In a year where creativity and entertainment became seriously challenged, music-lovers posted up at home to watch the remainders of canceled live performances from behind laptop screens (and then, silence…) or downloading TikTok, naturally. Toronto band Valley, made up of members Rob Laska, Karah James, Michael Brandolino and Alex DiMauro, did what most of us have been fantasizing about: dropped it all and drove away to a cabin in the North to isolate. While there, a friend miles away set a timer for thirty minutes and challenged the band to create. What they came out the other side with was the early stages of the demo that plays to a sixty-second TikTok of the band dancing around on chairs and tabletops, which now has one million views. The full-length single “Like 1999” is Valley’s latest release.
“Like 1999” is all about reminiscing about the ‘90s (even though most members of the band weren’t actually alive to live them up to the fullest) “It’s about the way people lived in 1999… If you wanted to use the internet, you had to dial up on an IBM computer that had the little red trackpad,” guitarist, Brandolino, tells me over Zoom. The just-released video features the band doing a lot of those retro-minded things and features a cameo by TikTok star, Boman Martinez-Reid a.k.a. @Bomanizer.
Here, we chat with Valley about the making of “Like 1999,” the music the band grew up on and a wild story throwing it back to touring in Portland.
Can you tell me about the backstory to “Like 1999”, both how you came up with the song, and leading up to how it became viral on TikTok?
Rob: We started pretty much a month and a half ago, we were like, “Okay, we need to get going on some new music.” With COVID, we put out the “Sucks…” EP, and it’s riding this pretty crazy wave, and we were like, “We still want to keep making music.” So, we all got tested and decided to isolate up North for a few days and write music.
I think this was the second day, we were like, “Let’s do a session with our friends in Nashville,” Jonathan and Charlie—amazing artists. So, we jumped on the session, we were writing kind of like a sad, hopeful breakup song, and no one was vibing it, and we were like, “Let’s try something else.” So, Jonathan (he’s in a band called Nightly) said something along the lines of, “Let’s set a thirty-minute timer and see where we get—no thinking, thirty minutes, whatever you say works.” Then, he started singing this melody, and “Like 1999” was born. We came up with this whole concept of spending quality time—I think we were talking about how COVID has really made us be on our phones more than before, so, we were like, “Let’s try to write a song kind of like a time machine about quality time and wanting to call someone up (ironically) but then put your phone down, use it as a coaster, and enjoy life.”
The TikTok thing was even more random. We’re starting to become more TikTok savvy, but at the time we were kind of lazy with it and our team hated us! They were like, “Get on TikTok!” And we were like, “No!” We’re all about Instagram, but our friend Chris who was there filming with us, just whipped together a quick clip of us dancing around to the demo, and we put it up—that’s how it happened! It was very organic, no sponsored ads, it just happened, and people connected with that chorus. It’s one of those moments that you hope for as a band, but you don’t know if it’ll ever happen, and the stars aligned!
You put out a second TikTok with a call out to fans to write the second verse of the song. Were there any winning duets that made it to the final edit?
Michael: I was curious about how many people would really go out there and write a second verse, but the response was incredible! I thought maybe people were just going to sing harmonies or sing along, but the second verse was more popular than the regular duet where you sing along! So, I was really happy about that. There were so many cool verses that could have been a second verse—I would’ve been down to call one of them up and be like, “Yo, can we actually use this?” But we already had a second verse written that pertained to the song really well. There are so many talented people on the internet, it’s crazy!
What are some of your formative musical influences, and what made you want to pursue music?
Karah: Fleetwood Mac—that was a big one!
Alex: They vary across the board, but there are definitely collective ones. Fleetwood Mac is definitely a collective one that we all rally behind. We also all love Coldplay, both as a band, and their music.
So, do you think that the kind of music you were exposed to when you were growing up helped you to get into music?
Rob: I find the more I look back on it, it’s anything that had a lot of chords and harmonies, like the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac, even Motown—it’s all harmonies, it’s group, it’s chemistry, it’s people. Personally, I wasn’t the person to look up to like, Jimmi Hendrix, ripping on the guitar. I respect it, I love him, but I more so liked groups of people that made something together, because everyone was working on it.
Coming back to the song, it’s all about taking it back to ’99, so paint a picture for me—where were each of you in that year?
Rob: That’s the thing—sometimes we’ll get comments on TikTok being like, “You were barely alive, shut up!” and I made this point yesterday that it’s no different than Leo acting in a ‘60s movie. It’s about being nostalgic for a time that maybe you kind of remember, but kind of don’t. We’ve always been about that.
Michael: It’s about the way people lived in 1999, not specifically us, you know what I mean? It’s that if you wanted to use the internet, you had to dial up on an IBM computer that had the little red trackpad. You’d put your phones down, you’d spend time with people—you weren’t constantly distracted and etcetera. It’s more so about the lifestyle of 1999, the culture, the toys, and the type of life you would be living.
Karah: Also, most of us have older siblings, and that sort of crosses over. The ‘90s were sick! The ‘90s had so many iconic things, from the food, like Lunchables, to Gameboys.
So, you can definitely be nostalgic for a time that you didn’t experience.
Rob: I think that’s the beauty of art; you can do whatever you want. If you want to write about it, write about it.
Based on the song lyric, “If you wanna come over, watch friends and then get high,” I take it you’re all fans of the show Friends. Do you have any favourite episodes?
Rob: There’s just so many! Friends is the kind of show where you watch on and off; sometimes you watch it in the background, sometimes you don’t. I forget the name, but [my favourite episode] is the one where they play the football game in the backyard.
Michael: The Thanksgiving one?
Rob: The Thanksgiving one! That’s one of my favourites.
Michael: “Pivot, pivot!”
Alex: I have that shirt.
Karah: Friends is one of those shows that I was always playing in the background growing up, and then when they put it on Netflix, I was like, “I get to re-watch this as an adult?” I realized it’s so funny! Some people don’t think it’s funny, but I think that they don’t get it. Just like people who don’t think that The Office is funny—come on!
When you played live shows, you played here in Toronto, and places like LA, Nashville, and New York City. Do you have any favorite memories of playing live shows?
Michael: Honestly, the show I remember most for some reason is still Kentucky—I really don’t know why. The fans are just so passionate and the energy was crazy.
Karah: That was our first tailgate! There wasn’t a green room, and this is when we were touring with the bank Amino. They set up all these tents—Louisville in September is hot—so we had our first tailgate, and it was so fun! Our true Southern experience.
Rob: We got our van broken into in Portland, and we were playing Seattle the next night. We made it to Seattle in time, and that show, I think we all cried on stage, it was exhilarating!
Michael: It was crazy!
Rob: We go the police report, figured it all out, stayed up all night, and made it to the show opening for [Lennon Stella].
Karah: I think that our hearts were warmed because Lennon’s team and Lennon herself are immaculate people, and they were all waiting for us at the door to save us with big hugs. We were all crying because we were so stressed; it was a pretty bad break-in, some passports were taken, our wallets, our gear—it happens on tour, but I think that it was a moment where we were like, “Aw, people are there for you.” It felt really nice to know that we have support.
With 2021 only just off to a start, what’s coming up next for Valley?
Rob: So, after we wrote “Like 1999,” we then got another B n’ B, living together for about a month, where we wrote probably up to twenty-five, thirty songs, so we have a bunch of new music that we’re about to curate. Definitely more singles, and then some type of project—whether it’s an EP or two EPs. It’s definitely not the time for us, I think, for another album, because of the situation. We want to be able to put out another album and tour it—really give it the love it deserves.
Michael: I think our music is very [lifestyle oriented], in the sense that you drive around with your friends and sing it. It’s the type of music you enjoy with people.
Rob: As the summer comes, restrictions will keep changing, but hopefully when people start getting out to parks when the weather’s warm, we’ll have some new singles to accompany outdoor activities—that’s the hope. We have a remix coming out in March that we’re really excited about with one of our dear friends… there’s always something coming from Valley! That’s the way we like to do it.
For more information on Valley, visit like1999.com.