People remember the first time they laid eyes on New York City’s shining skyline. On “There’s Still A Light in the House,” the Canadian indie pop band Valley gives a nod to Jack Antonoff’s Shadow of the City and its small-town nostalgia with an anthemic chorus that matches the ambition of Taylor Swift’s “Welcome To New York,” recalling one of their first encounters with the city: “There’s a million ways to pass the day on a concrete island/ We try to get past it, just stuck in the traffic.”
After celebrating their second Juno Award nomination last month, Valley stopped by Governors Ball last Saturday (June 11). All four members of the band – lead singer Rob Laska, guitarist Michael “Mickey” Brandolino, bassist Alex Dimauro and drummer Karah James – are from the Toronto suburbs, but they spent a lot of time in New York and made their first record, Maybe, in the city.
Their first set at Gov Ball’s GoPuff Stage saw an intimate turn-up. The band opened with their new song “CHAMPAGNE,” a pop-leaning number that features James on lead vocal, and the crowd quickly picked up the chorus to “Oh shit … are we in love?” after a few refrains. As more people gathered, the band dove into their repertoire and played some of their best-known tracks, including “Can We Make It (Jim Carrey)?” “SOCIETY” and “Tempo,” which sent the fans into a delirium when Laska and Brandolino leaned into each other while harmonizing on their instruments in half-time, classic rock style.
The group kept their setlist short and punchy, leaving out songs that just “hit the hardest in headphones, studio-style,” like their experimental fan-favorite “Park Bench” or the Vampire Weekend-reminiscent “Swim.” “We figured out what satisfies us as artists and players,” Laska said. “We have to be excited about the song we’re playing.” They closed with “Like 1999,” a song that blew up during the COVID-19 pandemic as an ode to a distant but simpler time. After their performance, the band sat down with Billboard to chat about their next project, musical influences and their favorite memories with fans. This interview has been edited for clarity and context.
You just shared a live performance of your new song “CHAMPAGNE” shot at Stevies Groceries. Why a grocery store?
Karah James: There’s no hidden Easter egg reason why the grocery store, but we’ve been trying to film in a grocery store for so long. We found this independent grocery store actually close to where I live. And music video aside, it’s my favorite grocery store now. I always go there. It has all the niche stuff. We thought it was fun to dress up in aprons and stuff. We all had part time jobs before. Rob and Alex worked at Starbucks; Mike was a busboy for a hot second; I was a lifeguard-slash-landscaping kind of thing.
Mickey Brandolino: Ironically a vegan now, I spent a couple of years in high school working at the seafood department at our local grocery store. That’s probably why I’m vegan now, to be honest, the trauma.
I saw Karah even has a “Stevie” tattoo on her arm.
Karah: I can’t give it away yet. But we’re sort of structuring our album around this character Stevie. We’re not sure if that’ll be the album name, or if it’ll just be a character on the album. This is our sophomore album – but Stevie is up for interpretation. We know who Stevie is, but Stevie is a different person to everybody, so you’ll see. It’s in the early stages of conception, so it’s still a bit of a gray area, but we’re slowly chipping away at our core concepts.
Will more songs on the album feature Karah on the vocals like “CHAMPAGNE”?
Karah: I’m sure it’ll work out to be that way. Right now, it’s mostly just a mix of everybody. The reason that “CHAMPAGNE” is featuring me as a lead vocalist is because I was the person who sang the demo. And then when we brought it to the rest of the band, they’re like, oh, we kind of like your voice on it. So maybe that’ll happen again. But again, it’s challenging for me because I play the drums. We usually have to figure out how I’m going to sing. But for these couple of songs, Mickey comes around to the drums and we switch, so that’s a pretty fun little moment.
Is “CHAMPAGNE” any indicator of what the next album will sound like?
Mickey: Honestly, not really. It’s constantly changing. I think there’s definitely a lot of aspects of “CHAMPAGNE” across the record. But like we’ve always done, every song is gonna have a different vibe. Some things influenced by R&B, some things influenced by U.K. rock, and some things influenced by straight up top 40 pop. I think every kind of song has a different base to it. But there’s definitely sprinkles of “CHAMPAGNE” vibes across the record.
Will it also be released in parts, like you did with The After Party?
Rob Laska: We’re always messing around with a new way to present our music and roll it out for fans to explore with us. So we actually don’t know how we’re gonna do it. It might just be an album drop. We’re always trying to find the next thing to get us excited about how to roll out the music. We rolled out Maybe, our debut record because John Mayer was doing the waves thing. We’re always looking at other artists who are being innovative, and how can we pull from that.
You’re a John Mayer fan?
Rob: That’s both of us (points to Mickey)! We grew up on John Mayer. We had John Mayer guitar tab books and stuff. We love John – he’s in the top 3% of generational songwriters. I think Olivia Rodrigo just joined that club, too.
Talking about Olivia, she also filmed a video at a grocery store.
Rob: Yeah! So when we came up with that concept, I just watched her documentary. And I thought it was incredible. I love all these live performances in really unorthodox places, and these really beautiful, movie-esque shots. It’s really cool, so we did take a page from that. I told all of our directors, I was like, watch that and take inspo from it.
And Alex and Karah, who are your biggest musical influences?
Alex Dimauro: It’s kind of a mixed bag, because I grew up personally on a bunch of different types of music. I grew up listening to what my parents listened to, and then I dove into a bunch of stuff that I found on my own. I grew up listening to classic rock and 80s’ pop music and stuff like that. And a lot of that, honestly, has been anthemic for our friend group throughout the years, but probably one of my biggest personal inspirations is Coldplay, Green Day – just such great songwriting. That’s definitely hit me personally.
Karah: In terms of songwriter, if I’m being honest, I don’t really pull directly from anybody. It’s kind of just what I’m feeling. But in terms of performance and playing and singing, recently, when I heard Clairo for the first time a few years ago, and I heard her sing, I realized that a quiet white girl can sing because it was hard for me to find my sound without any sort of representation or person that I could be like, okay, my voice is similar to that person. That’s how I’m going to harness it. But I think once I heard Clairo, that’s like the closest thing I’ll get to an influence, the closest thing I’ll get to a person that can sing the way that I sing. But then obviously, she also does a lot of soul and stuff. And I like that, too, but I just didn’t think I could do it until I heard her.
You have told the story of how you guys met by chance when you were overbooked at a studio once – but what is the story behind the band name “Valley”?
Rob: We’re obsessed with how things fold down on paper. We’re very visual people. When we wanted to get a band name, we’re like, Okay, let’s go with something – it doesn’t have to make sense, necessarily, but let’s go with something that just has symmetry and feels really nice to look at. So the V and the Y and the two L’s – it just felt very symmetrical. And then we ended up flipping the L one day at rehearsal and it just came together really perfectly. And the best thing about bands names is that it becomes whatever you make it. I always say this, like, what is a Coldplay? I don’t know. You can’t describe it. But the moment you hear their name, you just hear their music and their world and we want to do that with Valley. Now when you think of Valley – if you know the band – you’re not thinking of literal valleys, you’re thinking of our aesthetic or everything.
You also gave a name to your fandom, the Val Pals. What are some of your favorite Val Pal memories?
Mickey: We were playing in Kentucky, and I don’t know why I just didn’t expect fans to be there. Because I knew nothing about Kentucky other than maybe some Southern U.S. movies. And we have so many fans there. They showed up with Maybe jackets, which is our album cover, but they came with their own homemade ones. It was just a really great first memory.
Rob: We have an amazing group of Val Pals from around the world that all talk to each other. They do zooms; they have Twitter pages; and basically, they made us this insane scrapbook. It’s called the “I’ll Be With You” project; it’s tons of letters from fans and their experiences with our music, and what they’ve gone through with our music, photos from shows. It’s literally a Valley Bible. It’s so thick and it’s just filled with memories from fans and notes from around the world. It’s a never-ending book of Valley memories. Our Val Pals are the best. They really go above and beyond there. They’re some of the best fans in the world.
You have two Juno Award nominations under your belt; you’ve had your first headlining tour, and now you’re playing Gov Ball. Where do you see yourself in five to seven years?
Rob: Headlining Gov Ball! Manifesting. I think a big goal is to sell out as many shows around the world. We’d love to go to Asia and everywhere else. We also just want to be making great songs. It always comes down to great songwriting. The real thing I really ask of us in five to seven years is that we’re just still focusing on the craft, because nothing means anything without the songs. All the shows – everything that all follows just great songwriting. I hope we stay consistent and just always remember what’s most important.
Mickey: We always talk about how it’s like when we go out for dinner with old friends who are like doctors. We’re like, man, what are we doing for a living? We’re not helping the world. And then they always tell us, we go home and we listen to music and we watch TV and that gives us connection and love and feelings like relaxation and escapism and all that. I think making music that connects with people is kind of our civil duty existing as artists.
What are you guys doing to celebrate Pride Month?
Rob: We’re dropping an alt version of “CHAMPAGNE” out into Pride Month. It’s really fun. We all sing on it. It’s actually a very inclusive cover – I guess there’s some knitting there. We just all took a verse of “CHAMPAGNE” – Alex sings the bridge; Mickey sings the second verse. We’re really excited.