Legendary Brattleboro purveyors of weird are back with not only another record, Lizards of Camelot, but also the announcement of an upcoming project with Danny Bissette. GREAT VALLEY is a musical magic carpet ride that takes the listener on mystical journeys over an above the standard conventions of pop music, wether it be through their indefinable sound, which shifts and osculates like some mythical beast, or their lyrics, which feel like a page ripped from some warped Ken Follett picture book.
Peter Nichols from Great Valley was kind enough to talk to me about little places in Vermont, making music, and the future of the human race.
BH: So there’s been a lot of attention paid to the music scene in Brattleboro lately, and a lot of people seem surprised by how much has come out of this little enclave of Vermont. What do you think it is about Brattleboro that has allowed for such an active and unique artistic community?
GV: Well, there’s only a few of us here and still dwindling, and basically we all have nothing better to do than tinker with songs all day, so we’ve gotten pretty good at it (speaking for the people of Brattleboro in general) or at least we’ve figured out our own thing. It’s kinda like a North Pole set-up with a few weird elves cranking out an uncanny number of songs in isolation, and I guess we egg each other on a little. I mean, when I hear the amount of care and delicacy Ruth Garbus and Chris Weisman put into their songs I am egged to nurture more and more careful compositions, and when I hear the depth portrayed in Luke’s songs for The Lentils I am egged to create deeper and deeper sonic worlds.
BH: That collaborative spirit does seem to empower that particular brand of weird.
How do you feel Spookytown Tapes has played a role in this?
GV: Funny enough, I sort of lost the wind in Spooky Town’s sails a little after settling in Brattleboro. Spooky Town Tapes was something I felt like I had to do when I was living elsewhere, to create the community I wished I had. But here there’s already a kind of community like you said, so I don’t really need the label the same way. I have gotten to release some really awesome Brattleboro tapes though, from Happy Jawbone and Chris Weisman and Zach Philips’ Horse Boys and 1 coming soon from Tall Boys.
BH:It seems that people focus so much on the Brattleboro aspect because the artists it produces are so hard to define. Is there any particular way that you prefer to define or categorize your music? Do you feel your categorization has changed over the course of your releases?
GV: Hard question, I can’t define but whatever, I’ll throw some out. Christine said it’s the opposite of psychedelic, what you might not realize tends to be an ultra cerebral method of writing music, which sometimes looks a lot like psych music in a strange way, the two ends of the spectrum both heading off in bizarre territory. Another thing, we nurture an anti-macho vibe, like bands don’t want to be loud or fast or hard. I think it’s because we’ve given up sex in anticipation of a hermaphroditic future where all courtship is obsolete, but that’s just a hypothesis.
For Great Valley, definitely we’ve gone through so many different phases since we started the band 5 years ago. Our first album together was like a spooky folk album, in fact the sound has completely changed so many times it’s kind of confusing for us what the band even means. It’s more about a certain attitude of experimentation, like always being open to try something awkward in the interest of expanding expectations. I guess that’s how we wound up cycling through so many different styles, but I like to think that each one’s been building on the last in a way that’s interesting.
BH: The aversion to machismo is interesting considering the subject matter of “Lizards of Camelot” deals so heavily with an era overwhelmingly marked by chivalry and heroism and general facets of traditional hyper-masculinity.
What is your writing process, and from where do you draw your inspiration?
GV: Well when we wrote Lizards of Camelot we started with the idea to make a fantasy album and it all spiraled out of control from there. I think the original idea came from Chris Weisman’s song “Forever” (from Bentonia) where he sings like “all the dragons…! Flags unfurl!” in this kinda fake English accent, we thought that was like the wussiest most uncool thing imaginable so it impressed us very much.
BH: Lastly, you recently announced that you are teaming up with Danny Bissette to form Grape Room. Could you elaborate a little more on that project?
Yeah. I thought a lot about bands this year, and the more I thought about it the less I could understand any of it. I mean, I can understand an album is defined by a period of time when you work on it, but what makes a band? For us, it’s obviously not the sound because like I said we’ve turned the page on that a few times over, and it doesn’t seem like it’s the people in the band because members come and go from all bands, and I know it’s kind of absurd but I really have been wracking my brains trying to figure it out. Part of it is I saw a lot of my best friends (bands) break up this year, and all the pain it caused and trying to figure out what it all means, and we’ve been going through transformative times too. When I finally couldn’t understand anything anymore it suddenly became clear: the Great Valley band embodiment will be rewarded with a rooftop office, where its character will be recycled to form GREAT VALLEY INCORPORATED, the new superstructure which will continue to release music until the end of time, through the screen of a number of subsidiaries. The Principal subsidiary is Grape Room. We just finished recording the ‘first’ Grape Room album and it rules. There’s also a GVInc album by Peter’s Window coming out very soon, I wish I could tell you more about. I hope that people can understand about GREAT VALLEY INCORPORATED and that it’s not too confusing.
Listen to Great Valley’s latest release, Lizards of Camelot, which is out on NNA tapes and Feeding Tube Records, and check out Online Dwarf by Grape Room on bandcamp.
GREAT VALLEY plays tonight (9/16) @ the Whitehaus w/ Cellular Chaos, Particulars and others!