credit: Gary Copeland
Giving ample offerings of the finest in rock n’ roll with shades of metal and punk, Valient Thorr have been obliterating the heavy music landscape since their arrival on the Earth metal scene in 2003. A decade later finds the band upping the ante with every release with their newest, Our Own Masters, set to be released next month. I had the opportunity to chat with mastermind and throat for Valient Thorr, Valient HImself, who was ready to get down to business and talk about shooting a video for one of the new tracks.
And what song is the video for?
Well, we are…I’ll tell you first – I’ve told no one else – it’s all completely different, each song. Every one of us has a favorite couple of songs [from the new album]. So we couldn’t agree…so we just asked…basically, we let our buddies help us decide, and they chose “Torn Apart,” so we’re doing a video for “Torn Apart,” but the first song we’re releasing is gonna be released next week. We’re gonna let people hear a couple of different things, and not focus on one single. It’s so diverse, so just let people hear different things.
Everyone knows you guys are from Venus. I’m curious as to what your Earth journey has been like in regards to you being a musician, Valient? What brought you to the point where you are now with Valient Thorr?
Well, I mean…on Earth – once we decided that rock n’ roll would be the best way to get our messages out, it was a long process. We started playing…I mean, it could be something that’s a unique story, and it could be something that’s not at all. If you want to look at it like an alien who’s here…I always think about that for a long time – I don’t want to say it was a crutch to speak about us being from another planet. We didn’t have it tough. It was just something we decided to do when we were all in art school together. No matter what path we chose, we knew we had to get this message out to people everywhere. So, we were in this skate park and hanging out, and we had other projects that turned into this project, and we had other gigs that turned into this one. There were a couple of things that came together, and you know – this is pre-MySpace and pre-cellphones – right on the cusp – I mean, you’re talking ’98 or ’99. This is pre-Google. I mean, looking up things on the internet, looking up cities like Mobile or Birmingham and putting “rock club” or “rock bar” into Lycos [laughs] as a search engine and trying to piece together things for a tour.
We’re really lucky in that we had a ton of bands coming through in this skate shop that we all hung out at. We kept as many addresses and phone numbers of buddies that worked there as we could. And then we basically cashed in our favors. Say we let you crash, and then we piece together a 52-city tour, and literally anybody can do that now. I encourage people to do it now, but back then it was a pretty big feat to do a 52-city tour in 60 days. Nobody was doing that shit. I have magazine articles that we would laugh at and read from like Spin or Alt Press where they’re talking about these bands who were being compared to MC5 at the time like At the Drive-In and You Will Know Us By The Trail of the Dead…, and they’re like “Oh, you gotta see this band live!” And these bands were like “Man, we just did a two week tour across America.” A two week tour? Are you kidding?! C’mon, man. That’s not that impressive. The same thing happened when we were out…like it was literally three years from the end of 2004 all the way through 2007. These bands were like “Oh man, we just did a grueling two-month trek,” and we’re like “We live on the road now.” It’s just so funny how it happens. I guess before all that, before moving and all of that, we decided we had to get out of this small town and be able to get the message out. Better bands come through Chapel Hill and Raleigh than they do in Greenville, so we’ll move this band here. So we moved the band over.
I haven’t really told a lot of this stuff, because we kept it a secret for such a long time. We didn’t want people to know. Everybody knows we’re from Venus now, though. The key to us figuring it out…it wasn’t like moving to a smart town and getting along with some band that had tons of tours that came through there. It was giving up everything and getting on the road and getting out there. And that was the beginning of our arch up. Once we gave up everything, and we started doing those 52-date tours, and once we figured out we had this chance, we just got rid of all our shit, we put our comics in storage and our records, and we got the fuck out of there. We actually just stopped for the first time. None of us had houses since 2004 until October. Basically all of us have places to live now, and it’s spread out all over the place, because we didn’t slow down for so long that we didn’t have to deal with any kind of family stuff. And then Earth father passed away, an Earth child was born, and all these crazy kinds of things happened. It kind of…we needed to stop and do some adjustments and then get ready for the next phase of the band.
credit: Will Dozier
Do you find the audience here on Earth is more receptive to rock n’ roll and heavy music than the Venus audience?
Well, we didn’t do music on Venus. On Venus, we were meteorologists. We had a totally different education, a completely different skillset, and a completely different mindset. Once we got here we had to figure out…the whole thing was we were in space for years. For eons. We were doing the same thing, and it became a grind. I used to say “It’s really complicated,” and it is unless you put it in the context where someone can understand it. I could talk all day about timelines and how confusing they are – wormholes and the infinite grid that the universe is on, and that can be really confusing, but if you just look at it, man, we were just doing a job much like a meter reader is. If you just pretend like, “Hey, we had to stop at all these houses,” which is basically all these points on a timeline. We had to stop at all these points and places and check the meter. We had to make sure that things were going right in these timelines for this species of Venusians – which are basically like the human Earthlings now. I mean, all Earthlings are descendants of Venusians.
You know it’s funny, because there’s a new Superman movie coming out. I was always kind of describe the history of the Earth as a Superman story. The Earthlings were seeded here, you know? And then the first ones – the reason there’s a Thorr god is because at some point one of the meteorologists – one of the checkers – or meter readers that we kind of were, stopped along a certain point and everybody had the same last name – Thorr. That’s where the whole Thorr mythology came from. Somebody came from the sky, and that’s how all that worked out.
I’m sure you’ve noticed the trend in popularity that heavy music on Earth is taking, Valient. What are your thoughts on that growth?
Well, I mean…I don’t know that. I can see things happening. I can things from a very weird perspective that things are happening, but I’m in the middle of it. All the time that these things are going on, I’ve spent being inside of it. And I’ve seen things going on. I’ve seen things happening. But what I really see, and it’s kind of what I’ve seen all along, is we know we’re a certain – I can only speak for the things that I’ve seen. The things that you see and the things you experience make up who you are. I’m led by my habits, beliefs, and desires. That’s where I find significance. There’s two ways I feel like you can look at things. You can look at it as things happening on some sort of autonomous universal transcendent wavelength, or that things happen because of your own habits, beliefs, and desires. Those are the things that you’re drawn to, and those are things that bring you to that. So, being inside of it and understand what’s happening…I can only get reminded of it when I come back home to where I live in North Carolina or hang out with old friends that I’ve known for so long. They see it in a different way. They see it outside of where we see it. They’re outside of it looking in.
From outside, they see it bigger than what it is, because they see us doing all these things. That kind of reminds us, “Oh wow, we are doing kind of wild ass things,” but when you’re inside of it you don’t think of it that way. You’re inside of it, and you think “I’m doing what I have to do.” I have to drive six or twelve hours. I have to unload. I have to rock. I have to packup, and then I have to go to sleep, and get up in the morning and do it again. I can be in a really good mood or a shitty mood, but hopefully all those moods link up [laughs]. You keep doing it. Sometimes you play things that are huge and wild experiences happen. But they happen so fast – you have to leave and go the next place so fast. You quickly forget about all of the wild things unless you have some kind of reminders like mentions on Twitter or Facebook, so you can go back and remember. Someone tells you a story, and you forget half of it. I’m really glad to get reminded of these things, and like I said, my perspective is skewed, because I’m inside it. I don’t experience it the same – like underground music growing and blowing up. I can tell that underground music that I’ve always loved and cared about in the US is way bigger in Europe than it’s ever been in the US. I pay attention to histories, and I think at a certain point in the US rock n’ roll fell off.
You know in the 80s with hair metal, a lot of dudes starting listening to something that was more innovative at the time like hip hop. Now you have hip hop, RNB, and alt-country that have ruled those charts since that point. I see it getting bigger over there. Now, I see a lot more fans here. I see bands we take out on tour with us, and they become bigger than us [laughs]. I don’t want to become Montrose – let’s just say that [laughs]. I don’t want to have all the bands that are awesome just pass us by. I’m not in charge, so I don’t know what’ll happen. There are some awesome bands that are huge now that opened for us, and if we went back on together right now we’d probably be opening for them.
As far as the creative process for you guys, Valient, what kind of things work as influences when you’re writing?
Well, always for me – it’s been current events. I like to stay abreast of what’s happening in the world. I think it fuels my desire to write. I don’t think you can ever be bored or get writer’s block. If you can take a look around at what’s going on, and it doesn’t make you furious then you’re asleep, basically. So I always use that as fuel. The other dudes are different. It’s not always the case with everybody else. And now more and more I’d say each album that we’ve made – this is our sixth one – each one we’ve made has been less one person doing this and one person doing that and more of a collaboration in the fullest sense. Stranger was that way where I was first getting songs from different people – lyrical ideas and stuff – but I was just listening to the record on the way down. I try to listen to it and put it away, so it seems fresh every time, but it’s so funny I listen to it and I think of each line and who brought that line to the song. Each song and every line has a different person who’s brought that to it.
I had 85 demos for this new record. Insane. I don’t think we’ve ever done more than twenty for a record. 85. These songs have transformed over and over and over. The choruses – I was thinking about all the different version of choruses and different things that they could have been or would have been. There were critical decision made on this record that were like so thought out on so many different ways that it could be. And it was everybody. Lucian the drummer wrote bass parts, and guitar parts, and he wrote lyrics. There’s a song where almost all of the lyrics are written entirely by Nightwolf, the bass player. All of us helped with everything this time. This one is completely – it’s nuts because every song sounds different. I used to say that we all had different influences, and that’s what brought it. Now I think it’s the way we’re writing is we’re all taking it upon ourselves to write whatever and fix it and try it. Some of it is bizarre [laughs]. I think this is probably our most bizarre record. I encourage everybody to listen to the whole thing, because a lot of the times – and I’m guilty of this – I’ll hear a new album by somebody, and if it doesn’t get me by three songs I’m over it. You get deadened to things. I know what this is like. I know what this is gonna sound like, but you won’t be able to tell what our whole album’s about by listening to one track. There’s no way.
I feel like our society is so – my analogy for it is if you put something out there these days – no matter what forum: Twitter, Facebook, whatever kind of thing you use – anything you put out in the social sphere, though – you give it five minutes, and it’s completely covered up. And probably in some cases it’s not seen again, because information’s so fast these days you really have to hammer it home and hope that people don’t hate your guts for it, or you have to make something that immediately hits with everybody, because it’s really hard to keep people’s attention anymore. It either gets covered up, or they’re so numb and so ready for something new we don’t digest things anymore. I made a joke a long time ago that the world of music in the early 00s – especially in hip hop – people who are buying the records are just eating it up and shitting it out. Now people don’t even swallow it. They take a bite, they chew on it, and then they spit it out. It’s not even going through their system.
What do you think is the greatest challenge facing anyone who wants to make viable art in 2013?
Besides the plethora of problems that we already have faced as artists over the however many years it’s taken us to get to this point, because everything is moving and speeding up. Whatever amount of people that were on the Earth in 1970, they finally reached one billion, and then less than forty years later there’s seven billion people on the Earth. It took all of the whole time humans were on the Earth to reach one billion people, and then now we have seven billion people. That’s how fast things move. Not only do you have all those problems up until then, now you have problems coming that you don’t even have time to think about. I get caught up sometimes. Number one, you want somebody to listen to something. You want somebody to see something as an artist. Then you have to deal with their reaction to it. What are they gonna think about it? The thing about it is you have the people who don’t give a shit at all, and you try to get people to give a shit. You have people who give a shit, but they’re so overly opinionated about it that they feel like they’re the critics now. We live in a comment society.
It doesn’t matter what a review says or what an interview says. Now, you live in a society that’s ruled by trolls. If you’re not praised, they jump on the bandwagon of “Yeah! That’s terrible.” If you are praised then they jump on the bandwagon of “Man, that’s bullshit,” [laughs]. I was mentioned on this website called Metalsucks, and I was voted the number two man in metal which is a whole lot of problems for a whole lot of people. There’s like thousands of comments. I myself would have never put myself at number two. Number three was Bruce Dickinson! He’s like my hero. So, it’s a little skewed in the first place, but there’s all these people who were like “I’ve never even heard of this asshole!” “Who gives a shit?”
It’s funny, because we’re not even metal – I don’t think. We play heavy music. We play rock n’ roll. Who cares? We play a crossover kind of music that puts us in two camps, basically. We’ve never been reviewed at all on Pitchfork, which I think is for pop music or dance type bands. I just found out it’s gonna be reviewed on there. Now we’ll have these guys that are like “Oh, those are the hipster metal guys.” I don’t even know what the fuck that means. We try to make smart music. That’s what it is. I want to make something that’s gonna live on beyond my own death. A piece of art that’s gonna make somebody think if they actually pay attention to it. That’s all we’ve ever set out to do. I’m always happy when someone gets it in their hands and pays attention to it. The Thorriors know what we’re doing. They get it.
Thanks to Valient for his time. Our Own Masters will be released June 18th, courtesy of Volcom Entertainment.