‘More confident behind the wheel’: Valley talks nostalgia, shifting into first gear with EP ‘Last Birthday’

Photo of band Valley
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Seven years ago, Mickey Brandolino and Karah James made their way to a local recording studio for their booked time slot. To their surprise upon arrival, they discovered that two other high schoolers, Rob Laska and Alex Dimauro, already occupied their reserved booth.

The accidental double-booking, however, turned out to be a kind twist of fate: The four music-lovers became fast friends and formed the Toronto-based indie-pop band Valley. In an interview with The Daily Californian, Valley’s lead vocalist Rob Laska, guitarist Mickey Brandolino and drummer and vocalist Karah James discussed their EP Last Birthday dropping Oct. 1, songwriting and the first time they met.

“My first impression of Rob and Alex was like, ‘Oh, Alex is like a dad rocker,’ because he was wearing an AC/DC T-shirt,” James remembered. “Then Rob had a little mustache. I was like, ‘Hmm, this guy’s definitely a stoner.’”

“But I wasn’t!” Laska clarified. As the three continued to reminisce, he later poetically added, “I do not believe in magic, but with us, it was automatic.”

A pause. “That could be a song lyric,” Brandolino said thoughtfully, pulling out a piece of paper. Laska reiterated the phrase — this time in present tense, an apt alteration considering how Valley still feels that seven-year-old magic today.

That magic organically carries over to the group’s upcoming EP Last Birthday, a heartfelt seven-song collection that embraces pure, unconditional love. The title, which alludes to having someone so close to you that they’ll be there on your last birthday, is quintessential Valley, a profound fusion of joy and sorrow.

Yet, the title also foreshadows another surprise: “There is a song called ‘Last Birthday,’ and it’s one of our favorite songs,” Brandolino revealed. “It will come out one day, but it’s not technically on this EP coming in October.”

While Last Birthday wasn’t deliberately created in relation to the band’s 2020 EP sucks to see you doing better, the group noticed unintentional, striking similarities between the two.

Last Birthday … it’s the friend trying to help the person that’s writing sucks (to see you doing better),” Laska said. He elaborated with the EP’s second track. “I think of ‘Can We Make It?,’ which is just like an anthem of just like ‘get your s— together, I’m trying to help you, but you need to help yourself as well.’”

Featuring neoteric tracks written during the pandemic as well as older songs dating back to high school, the EP functions as a time capsule. Nostalgia is essential to Valley — though perhaps most to James. Back in the basement of her parent’s house, the drummer recalled, there’s a bathtub filled with years of accumulated Valley memorabilia.

“My mom hates it. She’s like, ‘When are you going to clean this out?’” James said. “I’m like, ‘No, I’m not!’ I don’t want to throw it out.” “We’re hoarders,” Brandolino half-joked.

Beyond physical reminders of the past, the band also preserves nostalgic memories in its music — “Do you mind if I’m nostalgic? Let’s go back before 2000,” sings James in Valley’s hit “Like 1999.”

“Like 1999” was one of several songs that Valley wrote in a cabin in Toronto during lockdown. Even though the track went viral on TikTok back in January, James shared that songwriting in quarantine felt like pulling teeth at first, but it also forced Valley to develop a new creative process.

“You’re out at a party, and you see this crazy thing happen really quickly, jot it down. Or you sing a melody into voice notes,” James said. “We didn’t have those props. … But I think that just pushed us to dig deeper.”

After spending hours every day working on music, the self-described pop culture enthusiasts seek escapist comfort. They’ve spent plenty of nights falling asleep on the couch watching “The Office,” but the band’s latest obsession is Netflix’s “Crime Scene: The Vanishing at the Cecil Hotel.”

“It sounds creepy because we’re bingeing a dark docuseries, but it’s just fun because we’ve been writing all week, so it’s nice to have a release,” Laska said.

“And we’re likely not going to write a song about the Cecil Hotel,” Brandolino added. “You can actually escape and not be like, ‘That’s a sick song idea!’”

But soon Valley might not have time for respite. Gearing up for their EP release and opening for COIN’s 17-date tour, the band has a busy fall ahead.

Even though Last Birthday drops soon, Valley doesn’t want to forget their past eras: Every tour, it’s tradition for the band to bring along a tiny stuffed monkey.

“Alex puts it on his keyboard,” Brandolino said. “A fan made a tiny little MAYBE jacket for the stuffed monkey. It’s like the cutest thing ever.”

MAYBE, which dons a painted jean jacket on its cover art, is Valley’s debut 2019 album. The record encapsulated uncertainty, the feeling of indecision while rapidly approaching a yellow traffic light — Last Birthday, on the other hand, is quite the opposite.

“I don’t recommend this at home,” Laska said, “but Last Birthday to me is like running every red, not stopping. … It feels like, ‘Don’t stop, don’t hesitate out the yellow.’ If there’s a red and there’s no cars around, run that s—.”

If one thing is clear, Valley’s no longer riding in the backseat.

“We’re still learning,” Laska said, “but I think we’re just more confident behind the wheel.”

Taila Lee is a deputy arts & entertainment editor. Contact her at [email protected].