by Devon Leger::
The cover of the new album, When I Was A Child (out Sept 25 on Brick Lane Records), from Seattle-by-way-of-South-Carolina artist Valley Maker shows a blurry photo of a child walking amidst fog. Or is it a field of grass? It’s not clear, and the obscurity of the photo is as good a way as any of talking about the little-known songcrafter Valley Maker, aka Austin Crane. A recent transplant to Seattle (the album was created a few years ago and reworked in Seattle with artists out here), he’s still somewhat unknown in the scene, which is strange, considering the fact that his new album is a near masterpiece. Rich with sonorous vocals, drenched in lace-like harmonies, embedded in forests of acoustic guitar, entwined with complex lyrics and heartworn thoughts, it’s the kind of album that should have sent shockwaves through Seattle’s music scene. The fact that it hasn’t says more about this city than it does about anything else. But that’s ok. Talking to Crane on the phone, I get the impression that he’s so much more focused on crafting the music than selling it, that he’s got much larger things on his mind than worrying about which blog will pick his music up next. For one thing, he didn’t move out here for music. He moved to Seattle to pursue a Ph.D. at the University of Washington in Geography. He’s fascinated with borders, and how people align themselves and construct the idea of a border, a limit on where we live and who we are. It doesn’t seem to be a concept that filters into his music, or at least I can’t see how it does. His songs are broad in scope, limited not by an acoustic folk roots genre, but more constrained by the subject matter, intent to convey a message first and a genre not at all. He’s a deep thinker, the kind of person that emails you after the phone interview to clarify a point that you’d glossed over. We talk about religion on the phone, since he came from an evangelical family in South Carolina, though he’s since expanded his worldview. His self-titled debut album, released in 2010, was a long-form meditation on the Book of Genesis, and his new album is part of his process of moving beyond his early family roots in deep faith. After our phone call he emails me this:
“I was walking my dog last night and thinking about what I said re: religious music. I didn’t mean to wholesale write it off. I think it would be more accurate to say this:
A lot of the religious music that I grew up with felt didactic and at times dishonest in how it was commercially-targeted towards evangelical audiences in a sort-of relentlessly positive and lesson-driven way. However, that’s certainly not true of all, or even most, music that treads into the waters of religion. Many of my favorite writers and musicians have drawn on religious imagery and questions of faith in their work in compelling, mysterious, and meaningful ways. Whether in writing or listening, I think songs present a unique opportunity to engage human experiences with faith and doubt — and it seems appropriate to me that the meanings we attach to them usually shift over time. So while some of the songs on this new record draw on my past and present experiences with faith and accordant questions and doubts, I don’t necessarily see it as a religiously-motivated record. Religion is one aspect of my life’s journey, one of many, that came to bear on the writing of these songs. I ultimately don’t have any control over this, but I hope the songs are honest and evocative for people listening, whether or not that’s part of their background.”
A few weeks after our phone conversation, I pull up my tapes and realize that a glitch in my recording device has lost the recording of our interview. I spend days kicking myself for this . . . What an amateur mistake! Then today I flip on his album and I’m instantly immersed in this intensely beautiful and spiritual world of Crane’s creation and I realize I don’t care. I don’t want to know more, I don’t need to know everything about when and where and how and why this album was made. It’s enough that an album this beautiful exists to comfort me. Let’s let the mystery stand. Let’s let the Northwest fog obscure the truth of this one.
Valley Maker plays Barboza in Seattle Friday, September 25 with Cave Singers’ frontman Pete Quirk opening.
(ed. note: Valley Maker will be playing shows in Seattle on 9/25; Portland on 9/27; and Bellingham on 9/30; he will be touring the Southeast in October)