VALLEY: 'Lost in Translation,' band therapy, and group cohesion

The Toronto-based alt-pop band Valley's sophomore album Lost in Translation was released today after a celebratory evening at New York City's Mercury Lounge with the band's most dedicated fans. We sat down with the band comprised of Rob Laska, Mickey Brandolino, Alex Dimauro, and Karah James – to break down their creative process, the new record, and their experiences in "band therapy."

June 23, 2023

Interview by Alyssa Goldberg

Photo by Alyssa Goldberg

SOS: What was the appeal for coming down to New York and doing a pop-up show that lets you connect with your audience in such a small room?

ROB: New York's always been really special for us. We wrote our first record here. It's always had a home away from home kind of vibe, so it's nice to come play a small room and be really intimate with our fans and just have that closer connection because I think we've grown this year and played a lot of like upgraded venues this year. [The shows] have definitely gotten bigger and a little less intimate. I think we miss this kind of thing the more we grow, so it's nice to come back and just have that sweaty-gross-type-show with them. And I feel like New York just made the most sense because there's a lot of history in the city.

ALEX: Yeah, and I think it also gives the fans a chance to see us in an environment they likely won't be able to see us in again. The way you know it's going right now, it's rare that you'll be able to see Valley in a tiny venue. So when doing like an album release show it's just fun to give the fans an opportunity to be that close and intimate.

SOS: Are you planning to play the new album for fans tonight?

ROB: Mostly new album. There's a few songs we're not playing and then we're doing a bunch of fan favorites too. Then we might like, take some requests. We'll see.

SOS: How does the dynamic of a show change when you're playing music that they haven't heard yet? Does it also change the way that you feel coming into the show, like is there any nervousness around how the fan will engage with the music?

ROB: Yeah, the beginning of the set's definitely a little more nerve-wracking because people don't know the words, so they're just gonna be there to experience it for the first time. So it's kind of us just like, staring at them being like, do they like it? Do they not like it? But I mean, our fans are pretty connected and they get pretty stoked about being there. So yeah, there is some curioisity to see if people like the album.

ALEX: Yeah, just testing it out.

SOS: Are there any songs on the new album that are more personal or that'll be harder to play for the first time?

ROB: Yeah. I mean, we're not playing them. So there's a few.

KARAH: There's one. "Keep My Stuff."

ROB: "Keep My Stuff" we're playing today, which is like kind of a breakup song or daydream? Like I said, we're very open book onstage and we're not too nervous about playing stuff that's personal. Everything's kind of personal.

KARAH: It's also easier when you're in a band. When you're a solo artist, you can't really hide behind there being other narratives. Like anything you say, anything you do, anything you sing about, it's like, oh, that's coming from you. But when you're in a band, it could be anyone's story.

SOS: Yeah, that was something I actually wanted to ask about because I do feel like a lot of the songs are written about personal experiences or stories presumably from your lives. How does your writing and creative process work in terms of being open with each other and kind of piecing together parts from your different lives?

KARAH: I mean, we've got a lot of more personal songs, but I think just generally we know each other so well that when someone brings a song and we can tell it's more personal, it's then just about serving that existing narrative. But sometimes, if the song is coming from scratch, it's just about  putting your own narrative into that song and making it makes sense for you, because we have a lot of fun that are more broad speaking. For example, "Break For You." There's no actual specifics in that song, so we can all relate to it. But a song like "I Thought I Could Fly," which we're not playing it tonight but it's a song that is on the record. I think that's just a very personal song that I wouldn't feel right about putting my own lyrics into that because it was written by Rob.

ALEX: Yeah, I think it depends where we're at in the collaboration process. Some people will bring a song almost done to the table. Some people will just bring a verse and then it's like, what does this mean to everybody? You kind of figure it out as you go.

SOS: I read in one of your artist bios that y'all went to band therapy while you were working on this album.

MICKEY: Yeah. And on tour, we continue to do it.

SOS: Yeah, so what exactly do you do in band therapy?

MICKEY: Cry. [band laughs] I'm not lying!

ROB: We just strengthen the dynamic. We've been friends for so long, but then there comes a point of being a band where like, you are friends, but we also have to run a business and be co-owners of a thing, and you're traveling together together all the time. It's sometimes hard to separate friendship versus running a business and creating things. There's just a lot of things coming together all at once. So the base of [band therapy] is strengthening chemistry and working through like, the iceberg or the cobwebs in the attic of like, past things that weren't settled and making sure everything's brought to the table [in terms of] feelings and stuff like that. From there we work on the dynamic, like how to improve scheduling conflicts and feelings based on what we're doing at the time. It's just working through a lot of past band trauma. We've been a band for eight or nine years and then we've known each other for longer. There's a lot of resentment that builds up over time and you kind of have to work through it all. You have to make sure everyone's as healthy and happy as they can be.

MICKEY: He said it best, like it's really just a good check in for all of us to make sure that we're all really on the same page and if somebody is going through something, that you're there for them and helping them get through that that experience kind all together.

SOS: That's really interesting. I really hadn't heard of band therapy before until I heard boygenius talking about it the other day during their set, so when I saw in one of your press releases, I was really intrigued.

ROB: It's not a very common thing. The more we talk about it, people are like, what is that? You go as a band? But we probably work together more than we see our parents and family, so you have to like keep that bond pretty strong.

SOS: Yeah. Do you feel like that's helped foster to more of that openness and ability to be vulnerable in your creative processes as you work together as a band?

MICKEY: It was definitely harder at first because like any therapy, it always is a little harder at the beginning. You're unpacking things that you've been holding in for so long, or things you didn't even know existed inside of you. But I think like, especially in therapy now, it's easier to talk about things than it was the first time we did it, you know? And yeah, I think it's more like a constant check in and journey because a four-way marriage-like-friendship-thing is constantly changing based off of like, four individuals growing as well as the career growing and like creative styles growing. Everything is so inter-weaved between every department in your brain that I think of it like couples therapy for four people. It's like re-meeting each other every year. We have to meet the new Mickey, Rob, Sarah, Alex, because we've all grown. I think a lot of bands break up because they don't address things. We're just trying to all be fulfilled and happy in the moment of being a band.

SOS: That's really cool. Yeah, it reminded me of family therapy from the way that you were talking about it.

MICKEY: Yeah it honestly is, because we are just like a family that travels together and we're a family away from our other family. But there's no authority dynamic. That's like, the craziest part about it. We're not the type of band where one person writes the songs and the rest of the people play their instruments. It's like we all write, we all produce, we all do kind of everything. We definitely have drifted into our strengths and some people do more of this or that naturally. But in terms of authority, every decision is made with the four of us. We all own exactly a quarter of the company, like financially everything is split four ways. So that's another reason why there's no food chain. We're all equals, which makes it even harder.

SOS: Yeah, it's very much four people coming together. And with that, you all have to hold each other's opinions equally.

ALEX: A lot of compromise.

SOS: Exactly. Compromise. I feel like more bands should do band therapy. Not even just for the smoothness of the band, but I feel like it must have a positive impact on personal wellness. Like you said, you're traveling together and spending a lot of time together, and you want those relationships to be strong and supportive so that you guys are having positive experiences on the roads.


SOS: In terms of touring, is there anything that y'all do on the road to support your mental health?

KARAH: I think we each have our own tour routine.

ROB: Yeah, routine is important. We will do band therapy on the road too, but we'll do personal therapy as well because it's everything is more heightened. It's really about having some form of comforts and having things that you can go to that kind of feel like a safe space for you. It could be as simple as the podcasts I listen to, making music, you know, having having the right kind of people around you to go out and play sports or just do something completely unattached from the days on. You know, making sure the days off are like, days off, and that we have time to recharge and decompress.

MICKEY: Recently on this tour, I became obsessed with spas, specifically saunas and ice plunges and hot baths. One of our crew members was into it and I went with him one day and I like it was like an awakening. My body was like falling apart from just sleeping in a bunk, eating out only, and playing shows every night going crazy. It was a nice refresh for my body and mind, but then also just like meditation, therapy, journaling. I really thrive off of taking a walk by myself in the morning on tour. Like, it's really something that keeps me grounded because I am introverted, generally in terms of like my energy levels, and like how I recharge. So taking a walk alone in the morning to just like grab coffee by myself sets me up for the day in a base place where it's less easy to get overwhelmed, versus waking up and being social is not my thing.

SOS: I totally relate to this sense of prioritizing taking care of your body as well. I have chronic pain, and recently I woke up one day having a really bad pain day. I'd gotten a massage maybe once in my life before, but was like, you know what, I'm gonna get a massage. And it was lowkey life changing, like, I thought I was going to spend my whole day laying in bed but then felt so rejuvenated. It's crazy how stuff like that can completely like turn your day around. And like when your body feels weak, your mind feels weak too.

MICKEY: And just on tour it's honestly so key. It turns your turns your day, your week, whatever around honestly because you're moving at the most random times of the day you're doing things at the most random times of the day, you're forced to be social at certain points. And you're right, your body has a large role in dictating how your brain also feels, and vice versa. Yeah, I definitely got a few massages on the on the road.

KARAH: I think for me, my like three things would probably be getting a good sleep at night. I don't sleep well on the bus so I take sleeping pills. But, it's the only drug I take, so whatever. It's a pretty mild sleeping pill... I was so worried about getting addicted to them, but like, my mentality is like, it's an aid and if I don't sleep at night, I will get sick and then I will like, suck on tour. So I would rather do something that helps me. I do have to like wean off of that after tour but it's fine. And then taking vitamins is key. If I take like two Vitamin C a day I don't get sick, which is amazing. And the other one is I like to go to the gym. I'm not a huge gym rat or anything, but I need to exercise like every other day or else I feel it, you know, so I like to like exert my energy and relive stress in that. It became so routine for me that if I don't move my body I get stressed inside, so I feel like those three things really helped me on tour. I think I cracked my code, which is great, and it helps me not get sick and just feel like I have my own time.

SOS: Yeah, that's awesome. And just as the last question, we ask people what the song that found you at the right time was. So, is there one song that you can think back to that was there for you and you need it the most?

ALEX: Recently for me, Bruises Off The Peach by Ryan Beatty. I love that whole album, I think it's fucking genius.

MICKEY: When I went through a breakup, like years ago, it was like, very, you know, my first ahhhh breakup. "Motion Sickness" by Phoebe [Bridgers] just killed me.

SOS: Knife in the wound.

ALEX: That song was definitely impactful for me, but I think if I'm going back really far... I mean, it's different when you're a teenager or when you're like 12 and in the sixth grade, but like, the album American Idiot. It was like, teenage anger, like, "Fuck you mom and dad!" But like, I think it found me at the right time for sure. It found me at that like, 'I'm an individual. I make my own decisions.' And it was kind of one of those things where I was like, yeah, they get me. But I think like a little bit more recently, Paramore's record After Laughter. Haley is such a good lyric writer, she's incredible.

SOS: She's incredibly talented.

ALEX: Songs like "26" on that record, like, oh my god, it's such a good record. I definitely cried to a few of those songs for sure.

KARAH: I'm panicking.

SOS: It's so hard. We do this on tour as well when we work with festivals, and I'll see fans scrolling through Spotify.

KARAH: I feel like silence is my is my cure, you know?