Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Valley Soul's "Talking Pictures" Part One - Good Spirits at a Coffee Lounge? The Best.

I arrived beside a familiar face around the corner from East Village coffee lounge on Saturday night, the Tenth of June, 2017. The night prior, I attended this Mister Vucina’s concert, Mental Musk’s second performance at Cuz’s Sportsman Club, but my weekend fervor was not thus diminished. We jittered and twirled excitedly about until the adjacent parking spots were full with friends, and we transited to Griffin Plaza. This forum is located outside the cafĂ© in such a manner that they seem a singular entity. Such could be easily believed, for the plaza was amok with the overflow of patrons, and every time I finished my greeting of one guest, I was fettered by another. Former members of Glass House mingled with the Beholder Band and Mental Musk, sprinkled with every other bard on the peninsula, from mercenary musicians to staple songwriters. For a moment, I saw the reticent Adam Ingram stood inside beneath his distinctive baseball cap, watching the gentle lullabies of Beach Dayze during their melancholy opening performance. Perhaps it was but an exhaustion of any ill humours still under his skin, for Adam to indulge the art rather than mingle as did I until Valley Soul took the stage. “My emotions about last night are multi-layered, and it’s daunting to think about how to express myself,” he told me upon our chance to converse. “There was this layer of faith. A faith that happens when someone has to hold on and trust that their efforts aren’t in vain. Excitement, anxiety, and pure gratitude bubbled up, off and on.” Layers certainly began to peel away from early in the dusk, but how else might emerge the fresh carapace, like a clean palate to slather in paint?
After uncounted weeks tended by the comfort of partial reclusion, there were becoming few obligations that might spur me from my corral. Facebook berated me daily, told me which muses were to sing their songs that night or the proximate weekend, and I ignored them in majority. The muses who succeed best in luring my pretentious self from the ascetics of breadwork and editing, however, are often those whose attempts were without vanity, without the foolhardy assurance that the ticket fare was worth its price. Imagine a gal, one of a class I have heard affectionately described as the ‘manic pixie type,’ while she sensually devours a piece of peanut-butter toast, the camera held low-angle and within a hand’s length from her maw. Two minutes and fourteen seconds is four-hundred and fifty percent of a normal advertisement, but I watched it all with a grimace I wish I had photographed. Worry not of my meaning - I grimaced only for the sound of chewed peanut-butter. Otherwise, I was elated. This was the advertisement for a KPIG radio feature of Valley Soul’s debut album, Talking Pictures, and I had awaited this album since even before my purchase of their self-titled EP. Such discomforting ecstasy was not their entire promotional campaign. In another video, Tommy Howbert and Adam Ingram stood in a concrete yard, one dribbling a basketball and the other jittering side to side. “Hey BROTHER,” Tommy slapped his hands and his thighs, “why doncha go ahead n pass me that rock?” and he slapped his hands and his thighs. This was the most professional absurdist basketball lesson I had ever received, as Tommy gracefully(?) employed techniques of swishing that could land a pea in a thimble, and it was also an advertisement for Talking Pictures. See now, dear reader, why I anticipated their album so.
In the back of East Village’s lurid stage-floor as I conversed with the long-missed Vincent Randazzo, I said, “In my opinion, this is probably the only group round here with a shot at making it – as in out of this town and into a big city or something,”
“They’ll make it out. They gotta long road ahead of them,” he responded with earnest, and he peered down the length of the room as though it was but the terminal from which they might depart, while the brick river flowed far over the horizon.
Wesley Kise relaxed outside besides Bagel. He looked around with brows arise and a bitten lip. “Damn! There’s a lotta people here!” he famously discovered. “Hey, good reason for it, right?”
My experience with my fellow fans certainly showed as much. “I’ve been looking forward to this for a while,” Yvan Vucina nodded. “All the people in Valley Soul are just good people, down to Earth. They respect me and they love their art, that’s all I ask for.”
Elliot Crisco Cheesebrother shook his singer by the shoulder and grinned wide as he chuckled, “I’m excited! This is gonna be sick.”
“I’ve been waiting a while for this,” Simon, lead guitarist of the Beholder Band said. “Apparently so have a lot of people.”
“I’m just glad it’s finally out,” said Joe Scardina, the tallest of Valley Soul’s singers and guitarists, standing amidst his eager peers. “This must have been the longest trip of my life. Feels like we’re starting a new chapter in the band, in life! I just don’t know what to think yet!”
When Joe made this statement, however, he had yet finished the journey - if this event were the climax of the chapter, then it had yet occurred at the time of this quote, and the resolution theoretically descends only during their forthcoming tour. So after local staple band, Proudest Monkeys, abdicated their position at the helm of East Village’s narrow performance room, the cobbled walls became turbulent with colorful lights, and the floor was filled by fog, and the time was nigh.
So I swigged down the remainder of my au lait tea and finished my quiche, as one so heartily does in such a ramblin-man’s joint as East Village. Though ill I felt for missing the opener to their show, I found myself intoxicated by a medication so thoroughly administered at many of Monterey’s nervous shows - and though Gramma Gradwohl’s incense sprigs were an herbal delight, I speak not of their ephemeral essence, nor any other substance you can measure in the metric-system. Side-effects of their medication include swiveling hips, hollering lips, and a frequency of fervor pulsing through the body and brain like a singing bowl. “To receive such support and these little nuggets of healing through song was blowing my mind!” Kristen said of the honor we ordain her by attending these shows. “After each song, there was a roar of the crowd I haven’t experienced at East Village before.” This sound of cheer, of jubal; it has been described since biblical times and before, and has permeated between muse and bemused for much longer. It is an ancient sensation, an indelible human condition that awaits all bestowed with the intuition of solidarity, such as this powerhouse of a band. “...a few individuals explained how uplifted they felt and how much they resonate with the music we produce,” Kristen too said. No embellishment is employed here - in fact, Kristen understates the uproar. I suppose it is this connectivity that might embody the inspiration Valley Soul must draw from The Grateful Dead, with the keystone but a certain rhythm that holds its compatriots together despite their disparity. Richard’s drums often tell me acid jazz, Adam’s keyboard often tells me electro-disco, Joe and Tommy’s guitars often tell me of funk and honky tonk. All compiled, however, I cannot designate the band to any of these genres. I hear Valley Soul.
With four singers, this eclecticism extended to the most resonative of all sounds: the voice. Joe’s voice is versatile, not for its stylistic diversity, but for its ease of placement, as it is swaddled comfortably by most any tone the band employs, especially as the bread of the cake when the bards all sing in unison (the bread’s more important than the frosting, guys). The characteristic voice of Adam Ingram was something of a genre familiar and bold, and yet executed cleanly, even as he was prone to a few minor mishaps whilst live - the pitch imperfections are made irrelevant, however, by the persona with which he embodies his music (skip to 4:00). I believe Kristen, as my returning readers might know, incurred her voice through provident blessing, and I was pleased to hear her more prominent position on the new album. Her counterpart in the ensemble is too the prime subject of her affections, her elations, her confusions which she wails to him as he wails them back. Tommy Howbert’s voice is gentle, even more than Kristen’s, sometimes, and it blossoms off of his tongue, tender as the petals of blue heather, yet striking as would the Cambridge shirt, should it had ever seen fruition. Tommy’s voice is one I should like to hear lamenting over a tearful harp. Mister Howbert seemed unconvinced, however, that his voice alone was worth the mild tribulations that marred its expression on stage. An electrical shortage midway through their performance, though repaired by the audio-oriented hand of Trevor Lucier, marred Tommy’s thoughts. “We had some, uh, technical difficulties earlier on, as you noticed,” he explained at the brew-bar after the show. “That was scary. Like, I was already getting scared when we got here, then we started playing and I was like ‘We’re alright!’ and then I was just like, ‘Shit.’”
More technical difficulties arose during the encore. Joe had told the crowd, two songs ago, that it was their last number for the night, in the interest of time. Time had dissolved into the songs, however, as the crowd had felt the music and could not express their gratitude enough, could not quell themselves or allow the band to pack away without the chance to show each other again, why they do this. On such matters, Adam Ingram eloquently explained, “It felt strange, and at the same time fitting to have so many people showing so much support for us. When you work so hard and long on something artistic you sometimes lose sight of what you were going for in the first place.” A notion I understand as intimately as Adam spoke it, as I no longer grasp the ‘why’ of why I write - it has evolved into a necessity, a dependency. Perhaps that was the source of Tommy’s anxiety over the second instance of technical difficulty.
“It got pretty slippery during that encore, mic problems and all, but I thought it was all pretty solid,” he said. But I was watching acutely during this mic failure, and there were not many sights that might have better concluded the night as Tommy and Kristen jolting up and down to the beat, glistening in sweat as they locked eyes and sang desperately into the same microphone.
“Are you feeling loved?” I asked Kevin Call as I wandered across a now empty floor. He was alone on stage, wrapping cords. Warm was the thin-lipped smile that met me as his feline face turned up and greeted me through big, square spectacles.
An appreciative handshake and an exchange of greetings yielded to his response. “I guess that’s what I’m feeling,” he nodded and some humor indecipherable curled the corner of his mouth. “How could I not, right? There’s so many friends here tonight, so many familiar faces all gathering. Not like I could see those faces very well in the crowd.” We chuckled and I looked over my shoulder, at the empty floor, at the beginning. Kevin, though certainly in good moods, was more subdued than I remembered him, and he kept glancing to the floorboards covered in vague footprints. Shaking his head undeservingly, he smiled and said, “ I couldn’t believe how many people were moving around in this tiny-little space!” A glance over his shoulder cast his attention upon the road ahead, perhaps the culprit of his earnestude. “The road’s about to be our home for a while. That’s all I’m lookin forward to.”
“Our roots are hoping to expand for sure,” Kristen noted of the matter of moving forward.
“Or move to a big city. Any notion of that, or are you very present?”
“We were called on in a lotta the cities. LA and San Diego are ready for us, so we’ve been getting the second half of our summer tour planned out.”
To the happenstantial backdrop of their new song, Work, Adam Ingram reflected through an eloquent pensivity.“It felt great, Wyatt.” This was blatant by Adam’s drunken visage in the immediate wake of his performance - not from craft brewskis, but from the desire to keel over, all numb and face damp, indistinguishable of sweat or tears. “It is something so intimate to us, and something beautiful and frustrating all at once. We have so much more to share and I think this release really took a beautiful weight off of us. Time to move forward and grow.”
“One could say that last night was the release of more than just the album,” Kristen clarified. However, certainly it was too the shouldering of a surreal burden. The trust of countless anonymous people was and will be bestowed upon Valley Soul, now, and the uncountable masses will only mutate and grow with them, especially as they export their resonation up and down the West Coast. I imagine there will come remnants of the days of old, the days of the EP, when hand-twined rosemary sprigs could determine the difference between a fiscally stable night, and a loss. The band’s pixie noted on such matters as the unbeknownst thievery of the the smudge sticks, which were created in honor of her late grandmother, “As an artist, money is a delicate relationship, and time is precious. Especially as a woman… I have to get creative…”. At this, positive am I, if my paltry personal familiarity with the band can serve me at all, that Kristen spoke loosely of the money’s tangible repercussions. Money is not only a sensitive topic for artists on account of its fleeting tendencies. People are not commodities, but art relies on the personal and emotional connectivity of the audience to which it’s distributed. And all the while, its importance does not diminish, even as an audience is lost, for it is the creator’s offspring. Reason enough, that, to concede to the venue cover (until so packed is the venue that they must turn away guests), to pick up an album (until they all get sold out), and to pay for your rosemary (until they just start handing them away for free). “I just surrendered to the evening. It’s a part of letting go… I have a feeling they went to the right people.”
So is the technique of operating a band so beloved, the fans who cherish it beyond control. “One day I’ll just stop - drop, die, and I’ll disappear,” haunt the lyrics of their song Master of Loneliness, even atop the heartbeat drumline. Though the song resonated with myself more than most on the album (save Firefly), I am not convinced any such transgression will occur to the members of Valley Soul - when they die, they will never disappear. On Saturday night, they made sure of that.

Thank you again, readers, for allowing me to express myself about other people expressing themselves. If you want to catch Valley Soul's new album, Talking Pictures, then you can purchase it here on iTunes for the time being, and stream it on Soundcloud. Keep up with the band's antics at their Facebook page, Kristen, too, has a solo project from which much music is published on Americana Recordings' Soundcloud. If you want to see the music of the man who makes this blog possible, check out Kae9mm over at his Soundcloud, too.
If you want to get in touch with the author, e-mail me at and I'll get back to you.

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