Spotlight Band: Della Valle
With their latest release The Terminology of the Situation Is…Della Valle challenge any listener to define their sound. Weaving effortlessly from genre to genre Della Valle draw from the most meaningful moments in their own lives and turn them into beautifully crafted songs we can all savor. Mastering the art of storytelling through music the EP delivers an eclectic and diverse offering of songs that ironically seem to be made for each other.
I recently had the chance to chat with main man Jay Della Valle about the new release, how the songs came together, his evolution from a solo artist to a full-fledged band and of course – the moustache!
So like any true artist you put a lot of preparation in before writing and recording The Terminology of the Situation Is… in terms of new experiences. Can you tell us some of the things you did and how it fueled your song writing?
As a band, we were in a time of huge transition before we recorded these tunes. We had just finished our “Stache Bash” tour and we’d been playing a lot of the same tunes for a while. Touring and playing so much for an extended period of time gave us the ability to see what kind of effect we were having on lots of people and it also helped us to realize what kind of songs we would want to write to help make our act better overall. We ended up changing our band lineup shortly thereafter- Dave Reid and I started to workshop all the tunes we’d had swimming around in our headspace. We geared up with producer Taylor McLam and decided that we wanted to approach these songs differently than I had in the past. The mindset was to cherish the moment and the general vibe, to keep it loose and real but obviously still tight and organized and also to capture a sense of space within the songs so they didn’t sound like recordings done in a sterile studio environment. It ended up taking way longer than we had hoped because so many things were happening in all of our lives and because our producer lived a little far away. We had to get beyond the frustration of things taking so long and just stay connected to the songs and keeping an open mind to how they might change even after we thought we finished them. In the end we did 10 songs, 6 which we decided to use for the EP, because collectively those are the songs that seemed to mirror the experience we were interested in giving the listener.
I love that you described the whole process as “running from mediocrity” – and that seems to kind of go hand in hand with the song “We’ll Always Have Midnight”, can you tell us a bit about that song?
Where that comes from is basically something that seems to drive many artists I meet, especially Dave and I. If you always believe that your best work is never done you’ll keep trying to make your best work or keep allowing yourself to channel whatever source you get your freshest inspiration from. None of us wants to be uninteresting or just one of the many doing the same thing. “Midnight” has a lot to do with standing apart from everyone else, many who seem to be programmed in their routine mundane lifestyles. With “Midnight” the character breaks continuity, he says “something just ain’t right wink wink” and he does something about it by being proactive. Effectively changing his course before he walks into the sunset with a beautiful girl; the dream life. I guess the point being that you write your own destiny everyday so don’t settle or get too comfortable. Mediocrity for us is a passive hellish mindset that bears no fresh fruit.
In listening to The Terminology of the Situation Is… from start to finish it seems that one of your true assets is your ability to shift genres pretty seemlessly – I’m wondering, how does that impact the writing process as a whole? When you start writing a song, do you have a clear idea of what kind of sound you want it to be from the get go or does it just develop throughout?
I get asked this a lot. Whenever a fan says this, it’s meant as a compliment and I take it as one. Many enjoy that we can shift and keep it interesting and unpredictable but still manage to stay compelling and cohesive. However, often times an industry person will point at this and urge us to keep cultivating our sound that this shifting of genres prevents people from being able to categorize and immediately identify with what we represent. I understand both mindsets but the truth is that we just let the song take us to our vision. We both travel and experience a lot of things over the course of a year so 6 months in New York and then 6 months in Hawaii and LA produces some rock songs and some super laid back fun in the sun beachy songs, environment effects us huge. The shift in genre is really a shift in environment when we initially wrote and conceived the idea for the song. Also, the more life experience you have over the duration of recording a song/album the more influence you allow that experience to have on the work. Overall, we have a pretty clear idea of what we want it to be when we start but we are open to how it develops and to the colors/sounds we may use to pursue the vision throughout the process.
One of my favorite songs on the album is “Head Above Water” – staying true to your word it sounds nothing like the rest of the album but it’s a beautiful song. Can you tell me how it came together and the inspiration behind it?
My mom agrees with you! That has been her favorite song for a long time. I have been playing it acoustic for probably 6 years and everyone who has heard me play it like this is always urging me to record it but I never had a bridge so it just stayed incomplete for a while. Later, we were picking some more songs to record for the recent album and my mindset was “this song always captures people’s interest”- it’s a no-brainer- let’s make it a masterpiece! It ended up sounding more like a Radiohead or Muse song than one that should go on this Della Valle record- but it’s totally a Della Valle song in that the lyrics and sentiment originate from a time of pure vulnerability and inspiration from a time in my life that changed everything that happened thereafter. Sso adhering to my goal of always “keeping it honest” this song doesn’t have one lyric that I tried to write. It was a moment and I somehow managed to follow it through after 6 years with the help of Dave and Taylor. It’ll probably find itself onto another record, one filled with other darker and more mysterious songs. In the meatime, I dedicate it to my Mom!
The song “Bitches Be Crazy” is a fun one. It’s said to be inspired by a friend who has some interesting theories on women. I was hoping I could hear more about the story behind the song and how it fell into place and maybe one of those theories or two?
We are having a blast with this one and it’s going to be our next single. It’s our biggest request lately. I was sitting on a rock on a beach surrounded by crabs-in Kona, Hawaii- waiting for my friend to finish work. We had just finished having an infamous conversation about our love lives-and he must have said “Bitches Be Crazy” as an endnote. This sudden title was all I needed to set my mind in motion. I spent the next hour just writing about how crazy the women we love can make us sometimes but how at the end of the day we love these crazy ladies because they’re “ours” and because they keep us in line. The song already sounds chauvinistic and offensive at first but my intention was always to juxtapose this with my sense of humor about relationships. I wanted it be uncomfortable (as achieved with the excessive use of the word “bitch”) yet charming. It just worked for me and my character I guess although after we played it live for the first time in Santa Monica one night a lady came up to me, got in my face and said “you’re a fucking asshole” and then stormed out. Guess she wasn’t listening to the verses. Can’t please everyone! Anyway, I had a rough idea of what I wanted the song to sound like when I got home from Hawaii and when I played it for Dave and a few friends they thought I was kidding and heckled me for writing a jerky song that uses the word “bitch” so many times. I was so certain about this song being great I couldn’t be convinced to change anything about it, especially the number of “bitches.” We recorded the whole song in one really fun sunny day in Long Island. The whole vibe seemed to come together as we blended an old school hip hop beat with this slide guitar part whose essence pays tribute to Hawaii, with that Santos & Johnny Sleepwalk sound. As for my friend and his theories it was basically that Men are from Mars/Women are from Venus theory. We’ll never get it right and they’ll always be there to let us know. Call us old-fashioned, we like our women obedient and submissive and in return we reward them with mustache. Go ahead- roll your eyes!
Which song on the album do you feel most attached to and why?
I would have to say “Put Your Slippers On.” This song is also from Hawaii. Writing it took 10 minutes. I had just had an amazing day which involved jumping off a 50 foot cliff locals called “the end of the world.” It literally looked liked it. This beautiful majestic perch reaching out over the ocean, I had never been so scared. The whole day was epic and when I got home I just picked up the guitar, my friend grabbed his bass and it happened. The whole song is this moment, everything I felt on that great day, captured in story in this song –forever. People immediately liked it and were really encouraging as I developed it and played it for friends throughout the year. Recording it was a challenge because we had to go way overboard in many ways to realize what the song did not need. What we didn’t want was a typical sounding reggae song mostly since we’re not a reggae band and because it was too predictable to go this route. It always sounds best just acoustic around a campfire or on the beach with the ocean as the other instrument. Actually I recorded the waves at a beach called “Pine Trees” when I was surfing one day knowing that I wanted to start and end the song with some ocean sound. In the end and after a lot of experimentation- we improvised a chain gang groove with the percussion and the vibe evolved into what I hoped it would have sounded like all along when fully produced. It’s still best just solo acoustic though.
You’ve released a video for “We’ll Always Have Midnight” – can you tell us a little bit about the video concept and how it all came together?
We knew we were going to shoot a music video for one of our songs with our good friend and director Jack Roberts. We were brainstorming as to which song it would be for when Jack mentioned this concept that involved the TV box heads and how he’d been anxious to experiment with that in a video. We all agreed on a storyline and the scenery that would best compliment the idea and it just made sense that it would work best with our song “We’ll Always Have Midnight” which already had this futuristic, semi-apocalyptic undertone to it. From there, we just fleshed it out as much as possible and tried to keep it simple. Of course, you always end up going overboard a little bit. Thanks to Jack everything went really smooth, everyone had a great time and “We’ll Always Have Midnight” the song was enhanced by a great video which added the gleam that we were happy to have as we kicked off promotion for our new EP.
For people that may not be familiar with the band, let’s talk about your history a little – you started out as a solo artist and then things evolved into a full fledged band, can you take us through that?
Yes, I had started to write my own songs back in 2003 or so- recorded my first EP then- and basically started to pursue this whole existence. Over the years I’ve had many different players in my band as I continued to play solo in coffee shops and wherever I could. Band lineups fell apart. People would not be carrying their own weight so we’d go our separate ways and then I just had to put it all back together. I kept writing songs and looking for more people to collaborate with. Each different “Della Valle” band was an era in and of itself with different guys, different style, but we were always trying to achieve the same songs and it was always a good time. Eventually, I met Dave Reid at The Goldhawk in Hoboken one night. He was a guitar player looking for a worthwhile originals project to sink his teeth into. Our personalities and style meshed immediately and it wasn’t long before we were making plans to reassess Della Valle and take it in a new direction. Two years later- here we are.
You’ve compared your musical career to a roller coaster, to this point what has been the highest of highs and what has been the lowest of lows?
It’s been mostly highs doing what I love to do, lucky enough be able to keep churning out music. I stay positive despite how anxious I tend to become for things to move faster. The lows are really when things got stale, when after so much rehearsing and cultivating with a band you feel like you’re going backwards for whatever reason, worried I may end up 35 with no career and too old to be perceived of as fresh talent. I felt low when I came back from tour last year a little bit. There were so many things I was not feeling good about, that I just knew we were going to have to start all over. This is what I am and what I do though so after I’m done sulking I pick up my balls and do what needs to be done. Ican’t just stop, it’s not in my character. I still have songs to write and lots of energy to perform them. I haven’t even begun my ascent yet.
Your songs all seem to tell stories, do you think that’s an important element to songwriting?
I actually think it’s the most important element. I think “we” need story, whether we realize it or not. In a song it’s the way you tell the story, in the context of the song, that makes it an interesting song. The fragments of thoughts that tell the grime of the story paint the picture and excite or intrigue the senses, allowing the listener to connect, visualize, and actually experience the music. If the story is told well within those fragments or lyrics then the song is a success. If it has holes or broken tracks then it loses us-and it probably won’t be that memorable. As a filmmaker I guess I’ve always challenged my self to hone in on the storyline. I know what it requires to keep someone connected. If we can do without a lyric or a scene or even a small frame, then it gets cut. There’s no room for anything except what is absolutely necessary to keep the song interesting and always leading to the payoff.
And to build on that a bit, as a songwriter and performer what do you think makes a “great” song great?
An interesting perspective on a common theme plus some serious songwriting skills. A “great” song to me is a “moment” captured. Expressing that moment with the proper lyrics and melodies requires a meticulous approach to tempo and structure.
You and Dave Reid also produced your latest album. Over-achiever much? No but really, how hard is it to produce your own album? Is it hard to be objective?
Well, we co-produced it. This just means we go in with as much of it done as we possible can. We have to have a strong vision and idea of what we want to do or else it ends up taking forever. And time is money- so we don’t have the luxury to spend an endless amount of time trying to produce these songs. Our other studio counterpart is Taylor McLam who is a producer, engineer, and multi-instrumentalist whose strengths substitute our weaknesses. His involvement definitely makes the process go smoother and his influence helps underline our purpose in a sense. We all know what we’re going for and how to tell whether something is going in the right direction or not. Hopefully the energy is productive and fresh and brilliance happens. Sometimes it doesn’t- and when that happens, you can’t push it, you just have to go with it. We are looking to work with new producers for the next record and curious to see who can help draw our strengths more and help cultivate our sound.
I always like to ask people about their musical roots. Was music something you were always interested in or what was the path you took to becoming one?
My dad is a singer/musician/bandleader and he’s always been an entertainer- our family survived off of his reputation for doing this well. He’s been in bands and running his entertainment business for over 35 years so my whole life my family and I have been associated with entertainment. As an impressionable kid always impressed with his father. I was encouraged to rock out from a young age, always singing and eager to stand in the spotlight. I always participated in talent shows while in school and started playing in bands while in high school where I also caught the acting bug. I always wanted to act and be a singer in a band although it wasn’t until I got out of college that I actually started being a singer/songwriter. I could never really write a song that I was proud of until my grandfather passed away right after 9/11. He and I were very close and I was tremendously influenced by the way in which I saw him struggle and eventually surrender to sickness and death. He wouldn’t give up and I felt it was because he was either too scared or because he loved life so much, he just couldn’t come to terms with it. My first song “Come With Me” is a conversation between life (posing as death) and my grandfather’s soul finally agreeing to let go and return home. I sang this song and played guitar at his funeral in front of a lot of people, in October 2001. It was the first time I ever experienced what that was like. Since then I’ve been determined to keep writing songs as good and as honest as that first one.
So you and I share a love affair for moustaches – what gives? Have you always been a moustache kinda guy or was it something you found later in life? And in closing..what’s your favorite type of moustache?
Haaa- the mustache has come to precede me. I can no longer “not” have one without being a total disappointment, much like Tom Selleck. I’ve always thought they were bad ass but it wasn’t till I really rocked one for a few weeks and had people give me a hard time about it that I realized it’s potential to stir things up. Before I knew that anyone else had even had an idea as remotely ridiculous as mine I decided to challenge a bunch of charismatic friends under the age of 30 to grow and nurture a mustache for 1 month. I chronicled their experiences and used it as the foundation for my 2008 documentary “The Glorius Mustache Challenge.” Little did I know I’d be one of the forerunners of the modern mustache movement. The whole experience changed and continues to change my life in so many hilarious ways. I can rant about mustaches and mustache philosophy for hours and keep anyone entertained. My favorite type of mustache would have to be the “walrus” (fashioned by philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche and Actor Sam Elliott) since you can store food deep in the recesses of it- in case you get lost in the wilderness. You can also pluck the bristles out and use it as tinder. Although I have not sported this mustache yet, I look forward to it once I am married and certifiably nuts. In the meantime, I’ll rock the “handlebars.”
Catch Della Valle live at Maxwell’s in Hoboken Thursday May 19 and on tour everywhere this Fall!
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