Val Bauer is a Portland, Oregan based singer/songwriter who once had a Fisher-Price record player and an Alf record. How cool is that? Trust me, it’s cool. Here he has a chat with LTW’s Roisin Keheller.
Roisin Kelleher: How has the New Year been so far?
Val Bauer: Yeah, not bad! Already kicked it off with a gig early January in East Portland – good turnout, had lots of fun. I wouldn’t mind it warming up a bit though – Spring couldn’t come fast enough, for me.
RK: What are your plans for the year ahead?
VB: As much gigging as I can. And I don’t want to speak too soon, but there’s talk of a Pacific Northwest mini tour this Spring. Also want to squeeze out at least one EP soon – I have material recorded, it’s just a matter of getting it finished and out there. A lot of other stuff just waiting to be laid down as well, that I’m really itching to share with the folks. It’s all about timing and finding the right people to collaborate with, though, yano?
RK: What inspires your music?
VB: Life, I spose! I mean, yeah, sometimes I’ll hear a song and it’ll make me want to instantly pick up my guitar and start playing along; but when it comes down to it, I don’t really have other people’s music in my mind when I’m writing. I don’t sit down and think, “I wanna write a song like so-and-so,” or “like that one song”. I just write what comes out. And what comes out is based on thoughts and experiences (and maybe a bit of poetic license).
Usually it starts with one or two lines that I’ll think of when I’m out walking across the Burnside Bridge, say, or a little chord progression I come up with while I’m messing around on guitar that I really want to make into something. A lot of times, it just goes from there.
I still don’t understand how it works, but sometimes you’ll start from that tiny beginning, and just write what comes out, without even thinking much about what it is. And in a half hour you’ll stop, and you’ll look back at what you’ve made, and it totally fits. I think those are usually the best songs: the ones that you didn’t overthink, you just let them come out.
I’m constantly amazed by the creative process – I’m deeply passionate about my craft. But that’s a whole other conversation…
RK: Why do you think music is so important to people?
VB: Because it resonates with us on a basic level. It’s expression of pure emotion, and we all experience similar things and emotions connected to them. Music puts voice to our thoughts and feelings, helps us express them; and also makes us realize there are other people out there who have the same thoughts, feelings, and experiences.
Plus it’s just frickin awesome.
RK: How would you describe your music to someone who has never heard it?
Well there’s two ways you can do that: by similar bands, or by genre. I’m not good with either of those, but I’ll give it a shot:
Ryan Adams-esque songwriting, with the earnestness and raw emotion of Elliott Smith (except alcohol instead of drug addiction references), and the rock n roll edge of The Gaslight Anthem. Not to say I’m anywhere near as good as any of those.
As for genre: Indie rock singer/songwriter, with Americana/indie folk leanings. I kind of try avoid being lumped into the “(indie) folk” category, because I think it draws the wrong comparisons: I’m nothing like Mumford or Bon Iver or any of that. I play acoustic instruments sometimes (a lot of the time), but I grew up on rock n roll and punk rock, and those are my roots. But I do think my music’s aching for some pedal steel, maybe some more mandolin, banjo.
RK: Do you think the internet makes it easier or harder to promote your music?
VB: Well I think it’s clear the internet makes promoting your music easier – I can reach all kinds of people all over the world through it, which I wouldn’t be able to do otherwise. The real question is whether this is ultimately more helpful toward “success” than the situation a generation or two ago when you basically had to be discovered by a major label to get anywhere. After all, because it’s so much easier these days to get music out there, there’s a shit ton more bands out there putting music out and vying for the attention of the same listeners. But I think the answer there is still yes.
It’s easier to reach listeners, even with more competition; easier to record your own music, easier to release it. I don’t know that it’s better from an income standpoint – that’s a different question. Comparing those two situations and eras is kind of apples and oranges. It’s a total paradigm shift. The way things are now, it’s easier to achieve some sort of “success” – but what that word means now can be quite different to what it was back then. Either way, the current state of DIY and indie music is pretty exciting, really. Both to me as a musician and as a listener.
RH: Who are your favourite acts around at the moment?
VB: Defo Ryan Adams. The Gaslight Anthem’s sound has really matured and I love where they’re headed. Arctic Monkeys’ latest album and then the ‘R U Mine?’ single is the best stuff they’ve put out since they started. The Kooks can do no wrong, their stuff is always on regular rotation for me (also, coincidentally, it was finding out about them going to BIMM that led me to find out about LIPA, and ended up ultimately in my studying there, so I owe a great deal of thanks to them!). ‘Someone Still Loves You Boris Yeltsin’ – some of the greatest indie-pop songwriting around today, seriously underrated. I’m also excited to see where fellow LIPA graduate Dan Croll is heading. I got to see Dry The River last summer, and they were absolutely awe-inspiring; can’t wait to see what their follow-up album will be like. Looking forward to the forthcoming Frank Turner as well.
As for recent stuff that I’m currently into:
– Jake Bugg – s/t – I feel like we come from a very similar place, trying to do a similar thing — songwriter-wise I’d almost say he’s my English counterpart
– Justin Townes Earle – ‘Nothing’s Gonna Change the Way You Feel About Me Now’
– William Beckett – ‘What Will Be’ EP
– British Sea Power
RK: What is your earliest memory of music?
When I was about preschool age, I had a little Fisher-Price record player and some Alf record or something like that. And a box set of Sesame Street cassettes.
I also had a plastic microphone and stand, with a little portable speaker that had neon coloured lights that would light up different colours when you sang or talked. That was pretty boss. And I had a little ukulele. And it was on that equipment, I spose, that I wrote my first song, “Sona, Sona, Sona”. Ha.
Also, my mom was a Jazzercise instructor (I’m not sure if you have that over in Britain – kinda aerobics to pop and dance music), so I grew up hearing her training tapes in the living room, having to go along with her and sit through her classes and kill time. This also meant a lot of pop radio in the car. In my dad’s truck though, Foreigner’s first album was the staple. Still love that album.
RH: Besides music, what are your main passions?
VB: I’m an all-grain homebrewer. My dad and I started brewing together years ago. It’s great father-son bonding. I do the recipe drafting and number-crunching; I let Dad handle most of the heavy lifting.
Now that I live back in Portland, I try to spend a lot of time with my family, I think that’s really important. And I love a good quiet pint at the pub with friends. But I also really value my alone time, probably more than a lot of people. I can be fully content and entertained spending a night in with my records, movies, guitar, and booze.
And bacon. And beef jerky.
RH: If you could have any superpower, what would it be?
RH: Which three items would you save if your house was burning down?
– My guitar, Jude/Peanut Butter & Honey
– Laptop (with charger)
– My original pressing of Figure 8 by Elliott Smith (and XO too, if you’ll let me get away with it)
Interview by Roisin Keheller. More writing by Roisin on Louder Than War can be found here.