Valley?
Lauren Foster (LF): The four of us came to be Darling Valley over the course of a few years. The band started as a two piece and then quickly became a five piece, down to a three piece, and finally a four piece. The morphing spanned many different talents and tastes until we found our niche. At the time we were called “Accents” - but that old name didn't fit the new, folk pop-y sound that we gravitated towards. We loved where we came from, but as we became a four piece we felt new. It was important to us to cherish that new feeling while remembering our roots.
Jordan Stewart (JS): TJ and I have known each other for a pretty long time, and we’ve played in a few different bands together. He kind of adopted me as lead guitarist for his songwriting over the years, which is very flattering because I wasn’t very good when we started! “Accents” is really the direct precursor to Darling Valley as Lauren said – that was originally a solo project TJ started, and he brought a rhythm section, Lauren, and myself in to complete the live line-up for the 1st album. After that we wrote and recorded a follow-up album, and during that time we all collectively got married (not all together….but might as well be for all of the time we spend together). Right after that release though, the other two guys left to pursue some other projects, and we kind of had to make a decision of where we wanted to go. Ashleigh started joining us for shows to help fill out our live sound, and things just gelled and we kind of saw where we could take the band. We still play a few Accents songs live, but Darling Valley has become its own thing.
RF: How did you come to work with Sounds and Tones Records?
JS: We first worked with Sounds and Tones earlier this year, when they asked us to play a Feminism in the Arts Showcase that they put on for Women’s History Month. We got on their radar thanks to our friends in Joe Mansman & the Midnight Revival Band, so we certainly owe them for that! In playing that show, we were all immediately struck by how passionate Chris Hantman and the whole S&T team was for music and artists, as well as the fact that they shared our love of supporting great causes through music. We had a great time and kept in touch. When we finished the album a few months later, we didn’t quite know how we were going to release it. Right around the same time, Chris reached out to us and just expressed how much he loved what we were doing, and that if we ever needed a partner for our the album, S&T would be happy to release it. We knew what a great community was involved with S&T, and that coupled with the fact that they had real excitement for our music made it a perfect fit. They have been incredible to work with so far, and the artists on the roster are some of the most talented people that we know.
RF: Sounds and Tones has had a bit of an inroads into the CNY scene with yourselves and Joe Mansman. What other artists in the Central New York scene should people be on the lookout for?
TJ Foster (TF): In addition to Joe and his band (who put on an incredible show, by the way), we're lucky to have a lot of friends in bands in the area, and even luckier to have no shortage of talent. Stellar Young - they have been getting huge in this area over the past couple years (a few of them actually went to college with Jordan and I). And Olivia Quillio is a fantastic singer/songwriter who reminds me of what I imagine a Norah Jones/Feist hybrid would sound like.
AW: The Stockade Kids put on an amazing live show. Lauren and I fangirl over them every time.
RF: Where did the name Crooked Orchards come from?
LF: Crooked Orchards was probably one of the easiest decisions we settled on as a band. That's saying a lot! We wanted an album title that was symbolic of our two marriages. Crooked Orchards combines the names of the two separate places where we were married and where we all celebrated those weddings together.
RF: What is your favorite track on Crooked Orchards?
AW: This changes every day for me…
LF: My favorite track on the record! It's very difficult to choose a favorite track on the whole record because each song has a different meaning to me. But I have told TJ that I think "Make it Right" is the best song he's ever written - when it comes on I can never skip it; it gives me chills.
TF: Choosing your favorite track on an album is kind of like choosing between your kids… But if I had to pick, I think "Five Years At Sea" would get my vote. To me, this is the epitome of the collaboration between the four of us that went into this record. I wrote this one entirely instrumental first and we then came up with the idea to visit the lyrics and melodies from all different perspectives. So Jordan came up with a story for us to follow, I wrote the verses, Lauren wrote the choruses and Ashleigh wrote the refrain. And it's one of the only songs on the record that we each sing our respective parts with no backing from the others until the very end when we all come together. That particular moment was kind of a happy accident during recording and we were all just beaming afterwards. In addition to that, this album marks the first time I've ever played or recorded drums and "Five Years at Sea" was such a blast to write and play in that respect.
JS: For me, it is “Five Years at Sea” as well. It's this perfect combination of all of the different styles and bands that I have loved over the years. I’ve always had a soft spot for concept albums and songs, so I love the fact that it has an overarching story. I’m always amazed at what my bandmates were able to do with their three part interweaving vocals and harmonies on it, and I love how the guitars have a very post-rock feel to them on the song, kind of reminiscent of “Explosions in the Sky” or similar bands. It’s like…progressive folk post-rock. I also think the final message is an important one too: No matter what adventures you go on, don’t forget to share time with the people who you love and that love you. They won’t be around forever.
RF: Your music video for “You’ll Go Far Kid” was directed by an Eight Year Old. What’s the story there?
TF: "You'll Go Far, Kid" is probably the most uplifting song I've ever written. Haha. It's basically a letter to my younger self combined with one to the next generation of confused and misunderstood kids about powering through the difficult times and believing in yourself along the way. I wanted to write a song that my daughter could listen and relate to even at such a young age. She is actually the director in question here. Even before we were finished with the album, we had the idea to have her film a video for us because we thought it would come out adorable and really capture the youthful, tight-knit side of our band. Because this particular song has a "follow your heart" type of theme, we took it one step further and wanted half the video to be the documentation of her conceptualizing and shooting it. It's sort of like music video inception, haha. Anyways, we're really proud of it, and most importantly so is she.
JS: It was really great to just see a kid’s perspective on the world. It’s just so optimistic, with a feeling that you can do anything that you want. We really lose that as adults, which is sad. The message of the song is not to give up on your dreams and believe in yourself, so I can’t think of a more perfect way than to let a little girl express her creativity.
Interview continues after video below:
RF: Do you feel Darling Valley’s sound is best suited for the open fields of a festival or the closed confines of a bar/club?
TF: Definitely the open fields of a festival. The bar/club scene for a band like us can be tricky. Some nights you get crowds that are really respectful and there for the music, and then other nights you get crowds that are there mainly to drink, socialize and just see their friends play. And both are fine, but when you're playing relatively quieter arrangements like we do, the latter makes it more difficult to really find a groove on stage. We rely a lot on vocal harmonies and acoustic instruments, and our kind of 'organic' sound suits the great outdoors pretty well I think.
RF: If you could tour with any band currently playing today, who would you want to go out with?
AW: Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls. I can listen to Frank Turner albums all day, every day for the rest of my life and never get bored.
LF: The Tallest Man on Earth! Wait, I take that back. If we toured with TMOE I would be too shamed to perform knowing and witnessing what an amazing musical experience he gives the audience. Just get me front row seats every night!
JS: The Decemberists. No Question. I think stylistically it’d be perfect. Colin Meloy – give us a call!
TF: My favorite band is Death Cab - if I could share the stage with them for even a night, I think I could die a happy man.
RF: Where can people learn more about Darling Valley?
AW: We have a brand new website, and we are on all of the social medias … although if you follow us on Snapchat, you’ll have to help us figure out how to use it. Here’s a handy list of where you can find us:
RF: Thanks again gang!
The Poison Red
Release Date: July 8, 2016
Florida quintet Nonpoint return with their ninth full length album. This time around, the band find themselves on Spinefarm Records and their first delivery for the label is quite possibly one of their best, but it will certainly be a fan favorite no matter where the critics fall on the subject.
The opening trio of songs is the album’s strongest component. The powerful and dynamic “Generation Idiot” kicks it off with the band’s signature half-rapped vocal and stutter step music works. They bring all the heavy together with a big, charged up chorus that you can’t help but dig. “Foaming at the Mouth” is a little more straightforward but the breakdowns are killer and take the song from run-of-the-mill to something special. Vocally, it’s insane and the chorus will make you wat to bob your head and stomp around the yard. “Bottled Up Killer Bees” round out the trio with a big, ole slab of pissed off aggression that pays particular attention to melody without losing any of the heaviness.
After the initial trio of songs, the album is solid, and quite enjoyable, but never quite reaches the same level of awesomeness. “No Running Allowed” is one of the rest of the album’s better moments, showcasing the fact that the band can be simple, straightforward, and heavy and still bring it. “Divided…Conquer Them” is a dynamic entry that features some interesting guitar work that mostly underlies the midtempo rocker and some excellent vocal work that sticks with you long after the song is done.
There is a ton of energy on this album and that should not come as a surprise to anyone who has followed this band over the years. Even if you don’t like their brand of Hard Rock/Nu Metal/Radio Rock, you cannot deny that this is a talented bunch of musicians that have consistently delivered the goods for the past two decades. The Poison Red is an excellent album and fans of artists like P.O.D., Disturbed, Five Finger Death Punch, and Korn will especially find a lot to love here.
Reviewed by mark1340
The New Low
Razor & Tie Records
Release Date: July 22, 2016
The New Low is a “new band” that realistically is the remnants of Hearts and Hands. Technically their first record, Continuance is a beautiful sounding Alternative Rock record fueled by passionate vocals and great melodies. Unfortunately, it’s also bogged down by some forced sounding Metalcore style breakdowns.
One of the highlights here is certainly “My Own Way.” It’s got a wildly catchy melody and the heartfelt soar of the vocals is downright infectious. Atmospheric guitars abound as the rhythm section drivse the song along. While, for the most part, I don’t enjoy the Metalcore bits, they fit more naturally on this one and really enhance the song overall. The acoustic “Start Over” is a gorgeous tune that brings a new dynamic to the record and shows how talented these guys are. It’s hard to shine when all the tricks are stripped away but this soulful offering shines the brightest. The radio-friendly and empowering “Burning Bridges” is a fist-pumper that makes me wonder what Fall Out Boy would sound like if Jesse Leach and Adam D. joined the band.
Overall, I really dig this record but, to be honest, a lot of the songs are bogged down by the Metalcore elements. They become a distraction rather than something that enhances the songs. Continuance is a well-written record that tries hard to soar (and manages to a good bit of the time) and I can’t wait to hear what comes next for The New Low because this is obviously just the beginning.
Reviewed by mark1340
Release Date: July 29, 2016
On the heels of EPs from both bands comes a split featuring two new songs each. Nashville’s Secret Stuff deliver some great additions to their Emo catalog while Phoenix’s Sundressed offer an acoustic tune and an Indie Rocker that leans a bit more towards the Pop Punk side of things. The EP is available as a digital download and in three different colored vinyl versions.
It amazes me how easily Secret Stuff can transport me back to the nineties. Their particular brand of Emo is electrified and understated in a way that few bands still know how to do it. “Ew, You Taste Like Cigarettes”, for example, has a quintessentially slow build into an explosive and emotional chorus that makes you want to sing your soul out. It’s cathartic and wildly worshipful. “You Betcha, Pal” is a great song as well, driven along by a slightly off-kilter vocal and an acoustic base that drives the song’s mid-tempo melody along.
This is my first experience with Sundressed and color me impressed! “Autopilot” is a fun Indie Rock leaning tune that is pretty dynamic for this genre. While the song winds up in an upbeat groove, it takes some detours on the way there that catch your attention right from the get go. The acoustic “Best Of/Worst Of” however is by far my favorite tune on the EP. The vocals shine here, perfectly complimenting the rhythmic acoustic work. The lyrics really hit home as well, which is particularly surprising to me. Millennials and Gen Xers tend to not connect lyrically all that often.
Overall, you should pick this up if you like any kind of Indie Rock or Emo. This split has a great spirit about it that that encourages introspection without losing any of the punch you hope for in any collection of songs. You need to own this because it’s a proud moment for 2016!
Reviewed by mark1340
Apollo Under Fire
Apollo Under Fire
Cavigold Records/EMP Label Group
Release Date: June 3, 2016
Apollo Under Fire came together in 2014 in Florida. This self-titled offering is their debut release through Seattle-based Cavigold Records and EMP Label Group, led by Megadeth’s David Ellefson and Thom Hazaert. The album is chock full of pristine guitar work, heartfelt vocals, and anthemic songwriting in an AOR vein.
The thing here that immediately grabs you are the vocals and the guitars. They are both spotlighted in the mix, which makes for a lighter sound than I bet they have live. “Weightless” is a highlight here for sure. The vocals are mildy grittier than on some of the other tracks and it’s got a really bright chorus that makes you feel empowered. It’s an easy song to connect with lyrically as it’s all about being free and being able to be who you are, a common struggle for any person, but the band expertly keep it out of cheesy territory. The explosive “Wings” is another highlight here in my opinion. It’s deep acoustic verses are complimented well by anthemic choruses and some damn good drumming that pushes the whole thing along like a freight train, reminding me a bit of the last Fuel album. The barebones album cap “Sweet Freedom” is another excellent moment that shows off vocalist Donald Carpenter’s obvious talent in a raw way that will easily connect with listeners.
I really enjoy this album. It’s got a really light, radio-friendly feel to it that is easy to get lost in. The only thing that holds this album back really is the mix. While the production is pristine, the drums and bass are really low in the mix and it keeps a lot of the songs from really becoming the powerhouses that I believe they are. With a different mix, Apollo Under Fire might appeal to a broader audience but if you like radio-friendly anthems then this is a great listen that you’ll be happy you found.
Reviewed by mark1340