By Andrew Bansal
Intergalactic miscreants Valient Thorr have been infesting planet earth with their otherworldly rock n’ roll for the past 15 years, and they recently concluded a North American headline tour to celebrate this milestone. Known for their extremely frenzied live performances, the band has toured relentlessly for the majority of their career, and show no signs of returning to their home planet of Venus. Shortly after the end of the ’15 Years On Planet Earth’ tour, they released their seventh full-length studio album ‘Old Salt’ via Napalm Records on July 29th 2016, and have plenty more rock n’ roll mischief in the works for their legion of thorriors to look forward to in the imminent and distant future. A few days before the release of their album, Metal Assault spoke to frontman Valient Himself on all things Valient Thorr. Enjoy the candid conversation below.
You just completed an extensive North American headline tour. How was that experience for you?
The tour was really good, but it was tough with our new record not being released until after the end of the tour. So, we were basically out on tour without a new record to support, and people really wanted to buy it. You can circle the globe but you need to have something to put in front of people. I’ve always said that promotion and distribution is what it’s all about when you’re making records. You can make the best record in the whole world, but if people can’t get it in their hands then it’s like you never made the record at all. So, the fact that we didn’t have it on this tour was a missed opportunity, but we’re glad that people came out we were psyched to see the fans. There were people that hadn’t seen us in 5, 8 or 10 years. There’s a 17-year old kid who came out, and the last time he saw us was when he was 7 with his father, and his father came out and brought him again. He’s now about to go to college in San Antonio. So, things like that happened all around. There were guys that drove 200-300 miles to see us and they’re always glad to support us. They said they hadn’t seen us in so many years and they had to take this opportunity because who knows, they might not get the opportunity again, and that’s true! You never know what’s going to happen. The world’s crazy. We all have jobs that we do and sometimes you can’t miss these things. You don’t want to miss your work because you don’t want to get in trouble. But I’ve stopped worrying about getting in trouble at work and stuff like that, because you’ve got to do what you want to do in life. You have to enjoy those things, and if you miss them, you might not get another chance. I’m at that point in my life and we’re getting older, and we see friends die from weird things. Suicide, drugs, all kinds of weird shit. So, I take every opportunity to see my friends when I can, and I’m so glad that people take time out of their schedules to see us. It’s always appreciated.
Right, and even though you said that you’d have liked to have the new album released in time for the tour, the theme of the tour was your 15-year anniversary as a band. That’s interesting for me because I’ve been listening to Valient Thorr for a number of years, and a lot of bands do anniversary tours but they’re mostly older bands that I wasn’t really around for, back when they were young. It’s different with Valient Thorr. When did it strike you that it’s been 15 years?
It’s weird, because the 11th anniversary of our second record ‘Total Universe Man’ and the 10th anniversary of our third record ‘Legend Of The World’ were also this year and they both passed as we were getting ready to tour. We realized that and thought it was nuts that we’ve been touring for that long. We toured for five years before the third record came out! So, we were a little behind for the band’s 15-year anniversary, but the tour was already set, so were at 15 years and one month for our actual anniversary show (laughs). We would have achieved the milestone of 2000 shows sometime last year if we had kept going, but different things in our lives slowed us down for a minute. Everybody has had things that happened, like marriages, births and deaths. So, the last two years we didn’t tour as much as we have over the last 10-12, but we were still out there. I don’t know the exact number now, but we’re over 2000 shows and it’s pretty nuts. You see people in the audience and you see them before and after the show, and a lot of times you’re like, ‘Oh my God, I haven’t seen you in so long’ and you can’t put where they are because they lived in Indiana and now they live in Seattle, or something like that (laughs). It kind of blows your mind, you know. There’s a guy from Portugal and now he’s living in Florida. So many shows and so many years, they kind of fly by. It’s pretty wild.
As you said, a lot of people that saw you on this last tour hadn’t seen you in a number of years. You haven’t really toured actively in the U.S. in the last couple of years, and I think the last time you did a full touring cycle was for the previous album ‘Our Own Masters’ in 2013. You did the Roxy in LA and you were touring with Lord Dying and Ramming Speed. That was the last time I saw you guys. What have you really been up to these last couple of years?
We did go to Europe both years since then and we toured in the U.S. with Nashville Pussy, but it was mostly east coast. We hadn’t hit the west coast since 2013, so it had been a while. There were a couple of things. My father passed away, a couple of the guys had kids, there were a couple more deaths and marriages. And then we made a record. And we went to South America for the first time. So, we did stuff that we hadn’t done before, and I made a move to Richmond, Virginia, and some of the other guys made moves. After some of those big changes in our lives, over the last year we put together this new lineup. That’s what the band did. Actually, Aiden and I worked on some other bands too. I had another band and I went all around the U.S. with them. I worked on six different recordings since ‘Our Own Masters’. So, that was cool and I got to work with some different bands in some different genres, and all that helped me become a better singer and writer (laughs). It let me perform in ways that I don’t get to perform in Valient Thorr. And I got back to making some art.
These days, with bands at the club or bar level, it must be hard to keep it going and maintain the fan-base, because you have to keep touring all the time. It burns you out as well as the audience after a certain point, because how many times are you going to play the same places over and over? Even though you do love performing on stage, it takes a lot of work to keep it up, doesn’t it?
It does! The money becomes a heavy burden to keep up. You get burned out after so many years of not advancing. It does get tough.
You’ve opened for Motörhead, Nashville Pussy, Mastodon, etc, and you also do headline tours. Sometimes the gap between the two is so much. How do you mentally adjust to that, playing smaller stages as opposed to bigger rooms?
Oh, it doesn’t matter. We’ve played every single kind of venue you could play at this point. We’ve played bars that we could barely fit in, and rooms where thousands of people could fit in, and gigantic fields full of people. We’ve played in front of 13 people and 35,000 people. So, it’s always fun to play to humungous crowds but I also think we do better in front of a couple hundred, just because they all feel like they’re part of the show. But we try to give the same exact show, no matter what.
Talking of the new album ‘Old Salt’, it’s the seventh album in 13 years since the first one came out, so you’ve been pretty prolific in that sense. I don’t think a lot of other bands that have been around for the same period would have put out as many albums. In that sense, you’ve kept it going strong, creating new songs and keeping it flowing.
Yeah! If you also count 7-inches and things like that, we’ve released something just about every other year, if not every year. There have only been a couple of little gaps in our career, and I’m proud of that. We have more to make! We have more to say and more to do. I think the way we keep it fresh is to stay current about where we’re getting our inspiration from, such as current events and things that are happening around us, and what’s going on in relationship to that in our lives as well. We started doing that may be with the last album, because that one was about us. Before that, it had been about everybody else (laughs). This time, ‘Old Salt’ is about how you deal with being right in the middle in your lives, between being able to look in the past 15 years or however long you want to say, and looking into the future. You anticipate being that old guy and having these old stories to tell. There’s a thing that people say, “I wish I knew then what I know now”. But can you do anything about it if you anticipate it and if you learn anything in the ‘middle’? Do you have to wait ’til you’re an old man to reflect and change, or can you reflect right in the middle and start to maneuver that change in some way? That’s what it’s about.
That’s very interesting, man. In terms of the working process behind the album, was it was the same as usual?
Well, this one was different in that we did it ourselves. Aiden Thorr helmed the whole thing. He recorded and produced it himself. We got a studio in Wilmington, North Carolina, so we didn’t have to go far from home to do this, as compared to the past few albums for which we’ve traveled. We did one in Athens, Georgia, two in Seattle, and two in LA. So, this was the first time being back in North Carolina since our first two records!
That’s awesome. You do keep it fresh with the lyrics, but in terms of the musical style, the fact that you’re not strictly metal but more of a rock n’ roll band must let you do your own thing, right? I mean, there’s always going to be people that like rock n’ roll, and you cannot really go wrong with that.
Exactly! Not having to cater to anything or anyone and to be able to do different things and move all around inside of it is great. I mean, it would be weird if we did a bluegrass song (laughs) but we can get pretty eclectic on there and it still comes out sounding like Valient Thorr.
Over these seven albums, do you feel that you’ve been able to express yourselves musically, or are there still things you haven’t done that you would want to do?
Oh yeah, there’s still a lot we haven’t done. We’re still learning every time. I don’t care what critics say, but if I was a critic and I would look at us, I would say we’re much better now than in the beginning, and that’s only because we kept learning. So, the albums just kept getting better. People might have favorite songs off of some of those other ones, but as far as technically and proficiently, the more your learn the better you get. If you keep exploring, there’s a chance you’ll get better at what you do, and that’s in life, not just in creating music or art. So, speaking for myself, there’s still lots of things that I have to learn. I might be the weakest link in the band! So, I love learning every day, just trying to figure out what my voice does best. I have my own influences, and in my head I’m seeing myself as trying to do a Bon Scott or Jim Morrison or something like that, but then somebody would tell me, “No, you’ve got this thing that you do, like a Rocky Erickson type of thing”, and I’m going, yeah that’s a really good influence and I actually have that kind of voice. What if I did more of a garage thing? So, I’ve trying to push it in those directions and write some jams that would use my voice in the best way, just all over the board. There’s so many different ways to do things, but you have a certain amount of time and it’s about what you can get accomplished within that.
Right, and it obviously takes a lot for you to be ‘Valient Himself’ on stage every night, whether it be your own show or opening for other bands. On a long tour with not a lot of off-nights, do you go through up-and-down shows sometimes, or are you able to keep yourself at a 100 per cent, which I’m sure is pretty hard to do?
It does get tough! But if you ask anybody, there might have been only a couple of shows that were really hard. It gets hard when you’re in one of those scenarios where everybody is completely worn out, you’re not getting the energy, may be the room is weird and there’s not much of a crowd. But that’s very rare for us. I’d say we keep it about 97 to 100 per cent, to 106 or 107 per cent every night, and I think that’s our release. If you’re doing it for you, you don’t let whatever is out there get you down. I don’t mean to keep bringing this up, but when my old man died, we went right over to Europe after that and I did a whole month of shows there, less than three weeks after my dad died. That was tough, but I didn’t want to cancel. I just tried to do it as a tribute to him, and as something he would want me to do. That’s just one example. There’s things that happen all the time. You get ups and downs, and life is a roller-coaster. But if you keep an even keel and cruise through life and anticipate the good and bad parts, you’ll be fine. If it’s bad, it’s going to get good again. You’ve just got to give it a second. So, we try to keep it like that. We keep a good attitude and that gets us through. I’m not going to lie to you, this was a tough tour. Bread was tight. It’s definitely not about money. In 15 years we’ve never made money doing this. In fact, it starts taking more money from your life to be able to do it. You get bills, and families you’ve got to support, and times are tough. But we figure it out and do whatever we can to make the best show possible, and hopefully we don’t let anybody down. I jokingly once wanted to call one of our albums “I Don’t Let A Motherfucker Down”, because that’s my attitude.
And lastly, you mentioned earlier that you moved from North Carolina to Richmond, Virginia. I’ve been through Richmond a few times on tour and it’s a pretty vibrant scene. I always love going there. How different is it for you as compared to NC?
I’ve lived here almost four years now, but it’s still fresh because I’m not around a whole lot. But I know North Carolina in and out. I know the politics of NC in and out. They have a terrible state government right now, specially the governor, he’s one of the worst. There’s three that I think are absolutely terrible. I’d say Rick Scott in Florida is one of them, and Scott Walker in Wisconsin is the other. But, Pat McCrory in North Carolina is probably the worst governor in all the states right now. I mean, he’s a fucking terrible, terrible person. But that’s not why I made my move. I did it for my friends and family, and I wanted to start new somewhere and try to learn about it. It’s definitely different, in that it’s a different state! I do have a lot of North Carolina pride, but I don’t have a lot of pride for what’s going on there right now. It’s a lot different here. I’m sure there’s people here that know a lot more about the politics here and they would tell me that it’s the same old bullshit, and I’ve heard some of that. But there’s a lot of good going on in Richmond. I’m very proud to be here and be a part of the scene now. I like the people and I love the music that’s going on here and I feel right at home.
That’s good to hear, man. So, the headline tour is done and the album is coming out. What’s next for the band?
We have a European tour, then we come back and take a little minute of a break, and we haven’t announced this yet, but we’re going to Mexico for the first time ever, and they’re going to be psyched because they’ve been wanting us to come down there forever. So, that’s pretty much 98 per cent dialed in. I haven’t booked the plane tickets yet but we’re about to make that happen. And then I don’t think I’m allowed to announce what else is in the works but we do have something happening towards the end of the year, another tour that we’re going to be supporting. The world will know soon enough!
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