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Q & A with: Valhalla Lights

Australian band VALHALLA LIGHTS was formed a few years back, consisting of veteran musicians previously of stoner band Fort plus a singer. At first with Phoebe Black as the lead vocalist. When she tragically committed suicide, the band finished the material they had been working on with her and released this as their debut album “Krypton” in 2015. Since then they have chosen to continue with Ange Saul as their new vocalist, and released their second album “My Gracious Highway” at the start of 2017 in Australia. Valhalla Lights are now officially releasing this album for the North American market, and due to that I was given the chance to ask the band some questions.

You are about to officially release your second album – “My Gracious Highway” – for the North American market. Anything you’d like to say about this album?
My Gracious Highway is the album that all of us have put our blood, sweat and tears into and this album is the one that will put a smile on our faces if we died tomorrow.

The journey to get to the point where we were able to create and release it has been epic.

The backbone of Valhalla Lights (George on Guitar, Brent on Bass and Deon on Drums) have been playing together for around 17 years. We were in “Fort” that did national Australian tours with Clutch (2x tours), Kyuss Lives (now Vista Chino), Fu Manchu, Brant Bjork (USA), Nebula and shows with Monster Magnet, Helmet, the Black Keys.

The first Valhalla Lights album, Krypton, was cobbled together using the pre-production vocals that we had from our first vocalist, Phoebe Black. Phoebe joined the band, wrote a bunch of songs with cryptic lyrics, and then went and committed suicide. We should have have seen the hidden messages in the words that she was singing, but we didn’t. The whole album is her singing about her suicide. We had no idea. We were left with her vocals and we used them to put together the album to honour her memory. Krypton is available only on our website, http://valhallalights.com/krypton/, and whilst we are proud of Krypton, it was not the perfect album that because we just worked with what we had.

My Gracious Highway is the album that we have always wanted to create. After our new vocalist, Ange Sual joined the band we went on a writing mission, and the songwriting just flowed. There was so much pent up emotion and energy that everything just came out.

I understand this album was released last year in Australia. How have the feedback been on this album so far?
It has been really satisfying to be receiving airplay throughout Australia and also in the USA. The Valhalla Lights fans have been super supportive, our live show crowds have been growing and the feedback has been great. We have also done music videos for almost all of the songs on My Gracious Highway and they have been really well supported also.

Are all the songs made specifically for this album, or did you have any old ideas that was used in part or in full?
There are always old ideas, old riffs floating around to be used when the time is right. We did take a song from Krypton that was written by our previous singer that we’ve created into a acoustic ballad called ‘The One’. It was our little tribute to our first album and the memory of our first vocalist.

Your band has a tragic back story, relating to the passing of your original lead vocalist. How difficult was it to move on from that tragedy?
The whole point for creating our first album was to ‘finish’ what we started with our first vocalist, Phoebe Black, and to honor her through the recording process, and in a way it helped us transition through the grief. We have never heard of an album being recorded after a singer’s death. It is totally ass about face. We think it is a world first.

Phoebe left us with some jam room vocal recordings, and we used those to create the Krypton album. The recording process was totally unique because we had to take these room vocals into a proper studio to record the music in time to them. We documented this process in our documentary, “Shades of Black – the Valhalla Lights Story” which can be seen here: https://youtu.be/fpFrfYhJNC8

It was never a thought of ours that we would stop playing, because playing music is what we do. The real difficulty was the daunting task of finding a new vocalist. This problem was solved when the rock gods sent us Ange Saul. She just appeared and asked to be in band. She has come in and taken us to a new level, and the new album “My Gracious Highway” is the result of that.

How would you describe your music for those that so far haven’t come across you?
The description “Volcanic Rock” seems to fit us pretty well. We come from Byron Bay, which is a small surfing community on the east coast of Australia and is the center of an extinct volcano and is an area that is known for its natural fresh air, stunning beaches, rich volcanic soil and dramatic landscape that has been gouged out by hot molten lava.We get inspiration from our surroundings and we definitely play explosive, hard edged melodic rock, so Volcanic Rock seems sum up our sound.

Can you tell us anything about how you typically create new songs?
Our guitarist, George, was born on the day that Jimi Hendrix died. We think that sometimes George just channels Jimi. Some days George just walks in to the jam room and says “check this out” and lays down the most epic riffs you have ever heard. It seems to be the case that it is not really “active writing” that happens, it is more just allowing the songs to reveal themselves. Trying too hard can interfere with the song being revealed. Listening to the instincts and urges of where the music wants to take you always creates the best songs. The best songs just seem to write themselves.

While Valhalla Lights is a fairly recent band, you are a band consisting of seasoned musicians. Do you still find it exciting to release a new album?
When the right people come together and focus their attention on creating music, with all of the discussion, pushing back and forth and thrashing out what the group decides is the best, then hearing it at the end, yes, that is enormously satisfying. We live for that buzz!

What drives and motivates you to record and release music?
It’s an outlet, an inner passion that never goes away and fills our hearts with joy because we get an opportunity to express ourselves and to have a voice. For people to listen to that expression is the epitome of fulfillment for the whole band.

From what I can see from your web presence, your activities as a live band appears to be somewhat limited so far. Is this by choice or by circumstance?
We don’t see it as limited. Decent venues are pretty spread out in Australia it’s a 12 hour drive between Brisbane and Sydney and the same goes Sydney to Melbourne. We focus on doing a run of shows up and down the east coast of Australia a couple of times a year. We do tend to play a lot of shows on the Gold Coast and Brisbane because it’s closer to home.

We have all been playing in bands for a number of years and between us we think we have played pretty much every venue that there is in the country. Our sites are now on playing shows in the USA and Europe because we can see in our social media that a lot of our fans are there.

How easy is it to land gigs as a relatively new band in Australia?
It comes in waves some months we will have heaps of gigs lined up then when it slows down we get together and continue writing. The rock scene in Australia is pretty solid and there is always places to play if you look hard enough.

For many bands, selling merch is among their most important revenue sources these days. What variety of merchandise do you have for sale at your concerts and from your homepage?
Fans can buy shirts, CD’s and they can even buy the band a drink http://valhallalights.com/drinks/

Do you buy merch from bands yourselves?
Yes for sure. If we are blown away by a band the first thing we like to do is see what’s on offer at the merch desk. We wouldn’t want it any other way. You want our album and a piece of us? Then the price you pay and what comes with that is the music, ideas, attitudes and personalities of 4 people that have put their everything into creating the music and art.

For many artists, being an artist is something they do because they have a need to do it, for others it is a case of chasing the dream. For a few, it is a combination of these or other factors that are at play. Where would you place yourself in such a context?
For us if we go a few weeks without playing together we all start to go a little crazy. It’s our outlet, music is that place when we can forget the world and just immerse ourselves in creativity. It’s our opportunity to have a voice and express ourselves. Who wouldn’t want to do want they love for a living?

How important is it for you to have full creative control of the material you release?
It’s extremely important! This is our music our expression. Only we should decide what we release that not saying we are completely closed off to suggestions but Valhalla Lights would not be without us creating it.

Many artists choose to release their music themselves these days, some form their own labels to do that. Others seek out a label attachment. What are the advantages of releasing your album yourselves, from your perspective?
We have played in previous bands that have been signed to a label, and there were definite benefits that came with the promotion. The thing that offsets that is that there are more hands taking a piece of the pie. It really is a personal choice. Or medium pie and no sharing. Or bigger pie and only receive a percentage of it? Hmmm… why am I hungry all of a sudden?

Are there any artists that you are fans of yourself?
We all have extremely broad taste when it comes to music and it’s always changing. Clutch. Queens of the Stone Age. Kyuss. AC/DC. Helmet. Soundgarden. The list could go on forever.

If you could pick any two existing bands to go on a tour with, who would you choose, and why?
Clutch and Queens of the Stone Age. We toured with Clutch a couple of times in in Australia and had a rocking time with them. Qotsa… well just because they rock.

Modern technology have made it more difficult to earn a substantial amount of money from recorded music. Do you think this will change in the foreseeable future?
It would be nice to see people in the arts able to make a living from what they love but we don’t see that happening anytime soon with platforms like Spotify or Apple Music. But the other question is – who is in it for the money? Playing music is what we do for fun!

You are promoting your second album now. What are your future plans beyond this album?
We really would love to tour the states this year. That’s probably our biggest goal right now. Beyond that we will continue to jam and write music and see where that leads us.

As most modern artists, I presume you are visible on the internet. Where can fans and those curious about you find out more?
Check out http://www.valhallalights.com and definitely check out our documentary “Shades of Black – the Valhalla Lights Story” https://youtu.be/fpFrfYhJNC8

“My Gracious Highway” will be officially made available to the North American market on April 6th 2018. It is also available directly from the band’s website.

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